The Genuine Article
The imminent deaths of major media platforms always make for good headlines. Video was going to spell the end of radio and cinema. In fact, cinema has been pronounced dead many more times than Lazarus… despatched by not just by video, but television and now movie streaming. Cinema itself surely meant the last curtain for theatre and opera. Likewise the printed book, most recently supposedly killed off by the electronic version – surely the most over-hyped media ‘revolution’ of this century (so far, that is). e-books peaked at around 20 percent of the market – certainly enough to cause some disruption – but have had nowhere near the impact on ‘traditional’ publishing that was originally predicted.
And, of course, nobody is reading magazines any more. oh, sorry… you’re here now, aren’t you? It’s certainly true that in some areas, the immediacy of online information sources is reshaping the print industry (most notably newspapers), but in the magazine world, the special interest publications can still offer distinct advantages from production values through to precisely targeted audiences.
The whole process of producing a magazine inherently involves checks and balances that aren’t always present online. The Weekend
Australian Magazine’s food writer and restaurant critic, John Lethlean, recently wrote a column about the growing scourge of bloggers and so-called ‘influencers’ pretending to be fair-dinkum product 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, knuckledragging 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 hotels and tourism, 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 when 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.
In one form or another, ProPhoto has been around since the early 1930s (which must make it one of the longest-lived magazines in Australia) and there are plenty of other titles in areas such as motoring, aviation, music and computers that are now chalking up 30, 40 or 50 years. 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’.