Are Blog Reviews Worth Anything? Is Print Media Better?

Are blog reviews worth anything? This is a question that I have been kicking around since publishing a couple of posts on Negative Gear Reviews. In my first post, we asked: When is it appropriate to post a negative gear review? Rand Lindsay (Co-Founder of Trail Designs and the Caldera Cone alcohol stove) added some comments that got me thinking in different ways. We asked if there is really such a thing as Negative Gear Review? And many of you commented sharing your opinions.

Katadyn Hiker that I reviewed after purchase with my own money.

While developing that post Rand and I talked a lot about Gear Reviews. In the conversation he mentioned that blog reviews aren’t very appealing to him as a Vendor. Rand said: “It is many times not in our interest to support a review from a blogger. Their reach is pretty limited and the ‘wild card’ factor hard to anticipate.” You never know how a blogger is going to represent a product. But, at the same time bloggers are easy to scope out. They have a lot of content available that revels their opinions and biases, and gives the vendor an opportunity to assess their ability to even write a review. Looking at these factors, Rand suggests, vendors will often times refuse to send free gear to a blogger in an attempt to “protect” their brand.

I must admit that hurt my pride a little. One of the reasons I started MyLifeOutdoors was in hopes of reviewing free gear. I thought that if I could develop a well respected voice in the outdoor community then companies would want to send me free gear to review. And many do, but most of those companies are new and trying to make a name for themselves. They will often offer me gear in exchange for a small link with a specific key word. This is all part of SEO development, which I admit, i don’t fully understand.

I asked Rand about blogger reviews. After all it seems to me that you have basically two types of people out there. They type that only read and respect Print Media, and the then you have your blogger types, who want to see a good blog review before buying a product. I happen to be one of the latter. I almost never buy a product unless I can read a blog review about it. I prefer the depth of blog reviews. Most Print reviews I read are brief, vague, with only one stock image. Where as blog reviews are in depth and have multiple photos. In my mind a smart company would seek both in an effort to appeal to the largest crowd possible.

Rand agreed with my assessment yet still hesitates to give out gear for blog reviews. he said:

“Our product is actually really good and popular……and there is no problem getting a lot of positive blog reviews.” [I Assume from bloggers who bought a stove with their own money.]   “Also, since we are so unique and patented, we essentially have no competition.   So, yes, blogs are very important to us because of everything you said.   But, also, because of everything you said we have to be careful with the bloggers we give it to.   If there are guys out there who never used alcohol stoves before, and love their pocket-rocket or whisperlite, they are going to hate our system……so we avoid those kinds of guys.”

So it seems, at least through my limited experience and research, that up and coming companies really need blogs to build a name for their gear. But once that name is built it has to be protected.

Rand went on to say:

“Print media, however, is  a slam dunk. Their reach is huge and they typically don’t do a review if it isn’t going to be favorable. Not saying they are doing bad reviews and putting out information they don’t believe in…..more that they just won’t say anything or won’t even review it if it isn’t something they think their readership will appreciate.”

Which brings up another question. When was the last time you saw a negative review in a magazine? This was recently asked about blogs, but I don’t think I have ever heard anyone ask that of print media. But I can’t remember ever seeing negative print review. And no one questions print media reviews. Blogs are now required by law to disclose how they received the gear they are reviewing. Are their similar laws governing Magazines? I don’t think I have ever seen such a disclosure in a magazine.

I don’t know the answers to these questions, and Rand is the only Vendor to give me insight from their side of things. Are their more vendors out their that would be willing to chime in? What about you? Are Blog reviews better? Is Print Media Better? What do you think about “protecting” your products name? What do you think about giving free gear in exchange for SEO links building and the like? I would really like to hear what you have to say? Please comment below.

Similar Posts:
Bad Gear Reviews: No Such Thing?
When is it Appropriate to Post a Negative Product Review? – A Discussion

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21 thoughts on “Are Blog Reviews Worth Anything? Is Print Media Better?”

  1. Marketing is still catching up with why bloggers are useful. For those that are worth their salt, they see a few big benefits to blogger reviews: Price, fixes and improvements.

    I've read a lot from experienced, professional bloggers and the resounding agreement is that, for big companies, the cheapest form of advertising is giving away a free product. When you consider how much a marketing plan costs and paid advertisements, you quickly see that a brand can drop a product at production cost and get a permanent advertisement on the web that anyone looking for a review will encounter.

    I write reviews for a magazine every now and then and their 2012 standards are pretty high. Their feedback from the OR gear show is to beat up the gear and give an honest review with lots of pros and cons. Don't go easy on the product. Why? Real world testing with real world feedback helps big companies as they are always improving their designs and listening to people can have a really positive effect on many levels. I've worked in QA for around 10 years and customers catch stuff all the time and make recommendations on improvements. When we fix something or listen to them, they develop more loyalty to the brand.

