BEWARE OF IMITATIONS
IN THE LAST GLOBAL reader survey conducted by TIPA (which included us, of course), a fraction under 91 percent of respondents cited photography magazines as their chief source of information and rated them ahead of the Internet, trade fairs and specialist retailers in terms of trustworthiness. Now, as these people are all readers of photo magazines, this result isn’t entirely surprising, but it still underlies the value of independent and reputable editorial content produced by highly experienced and respected journalists.
The Weekend Australian Magazine’s food writer and restaurant critic, John Lethlean, has now penned several columns and spoken on the radio about the growing scourge of bloggers and so-called ‘influencers’ pretending to be fair-dinkum reviewers when they’re essentially being paid – in one way or another – for their comments which, naturally, are always positive. Lethlean calls it “the murky, knuckle-dragging online quid pro quo publishing scene with zero grasp of independent commentary”… which is a pretty succinct sum-up of the situation. It’s particularly problematic in the restaurant business, fashion and travel, but it happens in every consumer market and it can be very hard to pick the genuine review from one that’s been fabricated in return for some sort of payola. The number of likes, friends, followers or whatevers is no indicator of integrity or independence – and certainly not of expertise or experience – yet it’s increasingly touted as being a measure of something important or even valuable. It’s seen as the quick way to an audience, but it’s really all smoke and mirrors because just how much of that audience is actually engaged or even real is impossible to verify. It’s also a comparatively cheap way to an audience – even one that’s mostly mythical – if all you have to do is provide a free meal, product or service. Advertising that delivers quantifiable results is rather more expensive because it does just that… gets results.
John Lethlean writes, “… this stuff is part of an ever-eroding drip of collusion and corruption that over time has led to a belief out there in the real world that this is how it’s all actually done… those who present themselves as ‘guides’ who are actually just packaging marketing material… a cosy little arrangement for all that provides no meaningful direction to consumers whatsoever”.
In our business, the online world is full of so-called equipment reviewers, a tiny handful of whom actually provide a disclosure of any allegiances which could possibly have a bearing on their comments. A lot don’t and yet their “breathless positive exposure” (to quote Lethlean again) is supposedly credible and likely to influence buying decisions. In social media there are even fewer checks and balances so, as is seen quite regularly, anybody can say anything without any attribution, verification or research. Sorting fact from fiction – or the merely fanciful – is an impossibility. The thing is, though, I suspect consumers, even the less well-informed ones, are starting to wake up to all of this and apply a finer-meshed scepticism filter. Hopefully then, the days of sham endorsements are numbered.
Camera magazine has been around since 1979 and many others in photography for a lot longer. But none of us would have survived even a few months if we weren’t perceived as firstly, being anything less than completely independent and secondly, proficient in our chosen area of expertise. The reality is that quality editorial actually costs money to create, which is why it can never be bought or compromised, and why it will always achieve more effective outcomes than simply delivering a handful of ‘likes’.