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.