How trustworthy are reviews

If you’re like me, you’ll check the reviews before you buy something on amazon.com and other e-shops. Perhaps you’ll also read reviews on publications’ websites to be on the safe side. And only when you’re satisfied, you’ll go on buying the product. Are you sure, though, if a review is ever trustworthy?

In 2018 already, Tom’s Guide published a piece on the lack of trustworthiness of amazon.com reviews, but Amazon isn’t the only online bazaar that sells products and enables buyers to leave comments behind. The question is if those are better or rigged as well. And then there are the reviews like the ones you find on this site and on web pages of established publications such as Photoshop User (which is behind a paywall and which I also write for) and CNET, to name but these two.

If resellers are finding ways to rig the system at amazon.com, then surely they are doing exactly the same on other platforms. Heck, even on MacUpdate you will find — often clumsy — comments that are conspicuously written by the developers themselves and some of those apps are free.

The advice for reading e-shop reviews is simple: start by reading the worst ones. If those are rants about Amazon’s shipping or dog-eared pages in a book from bad packaging, then proceed to the next level and go on until you find comments that criticise the product itself. If nobody has reported anything wrong with the product, be on guard.

For example, if you’re in the market for an audio interface, it would be normal to find comments that criticise the sound quality of the device. If everybody is touting the sound of the thing, you should be wary. If you know that market even superficially, you’ll know audiophiles and sound engineers each have their own strong feelings about how audio should sound and honest reviews will always reflect those.

What about reviews in publications?

Publications such as Macworld, PC Magazine, Photoshop User and others that once were printed, employ journalists who are bound by an ethical code that states they must be as objective as possible. Most of these use work from freelance journalists as well.

Freelance reviewers have a difficult job: they need to stay objective and honest throughout but depend on a vendor’s goodwill to send them test units and Not For Resale (NFR) licences of their apps. In the past, some publications sought to solve that problem by buying the products they review. It’s a business model that you cannot sustain…

Freelance reviewers are repeatedly tempted to throw ethics overboard as well. Some vendors seem to ignore that a journalist is not an influencer. There’s a distinct difference between the two. The journalist works towards a neutral and objective opinion piece, which means they should not try to persuade you into buying the product.

An influencer isn’t even trying to be neutral. Few are the influencer channels where the fine line between reporting and persuading hasn’t been crossed. That’s the reason some companies offer people like me to become part of their referral program and put my conscience to rest by including a “media kit” 1.

I always politely decline, pointing out it wouldn’t be ethical to do that.

So, are a journalist’s reviews more objective than those you’ll find on websites where buyers can post their review? Generally speaking, yes, precisely because serious publications’ journalists write with ethics in the back of their head and do not fear sabring down a product or service that stinks.


  1. Media kits used to be put together by professional Public Relations people and, up to some five years ago, contained press releases, market information, presentations and images — in short, everything a reviewer needs to know to put the product, service or company in perspective. Nowadays, media kit just means a folder full of images. ↩︎

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