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Outdoor Blogger Challenge – Product Review Disclosures

I think it’s high time for all outdoor bloggers to disclose whether they’ve gotten free products from manufacturers or retailers in the content they publish online. Written or video product reviews aren’t bad. What’s bad is when you receive financial or in-kind compensation for a product review and don’t disclose it to your readers.

Your relationship with your audience is far more important than any financial gain you could ever get from one product review. If you care about your audience, you owe it to to them to be transparent about any external influences that might affect your opinion, either consciously or unconsciously. Let them decide whether your review is biased or not. People aren’t stupid.

Video Product Disclosure
Video Product Disclosure

How to Disclose an Existing Relationship

Product review disclosure are easy to add to existing product reviews or new ones that you create. Simply add a sentence like this to the bottom of a blog post or in the introductory splash screen of a video review.

  • ZippyPacks provided ThisWebSite with a complementary Widget for this product review.

Alternatively, you can disclose no relationship, by adding this line to your product review.

  • The Author owns this product and purchased it with their own funds.

This is simple to do and it will pay dividends with your audience. If readers know they can trust you, you’ll get more readers and more companies will want you to review their products. There is no downside to being transparent with your audience if you receive complementary product samples from manufacturers or retailers.

The Role of Expert Product Reviews in the Outdoor Industry

Some outdoor writers have suggested that outdoor bloggers  stop publishing any product reviews. I think that’s wrong-headed for the following reasons.

Whistle Blowers and Educators

I believe that is important for outdoor bloggers  to publish product reviews because we can:

  • Blow the whistle on manufacturer exaggerations
  • Counter the out-of-control advertising bias of the outdoor print media, Backpacker Magazine, for instance
  • Educate readers about what to look for in good products and how to use them most effectively

People search for information about products online. Would you rather have them read inaccurate marketing drivel written by some marketing intern or an informed review by an expert with significant outdoor experience. These are your readers. I think you owe it to them to look out for their welfare.

Give Your Audience a Forum to be Heard

When you publish a product review, chances are good that someone else in your audience has also used the product too. If you give your readers the ability to comment on your review, you give them a forum to express their opinions or experiences and share them with other people. Building a community like this benefits all of your readers. It’s not about you. It’s about your audience.

Promote Industry Innovation

None of us, with the exception of The Gear Junkie maybe, are living off advertising revenue from our blogs and web sites. That gives us  greater independence to provide media exposure to smaller companies that cannot afford to market their products or place advertisements in print magazines.

If you care about innovation in the outdoor industry, I believe you should help smaller companies gain exposure by publishing product reviews about  their products.  This also gives them the ability to hear the opinions of the people who comment on your post, not just you. This type of direct feedback is invaluable for smaller gear makers.

Call for International Participation

If you run an outdoor blog or web site in the United States, you are required by the Federal Trade Commission to divulge pre-existing relationships on all product reviews or endorsements you publish. If you don’t know about these legal consumer protection requirements, you should brush up on the law by watching the linked video.

While these requirements only pertain to content publishers based in the United States, I believe they should be followed by all outdoor bloggers and web sites, worldwide. It’s time for bloggers to clean up their act and give their readers content that they can trust. Being transparent about product-specific financial incentives benefits everyone, and I encourage you to adhere to the US disclosure standard even if you are located outside of the United States.

What do you think?

Please leave a comment.

  • As an outdoor blogger, do you disclose the receipt of complementary products or other financial incentives from manufacturers whose products you review online?
  • As a reader, do you think it is important for bloggers to disclose any financial interests that might effect their assessment of a product?
  • Would you support reader boycotts against outdoor bloggers who do not disclose pre-existing relationships in the product reviews that they publish?

36 comments

  1. I completely agree with you. I personally feel its somewhat misleading not to tell the general public/potential customers if one has any kind of relationship or receives any type of compensation for the gear they review.

    I take reviews very seriously. Money can be a tough commodity to come by. I wouldn't feel right misleading someone for my benefit.

