Written by 6:53 am High End Audio • 18 Comments

Ethics And The Audiophile Press

Roger Skoff looks at some ethical issues facing the audiophile press…


Many years ago, when I was writing for another
publication, the manufacturer of what (rumors had it) was the hot new high end
product at the time, submitted one of their latest units for review, saying to
the reviewer that, if what he wrote was good enough and if the product got
pictured on the front cover of the magazine, he could keep the product for his
own system.

Sound familiar? There’s been lots of talk on
the audiophile forums lately about what, if it’s true, amounts to nothing more
than good ole fashion’ payola: You know what I mean: the old “I give you
something; you give me something in return.” As the rumor goes, it’s usually a
manufacturer offering to buy advertising in return for a good review. But, as
just mentioned, it could also be a product that’s offered, or a bottle of wine,
a trip, or something else, entirely. It could even be the publication that’s
doing the offering, and the manufacturer that’s faced with signing the check or
maybe never getting his products reviewed at all.

The whole issue brings up lots of questions. I
can’t answer them all, but I’m going to try to answer some as well as I can.
For reasons I’m sure you’ll understand, I’m NOT going to name any names, but
please believe me when I tell you that everything I say here is absolutely true
and every incident actually happened.

Before going any further, though, to show you
that the issue of buying (or selling) good reviews is neither new nor confined
to the United States, here — exactly as they were actually published, with no
editing or addition at all — are a couple of excerpts on advertising policy
from a manual for foreign distributors that I first wrote nearly two decades


The first might seem to support the idea that
a manufacturer (or exclusive national distributor) might want to influence
publications to its own benefit. “The decision to print a review always lies
with the Editor of the publication, not the reviewer.  Unless the Editor
approves it, and makes space for it in one of the issues of his magazine, no
review will ever be printed. For that reason, it’s obvious that you should make
the acquaintance of the Editor, as well as the reviewers at any publication.
That way, if the Editor needs some convincing to allow a review to be written
or printed, you can do the necessary convincing yourself, instead of having to
rely on your reviewer friends to do it for you. Remember that, because they
work for the Editor, the amount of influence the reviewers can exert for you
will always be limited.”


The very next paragraph, however, sets the
limits on just how far an attempt to influence a publication can go: “Never,
ever try to use the fact that you are an advertiser to influence the Editor in
any way.  People in the publishing business are very much aware of the
possibility for conflict of interest between the sales and editorial
departments of any magazine, and they know that if their reputation for
unbiased reporting is compromised in any way, it can hurt them badly. For that
reason, every reputable magazine enforces a strict separation of powers and
responsibilities, with the editorial department having near total
independence.  Any attempt to influence the Editor by referring to your
advertiser status will not only fail, it will also (by implying that he CAN be
influenced), insult the Editor and eliminate any possibility of friendly future

Is that still true? Was it ever? Stories
abound about the reviewer who bought his $35,000 speakers for an unusually
special price or the manufacturers who found that, unless they showed proper
obeisance (and possibly a dinner and a bottle of a suitable vintage) to a
reviewer or editor, reviews of their products might never be written or
published. There are also countless instances where products submitted for
review have never been returned, either because the manufacturer hoped they
might continue to be listed as part of the reviewer’s reference system, or
simply because neither party ever got around to asking for them or sending them

Is this an indication that the system is
corrupt? Does it mean that what you read about a product is not necessarily
true, but could be the result of somebody getting (or, if it’s negative, of
somebody NOT getting) “greased”? Maybe, but I strongly doubt it.

Just as I did when I wrote those earlier
paragraphs, I still believe that the overwhelming majority of the audiophile
press and the people who publish it, edit it, and write for it, are
scrupulously honest.


The proof of that can be seen in what happened
as a result of the incident of attempted corruption I used to open this
article:  As soon as the manufacturer approached the reviewer with his
offer, the reviewer reported it to his editor and publisher, and not only did the
manufacturer not get a good review from the magazine, it got NO review. 
It also had to make a written apology to the magazine and to the specific
reviewer who had been approached.  And, in order to keep the whole
attempted bribery incident from being printed as a feature article, the company
had to fire its marketing vice president and its national sales manager. 

Offering bribes, advertising, or any other
kind of incentive – especially product – to buy a good review is just plain
crazy!  If the product isn’t good, why would the reviewer or editor want
it, or be willing to sacrifice his integrity to get it?  And if it IS
good, it’s going to get a good review, anyway, so why should the manufacturer
or distributor offer to pay for what it’s already going to get for free? 

Corruption is not only dishonorable and bad business, it also
makes no sense! Don’t worry about it; most of the rumors really are just

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