|Monthly Editorial by Marc Mickelson|
I was flabbergasted. While watching the Green Bay Packers get throttled by the Denver Broncos (and anticipating the barrage of e-mail from Jim Causey and Todd Warnke, both Bronco fans), I saw a commercial for hifi.com. A TV commercial for an audio website! Although SoundStage! is constantly growing, we are nowhere near the point where we can pay for TV time -- drat!
So what is hifi.com doing that we arent? E-commerce. hifi.com used to be the official site for Cambridge Soundworks, manufacturer and seller of speakers. "Cambridge Sound" is listed as the owner of the hifi.com domain, which has now branched out to sell many other lines of products than just the companys own. hifi.com makes its living selling audio products, in contrast to SoundStage! which only produces articles about them. Other sites, however, blur these two endeavors. e-town.com offers lots of online shopping help and has a store of online articles, and coolaudio.com has hired Wes Phillips, formerly of Stereophile and PR firm J.B. Stanton, to produce a column. I doubt Wes will write "you should buy the Model 1, which we sell," but the point is clear: coolaudio.com is a place you can read about equipment and buy it too.
The issue here is obvious -- can you be fair about something that is your livelihood? -- but I think its almost a moot point. Almost. Most people are savvy enough to know when they might be mislead, but on the Internet, where slick interfaces and subterfuge are commonplace, the line can be made purposely blurry. We all know a catalog when we see it and know to adjust our critical mind to account for the bias therein. But how can we know this on the Internet? I predict that content on these sites will soon be called something new -- "support" or "education" -- to distance it further from being thought of as thinly veiled promotional literature. While people may learn from such content, and it will certainly support purchasing from the website, I will still question its objectivity.
Of course, we at SoundStage! care deeply about this trend, not only because of the trust issue but also because we dont want to be lumped with the sites that sell and publish. Weve been through this before, having in our early days to overcome the stigma of the Internet as a place where audiophiles bash more than help each other. This still exists today in some minds, even with all of the work we do at shows and in our cyber pages to combat it. Others will wonder about our advertising, which puts readers only a click away from advertiser websites. We sell only the space, the access to our readers, not the products we write about. Our advertising is like that in the print magazines. (But better, we think, because it's more interactive. I digress.)
To be even more proactive on the issue of e-commerce, weve published our No E-Commerce Policy, which you will eventually be able to read on all of our sites. Its blunt and straightforward -- we sell no audio products, period. We hope that others will take this lead seriously and let you know what youre in for before you pull out your credit card.
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