A few months ago I was interviewed for an assistant editor position at American Rifleman magazine, the NRA’s flagship publication with about 1.3 million subscribers. Don’t worry, I’m not running off anytime soon. Anyway, during the course of the conversation the editor in chief of that publication said something that made me a little nervous: “we don’t publish negative reviews.”

The reasoning behind that statement is perfectly logical. American Rifleman magazine is printed on dead trees and mailed to subscribers. Every extra page (well, four pages actually) costs tens of thousands of dollars to print and ship. With such a steep price, any additional information printed on those pages has to be worth the expense. And in the minds of the American Rifleman staff, negative reviews don’t count as “worth it.”

Apparently their policy is to quietly inform the company of the issues they encounter and send the malf-ridden item back, never to speak of it again. It keeps costs down and the vendors happy, supposedly without degrading the quality of their product.

That’s where I disagree with their policy.

Product reviews aren’t just about introducing readers to the “best of the best” in terms of what’s out there. Product reviews should give the readers an idea of which features in a product work and which don’t so when they see something similar that has yet to be reviewed they can make an informed decision about how well that product will work. By only providing examples of what works for firearms and accessories, we deny readers the other half of the equation and leave them with an imperfect understanding of what makes a good firearm or a good accessory.

The point of a product review isn’t to think for the reader but instead, to give the reader enough information to think for themselves. Which is why I absolutely love when people disagree with my conclusions and ratings when I post reviews.

If you haven’t already noticed a trend with my ramblings today, this post was sparked by an article the NSSF posted about how bloggers are no longer able to be treated as persona non grata at trade shows with impunity by companies. The reality is that blogging is a better medium for communicating with the firearms community as a whole than print media ever could be because we’ve freed ourselves from the chains of publishing cycles and limited space for articles. Blogs have quickened the flow of information and made it so that any product, no matter how small, has a chance to get national recognition immediately.

Even if (especially if?) that recognition is as a piece of crap.

Negative reviews are an essential piece of the puzzle, and the ability for bloggers to publish that information is one of those things that sets us apart from print media. That, and the fact that my editor probably never read this before it went live.

57 Responses to American Rifleman: “We Don’t Publish Negative Reviews”

  1. This has been going on in the gun media since forever, and it’s bleeding over into the internet. I can name at least one online writer with a popular website who also never met a gun he didn’t like. I don’t know whether he buries the “bad” guns, or if he just lies about them. I’d like to believe it’s the former rather than the latter, but who knows.

    The bottom like is this — it can’t be the truth about guns unless it’s the whole truth, both good and bad.

    • I’m familiar with his website too and his activity up on youtube (also popular). I consider his reviews a manufacturer’s extended public relations release. After reading up to about half-a-dozen gun reviews for background information on a gun, I then also read various comments by knowledgeable gun owners to get an even more real objective picture.

  2. Besides the NRA being mostly useless for promoting real advances in gun rights beyond that required to keep their influence over legislators, their magazines are also poorly written.

    This policy you note precisely explains why their magazines are so pollyanna-ish. It gives them a patina of untrustworthiness.

    Why do people support them still, especially after the blatant shame of Heller v. DC

    • As much as I’d like to support the NRA, I don’t think I’ll renew my membership when it expires this month. They don’t do anything for gun owners in my state of NJ, they spam my inbox with useless emails and crap gadgets, and the magazines they send out (like the one mentioned in the post) are of little value at best.

      I’ll still give them a buck when I buy stuff from midwayusa, but that’s about it.

        • Living in PA, I prefer to send money to FOAC — the organization that fought for ~8 years to get our stand-your-ground law passed, while having their efforts TORPEDOED by the NRA’s ILA rep.

          National groups are nice, but state-level true-grassroots organizations are far better.

      • “They don’t do anything for gun owners in my state of NJ”

        If memory serves, the ILA rep for NJ is the same rep who has a documented history of acting AGAINST the interests of gun owners in both NH and PA.

        Until John Hohenwarter is no longer employed by the NRA or any of its offshoot organizations, I will no longer maintain my membership.

        As it stands, my membership expired last November, and I have no intention of renewing it anytime soon. The only money the NRA will continue to get from me is to maintain my instructor certs — I need those to run a BSA range.

  3. Wait, somebody didn’t know that gun magazines don’t publish negative reviews? Really? I figured that out with a month or two of getting into the gun culture. And yeah, it’s a BIG failing.

