Mac News Sites and Advertising – A Call To Arms
Chris Seibold recently wrote an article, without naming names, about the practice of many Mac websites who simply copy and paste press releases and call it “news”. While I agree this is a deplorable practice, and is very much being an unpaid shill for the PR agencies of the hardware and software world, it is widespread in practice. And not just the Mac world.
Real news isn’t hard to come by on the Mac web. MacInTouch is an excellent example. It is, in essence, news by the readers. The readers supply almost all of the content on MacInTouch. Any press releases there, and there are a bunch, are clearly marked as such. The readers and those who participate in the freeform style of Mac journalism are not paid. They do so of their own free will, to share their thoughts, views, frustrations, and platitudes of all things Mac with their fellow readers. This makes it an invaluable source for actual news, even if there are flaws with this approach.
For one, there is no accountability. If MacInTouch posts a story from a reader who makes a compelling case that product XX is horrible, and should be avoided by any and all Mac users, that can have a damning effect on the bottom line of the company who produces the product. But what if the product is not horrible? What if the person who submitted the story to MacInTouch has an axe to grind? What if that person is completely inept, and the problems he writes of is actually caused by his own stupidity? Where is the accountability? Is MacInTouch responsible for the content of user submitted material?
In a perfect world, before posting said material, MacInTouch would contact the manufacturer and give them an opportunity to respond. And in all fairness, I have seen MacInTouch do just that over the years. But MacInTouch is not an investigative reporting site. They do not have a huge staff that can run down every story, check with all the vendors, or confirm any rumors.
The collaborative news practiced at MacInTouch does have counter balances to this sort of problem. The same means by which the disenchanted writer above used to submit his writing also acts to give both the product vendor an opportunity to respond, and other readers to join in as instant pundits to confirm or refute the writer.
In this form of journalism, everyone wins. The readers get the most balanced information, if not in one day, then over a week’s time for one story to develop. MacInTouch itself benefits from offering such a diverse content base, without having to staff a room full of Mac experts to run down every story or verify the authenticity of all the information they provide. Culpability rests upon the participation of a large reader base. And it works.
So what to make of the practice of other Mac sites that cut and paste information either gleaned from legitimate news gathering sources, PR email, or rumors? What are the ethical responsibilities in passing off a PR release, word for word, without calling attention to the fact that what the reader is reading is not in fact an endorsement by the writer of said product?
It is ironic that most sites that practice this behavior do not allow readers to posts responses on the page that this “news” appears on. Or if they do, they either force a user to register as a user of the site (not allowing a new visitor to refute any of the work without the hassle of becoming a registered user) or deleting any posts that make the site look bad.
Some would call these cut and paste Mac “news” sites more a portal for Mac users to read the latest product releases. And there would be nothing wrong with that, if the sites in question were more open to the practice of shilling. They do not. Why? Because these sites generally are run on very little money, and cannot afford to hire professional staffs.
So here, then, is the heart of the real problem. The product vendors who rely on these “cut and paste” sites to generate news for them do not reciprocate in the health of the very sites they rely upon to get the word of their products out. They do not spend a dime of advertising on any Mac site. When approached, they usually claim that they either do not have the budget to advertise, or they only advertise in print magazines that ship months after the product has been released.
What to make of these companies? First, it is understandable that many of these smaller companies really don’t have a lot of money to spend on advertising, and to some degree, they can be forgiven. If you own a small software company that generates just enough capital to stay afloat, it’s a hard sell for Mac websites to convince them to advertise.
Larger software and hardware vendors advertise even less on the Mac web than do smaller vendors. Companies such as Microsoft, HP, and Apple never spend a dime in the Mac web, and yet these same sites drive these companies’ sales. Their advertising department treats the Mac web with outright distain. They instead focus on traditional print or television advertising at a time when subscriber rates have drastically fallen, and television advertising is all but ignored.
If the entire Mac web were to suddenly stop posting the vendor supplied PR, what do you think would be the chances of that vendor’s product selling well? How many copies of Graphic Converter do you think would be sold over the next year? How many people would even know of it? But because all the Mac News sites do provide copy and paste PR on each incremental and possibly insignificant update to Graphic Converter, Lemke Software reaps all the benefits from the hard work or those sites, without ever spending a dime on said sites in advertising dollars. Who benefits? The site, which diligently tries to provide as much content as they can, hoping to lure a few new advertisers and new readers, or Lemke Software, who provides the press release and acquires more paid registration fees for their software?
