Your editor rants: “Hey guys – it’s time to kick the audio mags – not!”

Neil McCauley: Usually I refrain from commenting about posts in audiophile forums. Frankly I can’t see the point. The bile, the victimisation of perhaps some of the less articulate forum members, vilification of those that prefer A to B – rather than the reverse, and so on makes me laugh – usually.

Moreover the apparent need to hide through anonymity is on occasions despicable. I find it hard to take seriously any post where the poster hides behind such camouflage as ‘oilchangeneededsoon’ or ‘blowupdoll69’ . Anyway, what has sparked this ire here today?

Well I'll tell you. It’s this forum post >

AOS have of course their fair (?) share of nutters along with the majority of inquisitive, informative and enlightened. The editorial grip seems clear and certain and they are no worse nor better than the their colleagues / competitors. Thus what I'm referring to here is illustrative rather than exhaustive. At least at AOS there is a degree of civility and foul language is kept to a minimum. Plus ....... they admire Ken Kessler's writing style as indeed do all of us here.

Craw? Yes, craw!

What sticks in my craw is the smug self-satisfaction of some (but not all) of the usual suspects there, the forum know-it-alls, the posers, etc. Everyone is entitled to a view – obviously –  from even the dimmest contributor with a barely hidden agenda. I'm not advocating censorship. What concerns me is the drip by drip erosion of what’s left of the paper-based audio press. Of course these forum armchair generals will bleat like mad when the last mag has disappeared. Why? Because they’ll be one short of the necessary quota of scapegoats. Who’ll be left afterwards? The few remaining retailers? Then what?


It’s  curious that posts gleefully portraying bad news (usually inflated out of all proportion) re reviewers, editors and retailers seems to outweigh those that discuss the ‘good guys’ – unless of course these ‘good guys’ are a forum’s flavour of the day / week / month. Possibly the stats might prove otherwise – but decisions are based on perceptions, and the perception seems to be that in terms of taking pole position re chosen scapegoats there is an everlasting churn between (a) reviewers, (b) retailers and (c) mags. Three industry usual suspects pilloried by the forum usual-suspects. Brilliant.

So, these forum ‘usual suspects’ – what about them?

First, it seems they are entirely devoid of interest in searching out the facts. Let’s take one for illustration.

NUJ rates for a reviewer might be as little as £115 per 1,000 published words. A review might take say 3 hours + writing it say 1.5 + say 1.5 for the editorial dialogue, re-write as so on. Thus £115 divided by 5 hours = £23 per hour before expenses and tax. And possibly waiting 3 months to be paid.

3 hours some forum commentators scream. Why so short? Why? Well – you do the math. Yet worse is to come. The reviewer has a system to review.

  • Unpacking and packing, say 2 hours
  • Initial set up, say  1 hour
  • Tuning and fine-tuning say 1 hour
  • Full system review say 6 hours
  • Editorial dialogue, re-write as so on 2 hours
  • Total = 12 hours

Word count for the review is 1,750 which @ 15p per word is £262.50. Now divide this by 12 hours. A hourly rate before tax, expenses and hernia therapy = £21.87.

Just as well they like doing what they do – right?

Now what I've provided here is a simplified schema of events. What’s not been included is the administration, the endless dialogue between the various suppliers and the reviewer, waiting in for shipments that don’t arrive on time, coping with editorial hysteria and much more. Thus the aforementioned £25 could easily dilute to around £15.

Hardly  school-leaver rates it’s true but for that money one can hardly expect the audiophile equivalent of Charles Dickens.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Behind the scenes, these mags, vilified by ‘nasledebris’ and others run on a shoe-string. Tiny budgets squeezed to the maximum, long, long hours many of which are unpaid, relentless deadlines, ad salespeople confronting increasing advertiser cynicism, declining page rates = declining income and so much more, that few could cope.

Does this mean that these magazines are beyond reproach?

No it does not. And it doesn’t mean that their staff are all heroes – although some are. Are they culpable in any way? Yes, in many ways. The HiFi+ / Roy Gregory situation did I believe irreparable harm to outside perception of our industry. The point blank refusal to publish press releases from retailers, the occasional review that smacks of having been written before the unit was plugged in (brand review rather than product review) and much, much more. However, that’s not the whole story.

Epilogue, epitaph or obituary?

Or perhaps all three.  Nothing has a right to exist beyond it’s allotted time span. Mags are not excluded. They do not have an  incontestable right to exist. But … and it’s a big but, while not above criticism perhaps one should consider the alternative – an audiophile world with perhaps just one mag left standing.

Is any intelligent buyer or potentially buyer really, honestly going to put their buying influences exclusively in the hands of the forum mujahedeen? I hope not.

There wouldn’t be much alternative though because to read the fora it appears that retailers are perceived (in general) as rapacious deceitful shylocks with only self-interest at heart.

Truth be told, there must surely be a few who do indeed fit that description. And yes, possible a sort of moral corruption might take place in some mags occasionally. However as Joni Mitchell opined:

“Don't it always seem to go

That you don't know what you've got

Till it's gone”

Thank you

Neil McCauley

OLC editor

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