  4. The negative review may be more problematic than we think: Book reviews on Amazon turned into an increasingly negative activity in the early years…and then got worse. ‘I trash your book, you trash mine.’ I think this is true, that a gun reviewer should never make an assertion of fact about parts quality, fit, or gun accuracy that is not honest. A negative review is useless unless the name of a reviewer known to be truthful backs it up. So Nick has a niche.

  5. About half of the pages of American Rifleman are advertisements. You can’t publish negative reviews about products from companies who are paying for your publication.

  6. This attitude used to infect the computer journalism industry, too. Don’t offend potential advertisers.

    American Rifleman is like Playboy. I just look at it for the pictures.

  7. Besides the questionable integrity of any trade publication that does reviews of products from the same manufacturers from whom they accept advertizing, I think we all have always known this. You don’t have to be naive to believe otherwise, you have to have the mind of a child to believe otherwise.

    I’ve read American Rifleman for decades and I don’t ever remember reading anything negative about a product. Other gun mags will at least mention a delinquency that is so egregiously obvious they cannot ignore it but they will always qualify it by adding it’s not that big a deal to most people, or something like that.

    I had a close friend many years ago who was an audio engineer for Fisher Stereo (when it was still an American company – yes MANY years ago) and the process of having a product reviewed by a trade mag was as corrupt as it could have been. A writer would come to the lab and my friend would hand him the basic text and technical specs for the article. Next, the marketing hacks would discuss payment and ad placement in the publication in the coming months. Then, they would go to lunch, get loaded and laid.

  8. As a writer, I would prefer not to give a product a negative review. Other than products that are dangerous, sometimes what is a deal breaker for one guy is a-ok for the other.

    For example, I will never buy a pistol with a safety if I plan to use it for self-defense. Evah. So a gun I might review with a safety is already a lost cause for me, but maybe not for someone else who actually prefers a safety.

    I will report whatever I experience during the review, including problems, and offer any mitigating data.

    • I don’t mind writing a negative report if that what it comes to, but I get very disappointed if a gun sucks. For most reports, I send ten to twenty boxes of ammo down the pipe, usually over two or more range sessions. Shooting a sh!tty gun is a helluva lousy way to spend a couple of afternoons.

      • I’ll say; I was careless putting a handguard on an AR once, and ended up moving the gas block far enough forward that the bolt carrier wasn’t getting enough gas to cycle properly.

        I went to the range intending to shoot maybe 50 rounds (sight in an optic, and then do some 5-shot groups at 200+ yards) and instead ended up putting about 150-200 rounds through it before I came to a conclusion about the cause of the issue, then taking a ~2-hour trip to go pick up the old handguard from my brother’s apartment, get some allen wrenches, switch handguards, and drive back to the range to put another 150-200 rounds through it before I decided that it was functioning correctly again.

        I must say, that wasn’t fun.

    • “For example, I will never buy a pistol with a safety if I plan to use it for self-defense. Evah. So a gun I might review with a safety is already a lost cause for me, but maybe not for someone else who actually prefers a safety.”

      Well, there’s a difference between saying “I’m not a fan of manual safeties” and “all pistols with safeties suck, are unsafe, and nobody should buy them.”

      Simply put, you can express your distaste for certain features of a firearm without allowing it to color the rest of your review.

  9. Yes, American Riflemen never met a gun they didn’t like. That’s why I don’t trust any of their product “reviews”. I subscribe to Gun Tests Magazine (www.gun-tests.com) — there are no advertisements and they aren’t afraid to give a gun an “F”. I don’t always agree with their methods or even some of their conclusions, but at least their primary goal isn’t to keep the advertisers happy.

  10. Nick you are in so much trouble for publishing this. I wish you luck.
    . Most Gun magazines require advertising dollars to run and they don’t like to bite the hand that feeds them. Some Gun Writers slide in comments that while not negative, point out a less than stellar part of a gun. Example: “While the double action trigger was a bit heavy, the single action trigger was able to pull in 2 inch groups.”. Translation: Difficult to control in double action due to either a overly heavy or gritty trigger. Notice that there is no mention of the groupings of the double action trigger. Some have stated that they changed out the front sight and the gun shoots very well – meaning the production front sight sucks.
    . Bloggers have to be weeded through as well. Some are die hard Glock or 1911 fans and some provide good reviews. I pool in all their comments before I go view and put down several hundred dollars for a gun. I look for overlapping comments. If several bloggers complain about the front sight coming loose, I can easily see the trend.
    . Summation: As I purchase several guns a year, I use the gun magazines for the facts about a gun such as size, weight, etc and sometimes mention facts that are not on the Manufacture Web Site. Gun magazines provide me with groupings on a bench with description of ammo used (weight, velocity, etc.). Some guns prefer heavier bullets and some prefer lighter loads. Bloggers provide me with the man in the street point of view on Use, Concealment, and details not brought up by Gun Magazines such as how a gun does or does not eject with certain ammo. So yes, I do use and value Bloggers.

