In a series of articles tagged ‘The END’, I’m going to be shining a light on the poor elements of the audio industry from my experiences, without naming names. Goodness I’ve spent disproportionately more time promoting the good products and positive aspects of audio, but with the sites demise, more time to centre the aircraft balance ball to notions of independent writing. No slipping or skidding away from it here (you’d have got this analogy if you are an aviation freak like me)……
Here’s the thing…..A HiFi company sends you a pair of speakers to review, nothing is agreed beforehand. They are fantastic speakers, one of the best I’ve ever tried at home. I do the review, they try to change it via their PR agent because they don’t like some of the English, albeit a style thing and grammaticarally correct. I tell them that I will be deciding on the wording. I thought I was the writer come editor? …Unless my arms aren’t my arms, my legs not mine too, unbelievably my pen even comes from someone else’s hand….
I not only do a written review after three or four days listening and an article which takes a day, but I also produce a video review to my YouTube channel (as I did with all reviews) and so far its had thousands of hits. The videos normally take 3-4 days, so we are over a week of work.
What then happens is numerous people contact me via my website and SM channels and say they have purchased these speakers based on my review. These are people who trust me and my honest approach to HiFi reviewing. It was never my intention to rate a product based on making money because the review site is honest as a number 1 objective. But that, if it is a very good product and I do work for a manufacturer, I should benefit if I generate sales in such circumstances. No free lunches and all that. The dealer has been only transactional in all this – simply a conduit to buy the product as the manufacturer don’t sell online or direct. With margins of speakers around the 20-30% point, or perhaps more, they have gained over £1k in the process of me doing the dog work. That’s for each of the dealers, for each of these sales.
This company only advertisers in one well known big circulation magazine and openly admits they don’t pay for any other advertising, which I find out after being loaned the speakers on speaking to the PR agent.
I ask the firm if they can support my site with an ad banner, which is before ascertaining they don’t place banners with other sites, in exchange for ad income. In any event the case at the moment, in Covid-19 times, is that marketing budgets have dried up to Saharan proportions, pretty much everywhere. The response from the firm is a firm NO, so I ask if they can support my site with a notional or nominal fee based on evidential sales the article and video has generated. Still NO. What? – are you kidding? This is not how the industry works, I get told.
So lets deconstruct that comment. The ‘way the industry works’ is we give you a product, it gets sales, and we don’t offer you benefit? I mean how else are you to receive support? It’s a mutual process to maintain a relationship in a business sense – one thing in consideration for another. My consideration is reward for effort and promotional work, just like the plumber or painter and decorator gets reward. I’m not even after masses of cash. Survival is king and I need to feel valued, to boot. But they are putting the boot in… It’s not reward for the fact I get exposure to my site where this manufacturer never has any intention, as we have established, of financially supporting the site. It’s actually anti business to have someone secure you sales but not offer reward, because it means ‘why should I bother again’? The firms attitude to me sending in emails of the people buying based on me, redacting personal identifying data of course, is “we don’t want them”. Maybe it’s the uncomfortable truth of their poor practice which elucidates such a comment?
So what do they want? They want sales but don’t want to benefit others who achieve it for them! This is the boys club of HiFi I often hear talked of, an unwillingness to expand the firm and bring down unit prices to exploit bigger markets and gain new entrants. They seem to be anti-business people, in business? It doesn’t make sense and it’s all a headf–k to me.
And I can hear or feel other reviewers of review sites shifting in their chairs uncomfortably – this isn’t how it worked for me…..I had to do this for years and years before it earnt income and a review from one firm who didn’t advertise was succour to traffic to the website to eventually build paid banners. It’s not just me though. On 6Moons, owner and editor Srajan Ebaen posted an article that it is disrespectful for manufacturers to expect reviews to be done for nothing where they don’t place advertising – he is right of course. Their review policy is to charge small nominal fees to help with costs, otherwise they say it is disrespectful to expect work for nothing. I agree – it too doesn’t mean people should be influenced if they are credible and the review is journalistic, as Srajan is clearly achieving. That the industry works this way to not pay reviewers on a case by case basis, is not the point is it? And my plight might make me sound extremely entitled in this and the above context – I’d of course say it isn’t, so would 6Moons, but why do I think so?
If you provide services for others, certainly in the UK, Quantum Meriut applies. This means “a reasonable sum of money to be paid for services rendered or work done when the amount due is not stipulated in a legally enforceable contract”. From my liability loss adjuster experience, this is certainly the case, and enshrines legislation like The Supply of Goods and Services Act (1982), as now modified by The Consumer Rights Act (2015) which entitles a reasonable charge for goods and/or services rendered, just like a painter and decorator is entitled to charge a reasonable fee for work. If they don’t agree a price ab-initio, they can still charge a reasonable fee for work done.
But Unjust Enrichment is a part of the law of obligations aside from tort law (negligence, nuisance etc) where one person is enriched at the expense of another in circumstances the law sees unjust. The tenets of Unjust Enrichment are that to succeed in a claim for same you have to show;
- The defendant has been enriched. This could be in terms of money, but can also be direct or indirect and includes benefits, saving from expense and discharging obligations.