    Depending on the gear their safety and well being may very well depend onyour review.

    That's something that should be taken into consideration when writing the review. Happy hiking

  2. Some very good points.

    I've always made clear where products have been supplied by a third party. However, perhaps I should also make clear where a product has been purchased by me.

    I've made the decision not to accept advertising on my blog as I feel it compromises the feel of the blog. As a WordPress blog, there are no costs to maintaining my blog and I'm not looking for any revenue. That's just a personal decision for me.

    I think you are absolutely right about be open and transparent and ensuring the relationship of trust between reader and author. I'm always interested in views on gear and I think it is important to know when it has been supplied by a manufacturer or retailer.

  3. It's simply common sense. I've only been in the hiking blog community for a few months, but I started out with full disclosure right from my very first review. It never occurred to me not to. Then, there's that little matter of the FTC requirements. I can't see anything to be gained by withholding disclosure. Even from the manufacturer perspective, any brand worth their salt would want the reviewer to be up front with reader's. It eliminates confirmation bias.

    Thanks for the reminder.

  4. It is commonsense, so it's surprising that more bloggers in the US aren't adhering to the law. Going back and adding disclosures to your existing posts or videos is easy too (use the annotation->note feature in the youtube video editor)

    I am hopeful that the outdoor blogging community will pull together and implement this widely so that readers can put greater trust in the reviews they read. Rick – I like that point about safety.

    That's why I went so far as to suggest reader boycotts for bloggers that don't voluntarily comply with the FTC laws in the US. I've even been thinking about an eTrust-style badge that bloggers can put on reviews or their home pages to indicate that they are in compliance with product review disclosures.

  5. Philip, I'm with you 100% on this. Product endorsement guidelines are nothing new, they've been around for decades. But what is new is that these same well established guidelines are now being applied to online content creators and bloggers like ourselves.

    I think that our readers would want to know if the reason a blogger gave a product a rave review is because they are essentially being paid (with a steady stream of free gear) by a manufacturer to say that.

    All of us should be playing by the same rules and upfront about our relationships with manufacturers and advertisers. Not only do I disclose when a product that I am reviewing has been provided for free or at a discount, but I also make it clear that I am part of an advertising affiliate program that generates a small amount of revenue through page views and clicks, all of which is funneled back into my blog to help pay towards gear purchases.

    The sad part about the challenge you've thrown out to our community is that they should all be doing this already. Furthermore, manufacturers that provide the gear should (and I know they don't) insist that the partnership is disclosed as part of the process. Or at the very least, educate bloggers that they partner with that doing this will enhance their credibility with their audience.

    I'm very curious to see what type of a reaction your challenge elicits from the outdoor blogging community. Great post, thanks for being the one to put this out there.

  6. Well Said! I usually read who provided an item for review. Yes, I would support a boycott, but, I already do this. Those that receive money to review something have a responsibility for accepting that money. Such reviews are almost always positive. I look for mentions of “not the best location for” or “depending on your needs” or any minor issues.

    Adds in a well known mag and their reviews are often linked. Which came first?? The article or the ad? One is legit business. “We have this article that mentions your product, do you want to buy some add space” One is simply making money through selling add space, selling a two or three page ad that pretends to be a real article along with more up-front ads as reminders. Maybe a manufacturer commissioned the article and offered it to them along with buying the two page space as a package deal. Not the entire mag, but enough to make me wonder…I don’t read it anymore. Clearly, if I cannot trust their business practices, how can I trust their reviews? Though, it is nice to flip through it on occasion to see if there is anything new out there.

  7. I'm not sure that an eTrust-style badge will make a significant difference, but it's a start and a simple visual cue that the guidelines are being adhered to. It might also be useful to include a #hashtag on Twitter blog post announcements linked to product/gear reviews to also show adherence in that communication channel, and other social channels like Facebook. Just a thought.

  8. I think extending this to social media is a good idea Brian. Some bloggers have moved off the web and onto Twitter almost exclusively.

