OK-I run an advertising company when I am not wasting my time on this site...grin...so here are a few notes how this stuff works.
1. Publications make their money by delivering an audience to their advertisers. The stories, photos, gear reviews, and cartoons are all simply a way of increasing their readership base. Ther real money is the advertising. So all the rest only matters if the readership base can be shown to respond to advertisers, and buy the products. Trust me on this one---my company gets paid a lot of money to study the various publications and assess which ones do the best job of convincing their readers to support their advertisers. Sometimes that is overt: please support our advertisers. Sometimes it is covert: "this backpack is a GREAT BUY," (and the producer happens to be an advertiser in our magazine.)
But make no mistake about it---advertisers track their dollars, track the results, and every few months they revise their spending based on what is working best. BPL is in direct competition with our publications for these dollars.
2. Publications always tell you that advertisers never have any say in what gets printed. If you believe that, go read a car magazine. I can't remember the last time I saw a negative review of a car in a car magazine. Why? Because if they did it, the car company would pull its ads. So all car reviews are positive. Some outdoor magazines may be different, but over the long term, the ones that will survive are the ones that get the most advertising dollars. You do the math. (this doesn't only apply to car magazines---network news usually works the same way. All those cute stories about nice last minute gift ideas for the holidays? Yep.)
3. There are a few publcations that take NO advertising, and exist only on subscriptions. That way they can be completely objective. And their readers pay for this objectivity.
Consumer Reports is an example. But they tend to focus on big ticket items that are bought by large numbers of the population: cars, refrigerators, etc. Why don't they review backpacks? Because there are not enough of us to make it worth their while...and if they don't sell a lot of magazines, they go out of business.
4. Ethics? Yes, many publications (including BPL, apparently) make a real effort to give honest reviews of products. But as the BPL voice here has noted, that's not a perfect way to win advertisers. Companies really need good reviews. When a customer in a retail shop is staring at a wall of backpacks, that "best buy" review or "Great New Product" label will often make the difference. That's a real result. And it matters not only to the company--but also to their entire distribution chain. There's a reason that those reviews get out into the market and on the shelves next to the products so fast. More backpacks sold into retail shops means more backpack sold to consumers--all because of that review.
5. One last comment about reviews and ethics. Reviews are subjective, and let's not get confused about this. My wife and I have a ton of experience backpacking together, and we STILL often disagree about the equipment that we use. There is no such thing as a perfect review. Yes--you may think your staff knows everything, or that you have the perfect expert--but it is unrealistic to assume that ANYONE can give a perfect review for all users. So what to do? Heck, if I were a magazine, and my wife and I were both reviwers, I would ask us BOTH to write the review---and then take the most positive one. Why? It would still be an honest opinion, but it would also not offend so many advertisers. But that's just me. Every publication struggles with this issue every single day. Trust me.
As a participant in these "free" boards, what options do you have?
>> If you believe that BPL gives honest reviews of products, and you really value that information, then you have to communicate that--not so much to BPL--but to the people who are advertising here. And to those who are not. And while long letters like this one are sometimes helpful, the best way to communicate this is to buy the products that are highly rated by the magazine. If you buy a tent that was highly rated here, drop a note to the company and tell them that--attach the receipt. And drop a note to the competition, explaining the same thing--and attach a copy of the receipt.
>> If you believe in BPL, and you really love backpacking, then maybe it's about time you paid your own way a bit. Yes, I know that other sites are free. Other sites also may not give the same honest and ethical reviews of products. If you get value here, then it is worth money. If it isn't worth any money to you, then go elsewhere. But I think it is just a little bit hypocritical to say that you want all the quality editorial content for free...and if advertisers don't like it, they can go elsewhere. There is no free lunch. Either they pay, or you do.
>> You could also do more to promote this site to friends, colleagues, and others who enjoy backpacking. That increases the BPL readership---and makes them more attractive to advertisers.
And now a disclaimer: I do not get paid for anything from BPL or any other publication in the outdoor sector. Nor do I pay to subscribe to BPL, nor do I pay to participate in these boards. I don't have clients in the outdoor industry.
And I do have a website--that's free, does't accept advertising...and doesn't review equipment!