- The enrichment was at the claimant’s expense. There must be a causal link between the claimant’s loss and the defendant’s gain.
- The enrichment was unjust. One or more of a number of reasons may be given, including mistake, duress or undue influence, failure to provide consideration for a conditional benefit, necessity or illegality.
- The possibility of any other legal remedies must have already been exhausted.
So this firm, who never have any intention of benefiting your site financially to ensure its survival, are enriched to the extent of around many tens of thousands of pounds (these are pricey speakers) at your cost. This is £1000’s in web development, buying pricey cameras, camera sliders, lenses and web hosting, hotel bills for shows etc. In my book this is called freeloading off the goodwill of other people. Or being a vulture, scavenger etc. Looking at who they place reviews with – other small independents and YouTube channels (one of whom is a very fast grower at the moment) they are building sales off the goodwill of others. They will exploit this process, not to pay. Hazarding a guess many of these sites, like mine, will fail financially and it isn’t too hard to see why when these manufacturers don’t pay their dues. But it’s not just this manufacturer, many others are at it….
I once visited a HiFi firm to see they have volumes of encyclopedia style review journals – all the reviews of their products. They were lined up like lawyers guides in chambers. Thick as the yellow pages or telephone directories with so many reviews each year. Flicking through, some of the sites either don’t exist anymore, or they are small scale affairs, like mine, which have all the odds against them and will more likely fail then succeed. Again we know why! But if you ran a business and you could try and get away with having someone review a product for free, would you? Personally I wouldn’t, even if I’m supporting them notionally. One UK distributor said to me once ‘I didn’t see much sales benefit from your review’, but this was an international product where others overseas would have benefited, and chances are, in an economic and ethical business sense, the review at least has the value of a fee on the sale of one product. Otherwise the manufacturer or agent wouldn’t be lending it to you – if they thought no sales would be generated.
Being skeptical, they wont add the *in-print* articles to websites for a reason, because normally the reviewer can make a case for charging with such an article shown on a third party website. That’s, I think, why they don’t add your review to their main website but only SM channels, because they will link the article to get away with not paying. The very well known mags and online site articles will be shown in-print however. It’s, I think, all cleverly worked out so they don’t have to pay much. You are just their cost, not the spreader of good fortune, enthusiasm, or any level of ‘get up and go‘. One distributor guy even said to me once that my worth is simply being able to get traffic off the marketing of manufacturers budgets. Really? Nothing of my ethos/approach/contribution. It showed the arrogance and complacency.
But here comes the real shocker… Brace yourself and get this!…. The PR agent tells me that once my review work is done, his intent is to invoice the speaker manufacturer for my review. All payment to him, not me! I suspect this is fairly standard and bolsters my view of these PR agents being reprehensible individuals, vultures to the reviewers efforts – remember over a week of my work. And why? ‘Earn Pounds…. you don’t even have to get out of bed…. call Pimp John on 012…..’ I came to him, all he did was send a few emails to request products. Meanwhile the, perhaps, naïve reviewer is taken advantage of by the industry to sell their wares.
This is an example of a broken industry that is eating itself in its own puked up juices, to my ameliorating efforts to make HiFi more inclusive, credible, and balanced and just…honest! It all goes to pot. It’s an example of an industry destroying itself. It’s an industry that is largely unethical and takes advantage of people for its own ends. A reader has just brought me to tears by posting this and I’m including it in full;
“Best of luck Simon, very sorry to see you go. I always appreciated your honesty in your reviews. It is frustrating that other reviewers do seem to have an agenda, or no clue. Sometimes relying on technical specs to boost their claims.
There was a new pair of a well known brand 10k speakers that were highly reviewed, I read many of them, great specs and even won numerous awards. I went to demo them and they were the brightest, harsh, almost painful speakers I had ever heard. We tried different components, tubes, analog, but they were still horrible. I thought it must be me. Then the shop owner left and the kid who ran for lunches told me that the manufacturer had told them that they knew they were issues with them being super bright and harsh, but that after a few “great” reviews people will buy them like hotcakes, no matter how they sound. That day I learned a lot from the lowest paid guy in the audio shop. So when someone, like you, who is willing to give their own honest opinion leaves, the whole industry suffers. As well as guys like me, a working Joe with a family, who saves, sells or works extra OT for years to afford an upgrade/change to his system and looking for solid information on value for that hard earned dollar.
Thanks for all your time and honesty, and please leave your site up as long as you can so others can stumble across it, as I once did, and learn.“
We saw the same poor practises in my article about UK based manufacturers and dealers charging restocking fees for distance sold returned stock, which in this country is illegal. It’s about Porsche’s parked on driveways, holidays in the Caribbean, not the Cotswold’s. It leads you to an overwhelming and overarching conclusion, that this industry desperately needs a bit more regulation by government and trading standards bodies to ensure people are paid what is due.