  11. This is one of the things that inspired me to write for TTAG. I get so sick of reading puff-piece articles in “Guns and Blow-jobs” magazine precisely because they are unwilling to be truthful about their findings. These industry-rags are nothing more than advertisements, and they yet somehow want me to shell out 5 bucks at the newsstand to buy that advertising. Worse yet, they will resort to saying things like “unlike other high-dollar AR manufacturers who will remain nameless, this AR [from company X being reviewed here] gives you lots of extra features for your money, blah blah blah.” That’s a big pet peeve for me.

    The hard print magazines still reach more readers. For example, American Rifleman apparently has a circulation of 1.7 million copies. However, there is no certainty that all of the articles in all of the print magazines will be read. And, after a few months, most of those rags are in the recycling bin and are forgotten. Internet articles, on the other hand, remain on line for years (potentially of indefinite duration), and are easily searched for using Google, etc. So, in the long term, the blog article will probably be read by more people, and the timing of the read will coincide closer to the time of purchase (or failure to purchase, as the case may be). The importance of this later point should not be underestimated: to a manufacturer, getting one “read” from a buyer who is actively in the market for a particular gun will be more important than 20-30 reads from casual gun enthusiasts who are not necessarily contemplating an immediate purchase.

    One thing that remains unclear for the reader of a blog-review: the motivation of the person writing any one particular article. For the most part, I think the gun blog reviews are going to be much more honest and credible than any industry-mag review. However, the issue is not entirely free from doubt in any given case. As Nick points out, in the Amazon book-review forums, reviews often times were written by competitors. So far, I have not witnessed that in the gun-blog world, but I’m sure it will happen at some point. Also, as gun-blog writers are usually not getting paid, the desire to get discounted swag MAY factor in to the writing at times. Certainly, the more prolific blog writers are doing so with the idea that they will be financially compensated at some point in the future. Finally, it’s easy for a blog-writer to develop a “fan-boy” persona by repeatly writing good things about a particular company – particularly if that writer starts owning a lot of company X products.

    Nonetheless, despite these potential issues, I think gun blog reviews will continue to become more and more important to the industry.

  12. I buy very few gun magazines these days. Except for providing info on new products most of the information in gun magazines is worthless and the internet has made product announcements reduntant for magazines. I’ve been burned as I’m sure many others have by buying products that later failed to live up to the positive reviews. I do read NRA’s magazine, but I always that their reviews and any others I come across with a grain of salt.

  13. Nick, if I were wearing a hat I’d tip it to you for having the stones to expose this. For the million-plus readers of the American Rifleman, this should be nothing less than a scandal. They should be demanding editor Mark Keefe’s termination.

    This policy is nothing more than a fraud, and I’m angered that my NRA membership dollars are supporting it.

  14. No big surprise here, I don’t think any gun mags publish negative reviews. To glean the truth you’ve just gotta read between the lines and interpret the euphemisms.

    For instance…
    “Acceptable combat accuracy” really means that this gun can’t hit the broadside of a barn at 30 feet.

    “we only experienced one failure but this was due to a faulty round of ammunition” or “the pistol doesn’t like cheap ammo, only high quality American made self defense ammo should be used” or “this handgun requires a break in period for perfect reliability”. All of these statements mean that this clunker can’t manage to go through a single mag without a jam.

  15. I read the same writer Ralph is speaking of. I do enjoy reading his work. However there is a clear conflict of interest there. If he posts a bad write up he may find it difficult to continue receiving a steady supply of guns to “review” and may not be so welcome at writer shooting events.

    I just reached an agreement today to do a review for a product manufacturer on their supplied product. In my reply I noted, “My reviews attempt to keep the manufacturer’s intent in mind, but I will write the truth as I see it.”

    Happy shooting dv

    • I enjoy him, too, and he’s helping to increase the popularity of guns, so he’s on the side of the angels as far as I’m concerned. But it’s inconceivable that every gun he reviews actually is “a delight to shoot” or “beautifully accurate,” unless he’s cherrypicking.

      If he’s cherrypicking, that’s fine. He’s not the only one who does it. One of the top gun writers wrote about cherrypicking being forced upon him by his editor back in the day. He was told that if he don’t have anything good to say, he was to return the gun and say nothing at all.

      TTAG don’t play that.

