As far as "selling" of review samples goes, and has already been stated, of course that's an unethical practice for samples that are received for free. However, in some instances, sometimes professional reviewers are offered discount pricing to buy an item (that is, if the reviewer wants to buy it of course). Not only have I heard about this practice, I was offered it myself once when I previously wrote for StereoMojo.com and wanted to buy a review sample. As far as that went, the rule was that I had to own the review sample for at least a year, so I followed that rule to the end. I did end up selling it over a year later, at the reviewer discount price that I paid.
I had another experience a long time ago where a well-known manufacturer of portable amps was offering review units to reviewers on Head-Fi, so I requested one. This was several years ago, when I was just starting out writing reviews. There were no particular criteria set by the manufacturer so I just assumed that I could write my honest opinion, as I've always done. I posted a highly negative review. Afterwards I tried twice to contact the manufacturer to return the review sample, but never got a response. I could only assume that they didn't want the sample back and that they probably didn't like my negative review either. I finally ended up raffling off the review sample on Head-Fi and donated the proceeds to charity. Donating proceeds to charity is another option that can be considered instead of just giving a review sample to someone, well at least for review samples you've paid for. I've never received "free" items that I could keep before, but if I did, I'd probably organize a giveaway as I used to do several years ago. (I'd prefer a raffle to donate to charity but as I've found out, PayPal doesn't like its account holders running raffles through their system so I'm never doing that again.)
Some general guideliness that I can share based on my experience on Head-Fi over the years and previously with StereoMojo:
- Always act professional and courteously when communicating with vendors. You never know when you might meet them in person (I've met many over the years at meets & shows) and a good relationship with them will only help you. If you don't already have good skills in writing-based communication, you can learn to develop them.
- Always ask the manufacturer any questions you have before starting a review. Not every manufacturer has the same rules/protocol. And always seek to return the review sample. Make sure you get it in writing that you can keep something and what you're permitted to do with a review sample that you can keep.
- Always disclose the terms of the review in the review itself for manufacturer loans - i.e., clearly state that you received a loan from the manufacturer (or other source) and don't forget to thank them. If they allowed you to keep the sample, you should state that as well. You should do this "full disclosure" because it's honest, and it will let your readers know of all the facts that they need to know to take your review in the proper context.
- If you have to ship a review sample back, use either FedEx or UPS Ground which have full tracking and can provide insurance, because you don't want to have to shell out of pocket if the review sample gets damaged or lost.
- For those who attend meets/shows, it never hurts to develop personal relationships with vendors. You can only help yourself by talking to them (unless of course you have no social skills, heh).
- And of course, seek to review stuff that you're actually interested in. Especially relevant on Head-Fi where most reviewers are unpaid. What's the point in the review if you're not getting anything out of it yourself?
- Likewise, don't forget that Head-Fi has a huge audience and not everyone will take your review the way you might want - i.e., some people won't be influenced by it, others will, and there are always people who will attack your opinion or your methods, or both (heh). So just remember that a lot of people won't share your opinion - you need to have thick skin and always remember why you're writing reviews, whether it's for yourself or another reason.
- If you take and post pics of the review sample, don't show the sample being propped on another object that will lead people to wonder how clean the other object is - i.e., you don't want anyone thinking that you're abusing or otherwise dirtying up the review sample. (Btw, yes I'm wondering how clean that carton is!)
- Don't post poorly-lit or blurry photos either, as they're never flattering. It's better to not post pics at all.
- Make sure that you keep the review sample in as pristine condition as possible, whether you return it or not (unless of course you plan on buying it and keeping it forever).
Review listening & writing:
Edited by Asr - 9/21/13 at 9:54pm
- Make sure you listen to the equipment, and then listen to it again. Your impressions might change more than once over a period of time. I suggest allowing at least 2 weeks to listen to the equipment before starting the writing process (though I do recommend taking notes along the way). 2 weeks is a standard amount of time in the reviewing industry. I recommend asking for more time if possible though, especially if you anticipate a busy schedule.
- Consider what you want to share before actually putting your digital pen to paper. Some forethought on this can help you structure your review better instead of just writing extemporaneously.
- Be honest in your opinion, whether positive or negative. No one wants to read a dishonest opinion.
- Make sure the review is formatted nicely into paragraphs and is readable. No one wants to read a huge wall of text. Consider length as well - you don't want to write something that's really long (I'm sort of guilty of this but always have a hard time condensing reviews due to the amount of info that I want to share), but you don't want a review that's really short either and says nothing.
- Spelling/grammar should always be checked with word processing software like Microsoft Word. No offense to any reviewers, but obvious typos and mistakes can make you look either uneducated or unprofessional.
- Don't use "Internet-speak" or arcane contractions of the English language. Those will make you look unprofessional.
- It can help to re-read a review more than once when you think you're done with it. You might see wording you want to change or a better way to express an idea. (I usually re-read my reviews at least twice, if not 3 times.)
- List your gear in the review. Also include your biases if applicable, and/or any past or current experience you have with music and/or audio that can give you extra credibility (for example, if you've recorded or mastered in studios before, or if you play an instrument, etc). x2 on post #38 below mine, definitely include those as well.
- However I vehemently disagree with numerically "rating" equipment. IMO that just leads to bad results - I know everyone likes to assign a nice number to a certain piece of gear, but readers will definitely misinterpret ratings and will only want to buy the #1-rated item. For that reason, they hurt the manufacturers as well, because when you have a rating scale where everyone wants to buy #1, the manufacturers of the other items will receive fewer sales. I always highly opposed Skylab's numerical rating system for that reason and it's one of the reasons why I don't do it myself. Rating systems end up just doing a disservice to the community and the manufacturers.