Recent events and discussions in the firearm "blogosphere" have touched on why individuals start blogs, and whether some folks just want free stuff "for review." This prompted me to look back through my sent email folder in order to find out how often I had initiated a request for firearms or accessories from manufacturers for the purposes of a review on Vuurwapen Blog.
This list does not include requests I made on behalf of other blogs that I have written for - that list would be not much longer, but is not germane to this discussion - nor does it include offers of T&E items by various companies, or requests for loans of firearms from friends not associated with manufacturers.
T&E Request History
- In early 2009 I requested SPR-type AR rifles or uppers from POF-USA and LaRue Tactical. I subsequently toured the POF-USA manufacturing facility and received two uppers from them for a T&E period that lasted for several months before I returned the uppers.
- After SHOT 2011 I contacted LaRue Tactical again with a request for a .308 PredatAR. Although this was discussed verbally at SHOT with LT, I figured I would include it on this list because it fell into a "request gray area."
Neither request of LaRue was responded to; that's perfectly fine, and it has not stopped me from recommending their products. As an aside, if anyone (industry or otherwise) is aware of a request I have made for products to be reviewed on this blog that I have not listed here, please let me know.
As I have become busier and busier with work and also have started to focus on finishing up the reviews that several companies have been patiently waiting on for quite some time (for this blog and others), I have realized that T&E of firearms or accessories is an incredibly time-consuming, and therefore expensive, process when done correctly.
It is unlikely that I will be requesting any items for review in the near future, especially considering the backlog of reviews that I need to complete. I have recently turned down T&E offers, mainly for this reason. I cannot in good conscience continue to receive "free stuff" when I still have reviews to complete from - wait for it - 2010 (an Elzetta flashlight).
Free Stuff = Positive Reviews?
On the subject of free stuff - there is a popular perception in the firearm community that receiving a firearm or accessory for free automatically guarantees a positive review. I do not believe this to be the case, though one could certainly insinuate that I am biased because I have received many free things for review (or for which the manufacturer specified that they did not want the item back).
The purchase price of an item is rarely higher than the value of the time required (fair market hourly rate for quality photography/video production/written work), as well as ammunition and ancillary costs, for a quality review. In most cases, it would make far more financial sense for the reviewer to simply purchase whatever item he or she is interested in, then enjoy the use of that item on their own dime and time. Of course, a free item is a nice offset for these costs, but it does not affect the outcome of my reviews, nor does it affect the outcome of many other bloggers' reviews.
There are some reviewers who simply will not accept what appears to be a gift from a firearm manufacturer, and I understand their position. Perhaps their policies make this more clear than my lack of such a policy does, but personal honor and the pride that comes from delivering a straightforward and honest review to fellow firearm enthusiasts are far more important than the occasional (or even frequent) "gift" of firearms or accessories. If anything, the relationships formed between a reviewer and members of the industry as a result of fair and honest product reviews and feedback are far more valuable than the simple cost of the items reviewed.
Someone Call the Waaambulance, He's Tired of Getting Free Stuff
I do not intend for this to be interpreted as a complaint regarding T&E or product reviews, just as a statement of fact regarding the realities of time and money. As your reviews improve, your "product" becomes more valuable. It stops being a side hobby and starts becoming a business, if you want it to. You start measuring each "free" review by how much money you could have made if you had put your skills to use for a company in the industry - some of which have already made you lucrative offers for your time that have the side benefit of not requiring you to sacrifice your moral convictions for a paycheck. There are, of course, slightly less moral offers - those you immediately deny.
I have been on the other side of the fence, listening to experienced (and honest/honorable) reviewers describe how much time they had spent on reviews, and how it had eventually grown to negatively affect the quality of their lives. I'm not exaggerating this in the slightest. That said, doing product reviews has not negatively affected the quality of my life - if anything, it's been a stepping stone to improve the quality of my life. I am, though, heeding the advice of those reviewers, which in one case dates back several years.
In any piece of work I put out, by any medium - whether compensated or uncompensated - I will always strive to deliver an honest and grounded opinion or message. This is especially true for any content placed on my blog.
I've just received my second Praetor Defense holster (this one I'm paying for). This one is for a full-size 1911. Naturally, while traveling, I have more firearms than pairs of socks, so I'm able to compare it with the Praetor Defense holster for the Glock 19 that I previously reviewed. I love the Glock holster, but have mixed feelings about the 1911 one. We'll see what I think after several months with the holster.
