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And You Still Forgot...

by Adam C. Engst <ace@tidbits.com>

My article in TidBITS-346 about why products may not be mentioned in articles prompted some additional suggestions and a few queries worth addressing.

Tom Negrino <tom@negrino.com> writes with a reason that no one has accused me of yet:

Surprisingly, you neglected the reason for ignoring a product that stuns me the most when I'm accused of it:

"You're being bought off by Apple / Microsoft / Adobe / Joe's Software Company not to mention a product."

As I said to my girlfriend last month when Apple was delivering the usual load of gold bullion onto the front porch, "I can't believe that some people question the journalistic integrity in the Mac business!"

Oy. My checking account wishes it were so.

Peter Rosenthal <pr@imcinfo.com> writes:

As a small Mac developer (Interactive Media Corporation) I really appreciated your article in TidBITS-346, "But You Didn't Mention." It was refreshing to get a glimpse of the other side of the review process. One issue that is frequently on the minds of smaller developers that you didn't cover is the impact of large advertisers on the review process. Do they muscle their way into the editorial side, and impact the objectivity of reviews?

Adam responds: It can seem like there is a bit of collusion at times. However, in all the writing I've done for Macintosh publications, I've never had it suggested that I change what I've said because of an advertiser, and any editor will adamantly deny that there's any link between editorial and advertising. That's true, but only from the editorial standpoint. The advertising sales people know what products are being reviewed or written about in any given issue of a magazine, and they try to sell specifically placed ads to the companies mentioned. That's why you can read a review of Microsoft Word and see a full-page ad for Word on the next page. It's unlikely that the editor or writer knew about the ad beforehand, but the ad sales person definitely knew about the article beforehand. If there was any cross-over, it would likely be in smaller publications where there's less separation between editorial and advertising.

The problem is that when you're accused of this as an editor or writer, all you can do is deny it - there's no way of proving anything. I can say (and it's true) that we've never avoided mentioning a product in TidBITS because a sponsor asked us not to, but if someone believes that I'm toe-sucking pond scum who's out to destroy some small company anyway, my denial won't carry much weight. That's why reputation is worth a lot in this world, especially on the Internet.

Chris Harvey <glenmiln@astral.magic.ca> writes:

When reading reviews of hardware categories in industry magazines, occasionally a major product will be missed in the review. I find these omissions extremely frustrating because it becomes difficult decide on the best product. I can understand it if the review comes out at a time when models from a certain manufacturer were changing, but often reviews will miss products that have been available for months and aren't due to be replaced for many more. So what's the story? Is there a reason for this other than bad organization? Does this sort of thing frustrate people in the publishing industry?

Adam responds: Hardware is a royal pain, because unlike software, most hardware is merely loaned to the publication for review. So, along with the general difficulty of dealing with some companies, you have the problem of short supply (since hardware is expensive to produce in comparison to software, companies may only have a few review units available at any one time) and the problem of units that are damaged in shipping or are otherwise dysfunctional on arrival. It's also possible that a new model is planned, but ships later than expected, making the previous model stay in the market longer than anticipated. And yes, writers trying to do a complete round-up of some category of hardware find it extremely frustrating when they can't include one major contender.

We almost never review hardware in TidBITS because it's not worth the effort of receiving the device, unpacking it carefully so you don't lose anything, testing it within a relatively short time period (30 days is standard), and then packing it up and sending it back. Thus, we mainly publish reviews of hardware that someone has bought and wishes to review for us.

In addition, proper hardware testing and comparison is an extremely expensive proposition, since you need a test lab, and an organization the size of TidBITS simply doesn't have the time, staff, or money to get into that business.