So why does the Macintosh vendor’s advertising dollars never make it to the Mac web? What is it about the Mac web that makes it so unappealing to them? One would think it would be a natural sell. The vendor has a specific product, a Mac product. They want to get their product in front of as many Mac users as they can, and all the Mac users visit the Mac websites every day. Does a quarter-page ad in Macworld generate more sales than a month worth of advertising on the Mac web? Most readers of Macworld only look through the magazine two or three time, and most of those completely ignore the ads. The same is true of banner ads on Mac sites, as they have become so common most website visitors don’t even see them anymore, they are so completely ignored.
Vendors in the past who have tried the banner-advertising route will tell you that they did not see a substantial gain in moving products. They will advertise for one month, and if they don’t get that all-important click-through, they don’t advertise the next month on that website. Which is all the indication one needs to make the conclusion that banner ads do not work, right?
Wrong. Banner ads, as well as text ads, do work. The problem is most vendors take a click-through attitude and figure that if site XX has fewer viewers clicking their banner ads, then it is not worth advertising on that site. In the meantime, they completely miss what their advertising dollars is accomplishing on that website. While they are not getting the banner click-through, they are getting something much more important. Brand recognition, or branding.
Quick, name one model of Nike shoe. You probably can’t. That is because Nike does not advertise their shoes or product, they sell their name. Branding is the most effective way of advertising your product, especially if you are not a vendor, but a reseller. If you get your name out there enough, people will know who you are and what you are all about. If you rely on the impulse banner-click buyers of the world only, or use that to gauge the success or failure of a banner placement, you are completely missing the boat.
A prime example of a company who understands advertising on the Internet is Small Dog Electronics. They advertise all over the Mac web, even though it can be assumed that not all their banners are being clicked often on the majority of said Mac websites. People have simply come to know that Small Dog sells Mac stuff, and when they are ready to buy something, they are just as apt to type in the web address of Small Dog as they are to click a banner on some random Mac website. This does not mean that the advertising on Mac website XX was not effective advertising. It probably means it was effective, and that the branding-type of advertising Small Dog participates in works better than any other method of Mac website advertising.
So as you look at a Mac websites that cuts and copies text from a product vendors’ PR firm, ask yourself: why they do that? Ask yourself how much better that website would be if the companies they are posting the PR for actually spent money in advertising there. Would that website be able to hire not just a Mac News Editor, but an actual reporter as well? How much more important and viable would a Mac news site be if they had a dedicated reporter who followed up on stories, did a little digging to uncover good and bad products, or investigated some of the claims these companies put into their PR?
While I don’t like all the PR as News any more than Chris does, I really don’t like the fact that viable and good Mac websites have to resort to shilling in this manner to try and attract more readers, and thus hopefully more advertising dollars, simply to keep the status quo. If the product vendors showed the Mac web the respect that it deserves, with advertising dollars, they would not only sell more products, they would be richly rewarded as Mac users themselves for a better and thriving Mac news resource.
We here at MyMac.com do not post press releases of any sort and call it news. First, we are not a “News” Mac site. I get a ton of PR from Mac vendors as daily email, their hope being that I will post it on our website, thus garnering them more sales. But the same companies who send me the PR are the same companies that ignore my calls and email about advertising. These vendors feel that we, and all the other Mac websites out there, are good enough to provide them with free PR, but are not worth the money to advertise with. They want something for nothing. Do they really expect us to help sell their product, using space on our site, which our writers work hard to fill year after year, and give nothing in return? Why would we, or any other Mac website, do that?
It is, of course, a rhetorical question. Most Mac “News” sites out there have little or no original content. They don’t create anything; just post all the same free PR as others do. A smattering of reviews here and there, perhaps. Or responding to emails sent to an editor, and calls it an article or content. It is only a very few sites that actually offer original and new content. Something worth the readers time to read about, a place where readers actually stay for a while and read real, original content, and not simply glimpse through the PR headlines of the day.
Both copy and paste news sites and the product vendors are equally to blame for the sorry state of real news on the Mac web. The copy and paste news sites will gleefully prostitute for any vendor who sends them an email and call it news. (Unless, of course, it is PR from another “competing” Mac site about a product review they wrote, or an article they have posted. They never link to those.) The vendor will gladly take all the free advertising in the form of said “news” and return none of the profits back to the sites that drive their sales. And the real losers are the Mac users, blindly looking for any significant nugget of real information that will make their computing experience better. It may be a product review, a hard-hitting investigation into a possible dangerous piece of software, or a humorist blog entry.
It’s time for the Mac web to grow up. Time for sites to stop letting themselves be fooled into thinking they are providing anything more than free advertising to their pimp vendors. Time for the vendors to start showing the Mac web the respect it so justly deserves by advertising and supporting the sites that they rely upon to help sell their products. And time for the Mac users and readers of these sites to demands more than a spoon fed diet of PR and ask for more real news and content.