Audio Forums, On-line Store Fronts, and the Art-of-Deception


I have absolutely no problem with dealers on Forums in general; in fact, I think they perform a very important role in providing information to buyers about their product and insights about the competition. The key is to maintain full disclosure and an environment that encourages open discourse.

However, I am curious as to whether other members of our hobby have observed "supposed" Audio Forums that in reality are nothing more than a store-front for the Forum owner's equipment dealership which, in turn, uses business practices established to cloak the owner's profit objectives to appear as unbiased forum commentary. Do others feel this way or am I seeing things wrong?

I see the approach going something like this:

1) Start an Audio Forum with a few colleagues to help with the scheme;
2) Have the owner run large amounts of audio gear through their room for very short auditions to create the "appearance" of a knowledge-base to be used, in turn, to create the "appearance" of credibility regarding the advice offered by the Owner on the forum;
3) Have the Owner's colleagues play the role of shills, cheering the Owner's advice and the unsuspecting member's purchases from the store-front, as the Owner goes about denigrating the product he doesn't sell and lauding the product he does; 
4) Run the Forum in a manner that immediately quashes anyone who challenges the absurdity of the Owner's comments by shutting down threads and banning all challengers to the absurdity under the guise of keeping the forum a friendly place to exchange objective views.

I obviously consider this business model to be.....(well I won't use the words I am thinking). I would like to say, however, I do find humor in the ignorance of the approach strictly as a commercial enterprise.  

Sadly, I believe these types of business practices are often used on less sophisticated customers in today's retail world, but high priced audio gear is typically purchased by fairly astute individuals. As such, the model I describe above is the opposite of what an intelligent business person would develop to serve a sophisticated customer base. Yet we see this kind of nonsense employed in an attempt to sell sophisticated products to sophisticated people.

Maybe it just shows brains, business acumen, and ethics go hand-in-hand.

In the mean-time, a word of caution to all those fellow hobbyists looking for an objective advice on line; it is more important than ever to remember the time-tested cliches:

--caveat emptor
--follow the money
--things are not always as they appear

and so on.






wattsperchannel
Post removed 
GShep, I am curious, do you mind if I ask why you removed your post???
Audio forums as used by dealers and manufacturers is just as you said!

Audio forums have more BS and untrue advice than most any other hobby.

"but high priced audio gear is typically purchased by fairly astute individuals. "

TOTALLY NOT TRUE IMO!
Well maybe "astute" is the wrong term but would you agree they are generally not stupid? In other words not stupid enough to fall for the such sophomoric schemes. To me it speaks volumes about the ignorance of the Forum owner. 
Watts, I reread my original post and it came off as if I was targeting a group. I'm not so I erased it. Yes there's a lot of shilling going on but if you read between the lines there's also valuable insight to be gleaned. 
Yes GShep, but reading between the lines is the tricky part and its a shame we hobbyists constantly must do so. The tactics used by some recently have gotten ridiculous; just surf around.  I would love (even pay) to have a forum that consisted exclusively of hobbyists. Maybe where manufacturers and/or dealers were invited in for scheduled interactions and then depart; a place where we could go for honest advice from other audiophiles and not have concern about the BS agenda.

I will say not all Forum owners (who are also dealers) are as bad as others. I can think of one who is quite professional but another who sets the standard for the absurd; it would actually be comic if not for the intent. (I wonder it it is the one to which you were referring prior to your deletion.) In any case if someone ever starts a hobbyist only forum, I am all in!!!
Lots of sharks in the water. There is anywhere where money can be had.
It would be nice if all dealers identified themselves, but Audiogon does not force them to, and actually will help cover their tracks for them if anyone calls them on it, as Audiogon is in on the business end of this as well.

Hey, Audiogon supports these forums, so do dealers. Do yourself a favor and don't take these paid for public forums as a bible.
Listen with your own ears.

I don't see anyone funding a hobbyist only forum. Maybe Audio Asylum is as close as you can get, though that is mostly DIYer's these days. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Buyer beware.
Yes sharks indeed.....I don't perceive the kind of crud happens to the same degree here on AG mainly because central orchestration of the charade doesn't exist like it does at other places where the conflict is directly tied to the management/owner. Still as you point out its all about your own ears. I do feel its a shame we can't carve out some isolation on a place like AG to let some objectivity rise to the top. 

I have had dialogue with many friends about this mess. I am not certain a fee-based not-for-profit model for hobbyists only would not fly. 
What specific forums are you referring to.
MP, Let me just say you will know it when you see it. It is not subtle.
watts, it's kinda weak to raise the issue and not name names so that everyone knows. 

FWIW, I agree with your sentiment and regularly get annoyed here with many dealers & manufacturers posting here without disclosure. If their products are legit, they all should have no problem posting a signature below every post letting everyone know who they are and what they do. Hell, it's free promotion if they have anything credible to say. 