    Basically, it's cheap and if the reviewer is honest it brings in useful feedback for the brand. Bloggers need to be more honest and not be afraid to bash a product (constructively) every now and then. From the blogger side it helps build trust not only between us and the brand, but between us and our readers too! If we always give raving reviews then we'll lose all that trust.

  2. You make a good point. I wish more companies would realize the cheap advertising benefit in giving gear for blog reviews. And I think I agree with your assessment of negative reviews building trust. Does not the same apply to print media? Magazines seem to have adopted a philosophy of "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all." They are bound to run in to some bad gear with all those products they are beating up in real world testing. But you never read about the bad ones. But a lot of people trust them. Is trust built by a magazine? Or do we give it freely, simply because they have a big staff and a glossy cover?

  3. Print media takes a step beyond into Marketing. While we would probably never make blogging a living, they make their living that way and can't afford to scare off big brands.

  4. Personally, If I was going to rip apart a product completely and a company provided me the gear I'd give them the feedback first. Give them a chance to ptake action. It allows you to say, "this was bad, but I talked to the company and now they're going to make some changes"

  5. Makes since, but isn't that the criticism for blog reviews? That we have something to gain by positing positive reviews. And if we post negative we risk scaring off other companies that might give free gear. This seems to be Rand's stance. If you are free with your opinions he would prefer to pass on you as a reviewer.

    And if Print Media is making its living through marketing, shouldn't we question their motives in blog reviews? It seems this would make blog reviews more valuable, because we have less to lose by posting a bad review. Making us more likely to be honest in our reviews.

    I'm not saying Print Media is dishonest, I'm just asking why we don't question it?

  6. It could be something simpler. Bigger companies have trouble changing to meet the market. If there is no buy in from the higher ups then you can't get it published. It is a radically different philosophy.

  7. Maybe I should get on and write a review on how rubbish I found my MSR titan pot Caldera Cone to be. I mentioned once about it flaring and setting fire to the ground. Rand asked about it on a forum I recall. I don't recall an answer that reassured me about it. Something on the lines of we have done something about it (well not the one I own). So protection the brand is the game. Well it's a good brand overall based on the other caldera pots I have used – but bloggers and anyone posting on a forum can show the short comings of kit. You google, and find answers. You don't need the magazine.

    But back to the comment on blogs that "Their reach is pretty limited" really. Google Terra Nova Solar Competition 1 , or Jetboil Sol Ti review and they are no 1 or in the top five in google. All by bloggers. "WOW" limited reach. So in the UK the top outdoor magazine is selling 40,000 a month. A blog post in the top ten in Google reaches a lot more. Millions could find it. Hiking In Finland and Section Hiker reach as many or more than the top selling UK outdoor magazine in a month standing alone. Limited reach I don't think so.

    Online is the threat to magazines. People are stopping buying magazines. Bloggers and forums are where to find out about kit more and more. You can spot a good blog review. Trip reports show photos of the kit in use. The blogger then writes a review with feedback on how it performed, design etc. You can suss the rest from there. Not a stock photo and some claim of a test. Print is going to be around for a while longer but online with blogs is where it's going. Way better. But I am biased. I like blogs.

  8. I'm biased too. Which was my whole point. There seems to be an ever growing number of people who prefer blog reviews over print media. But the manufactures don't seem to have recognized the potential. As Paul points out below. A good blog review is permeant advertisement for the cost of one piece of gear. Regardless of reach, anyone googling gear by name is likely to run into a blog review. That is if your gear has been reviewed by a blogger. Seems like a smart company would want to get several good blog reviews out there for the google bots to find and categorize.

  9. Martin, +1, bud. As a blogger, I can say that with few exceptions my reviews get more action than my other posts. Google "GoLite Shangi-La 1". I'm front page baby! The first review listed. That means that my opinion matters to someone.
    As a consumer, I see print reviews as verbatim copies of manufacturers' product descriptions. Or, I can't qualify the reviewer by background. Are they weight focused? Do they only hike in good weather? Are they using the item in multiple sports? What are their biases? It's just too vague for me.
    So, I look to people I've come to respect and trust. Martin Rye is a perfect example. Because of his MLD Trailstar review, I will shortly order one.
    Thanks for the great post Steven!

  10. Rand does make some good points, especially in relation to who would be a bad reviewer. But as to your point of not seeing negative reviews in magazines, assuming you're not strictly speaking about backpacking magazines, I've often seen bad reviews on products and software in MacLife magazine.

  11. I don't spend a lot of time reading software magazines. I subscribe to a few backpacking magazines and I can't remember ever reading a bad (negative) review in any of them. But i haven't been looking for bad reviews either. I may notice some now that its on my mind.

