The British audio platform The 13th Note has announced it is stopping. In a series of background articles it becomes clear what the main reason is for this decision. And that makes you think about the audio industry, the money flows and the role of the media.
Simon Price, founder of the website, writes reviews about audio in a way that appeals to us; sober, independent, with a dose of humour. And always provided with a comparative study of what other brands offer in the relevant segment.
Simon often questions “the elephant in the room”, such as the question of what is musically the added value of Ultra High End, or speakers that cost 100,000 euros/dollar/pound for starters. He also discusses in reviews whether a device performs proportionally better than a device that costs a factor of 10 less for the asking price. And always knowledgeable, based on facts and figures. In short, no easy topics, certainly not from the perspective of a manufacturer, importer or PR agency that works for a brand.
The story of The 13th Note is, as it has been described, harrowing. Simon does not receive compensation from manufacturers (Correction 13th Note – I did receive some products in lieu but not enough to make the site sustainable), even if a positive review has demonstrably led to increased sales of the product in question. Even after commitments from different brands. The story is that there is no budget.
With such an attitude, you would start to think that audio industry and audio press don’t need each other.
On the other hand, we hear again that the media and an audio brand or company need each other. Without brands/products and nothing to write about and without media (on paper, internet, video) there will be no platforms for communication. And so no channel to the potential target group.
“Potential customers need more than the information we provide as a producer. Independent and critical reviews are therefore an indispensable source of information. The fact that there may be a less good review at times is a calculated risk and if it is justified criticism, we (SP : we as manufacturers for improvement?) can do something about it in the next version.”
How this mutual dependence between media and audio industry translates financially is a never ending story that unfortunately didn’t work out well for The 13th Note. Frustrated by the mismatch between his own investments in time, money and equipment for the platform and the lack of financial appreciation for it by the audio brands, Simon decides to stop keeping the website up-to-date. (SP : of reviews)
How recognizable is this story (about The 13th Note stops) for the situation in the Netherlands? Unfortunately, this is very recognizable. Especially since the lockdown because of Covid-19, we at Alpha Audio are dealing with importers and brands that are withdrawing or have been able to trade a significantly lower amount. Whether or not imposed by ‘higher powers’.
This needs some explanation. Alpha-Audio has structured the collaboration with audio brands in partner contracts. Often those contracts are per year. This works a lot easier and there is continuity to be created which often has a better effect on the outcome of the campaign.
Depending on the package, the brand will get advertising space on the Alpha-Audio website and we will be reviewing a number of reviews and backstories, on paper and/or video. Our terms and conditions explicitly state that a brand has no influence on the content of reviews. In this way we have partners with whom we have been working for many years; and because the entry into a cooperation contract is low, we also welcome new brands and importers every year.
That sounds like a pretty solid structure and it is. But we also see an equivalent trend in the Netherlands (Benelux). And certainly in recent months it has been alarming. Equivalent to what is described in The 13th Note.
On the basis that brands and media need each other, it is a pity that we see more and more that parties really like to use the platform for free. This in itself is possible – we often take enough brands that are not partners – but at the moment when it is quite structural and we steer on the next step, then there are no possibilities. Something that is needed in this day and age, given that Alpha Audio also needs to make investments to move forward. Corona or not, we have to keep going. And online means growing and investing in new concepts. And that just takes time and money.
So how to proceed?
And how can this continue in the Netherlands (and the rest of the world!)? Where is the ‘fear’ of investing? Where is the sting in the – global – hi-fi industry? Are they afraid of honest reviews? Are they afraid of the two-way traffic that allows the Internet (public comments on reviews)? Or do we see that all wrong; is there simply no budget, despite the fact that there is apparent sale by reviews? Is it really just what it is?
We would like to hear your views on this pressing, very sensitive issue.
Note: This article was co-operatively written by the editors of Alpha Audio, based on input from multiple sources, including 13th Note.