    I also document what I do with complementary product samples from manufacturers in my about pages: see http://sectionhiker.com/endorsement-disclosure/

    I raffle off complementary products to readers or give them away to charity. I don't sell them to make extra money. I think selling free gear is just wrong and constitutes manufacturer compensation. That's how the IRS sees it too.

  9. I think disclosures are a good idea – any transparency is valuable. I think though that this is a complex area. I rarely post reviews on my blog, though I sometimes discuss gear, because I write reviews for TGO magazine. The gear for those reviews is provided by the companies – this is standard practice for magazine reviews. Some is returned, some the companies don't want back. Some of that gear continues to be used by me or filters out to friends for long-term use. Some goes to outdoor charities and organisations. My reviews are written independently of TGO's advertising department (I'm freelance and work from home). The magazine may well contact companies for advertising on the basis of reviews after I submit them but there is no influence on my reviews from advertising. I never know what will be advertised in any issue until I see it.

    Reviews of bought gear does have the potential problem that buyers may be reluctant to criticise items they have spent money on. Many years ago – pre-Internet – I edited an outdoor magazine and we had the idea of asking readers to send in reviews of gear they had bought. Virtually all the reviews that came in raved uncritically about the gear – some of which I knew was mediocre at best compared with alternatives – and we ended up scrapping the idea. I think it's easier to be objective about gear supplied for test than gear you have paid for and decide to review.

    However if there is full disclosure of the sources of the gear (and also whether cash has been accepted for writing a review – I was once offered payment in the past which I declined as it was basically bribery) then readers have more information on which to make a judgement as to the value of the review.

  10. Chris – one of the chief reasons I buy TGO and have it airmailed to me in the states are your product reviews. They're the first thing I read when the magazine arrives. I don't have any doubts about their independence. Never have.

    In the US, we now have very liberal return policies from outdoor retailers. In the event that I don't like a piece of gear that I buy, I can return it, which helps ameliorate the embarrassment of buying expensive gear that doesn't work out.

    Thanks for the comment!

  11. I agree too. This is a huge problem with running shoe reviews. Most running shoe reviews are these super duper reviews of a product that has been tested for about two weeks. The reviewer will show pics of the product and it isn't even beat up. This is completely mad, there is no way to determine if a shoe is a good shoe after using it for 2 weeks. On top of this the reviewer seems to review a new pair of shoes quite frequently, yet they never mention that they are receiving the products for free, even though it is quite obvious with how often they are reviewing shoes. I've never received products for free from a manufacturer and of course I like to post running shoe reviews. But I always post running shoe reviews after the shoes are done, have seen hundreds of miles, and need to be replaced.

    When I wrote up the Prophet review I mentioned how long I owned the pack so that the readers understand my point of view on the product. I also did this because I know how many product reviews are done because the reviewer received the product for free and the review is posted after about 2 weeks of use.

  12. Really Philip? Really?

    I'm coming at this from a UK perspective where thankfully we have freedom of expression, and a blog in my opinion is just that – a place where someone can post whatever they like (within reason). There must be millions of blogs on the planet, and I only read those that I like. I don't consider myself "boycotting" the others, I just don't read them. I certainly don't broadcast my dislike of particular blogs to others. You're getting close to some kind of internet vigilantism here by suggesting that 'badges' should be used and non-conforming blogs boycotted and I think you need to tread carefully.

    Remember – this is FREE content you're discussing here, not a magazine or paywalled site, and these kind of rules and guidelines (even peer-enforced) could quite possibly deter people from contributing their content, or lead to some quite monotonous reviews.

    I receive review samples from PR companies and manufacturers on a regular basis, but have the luxury of picking and choosing the items that I'm going to feature – generally, but not exclusively, if I wouldn't use it I don't see the point in reviewing it. I don't make any money from my blog directly, so why waste my time reviewing a mediocre product? Remember, we're talking about personal blogs here, not magazines and premium sites.