  16. When they say don’t publish negative reviews, it is because they bury any negative findings so that they never make it to print. Gun companies will stop sending them firearms to review if they publish negative reviews. I have noticed this regarding reliability sections of reviews for example. Since they don’t necessarily want to outright lie about a misfire, failure to feed or eject, they will attribute it to themselves instead of the gun. I had 1 failure to feed (when there was really 10-20), but if write it a certain way . . . “I had one failure to feed during my shooting range session when I was reviewing my newly received ACME Super Duper Self-Defense Pistol with 6 interchangeable back straps and mold kit (so if you don’t like the ones we sent you, you can use the included hand mold and mold your own), but this 1, I repeat only 1 FTF, is my fault because the sun was in my eyes when I shot that round, and I cringed ever so slightly and limp wristed the gun, which does not make it the guns fault. After that, the sun went behind a cloud and every other round fired off fine. My editor won’t let me publish my real findings, so you only get to read what we want you to read. When we publish our annual cataglog of guns, you may also notice that we cut and paste the exact same photos as last year, same information, etc. That way, we won’t have to pay someone to keep checking on all the new updates.

    That is why I like TTAG and their review of the Kimber SOLO as one example. If you recall, this gun is a big piece of crap. Try and find a negative magazine article about it however, you won’t.

    So what do we do? Can we advise all the gun magazines that you better start publishing your real findings, or we won’t buy your magazines anymore. It would be a start.

  17. I have subscribed to 7 different gun magazines in my life. These magazines were Dutch (AK56, SAM) German (Visier, Caliber, DWJ) and American (Guns & Ammo mag, Shooting times). I can assure you that is not just an American problem. What I have also noticed is that these magazine’s write an unusual amount (and always positive) about the products from their advertisers. Even some online reviewers have succumbed to the lucre of advertisers one great example is (I.M.O.) gunblast.com. TTAG is so refreshing please keep it up!

  18. The great thing about TTAG is that the writers tell us what they like and dislike about a product. I’d rather have their honest opinion about any product they’ve tested, and then I’ll be able to use this information before making any purchase.

  19. I figured the gun media does usually not tell things like they really are. The gun media is more of a product announcement circus. I used to like Pistolero Magazine because they pointed out guns that sucked. Car magazines and media are sort of the same way as well.
    I think the gun industry really puts out a lot of crap and some of the stuff is just outright gimmicks. They really never get called out for it.

  20. I like all the Glock ads they run. OH WAIT! They don’t. IHmm, I’m sure they made some deal with somebody about that. I gave up on ALL paper gun mags. The same 10 articles, just with different pics.

  21. Ditto on Jeff @ Gunblast.
    I still like the site, the presenter, and the video’s, but he’s never had a bad gun I guess.

    In fairness, a lot of negatives can be subjective, and such reviewers my not allow their personal like, dislikes, and biases into the mix. That’s the good.

    The other is that the guns these guys obtain for test and evaluation may be carefully worked over ‘ringers’.

    So what’s a guy to do? Trust forum reviews? These can often suffer form “squeaky wheel” syndrome, where the uncommon failure gets the most posts.

    And we are unlikely to see a gun blog wherein the blogger bought every item reviewed at retail. (this, IMO, would cut the number of Kel-Tec reviews dramatically, since you can’t really buy them at retail anyway).

    I bought a taurus Revolver based on an American Handgunner review.

    It failed out of the box. Once fixed, it’s been an OK gun. The value of it was teaching me the lack of precision and QC in Taurus revolver internals. While not bitter, I pass on Taurus wheel guns, pretty much forever.

  22. There was a car magazine (Sport Compact Car) that would call it as they saw it. They happened to give a negative review of a magazine sponsor’s part in one issue, and within a few months they went from a monthly book (80+ pages) to a thin magazine. They died from lack of funding a few years later.

    All that to say that print media is captive to specific, big money advertisers. This is becoming even worse as people want the content for free and so will not pay the increased prices necessary to maintain that type of integrity in print. The integrity/free content model works much better with the micro-transactions of web advertising and pay by the click/view.

    This is all aside from the print media “writer’s” desire to maintain their gravy train, of course.

    • TTAG’s business plan is built around lead generation, not advertising. (Watch this space.) And even if TTAG was ad-based I’d rather the site disappear than betray our readers’ trust. That’s just how I roll.

      Put another way, you can’t publish a [credible] website called the truth about guns without telling the truth about guns. Which is why I chose the name in the first place.

      • Interesting. I’m not in marketing by any means, so that is not something I was familiar with.

        Regarding the statement about the credibility of the website, I’ve been reading you since you started TTAC, so I hope you don’t think I was criticizing the site.

