Ever wonder about gear reviews in guitar magazines? Me, too. Editors and publishers defend themselves against accusations of favoritism to advertisers, citing organizational "walls" between advertising sales and the editorial team, a preference to only review "good" products in order to make the best use (best for whom?) of limited space, etc.
Frankly, I don't buy the explanations. Here's my advice to guitar-magazine publishers and editors:
- First, my understanding is that the most of the revenue comes to magazine publishers from advertisers, not subscribers. Please correct me if I'm wrong. That speaks volumes about your constituency.
- Second, the vast majority of the magazine content is advertising rather than editorial. Face it, magazines are catalogs with a few articles thrown in to distinguish one publisher's catalog from the next.
- Third, it seems obvious that reviews are very carefully worded to avoid offending advertisers. A valid criticism of a product is more often than not recast as faint praise.
- Fourth, the reviews tend to come across as promoting a good product to anyone who happens to play guitar. The truth is that tastes and preferences differ, and there's really no such thing as "one size fits all". Figure out to whom the gear really should be marketed, and tell us. Establish some useful context. I want to know why the reviewer would prefer brand W model X over brand Y model Z. I'm not talking about shootouts here; I just want a superlative-free way of understanding how the reviewed product relates to something I already know.
- Fifth, if you want to be perceived as having independent editorial content, then do your own interviews. I can't tell you how many times I've picked up the leading guitar magazines in the same month (or at most a month apart) and read virtually identical interviews of high-profile music personalities.
- Sixth, you're competing against the internet. Guitar magazine reviews are no longer the only voice heard nor are they the last word on the subject. I think you understand by now that publishing the words on paper gives them no special significance.
- Finally, if you're looking to improve the reviews simply for the sake of credibility, then good for you. But if you're really wondering why sales are down despite the unprecedented quantity of guitarists and their relative affluence, it's because you're not providing sufficient value. We don't need magazine reviews any more to tell us about new products. We have the internet, which will always beat you to the punch and offers a broader range of opinions and viewpoints and the ability to interact in near-real time with the opinion-makers.