  13. Phil, I respect your opinion and I'm glad you know that I post and respectfully respond to dissenting views on SectionHiker.There are obviously multiple sides to this debate.

    There is a legal argument for open disclosure which none of us in the United States are immune to regardless of whether we write personal or "premium" content. I am primarily making a moral argument about the need for transparency from product reviewers who are compensated directly or indirectly.

    I would never publish a list of outdoor blogs or blog authors that people should boycott. That's up to readers, not me. If your readers don't care whether you disclose the receipt of free products or indirect compensation in product reviews, fine.

    Have you ever considered asking them if they have a preference? A few of my readers have commented today and they appreciate my disclosures. That's really all the motivation I need.

  14. As a reader, I think transparency is absolutely critical. If a guy consistently gave Brand X rave reviews, I would want to know if Brand X was giving him the goods. Doesn't meant the review's not legitimate, but if I'm going to spend a few hundo on a piece of gear, I want to be able to evaluate whether I'm reading a review or a thinly-veiled ad. Phil here's got a really good track record and has never steered me wrong, so he can take all the free stuff he wants, and I'd still take his word as near gospel. But if it was a blogger I didn't know anything about, I would want to know if the gear was free or not.

  15. It's funny I have never given this a lot of thought, yet I always look to see if the product I am reading about was given, purchased, or has an ambiguous source. I then file away that information like all the other pieces that allow me to filter the review critically and see if the information changes my opinion.

    I read all reviews with a grain of salt – regardless of the bloggers transparency in where they got the item being reviewed. Half the time people who review gear don't have enough breadth of knowledge or experience to truly compare/contrast in a meaningful way. I place myself in the same boat most times, its why the few times I am motivated enough to write I give the context of my perspective. Frequently I find that is more important in judging the usefulness of reviews than any other thing. i.e. I am not going to read a running shoe review by a runner whom has never run more than 3 miles or has only been running for a month and be able to trust that critique. In fact I read reviews with the context in mind always. same example, if they reccomend brand X I am going to think, hmmm but have they tried brands A, B, C…and can they really make a reccomendation?

    I think it is a best practise to disclose and it definitely builds audience trust. In fact I see no reason why bloggers wouldn't disclose. However, I think the media consuming public needs to start taking responsibility for their consumption!!! They need to think about the data they take in, examine it, check it for facts, and THEN make a decision. Sadly I don't see this a whole lot in the average Joe. its easier to take in and act rather than think and take responsibility.

  16. Philip, you misunderstand me slightly. Outside the US, if bloggers want to offer disclosure, that's great. If they don't feel the need to offer disclosure that's also great. I understand that in the US your freedom in this respect is somewhat limited (which is not great).

    I don't object to transparency. What I object to is the suggestion that bloggers should comply with some set of guidelines in order to be legitimised and gain their badge or seal of approval (moral or otherwise). You've used the powerful word "boycott" here, an act which is generally used as a means of political protest or consumer activism. This protest or activism doesn't really work it you don't tell other people about it, so I'm curious as to how this "boycotting" will occur. Lots of reviews I read are on personal blogs, which are often a creative output or hobby – what do you expect to gain by boycotting a personal blog? Similarly, how many of these blogs need to "clean up their act"?

  17. I think it is really important to be totally up-front when you post about gear. I don't often mention gear on my blog unless I really rate it, but recently I have been approached to test gear given to me for free – The thing is, I get to choose the stuff that I review, so I choose stuff that interests me. Having said that, if there is something that I don't like about it, I say so.

    It is vitally important to be totally "up-front" that this gear is given to you. I would support whole-heartedly boycotting bloggers who conceal this information.

    There are far too many blogs out there that seem to concentrate solely on gear reviews and they seem to blow with the wind on their opinions on gear. I have often suspected some really well known outdoor blogs of being "nice little earners" for the blogger

  18. I was asking readers whether they would boycott sites that don't disclose whether they have a direct or indirect financial interest in product reviews. I would not be interested in personally organizing such an action and see it as an individual choice made by readers.

