Dear Matt at Firelance,

Firelance media recently released an article entitles Why you Don’t Deserve that Free Product. While I do agree with some of his points, the article itself is flawed enough that it warrants further discussion and an opposing opinion.

Let’s start with the logical place the title. The idea that review companies and “new media” as he keeps calling it is getting anything for Free, is a fundamental flaw. Running even inexpensive new media costs money.

  • Camera Equipment
  • Web Design
  • Web Hosting
  • Time invested in the actual articles or reviews
  • Traffic purchasing and Keyword analysis
  • SEO Marketing and backlinking
  • Relationship building with other sites

Certainly as a photographer he would not expect his work to be used in a campaign or online without credit or pay. Why is the value of a web designer or marketing person of less value? Simple people hate marketers and do not consider them to offer value. That is unless you’re a company trying to launch a product or break into a new market. Even then marketers become little more than just a necessary evil.

Where he is right is the guy with an Instagram account or Facebook account that is really doing nothing more than sharing other content. However from those that do not understand how difficult it is to build traffic it’s not as simple as some may think after initial plateau levels.

Firelance media’s points on his background is inconsequential to the article, and I have no ill will towards him. Matt has done a ton of work for people like Trek and his Trek’s Trek campaign to raise awareness for the Brian Terry Foundation. This article is not an attack piece on him as a business owner or a person. I have a huge amount of respect for the work Matt has done and the people he has helped.

Entitlement and trade, however, are two separate things. I am not going to say that there are not those in this community who are hobbyists that expect free product.   However, the vast majority of the people I have come to know are looking to generate content.

To a review site content is the commodity. We can’t generate likes, shares, thumbs up, visits, views, impressions or any of the important metrics we use without new articles. I would argue that free stuff in most cases takes back seat to the more important item, this weeks article which is the driving force for many.

In fact speaking from personal experience we don’t even ask to keep products. T&E is to Test and Evaluate which is why it’s not call K&S ,keep and sell. Running a site as we established earlier costs money, so spending more money on all the recent products and gadgets while investing time into reviews and articles is not a good way to run a business. Especially when you can show ROI for the company you’re doing it for (more on this later).

I digress, and I am speaking out of order a bit, so let’s bring it back. Any company that trusts a review site to do proper R&D or product testing is an idiot. Product liability testing and proper lab testing should be done on any product prior to its release in the market. As a person married to one of the top Product liability attorneys in the hunting industry I may have a unique idea of both how much goes into testing these products, and how little some of the smaller companies appreciate their liability risks.

Reviews for the average gun owner don’t involve metallurgy or unique metallic properties not because the market is too stupid, or the writer is unqualified to discuss it, rather it is because in most cases its not of interest to the vast majority of readers. The author’s unique science background is likely a driving force in his appreciation of these things.

As any person with a marketing background knows the important things to touch on in articles are what problem in my life does this “ring ding” solve for me? T&E is less about science and more about user experience. Sure you need to include more than “this will help you shoot better” but any articles going into the finite geometry of muzzle breaks vs flash hiders is likely to make the average reader’s eyes gloss over.

I will agree that many of the New Media do work the way kids trade snacks. Since that is how, commerce was done for hundreds if not thousands of years before the govt decided to make us trade worthless paper. I have no issue with that analogy. My blog needs content to write reviews on, that content would cost me money, the time and effort I put into making the article and running the site in any other industry would net me money for bringing customers to the manufacturers, Ergo the articles create a value. It is up to the manufacturer to either understands how to track ROI or me as an reviewer who wants more product in the future from a company to prove ROI was delivered. Doing so without a cash outlay is a logical conclusion.

While it may appear I am as mad as the author claims he is when writing his piece I was not until I hit this paragraph:

More importantly, Media in the classic sense is meant to be unbiased. The “new media” crowd is not approaching their reviews in such a way that aligns with that philosophy. This new parasitic approach is to promote a brand with SELF-SERVING interest. Saying that you will promote XYZ Product on your YouTube page is, at it’s core, a self-serving approach and to deny that is foolish. You are trying to increase the number of followers that YOU have by trying to be seen as the new, cool brand so that you can increase revenue for yourself. It is not in the best interests of the manufacturer. Especially if your review winds up misstating the facts of the product, potentially damaging the perception of the product that the manufacturer has spent a LOT of money trying to create and market. The only exception is where the manufacturer is a CLIENT of the creative, and they have a financial arrangement. But once again, it can’t all be $Free.99

Are you kidding me?   Either the author has no understanding of how “Established Media” works or is knowingly misrepresenting things. Consumer Reports had been sued for selling biased ads to manufacturers. Did we all forget about how much money Remington put into the R51 last year to purchase positive press on a gun that was ultimately a pile of garbage? Where were the fair and honest reviews there? Most large print magazines require ad purchases or commitments to get listed in the magazines. It is a purely pay to play market that makes huge revenue for the publications and creates slanted reviews for the readers. It was not until “New Media” started calling out these unfair reviews that the gun industry has started to change.

New media is in many ways a watchdog and source for real opinions from real shooters who are not on the hook with the manufacturers they review. With open comment sections, Facebook, Instagram and what not it is easy for authors to be called out for reviews that misrepresent the product.

Just as the OP calls for, writers to become a scientist I will call for the OP to become a marketing manager. My relationship with other websites helps raise awareness of my reviews and news. In return I make my readers and overlap readers aware of other reviews. With liberal media companies like Facebook holding back more and more gun related posts without these cross-marketing relationships word will never get out about reviews or products. We see less than 5% of our readers even being presented with the posts we make since we have posted so many pro-gun posts.

Questioning the ROI here demonstrates a complete misunderstanding of what bloggers have to do or how manufacturers track traffic. Sure certain sources of media are harder to track but with UTM code tracking, promo codes, and just basic Google Analytics manufacturers can easily tell how much traffic a given reviewer can actually push.

The fact is the symbiotic relationship of manufacturers giving or providing T&E gear to bloggers is a well documented and mutually profitable relationship, or it would have ended. Just as the .com changed the print adult magazine world, it is finally catching up to impact the print gun world. This is a good thing for consumers who can separate the wheat from the chaff in reviewers. This is a good thing for smaller companies who don’t have the budgets for pay to play advertising campaigns in large networks and lastly its good for the industry providing a new source of revenue making the pie we all feed on larger through new markets and jobs.

While I like to think that we do thing differently than many and are one of the good guys Firelance refers to the fact is I know many people that are in the same boat as me. In fact, more small guys legitimately care about the reviews they put out then are just looking for free gear. I would venture to say there is more good than bad in the community, and the free market will likely shake out those who are just Klingons.

While douche monkeys with an Instagram directly hurt my bottom line and make it more difficult for me to differentiate myself with a company that does not know me yet, that is just a hurdle in business I have handle. It is through successful reviews with real ROI that others and myself have proven ourselves. Now referrals represent 80% of my reviews and growing.

Matt I genuinely hope you re-think your comments and look at the industry again. These small bloggers that you targeted in your comments are the ones who are likely to be hiring you in the future as they grow into larger entities. I watched it happen to Playboy, and I’m watching it happen here. Don’t worry about us at 248Shotoer though we respect your work enough that we would still be happy to work with you even after these comments.

Charles is the editor for 248 Shooter a midwest based gun news and gear review site as well as Online Content Director for On Target Magazine. He is an avid student taking classes from top tier trainers around the country. Charles shares his love for training as well as experience and opinions on some of the most talked about gear and products used by competitive shooters, military, leo and civilians.