Why we have a policy
With the explosive growth of the Internet, the online
selling of goods and services is one of the current hot topics, and e-commerce will have
one of the largest impacts on the Internet industry over the next couple of years. While
we at SoundStage! are all for e-tailers, or whatever you want to call
e-commerce-based companies that sell products such as audio and video equipment over the
Internet, a disturbing trend has also begun, one that will harm this practice: mixing
editorial content, or e-content, with e-commerce. Currently, there are websites (and there
will be more of them) that offer product reviews and articles aimed at enlightening
consumers yet actually make money by supporting the products the sites sell. Does this new
model for business offer impartial information to consumers? The answer is obviously NO.
And that is precisely why SoundStage!, the largest online publication in the
consumer-electronics field, and all of our affiliated sites have a No E-Commerce
This practice of mixing content with selling can be
described with a few commonly understood words: conflict of interest. How can any
business whose means of survival is selling products give a fair, honest and unbiased
accounting of those products in the form of reviews? If a website performing a review must
move the product written about or risk having it sit idle, the spirit of the review is
breached. Is there any choice as to what the review has to say? On the other hand, if the
site doesnt sell a particular product or brand sold elsewhere, they likely have a
competing brand that will substitute quite nicely. Again, is there any real doubt as to
what the desirable outcome of the review is? If money is to be made, then there seems to
be no choice but to find a way to ensure that the customer ends up buying a product the
website sells. The website wins, at least for now, but the consumer loses in a big way.
Will e-commerce/e-content sites last?
E-commerce/e-tailing sites that operate this way will have
a short life-span. This attempted business practice will have a life cycle of perhaps a
year or maybe even two years before the people behind these sites figure out that this
model simply cannot work. It has never worked for print magazines, and you can be sure it
wont work on the Internet. However, in that time tremendous damage will have been
done. Consumers, not realizing these sites intentions, may take their information at
face value and be duped. Dealers, whether conventional or online, who attempt to do an
honest job by simply sticking to e-tailing may be irreparably harmed and not be around a
couple years down the road. And manufacturers who put their trust in sites that offer
e-commerce and e-content will be left dangling when the site fails and goes by the
wayside. In the long term, everyone loses.
Any way you look at it, the Internet does not offer a new
kind of business ethics. There is no place in the world for a business that attempts to
mix supposedly unbiased information with retail sales. However, this is not to say that
someone will not try anyway. After all, it is happening today, and we will see more of it
in the future. When we first heard of this practice, we joked that pretty soon
manufacturers would simply offer their own information-and-review sites to sell their own
products. Scary thought? Not scary enough it seems. We know there is a site owned and
operated by a manufacturer! Yes, it seems they will be providing product review content
and selling products. Many other sites are planning their debuts before the end of the
year. As they say, buyer beware.
Because we feel that this is an important issue, we wanted
to take a stand. We would like to state clearly and explicitly that we have NO intention
of selling any products online -- so consider this an e-commerce-free zone.
However, there is one exception. We do sell our official SoundStage! shirt, but we
can assure you that we will never be reviewing clothing of any type in our pages. We may
offer a different style of shirt soon and even offer baseball caps too. But other than
these items, were leaving retailing to others. For consumers we offer a sound piece
of advice worth adhering to. If one comes to a site and can select a Shopping Cart and
browse product reviews written by that site's authors, then it's your right to start
asking questions about their motives.
Our goal is to provide honest and unbiased information in
our reviews, columns and feature articles. In the long term, we have no doubt that this
strategy is the right one. In the meantime, we ask all readers to scrutinize the websites
from which they get their information. And we ask manufacturers to question whether they
feel comfortable doing business with e-commerce sites that offer editorial content,
particularly reviews of products the company who owns the site provides. Seems like a
no-brainer to us.
Schneider Publishing Inc.
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