    However, I believe that the outdoor blogging community needs to take ownership of this issue and I reject your distinction between personal and non-personal blogs. If you take complementary products or other forms of compensation from a manufacturer, retailer, or PR firm and publish a product review favoring them, you have crossed the line from hobbiest to advertiser. If you do that, regardless of your intent, I believe you owe your readers and friends a disclosure on purely moral grounds.

    As to how many outdoor blogs need to clean up their disclosure act, I think the answer is obvious: most of them. I am hopeful that many leading bloggers will be interested in setting a positive example and implement open disclosures. I've started the ball rolling, explained how to do it, demonstrated it throughout my site and on my video reviews, and can only hope that others will see fit to follow. I know a few leading outdoor bloggers who do this already.

    I have little power to effect any change in blogger behavior beyond that. It's not about me, it's about readers and what they want.

  19. We would love if bloggers bought gear and then reviewed it – and many do. This means we get a totally unbiassed review that we believe others can trust. We think it is essential that the reviewer states clearly whether they were given or bought the gear being reviewed.

    Unfortunately it is now expected that all companies hand out free gear on request. This disadvantages small independent companies like ours, who do not mass-produce and do not have the resources. Nor can we can't compete with other retailers who are given free products by the big brand names to hand out pretty much to anyone with a blog who asks.

    We are constantly being asked for free gear, often for items that have already been extensively reviewed. When we've had to refuse requests simply because we have to be very careful about using our limited advertising resources we've been told, sometimes in a rather hostile way, that other companies give gear free so why don't we.

    We try to explain that it costs nothing for retailers to give gear away as they don't pay for it themselves, whilst for us, who directly commission our brand, it's an expense that has to be justified. The result is we rarely get reviewed – though when we do – the reviews are invariably excellent.

    Whilst we appreciate bloggers may spend considerable time on reviews, we have to pay for stock, business overheads and running costs, and of course wages. And as, we believe,we are the only UK company in this field left that manufactures ethically in New Zealand, our costs are already high in a market where we are competing against mass produced cheap goods coming in from China.

    We therefore really appreciate the bloggers who say nothing, but just buy from us, like what they buy, and are kind enough to tell everyone about us. We think their views carry far more weight than anyone else's.

  20. Philip your point of: "If you take complementary products or other forms of compensation from a manufacturer, retailer, or PR firm and publish a product review favoring them, you have crossed the line from hobbiest to advertiser. If you do that, regardless of your intent, I believe you owe your readers and friends a disclosure on purely moral grounds." I agree with that.

    I mostly say no to stuff offered. The last thing I agreed to was for some snack bars which I still need to get round to blogging about. yet I turn down expensive kit as I aint interested. But I don't recall ever not saying it's a test kit sent to me etc. I also say it as it is. Good or bad and also my own buys. If I got a bit of kit and I lets me down I say it. No cover up. Kit sent to me you can count on one hand by the way.

  21. Thanks for catching that Martin.True – It doesn't matter if you favor them or not. Simply writing or making a video about them constitutes crossing the line from hobbiest to advertiser if you take free gear, get paid for it, or turnaround and sell the free gear.

    The truth is, most PR firms don't care if you give a product a good review or a bad one. All they care about are press mentions (including blogs.) A bad review is as good as a favorable one, as far as they get paid.

    I'm the same way as you about gear that doesn't meet expectations or intended function. I point it out. I work for my audience, not manufacturers, and I've never worked with a manufacturer/PR firm that didn't totally understand that I was going to tell it like it is. Judging by the number of review opportunities I turn down or simply ignore, my independent attitude hasn't deterred them.

    I also want to add something about momentum. If we can get enough leading bloggers to prominently add open disclosures to their blogs & video reviews, then it will be perceived as the norm by new bloggers and the audience (readers.) That is the way forward in getting wider spread adoption of product review disclosures in the outdoor blogger community.

