Ethics of Reviewing...
by, 01-21-2009 at 04:30 PM (1816 Views)
Thanks, Smokey Joe! I think I'm going to give this blogging thing a try.
And the topic of my first post is something I mentioned in another thread: Reviewer ethics and free samples, affiliate links, advertisements, and sponsors.
When I first started doing reviews, I was purchasing all of my own products. I had two jobs at the time, and between them I had a healthy budget for buying gadgets and toys, and redirected that all towards e-cigs.
It wasn't too long before I began to be offered free samples, and the first time I was, I really pondered the question of ethics. Is a review copy a conflict of interests? Does it compromise objectivity, or create a bias?
I researched review ethics, and found a variety of approaches. Professional media organizations have rigid ethics policies, most of which prohibit receiving free samples, or require all samples to be returned after the review. Freelance journalists are expectd to abide by the ethics policy of the organization they are selling their work to.
Bloggers, OTOH, are generally independant, and so do not have any outside policy to adhere to, and typically are not getting paid for their reviews, so accepting free copies is more common, and is not generally considered unethical.
At the time it was an option for me, not a necessity, but in the end I decided to do it, since I had no real interest in the particular device, and would never have purchased it for review otherwise.
Time passed, and I lost my cushy second job, cutting my regular income by over a third, and completely eliminating the extra hours and pay I used to get occasionally.
Now sample copies are no longer an option, but the only way I can continue to review. I have enough of a budget to cover my personal e-cig supplies, but nothing at all to try new devices with.
So, I began soliciting review copies. This hasn't always worked out very well, however. For one thing, it puts me in an uncomfortable position if some of the parts are bad.
We all know these devices have a horrible failure rate. Even the quality brands sometimes have DOA parts. I don't think it's fair or useful to review a device based on defective parts, and always try to resolve any needed exchanges before evaluating the device.
That's a simple customer service matter if I've purchased it. But if I got it for free to begin with, I wind up either feeling a bit like a begger who's been given a dollar and asks for 25 cents more, or worried that the seller will think I'm just trying to get more free stuff, or both.
Another problem with soliciting samples is that it cuts me out of the normal customer service experience. I am dealing directly with the owner, or occasionally a marketing department. But they know who I am, and what it's for. I can't possibly extrapolate from that to how an ordinary customer is treated.
And it leaves open the possibility of them "cherry picking" the best possible unit, thus giving a deceptive impression. I haven't seen any sign of that yet. In fact, I am often surprised that they didn't seem to at least test them before shipping. But the possibility is there, and concerns me.
SO I am now starting to think about extablishing a revenue stream using affiliate links, and if I ever get a website set up, maybe advertisements. The primary goal would be to allow me to purchase devices for review, but of course I would hope for a decent surplus over that. ;)
But that brings me back to the ethical question. Professional media separates their advertising departments from their content producing departments, but that's not an option for amature bloggers.
There doesn't seem to be any consensus on the ethics of bloggers or amature reviewers and advertising. Opinions I found ranged from "if you can make money talking about something you enjoy, go for it," to others who say it's Ok as long as it's clearly disclosed, to those who view it as an inherent and unavoidable conflict of interests.
It's that latter that concerns me. Without my credibility, my reviews are an exercise in pointlessness. I may as well be talking to myself. My whole goal is to help other people, help inform them about the available options so they can find the best device for them. I can't help anyone if they can't trust my opinions.
I have already had a couple people say they don't trust me because I receive reviewer samples. One said that whether its a paycheck or merchandise, I am in "their" employ, and not independant or unbiased.
I take a bit of offense at that, but it is a legitimate criticism, and I can't just dismiss it. Accepting free samples is a bit of a comprimise between ethics and practicality, and advertising, affiliates, etc would be a bigger one.
OTOH, I've had others tell me not to worry everybody does it. That's not a very acceptable answer to me. I want to be on firmer ground than "if it's OK for them..."
The middle ground, total disclosure and transparancy, is of course the way to go if I do decide to do this. Well, not [I]TOTAL [/I]transparancy. I'm not going to open my books for public accounting, for example. But I would make it clear that this is an affiliate link, that is an advertisement, etc. And transparancy is also part of the reason for this post. I want an open discussion on this issue.
What do you all think? I am interested in everyone's thoughts, but there are a few people I especially want to hear from.
TBob, you were a professional journalist, I'm sure you have a good perspective to offer.
Smokey Joe, you aren't exactly in the same position as a webhost as if you were a reviewer, but it is somewhat similar ethical territory. You have advertisements, did you have trouble deciding to do that? Do you see any conflict, and if so, how did you resolve it for yourself?
KittyBurn, Pegaso, you all have your own sites, I imagine you have at least considered ads etc. What's your opinion? Do you or will you be promoting affiliate links? Why or why not?
Dusty, I know you have some affiliate links (and let me be clear I am NOT "calling you out" or criticising you on the issue), did you have similar concerns, and how did you resolve them? Have you received any criticism over it?
Parked, you're just beginning, but I KNOW you will soon be as influential a reviewer as Dusty and I, what's your opinion?
Trog, other than myself, you're one of the harshest critics I've had. You can push my buttons more than anyone I've ever dealt with, but I've never doubted you were being honest. If anyone would be willing to call me a sellout to my face, it's you. Would this make me a sellout?
Friends, foes, rivals, peers, admirers, critics, I really want to hear from everyone on this.
Have at it, then! :thumb: