This review page is supported in part by the sponsors whose ad banners are displayed below
A few more comments on last month's A Broken Business Model and our subsequent policy change seem in order. To preface what follows, it's good to remind ourselves of our perennial human conflict between facts and perception. We're continuously surrounded by and interact with the facts of life. Yet our perception of these facts is subject to many filters. There are the biological filters of our nervous system and senses. Then there are psychological filters like beliefs, fears, biases, preferences and so forth. Changes in the psych filters alter our perception. Let's see whether we can apply that to our topic.

The perhaps biggest perception hurdle about our new policy is its new direct connection. As I intend to show, it's not really new. It seems more direct but has been in place since day one. People in general have no or fewer issues with the concept of a commercial review magazine's ad revenues when they all seem to pool into a pot somewhere in the cloud. The money pot's overall size and how much individual companies contribute to it is known only to the administrative offices and the owners. Out of those anonymous funds, the billing department dispenses monthly salaries to the full-time reviewers, per-job fees to the freelancers. It looks like a perfect separation of church and state.

That separation is an illusion. Once ads publish, everyone knows their contributors. The writers and public may not know specific rates; or for a given issue whether any ad is a single insertion or part of a lengthy campaign. But everyone knows that the front and back covers cost the most; and that full-page ads are costlier than small ones tucked into the classified section. Whilst advertising may really not talk to editorial, editorial is most assuredly looking at its own ads. Readers and writers following any magazine over time are fully informed who the most regular and biggest sponsors are.

Even so a staunch claim keeps being made about the impenetrable Chinese wall between the content-creation and admin departments. That's the essential disconnect upon which this entire business model rests to eliminate perception of undue influence between departments. If this separation was in place, how do you explain that in the close to nine years I've lived and worked out of Europe, I keep hearing this over and over again. "The print magazines in our country won't even talk to us about reviews unless we take out a one-year campaign which we can't afford. To us their doors are closed." What's the upshot? Whilst Editorial may not talk to the ad department, if manufacturer won't talk to it, Editorial won't talk to them.

This leads to what a Brit maker referred to when contacting us a few days ago for a review. He thought our new policy "most fair" and then explained why. "I do like the honest 6moons approach because I am very wary of certain corrupt publications which manipulate reviews based on a philosophy of back scratching." That's key. Reasonable people fully appreciate that a commercial publication must rely on revenues. Unless it's clearly spelled out however, they don't know the exact rules of engagement. Something is obviously required. It couldn't be any other way. But what. And how to go about it? Especially for manufacturers new at it or from a different culture, this very thing becomes a huge barrier of entry.

Our new direct approach removes this uncertainty. The rules of engagement are clearly spelled out. Now that artificial hole-ridden Chinese wall of perception collapses. With the pretense broken for good, naysayers now struggle with the concept that a writer who has become direct-connected to a revenue stream could remain fair, unbiased and untainted in his or her opinion. If their salary or review fee arrived in their bank account by some circuitous ad-revenue route, it's not a problem. If for each review you hand them a check in the envelope directly, they've become culpable. The indirect route is called salary or fee. The direct route is called quid pro quo. Doesn't that distinction seem just a bit artificial?

Still the contamination concern rules. So let's look at the detail in our case. Our new minimum review buy-in is a one-month small token ad. It costs less than my monthly health insurance. It's less than 1/10th of what a single-insertion full-page print ad in a major US glossy used to cost 10 years ago. It's something everyone can afford. Those who'd insinuate that I would treat reviewing for such a small amount any different than I have all along clearly have by themselves never built up something worthwhile from nothing. Otherwise they'd understand this to their very bones: You'd never jeopardize it for 100 times such an amount.

It all comes down to a reviewer's credibility being his only stock in trade. A technically brilliant writer without credibility makes noise. Perhaps it's beautiful noise but it's hollow. A writer with less finessed prose but solid credibility carries weight. Such credibility is hard to build, very easy to undermine. Having worked for more than a decade to create reader trust, why would we now betray it and in turn jeopardize our own sweat equity? Does it really make sense to first build a strong outreach pier, then start taking out its pylons one by one?

The obvious answer? It makes no sense whatsoever. Just as obviously, it doesn't prevent naysayers from thinking that's exactly what we're doing. So let me propose another way of looking at it. After all, it's about perception. Under our new policy, we've in effect become enthusiast-type paid consultants to our readers who have free access to our opinions and conclusions. If we were paid consultants to the manufacturers, our findings would remain off the record. They'd be used to quietly address and fix whatever criticisms we made. But since we're paid consultants to our readers, our findings are there for all to see - the good, the bad and the indifferent. That the outright bad occurs rarely is simply a function of most product today being at least competent (otherwise it'd bomb quickly in today's interconnected market); and review acceptance relying on some form of pre-vetting. Back to paid consultancy.

It's the norm in all sectors of business. Good consultants are paid to be honest. Otherwise they're of no use. In the review sector people only have a hard time accepting honesty because overt criticism can have such an obvious impact on a maker's ability to sell. That's why the going model hinges on the Chinese wall. It's just not as impenetrable as it claims to be. Put differently, it's not prevented widespread reader cynicism and pervasive accusations of undue influence. The great equalizer is today's Internet with its real-time responsiveness; and the fact that reviews are in the public domain for all to inspect and dissect at their leisure.

What are reviews? Sonic descriptions and practical complaints. The former are about flavours, different sonic ideals and subjective performance attributes. Practical complaints can connect with subjective complaints if a writer can't extricate his personal preferences; but mostly deal with price, lack of competitiveness, industrial design, finish, features and behavioural quirks. If a reviewer fails to properly cover the full range of potential criticisms as separate from personal likes or dislike about sonic personalities, he or she is subject to immediate triangulation in the forums, blogs and by competing reviews. If you're bad or sloppy at your job or play games, it's no secret. Your work is out in the open. Particularly with web-based publishing in English, it's global. The perception problem remains of course. Even though we're paid consultants to our readers, it's the manufacturers who pay us. How could we possibly remain unbiased and independent in our opinions?

The answer is so obvious that it's too easy to miss! Unlike 'big corporate' publications with physically separate admin offices in often different cities, we have never operated like that. From day one 6moons has been a single owner/operator affair and never pretended to be otherwise. I've always worn all of the hats and still do. I write my own reviews. I edit and format those of our contributors. I translate and reformat our syndications. I handle all our Photoshop processing. I cover news and certain shows. I write industry features and music reviews. I handle site maintenance. Upon instruction, I create banner and ad graphics for companies who lack their own graphic departments to supply them. I handle billing and receivables. I'm Editorial and admin in one person. Always have been, always will be.

So here's the upshot. If you've liked us so far, nothing has changed. We've never hidden behind the pretense of a wall. If we've managed to operate with fairness and credibility for all these years without having a Chinese wall in place, ever... what suggests that we couldn't or wouldn't continue in exactly the same way? It's not the system which guarantees fair play. All systems are imperfect. It's how people within them apply personal morality and self discipline. Our new system is no more or less infallible than the old. I simply believe that we've proven consistency and fair play to now implement a small change which, a/ begins to pay our writers a small fee for their efforts and dedication, and b/ offsets the imbalance of generous ad supporters holding the bag for the majority of their competitors who want our work for free whilst benefiting their own for-profit endeavours.

Remember, the prevailing attitude which prompted our policy change was "help us improve or launch our business but do it for nothing." This should really be countered with "if we agree to work for free on 70% of the reviews we write as we did before the policy change, will you agree to donate 70% of your equipment free of charge to people who can't afford it"? No matter how loud he may bark, I'm rather sure that dog won't hunt!