    Hence The Challenge (there's that word again!)

  22. Amanda – Thank you for your comment from a manufacturer's point of view. My post this morning was originally motivated by this article on DailyHiker.com called http://www.dailyhiker.com/news/dirty-little-secre
    I noticed that you commented there as well.

    I guess my suggestion that bloggers disclosure when they buy gear with their own money would be welcomed by you because it demonstrates a relatively "pure" opinion, free from compensation bias. This goes beyond the moral or legal requirement (in the US) but provides benefit to small manufacturers like yourself and readers.

  23. There's another side to this, of the cottage manufacturers. Not your main issue here, but there are plenty of stories from my cottage manufacturer friends of sending prototypes or special requests for reviews, only to have a non-standard product sold later for profit. Transparency is a good thing, I guess I tend to be skeptical and assume reviewers get gear from free. But it did get me thinking. I get pro deals on some products, and should probably think about putting a disclaimer somewhere when they show up on my gear list, or I mention them in a trip report.

  24. I'm glad to see others starting to talk about the issue of gear reviews on outdoor websites. When I posted an article about it a month or two ago, I got a lot of positive feedback and some private emails from two other bloggers that weren't nearly as positive.

    Personally, I have a couple views on the subject. I don't find anything inherently wrong with doing gear reviews on your website. They do in fact bring in some Google traffic, free gear is nice, and you get to meet a bunch of people in the outdoor industry while doing it.

    There just seems to be an entire industry growing up around the 'free gear' out there. Some people are building blogs that do nothing but poorly review gear just to get some free stuff. This, I'm not such a fan of. I don't blame them for doing it, but I really don't see what value it adds. If all you're doing is taking some free hiking boots out of a box, walking around town in them, and then writing 300 words while slapping up some manufacturer supplied images, what utility are you providing?

    However, it's their website to run, not mine. They are more than free do to whatever they want on it as long as it's legal. I do however think that they hurt 'blogging' in general with these sort of reviews. If blogs are ever going to be taken as seriously as magazines like Backpacker and Outside, something needs to change. We try incredibly hard to write a website that provides some utility to people and encourages them to get outside.

    Ultimately though, the free gear will probably come to an end and this will all blow over. Gear companies can't give away an unlimited amount of free gear. As Amanda mentioned, advertising budgets are limited, even for the larger gear companies.

  25. Good point Glen – I should do the same. I bring a lot of test gear on long trips and write about it even before I formally publish a review on it. Ditto on pro deals, when I get around to buying some.

    Do you think Gossamer Gear would ever require reviewers to write a disclosure if they got complementary gear from you? I ask because Brian Green mentioned it above and it's an interesting idea. I think there's something to be said for taking the high ground because it means you 1) stand by your gear and 2) it indicates you encourage constructive criticism from reviewers despite giving them complementary gear – which I already know GG does from personal experience. I'd be curious to hear if you think manufacturers should play a more active role in this. Just brainstorming here. Anything you add to the discussion would be appreciated.

  26. In the US, the FTC also requires you to disclose any affiliate links, etc.

    As an outdoor blogger, do you disclose the receipt of complementary products or other financial incentives from manufacturers whose products you review online?

    Yep, I always mention it, plus I have a disclosure page on my website. Wish I got more gear, but that would take up a lot of time, because when I test something, I try to put it through 30 days of use before I review it. That's my personal policy. When I buy it myself, I usually don't mention that I bought it myself.

    As a reader, do you think it is important for bloggers to disclose any financial interests that might effect their assessment of a product?

    Not really. When I read I review I can typically tell if the blogger actually used it in conditions that I would and if their experience is relevant to mine. I already trust most of the bloggers that I follow, but there are a few that I follow and know they get products and know they are swayed because of that, because I've received the same and just can't see how they could even come close to their glowing reviews. Even if they disclosed, their experience still wouldn't be relevant to mine.

