The result is what we have today: a bland me-too media landscape which publishes huge numbers of the same stories.
We’ve all seen that now haven’t we. Hell, you’ve seen it here too. A new hot iOS app comes out and there are fifty sites publishing a review of the app, because “I was given early access to X.” Yay, me!
Again, I’ve done it here. It’s hard not to, because the reality is that you get contacted by a lot of people and offered a lot of free shit if you have even a modicum of popularity on your website.
Worse still is that if this is a physical good, once these companies have your mailing address they will keep sending you shit hoping that you write about it — happens to me. Even worse still is that most writers won’t tell you that. Want to know what’s even worse? These companies typically say that these items are “review items” suggesting that you write about them in exchange for being sent them, but also suggesting you don’t get to keep the item — yet most bloggers simply won’t return the item until someone asks for it back (hint: companies never ask for these things back).
Again, I’ve been caught in this. With the Tom Bihn Smart Alec I accepted the updated model with an agreement that I would write about it1 , and the backpack would be a review item. However, after I reviewed it I emailed my contact and purchased the backpack from Tom Bihn because I liked it so much. (Here’s the proof, they did refund me the shipping since I already had the backpack — hindsight I should have paid for that too.)
I personally go out of my way now to get these items back, make it clear when I receive a free item, and so on and so forth.
Most writers don’t.
That’s why you end up with a circle-jerk of reviews all around the same item, all at the same time. It’s starting to really piss me off. Instead of participating I am trying to go out of my way to buy things and review those that people aren’t talking about — that, I think, is far more interesting for readers.
So next time people start writing about the same thing at the same time — well now you know why.
Afterthought Update: In thinking about this a bit more, this could be construed as a damnation of all other bloggers. Please don’t read it that way, this is a generalization of the standard “blog process” — there are many good bloggers that do it the right way. There are many times I fuck up despite concerted efforts not to. I do feel that if we don’t call people out on this, then we won’t really know where the motivations lie and that is what ultimately bugs me.
To be clear, Tom Bihn asked if I was interested in checking out a new backpack and in no way do I feel that they deal in a shady way. Every interaction with them has been the best of any company I have worked with. I use them as an example because I really have nothing bad to say about them. ↩