http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20061228-8514.htmlSometimes it can be hard to tell if a story has legs because of the story itself, or just because of the actors involved the story. This week there's been no end to the brouhaha over Microsoft's reported attempt to curry favor with so-called "A-List" bloggers by sending them Acer Ferrari laptops loaded up with Windows Vista and Office 2007. To listen to the outcry, one might think that this kind of thing doesn't happen everyday.
Well, it most certainly does. And Microsoft is neither the first nor the best at the fine art of influencing the influencers. You might be surprised to learn this, but this fine art sees thousands and thousands of people employed in its service. It's an industry!
First, the essential details: Microsoft directly contacted a number of bloggers to offer them loaded laptops as "review units" (their language) which bloggers could chose to review, or not. Microsoft said that bloggers had the option of returning the laptop, giving it away as a prize, or just flat out keeping it. Many bloggers jumped at it, because a) Vista has not been released at the retail level yet, and b) having a laptop all ready to go means you don't have to futz with installing it on your own machine (and many of the bloggers were Mac users, to boot). The rest, as they say, is drama history.
This practice is not uncommon. Product developers and manufacturers are often itching to give out freebies to tech influencers because it's smart marketing. Do you really think Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal goes to some secret underground Apple Store to buy his hot new iPod to review a month before it's even announced? Do you think hardware review sites sneak into processor fabs late at night to gain access to hardware samples that won't be on retail shelves for months? Do you really think they're sending all of that stuff back? Some are, some aren't, and to be honest, I have no idea if Mossberg keeps the top-secret stuff he's sent or not. For someone like Mossberg or someone like me, keeping the stuff isn't one-fifth as important as just having access to it in a timely fashion. That whole angle has been largely lost in this discussion, and it's a shame.
"Hey, wanna check this out?" is part of a public relations specialist's job, as is keeping access to such things exclusive (for with exclusivity, there comes a degree of control and influence). For instance, if Company A doesn't like you, you don't get the special offers. If they love you, you won't only get access to the products, but you'll get the royal treatment. Long before the issue of keeping review units pops up, there's the far larger issue of "do we want to play ball with these guys"?
Those of you who have been reading Ars for a very long time may remember the days when we griped about non-disclosure agreements and paper launches. The hardware scene had turned into a contest of who could kiss the most ass to get on the A-list, and we refused to play that game. To this day, we turn down almost anything with an NDA attached to it, unless we are certain both that we're not being cherry-picked and that getting access in some other way is unlikely. And we do not, under any circumstances, accept advertising attached to a review deal. But let's not be naive... the opportunities are plenty, and many publications bite.
In fact, let me suggest where the real concern should be directed: at publications that aren't giving full disclosure when relying completely on PR-provided goods. In this situation with Microsoft, the only faux pas I see would be one wherein a hypothetical author wrote a glowing review without admitting that their access was completely provided by Microsoft. But I ask you, when's the last time you've seen a WSJ or CNET review prefaced with: "this review unit was accompanied by an NDA from Company X"? An editor at a big publication might roll their eyes at the idea of disclosing such things, but I can tell you as someone who has done the "tiny site with no recognition" thing, access can make or break you in a way that any benefits from keeping a review unit simply cannot.
Even though we do not avail ourselves of these unsolicited opportunities when they come our way, this whole debacle has convinced me that Ars needs a disclosure page wherein we list any potential conflicts of interest our authors have relating to the subject matter we cover. Look for it in the next month or so.
This is why MS sux...
We the people...
This is not PS3 news and flame bait...
Find some articles about Microsoft FUD & smear campaign toward the PS3 and then we have some actual PS3 news... Peace
i wonder if Joystiq got any Laptops lately?
Well this is what MS is known for, leveraging their evil monopoly for the good of themselves in markets they do not belong.
I don't care, it just makes them lose even more respect from many, including myself, trust me, they'll be gone soon enough.
Less invasions, more equations!
Guys, I'm sure Sony has sent out many a PS3 and PSP as well to similar types. And this thread is just waiting to explode into a flame-fest. Microsoft just got called out on a common practice in the industry, just like the article said.
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