Negative Reviews are Bad for Bloggers

Something about the ongoing discussion about bloggers, reviews, and whether or not the FTC should have rules of disclosure for bloggers rubs me the wrong way. I’m a blogger, for lack of a better description, and I do review products. Sometimes those products are sent to me by companies, sometimes I buy them, and for some software products I sometimes use the free trial to assess whether I’d recommend it or not. I disclose where I get products when I review them, but you will rarely see me write a negative review. This isn’t because I care about protecting sponsorships, I’m sure there’s more money to be made in the butt kissing business, but I wouldn’t sleep well at night knowing I became a glorified product pitchman. Almost without exception I only write reviews of products I’d be willing to purchase, because I don’t want to waste your time with junk.
In the New York Times yesterday, Pradna Joshi writes an article titled Approval by a Blogger May Please a Sponsor, where she seems to be criticizing the practice of not writing negative reviews by stating of author Colleen Padilla:

But unlike postings in most journalism outlets or independent review sites, most companies can be assured that there will not be a negative review: if she does not like a product, she simply does not post anything about it.

Maybe Colleen Padilla is legitimately worried about losing sponsors. Maybe Pradna Joshi hasn’t spoken to fellow New York Times journalist to see the long list of products he’s never written about good or bad, because a reviewer only has so much time in the day for products. And maybe because Pradna Joshi simply writes the stories assigned by an editor, there’s no real understanding of why any reviewer doesn’t bother with a review (positive or negative) for every product they see.
Here are a few of the reasons I don’t waste time on negative reviews:
You have a finite amount of time for what I write. I want to make sure I’m not wasting your time by telling you about stuff that sucks.
I have a limited amount of time to write. While it can feel cathartic to rip apart a lousy product, in general writing a negative review means I spent a bunch of time on something I don’t like. Since I don’t have an editor assigning me articles, I’m going to devote my writing time to things I like.
Negative attention is still attention. This may be the most important reason I don’t write about products I hate. If I think a product is lousy why would I want to draw attention to it? My exception to this last point is writing words of caution about things that might cause harm – I will take the time to issue a warning if I think something might damage your computer.
What’s your take? Should I be writing more negative reviews and spending less time on telling you about cool stuff?

One comment

  1. Good post Jake, and you make some good points.
    I think that negative feedback is necessary, because if I am looking into a product and can’t find any feedback on it, then I may assume that there haven’t been any major problems with it, and buy it, even though it sucks.
    Unless something really got under my skin, I wouldn’t waste a lot of words or time on a post, but it’s good to know the bad and the good, and as a reviewer, if all you had on your blog was positives, then one may question your position on your reviews – are they biased or not.
    Also it is (or should be) a good opportunity for the product vender to get some real raw feedback on their products (or services). If companies are monitoring the internet for their products, and find some negative reviews or trends, they then have an opportunity to fix these problems.
    But like mama said – if you don’t have anything good to say, then maybe you should say nothing at all…

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