From time to time I review sailing products on this blog. Sometimes they are of products or services I have bought; other times the manufacturer sends me a sample of his product and asks me to review it on Proper Course. My question is whether it is ethical for me to accept such a "sample" and write a review of it. I ask because perhaps there is a risk that I may write a more favorable review because I was given a sailing goodie for free, or at least my readers might perceive that my opinion is biased because of accepting such a gift from the maker.
A few days ago I received an email from a vendor who recognizes how tricky this situation is. He would like me to try out a new product he is launching and if I "think it is good" to write about it on my blog. (Hmmm. What if I think it's crap?) But he is worried that if he just sends me the product for free that I "may feel obliged to write good stuff." (True. That's the dilemma.) At the same time he feels that he cannot ask me to buy the product at full price and then enjoy the benefit of a favorable review. He suggests the Solomonic solution of a 50% discount... or perhaps a larger credit against one of his other offerings. But I'm not sure that either of those really solves the problem.
To complicate the issue somewhat, the sender of the email is someone I already know through sailing... not a bosom friend but a sailing buddy at least. (That's true of some of the other products I have reviewed here in the past too.) Does that influence me to write favorably about his products? Maybe.
So what do you think?
- Is it OK for me to accept free products and services and then review them here? Would you believe such reviews?
- Does it solve the problem if I disclose the fact that I have received the item under review for free and/or the manufacturer is someone I know personally?
- Or should I never accept such free "samples"? I suppose I could pay for them in full, send them back after testing them (if practical), or donate them to other sailors.
- Does the value of the product make any difference? For example, would it be OK to accept gifts up to a value of $100 say, but not anything worth more than that?
- Or do you think I am making too much of this? Most of the reviews of stuff you read in the mainstream media is given to the review writers by the manufacturers, so why should bloggers be held to a different standard? (I've no idea if the first part of that last sentence is true, by the way.)
- Or do you think it's a non-issue because you never believe anything you read here anyway. You think that most of what I write is utter nonsense, or the opposite of what I really think, so you never give any credence to my reviews.
- Or perhaps you don't want me to write reviews here at all. You just want more stories about Tillerman making a fool of himself on the race course.
Seriously, I would like to know what you think. Comments please.