    Would you support reader boycotts against outdoor bloggers who do not disclose pre-existing relationships in the product reviews that they publish?

    That's the most ridiculous thing that I've ever heard.

  27. Great article and some great replies. I work for a retailer here in the UK, we currently provide a small amount of gear for bloggers to test from our range.

    From our side, thanks for raising an important point Philip. Taking gear and not declaring where you have got it from, and that you received it free, could mislead a reader. Even if it is a small chance, best practice demands that this should be removed. All of our bloggers currently state clearly that they receive gear from us, and most state that they received it free. We will ask all our bloggers to clearly mark they received gear free from us, whenever they review anything we have sent them.

    The other question as to whether reviews are influenced by receiving gear free is something that is harder to resolve. We try and ensure independence from our side by asking our outdoor bloggers for editorial integrity. We ask all our bloggers to sign an agreement with us, and part of that is to define our commitment to them, and ultimately their readers. "Your editorial integrity is paramount; Webtogs ltd confirms that no influence will be subjected in respect of any review or content created." This is for several reasons, firstly and most importantly it's ethically right. It is also however good business sense. Sure, a glowing slightly false review might help with sales in the short term. Longer term though, customers, bloggers and readers will simply not trust what is written about our brand / shop on the internet if they feel they are just getting an advertorial. A negative review can also offer us as much as a positive review. On the strength of a review from a blogger we had sent gear to, we actually pulled a product recently and will no longer be stocking it.

    Along with Amanda, we too get asked on a regular basis for gear to test from outdoor bloggers who approach us. We are selective about who we partner with however as our budget is limited. Good quality bloggers who are prepared to put the time in to write full, independent reviews are few and far between, so we try and ensure that bloggers get gear they are genuinely interested in. We are incredibly lucky to work with some people we have a real respect for in the outdoor world, but this relationship has to be built on trust. We would like exposure and reviews of our products. Bloggers would like gear or more traffic. Readers want advice and information on gear from an independent source. If any part of that trust equation goes missing, everybody loses. It makes sense to ensure that clarity is given as to how & where products come from, and a clear commitment be given in respect of the independence of reviews.

  28. Interesting point, Philip. But i am the same opinion as Phil. I think the readers will decide what they want to read or not. The readers quickly realize when reports are not authentic, and they won´t come back. There is really no matter the origin of the things. The main thing the writer is genuine and knows what he is writing about. So there is no need to disclose an existing relationship. Greetings from Germany, Jens

  29. "A review is inherently biased; it cannot be unbiased because it’s based solely on your opinion."

    This is only partly true. Some of the value of a review is in describing a product and how it functions, and whether it lives up to the claims for it. If a jacket has a pocket described as a map pocket and a map won't fit in it that's a fact not an opinion. Where there is bias is that every reviewer will have personal preferences. It's helpful if reviewers state these and also try and assess whether a feature they personally don't care for actually fulfills its function. I don't like pit zips on waterproof jackets but when testing a jacket I always check to see how easy or not it is to use such zips as this is important information for people who do like them.

  30. I prefer bloggers that say they were given free stuff to test.

    I never saw one post that he was paid for the review, but i have in mind 2-3 outdoor gear blogs that praise every items they review even the crappiests ones, so they come to mind :p

    The more when they ask you for your annual income and if you bought and intended to buy things according to their review.

    That doesnt mean i dont read their blog at all, i read them once in a while, but to check whats new and not for their opinion.

    So yes more transparency is good, but i keep reading the more obviously biaised ones :)

  31. Chris and Tom,

    One reason I write gear reviews is to teach myself the reviewer's craft. It's a difficult thing to learn without a mentor, but I keep at it. I am making some headway.

    In reading your comments about bias and factual elements in reviews, I am struck by the fact that we approach them as journalists with the traditional ethics and skills we know are required to write them.

    Never mind, I'm going for a walk in the woods with the other dinosaurs.