Apparently, I am late to this party. Just before SHOT Show, Paul Helinski, who appears to be the blogger for GunsAmerica, made some comments on a post regarding internet media at the official NSSF blog that didn't sit too well with the firearm blogging community. You can read about it here, here, and here.
The takeaway is that Mr. Helinski sees himself as "real internet media," and looks down on those who he feels are not. He even goes so far as to suggest that gun bloggers with small audiences should not be allowed in the press room or to Media Day at the Range duing SHOT Show. He also complained about having to wait in line behind people who were taking video at Media Day with their cell phones.
While I agree that the gaggle of people at Media Day wasn't conducive to easily testing some of the firearms that were available, the manner in which Mr. Helinski chose to express his opinions was rather unprofessional. He also - either out of ignorance or a willful twisting of the facts - states that GunsAmerica's compete.com rankings, showing over 1 million unique visitors per month, are an indication of how serious a media professional he is, and how seriously his blog should be taken. My blog, for comparison, has about 6,000 unique visitors per month.
There are several ironic factors regarding this issue that I will discuss in no particular order.
- First, people using cell phones to take video on Media Day.
A friend of mine's boyfriend is a professional cinematographer; that is, he shoots major motion pictures with video cameras that price out in the five figure range and above. He was taking video of her shooting a pistol on Media Day with an iPhone 4S, and I don't think it was because he didn't love her enough to use a "real camera." His qualifications and experience far exceed whoever GunsAmerica had running their expensive video camera. I'll take experience over equipment any day.
- Second, segregating "real media" from "small-time bloggers."
I don't want to give the impression that this post is just sour grapes - that I'm jealous of the size of his blog, and I feel intimidated by it. This is for two reasons. Number one, as I told several people at SHOT, my blog is small, and I like it that way. Not many people read it, but the people that do are polite, educated, and professional. I'd like to keep it that way. Number two, my blog ranks higher in search engines than the GunsAmerica blog, and so does practically every other gun blog in existence.
OpenSiteExplorer says that the GunsAmerica blog Page Authority (on a scale of 0-100, how well search engines rank sites based on a lot of things, but mostly the quality of their content and how many people link to that site) is 31; VuurwapenBlog is 44. Guns and Ammo Magazine's online site is 41.
Mr. Helinski would like us to look at the root domain - gunsamerica.com - and their Page Authority is 54. Impressive, no doubt, until you realize that Gunbroker's is 61. GearScout, the official Military Times blog that I wrote for during SHOT, has a Page Authority of 72. I was unable to find a firearms-related blog that had a lower Page Authority than the Guns America blog.
- Third, their social media presence is weak. Their blog has no Facebook page. The official GunsAmerica Facebook page has 5,000 fans, ten times as many as my blog, but the GunsAmerica root domain has 200 times as many unique visitors per month as my blog. Not very impressive, from a ratio standpoint. Also, how far has not using cell phone cameras gotten them on YouTube? I have three times as many YouTube subscribers as the GunsAmerica blog, and I consider myself to be very small potatoes on YouTube.
- Fourth, his comments on bloggers who recently created blogs and "installed wordpress" just to get in to Media Day are especially ironic, given that his blog came into existence just three months before SHOT 2011, and he is using an off-the-shelf WordPress theme (I am too, but I won't hold it against anyone else for doing so, with the exception of this example). Despite his claims of "15 years of hard work," the GunsAmerica blog has only been in existence since October of 2010.
If we were to use Mr. Helinski's own criteria for judging whether or not a blogger should be allowed in to Media Day or enter the press room, he certainly should not have been admitted to those events for SHOT 2011, and the result of that might be that he wouldn't have been allowed to attend Media Day 2012 either.
There was a kernel of truth inside the rotten fruit of his statements, but the poor expression of his opinion has clouded the issue. In fact, he's prevented a serious discussion of whether or not Media Day had too many attendees, choosing to focus attention on himself and his own "achievements" instead.
Mr. Helinski is right in suggesting that quality content will rise to the top regardless of adversity. Given the big name writers, corporate backing, and expensive equipment used to create GunsAmerica blog content - the dismal performance of his blog can only mean that the quality of his content is not strong enough to stand on its own merits.
Apologies for the poor video quality - I'm traveling with a laptop and a camera, no lighting equipment.
I travel a lot, and sometimes this travel is by commercial airline. In this video, I share some of the federal regulations, airline policies, and general tips regarding the proper way to bring firearms with you when you travel by commercial air carrier.
I took two photographs of the RRA polymer 1911's guts at SHOT 2012. Here they are.
According to the spec sheet, the "polymer frame body" will allow "interchangeable colors." The weight is listed as 2.04lbs.