  12. My answer to the question in the title would be: Sometimes.

    Many reviews on many blogs don't have any worth for me. Often they are more like introducing a product or some sort of "first looks". For a blog review to be of worth for me, it should be in depth, add information (for example measurements not easily available) and it should be based on long term experience. I emphasise the latter. If you can wear out the product in one year then wearing it out and documenting the use before writing the review will give all the experience needed for a good and honest review. If the piece of equipment to be reviewed is more durable then mayeb a year/season of use in varying conditions would be good starting point. This sort of reviews are hard to find but they tend to be very good.

    Magazines do some things better than bloggers. Print media reviews are often "brief, vague, with only one stock image" as you said but magazines have the money and muscles to do big comparative tests and reports (state of the market report type of suff) and do some cool measurements and tests that are out of the reach of bloggers (i.e. standard testing of the warmth of sleeping bags, thermal imaging of sleeping pads, punching holes into air matresses, etc.) There is also good stuff in magazines.

    I think I agree and disagree with both sides here: Bloggers are cheap and good marketing tool but the reach is far from limited! But there is also the random factor to get a poor review or a negative one. Negative reviews shouldn't be a problem as long as they are constructive but this might not always be the case with bloggers… Print media is more predictable and both sides know how things roll when co-operating.

  13. We research all our camping gear, campsites etc. If we come across a blog review by an individual not affiliated with a company, then we will read that review very closely, and compare it with others (but sometimes there is a degree of scepticism with some print articles – are they being paid to be nice?)

    Whilst vendors may not place a whole lot of value on such reviews, myself, as a consumer does take it all into consideration.

    We have just started listing the equipment we like & equipment we don't, at our website. Maybe its not expert or in-depth but its from real users in real situations, and I think that alone holds merit.

    If you or any of your readers would like to add to our product reviews (comments welcome), please head across to our website http://www.gocampingaustralia.com

  14. I have given reviews on my blog of equipment I've either bought or been sponsored with. I think honesty is the most important thing, since others are depending on that review to shed light on a product. Even if I was sponsored by a company with a product and it was terrible, I would have to say so, since someone else may need that information to base a purchase from…and it could potentially mean life-or-death to them. I think in all things in life, especially reviews where other people need your actual input, honesty wins every time.

    I love your blog, and have gotten a lot from it… 🙂

    Rawhide
    http://thf2.wordpress.com

  15. It seems difficult to me to provide long term reviews. By the time you have used gear for a year plus, companies start moving on to new versions of the same gear. This isn't always the case but a lot of times it is. For instance, if I wear a pair of boots for one or two years and then post a review, you may or may not be able to buy those boots anymore. Whats the point in reviewing something you can't buy anymore. On the other hand if one piece of gear is made the same way for many years…its probably because it is made really well and is very popular. In which case a review may simply be telling people what they already know.

    Just some thoughts…is this what you find?

  16. I agree honesty is important. Does the same apply to the blogger themselves. I think the main thing Rand is concerned about is weather or not we are being honest with ourselves when we review a product. That is weather or not we are looking at it with an open mind and with the manufactures intentions in mind. I am often tempted to say what I do and don't like…which is me being honest. But…for instance I am reviewing a knife right now with a belt/pocket clip. I don't like the knife clipped in my pocket because I can't put my hands in my pocket, the knife takes up to much room. Is this the knifes fault? Or is it the pants I have chosen to wear? Maybe I should clip the knife on to my belt? In any case it doesn't make it a bad knife. But it could make me a bad reviewer if I'm not honest with myself about what I'm reviewing.

    Heres an example of a bad (poorly written and reviewed) review I have posted:

    http://www.mylifeoutdoors.com/2011/01/boot-review-magnum-precision-ultra-lite.html

  17. Do you think magazines really get paid to write a review? Obviously they sell ads to the same companies that they review gear for. And if they write bad things they may loose those ads…but surely they don't get paid for the reviews themselves.

  18. Your right. It seems more like a brand highlight than anything else. I'm not even convinced he has ever worn the product. He tells us about the properties of wool. Tells us how they get their wool. Tells us how they started selling wool. And then tells us product line options. I'm not sure the word "review" should be anywhere near this article.

  19. Great blog. I had no idea how this system worked and you make a great point. Look at outdoor adventure magazines. They definitely get their gear for free to test, but putting out a negative review would eliminate chances for having that company advertise in their magazine – not to their best interest. Using blogs for SEO rankings is extremely smart on the part of gear companies, but not great for people looking for honest reviews. I post honest reviews and observations on my site – UndiscoveredEarth.com but you don't see it in print.

  20. I think it's important to be honest about a product. If you bought a knife and the handle broke off the first time you used it, you would tell your hunting buddies not to buy it cause it's junk. If it did great you'd tell them to get one. I don't want my opinion of a product swayed just because I got to test it for free. Gear either works or it doesn't.

    Just my opinion on the matter.

    Ben

    http://www.fromthepeavine.blogspot.com

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