  32. Awesome Hendrik. I finally got you to comment on one of my blog posts.

    You make awesome videos. Really good stuff and they are viral. Manufacturers love to post them on their sites because they are an endorsement from you. Your videos make excellent commercials on their web sites.

    But people don’t come to your website to read your disclosure statement. In the modern high tech world that you inhabit, media should be self describing and include a disclosure with it, instead of being trapped on your old school web page? HTML is dead. Video, Video, you are Mr. Video!

    But when people view your videos, can they tell whether the manufacturer gave you free gear or paid you to make the video? Why would you object to including a disclosure? People who don’t know you, don’t know you are an honorable man.

    Most people who watch your videos don’t ever go to your web site. You admit that transparency and disclosure are important. Aren’t they even more important on video which are not tightly coupled with web sites anymore?

  33. Hendrik is right when he says on his blog that reviews drive traffic – but only if the blogger has a real presence and reputation and has lots of followers who interact. These represent only a handful of blogs out there. For most blogs on which our gear is reviewed we're lucky if we see a handful of referred visits.

    We also do not think it is true that "readers quickly realize when reports are not authentic, and they won´t come back". They might if they are experienced outdoors types, but then why would they want someone else's opinion? I'm perfectly capable of making my own mind up, or if I want something very specific, I ask a known expert – thanks Phil for the jacket suggestion – excellent!

    Reviews are more often than not for those new to the outdoors, and the less experienced. And this is where the danger lies. They won't know what's "authentic" and these are the people who end up buying rubbish because someone's got a freebie to review.

    Chris Townsend is in a different category altogether as a universally respected professional journalist, so when he reviews something he is putting his own reputation on the line. But we are not talking here about the professional journalist writing for top outdoor magazines, but the "amateur blogger" (why does that sound dangerous?)

    We like Bloggers (and reviewers Chris)! We have one or two we always ask to test-drive new designs and ideas for us before we decide whether or not to go into production. We'd be lost without them. We would hate to see Blogs regulated, but think, simpply as a matter of clarity that bloggers should say what they've been given at their own request, what they've been sent gratis by a company, and what they've bought for themselves. And if something is rubbish – say so – even if it's ours :-(

  34. Nothing to add except this: could you all please banish the idea of “unbiased” reviews?

    A review is inherently biased; it cannot be unbiased because it’s based solely on your opinion. A sample of one, as they say.

  35. I've posted a few reviews of kit that was supplied by Webtogs in the UK, most or maybe all of the kit was from a list of items that I'd expressed an interest in, that was of course after they'd asked me if I was interested in doing a few reviews. I've also posted about a few items that I received from a PR company on behalf of Millets, a supplier of mostly lower priced kit, again I was asked for a list of items that would interest me after I turned down an offer to review something from their range of tents. In all cases I've clearly stated that the items were supplied by the respective retailers.

    It's important to me to be transparent and I do prefer others to be equally so although to be honest it isn't difficult to figure out if a Blogger is closely involved with a particular manufacturer/retailer. In that case the standard of review plays a part in whether I consider the review valid. It isn't a legal requirement in the UK and I'd have no desire to publically boycott an individual based on disclosure. I'd rather have non-disclosure and a good review from someone who's actually used the product than rubbish from someone who discloses how they aquired the kit.

    I've only once asked if a retailer would be interested in sending me kit for review and only after they'd linked (without asking) to a review of one of their products that I'd actually bought andposted on my blog, they didn't bother to reply(LOL) but that wouldn't stop me buying from them again and I really don't mind them linking to my review either.

    On the subject of bias I have to agree with Chris (Townsend), in my experience people can be just as biased or even more so in some cases about something they've bought, a few hours spent on outdoors forums illustrates that quite clearly.

    That said I'm less keen on the idea of 'Trust Badges' or 'Boycott's' it all seems a bit over the top, I think it could be difficult to control and could lead to abuse or result in individuals feeling that they needed to conform to a set of blogging rules devised by self appointed guardians of blogging.

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