  23. posting negative, albeit true, reviews backfires on print media reviewers, much more-so that on internet based reviewers.

    chuck hawks for example and his tear down of cheaply made guns and the subsequent ripping the gun community gave him afterwards.

    http://www.chuckhawks.com/critical_look.htm

    everything he states is true, and he is hated for it by manufacturers and the owners of the guns who don’t want to hear that the gun they bought is junk.

    another writer (and gunsmith) would be gunplumber at ARS.

    http://www.arizonaresponsesystems.com/notes/notesfal/falent1/pagefalent1.shtml

    he gave an honest review of a product detailing all of its problems and he was sued by the manufacturer for his trouble.

  24. When I need a gun review, I go here first. You people aren’t afraid to point out a POS gun (I.e. High Point) or the shortcomings of an otherwise good gun (such as the trigger pull). If it is a good review, I go to gunblast to reassure myself.

  25. as a life member i was getting the magazine every month for more years than i remember…
    they stopped sending it last year and said i would get an ‘online’ edition with “more and better” content by logging on to their website…
    i haven’t done so, and i don’t miss it …
    the only deadtree gun mag i purchase is Handloader, everything else is just a waste of time anymore…

  26. From what I have seen, this is not unique to the gun industry. Many magazines live and die by the ads which generates the big bucks, not the subscription. Give a bad review and bye-bye ad money. Other companies follow suite.

    I see the same happening to some blogs which have hit the big time as well. Once AOL started to purchase some internet blogs, the reviews also changed and in turn some of the original creators of the blogs have left to start new sites with the original intent once again intact.

    It makes you also question the reviews they do publish and what they leave out

  27. For those of us who can’t just go out and buy the latest gold-plated whatever, reviews are essential, especially of guns (or whatever) that are actually affordable. So many gun mags are basically porn. I’m sure that $3000 rifle is great, but if I’m looking for a $400 rifle, I know I’ll have to make some compromises, and I need real, honest info about what those compromises will be, and what I can do to fix the shortcomings – trigger, stock fit, etc. The many forums can be a crap shoot, as everybody wants to love the gun they bought.

    I do like Chuck Hawks. He’s a curmudgeon’s curmudgeon. He may be harsh at times, but if he says it’s good, it’s probably good.

  28. This is all too true, I have yet to read a negatively written article in A.R. Still, in their defense, the accuracy table usually tells the tale.

    I remember one review (Para GI Expert), they spent the article praising the gun. But they did remember to mention that the finish was worn after a few trips thru a holster and the accuracy table made it clear that this thing was Minute of Barn door and not much better. Oh, and there were a few FTF and FTE’s in the first few hundred rounds.

    So, yes, they dont spend a lot of ink trashing guns that suck, but they usually (I hope) state the facts.

    Like many things, dont believe everything you read.

  29. I don’t understand the point of this article or the comments. We all know that there is only one true gun, according to all gun magazines, the great John Browning’s M1911, which, by the way, celebrated it’s 100th anniversary in the year 2011. In light of this known fact, why are gun reviews even necessary?

  30. “we don’t publish negative reviews.”

    duuuh!

    When an issue of American Rifleman has a 4 page paid advertisment insert featuring 2 new Taurus guns, and a review of the same, I don’t expect we’ll see unbiased reporting.

    There’s an art to reading magazine gun reviews. And, I guess, an art to writing them.I recall seeing some sentences in the American Rifleman review of Remington’s 1911 that seemed a backhanded way of telling us that the machining wasn’t that good. Ditto, when in one (of several) reviews of the Taurus Judge they showed us a photograph covering two pages, of the back of the Judges cylinder. Even my wife, who is no gunny, remarked on the visible poor work on the ejector star.

    I don’t bother with the print magazines.I go to gunblast.com, for his excellent detail photos. I go to Internet gun forums for real world reviews by people who spend their own money on hardware.

  31. I can’t see what is wrong with the NRA’s policy – as a body that intends to offer support to the gun industry, they are doing the manufacturer of a flawed product a favor in telling them what is wrong and letting them correct whatever was wrong in the first place. Giving a negative review would, most likely open the door for some crooked anti gun politician to use the review to set government lawyers on a gunmaker, or permit an unscrupulous lawyer to use the review as an “expert opinion” of sorts to sue. Where would the anti gunners get better fodder to sue a gunmaker with than from the pages of the NRA’s own magazine? Positive criticism that permits a manufacturer to rectify whatever flaws / issues there might be with a particular firearm is a far better way as it helps both the manufacturer and potential clients by offering a more refined product than was initially offered.

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