If every non-commercial user expressed their feelings when they see this activity it would help solve the problem. Cheers,
Spencer
Post removed 
Hmm. I don't know if I agree. The Outlaw Audio Saloon, Emotiva Lounge & Morrow Audio forums are ones where there aren't many shills at all. There is talk of their products but also fair share of critiques of products as well. I think where you have to watch out for shills of products are in bigger non maker specific forums like this where dealers and makes of audio gear can lurk & post. There is barely any review of posts here. Look at how many members post their goods for sale here.


Jed,

Thanks for those forum  sites. I will check them out. My issues have most definitely been with the "non-maker" forums as you describe where the owners is a dealer. I am not saying AG in its current form is a shill-free zone by any means, but what I would love to see is one of the major forums provide such a venue. On the other hand AG IMO is as clean as a baby's behind compared to the crud that I see at owner/dealer forum.
This site and Audio Asylum are about as unbiased as you can get.  Sure there's some BS but for the most part there are some helpful and knowledgeable posters.  
I think Audio Circle is pretty clean too, with specific Circles for industry brands. Wrt to sharks, brings to mind an axiom of poker playing - if you don’t know which player at the table is the fish, then you are the fish.
Gshep & Hew, Thanks for those two. Suffice it to say I have been frequenting the wrong fish tank. BTW, Hew very true, very true regarding the poker table. 

I wish there was a card game where the peddlers where stopped at the door. I don't understand why this sort of thing couldn't happen. There are so many hobbyist that just want to share personal views and experiences with out the underhandedness. 
So, like when are you going to share some?
There are so many hobbyist that just want to share personal views and experiences with out the underhandedness.

In other words: There are so many nice fish here.

Jeez, I wonder why them sharks won't just go away and leave us fish alone. ;^)
geoffkait, Sorry, I didn't catch that??

jmc, Its all about the money, money, money; don't listen to Jessie J:

"It's not about the money, money, money
We don't need your money, money, money
We just wanna make the world dance,
Forget about the price tag
Ain't about the (uh) ch-ch-ching ch-ching
Ain't about the (yeah) bl-bling-bl-bling
Wanna make the world dance,
Forget about the price tag"


Ya right Jessie, not when it comes to sharks and us fish.
Pick your poison. Audio Forums are started for various reasons and not just to share views. Some are manufacturer spin-offs, some objective, some subjective, some for whales, some for sharks and others are for minnows.
Hew, Ya but I am not aware of one that is exclusively committed to the hobbyist.

Like I said above, the problem is not when a dealer is forthright and willing to engage in reasonable discussion; it is the few that employee subterfuge and shills to manipulate audiophiles trying to just make a sound decision. It ruins a part of the entire hobby and it doesn't have to be this way.
@wattsperchannel , I understand that it's not all about money for you or me.
That doesn't mean that no one cares about money.
Anywhere that you have people willing to throw money around, you will find people scrambling, even through unscrupulous methods, to collect said money.

In other words: You may believe in Utopia, but you cannot change human nature.

I agree with your mission, just as I agree with Peace on Earth.
However, I am also a realist, not a dreamer.
Post removed 
jmc,

You raise the heart of the issue: the profit motive and human nature. I am a big fan of the profit motive generally driving the best outcomes for society, but I do prefer a modicum of ethical behavior.

I don’t consider my pursuit of a "Shill Free Zone" to be that of a naive Utopia which assumes a change in human nature per se; I see it more as a simple rules based program that would keep the slime away from those who prefer an environment (from time-to-time) that doesn’t have to deal with constantly being fed a line of BS.

Legitimate dealers, manufacturers and reviewers (i.e., those with a profit motive) would be welcome to scheduled events at the Shill Free Zone; if they behave themselves they would be invited back.

Would this program be perfect, of course not; but relative to the killing fields I see today where unsuspecting hobbyist get bamboozled by nefarious players, I believe it would be a huge step forward.
How about a spin free zone here like that nice unbiased O'Reilly guy does?
Post removed 
Watts,

Guess I'm one of the folks you refer to, however look at it this way, don't you think it is of general benefit to the discussion that someone that actually works with Audio Equipment on a daily basis and actually understand how this is put together offer insight that would not otherwise be available in the discussion so that the enthusiast can form an educated decision on a purchase or just learn about the topic in general.  

I find that there are many reputable manufactures and dealers that participate in this and other forums that contribute in very meaningful ways.  Also there are many other contributors that actually know something about what they post about, Almarg and JEA come to immediate mind.  I find these folks advise and comments of much greater value than the enthusiast that just offers opinion.

On posts that ask "what preamp should I Buy, suggestions please" I see absolutely nothing wrong with a manufacture or dealer that post a link to his/her product, with the proper disclosure of course, so that the OP can take a look at it and then form an opinion about what preamp to get.

I would think that most folks participate in these foras to learn something and you can only learn if you are willing to listen to input from someone with a different set of experiences than the ones you have.


Good Listening

Peter

 

Post removed 
shill[SHil]NOUN
  1. an accomplice of a hawker, gambler, or swindler who acts as an enthusiastic customer to entice or encourage others.



en·thu·si·ast[inˈTH(y)o͞ozēˌast, enˈTH(y)o͞ozēˌast]


NOUN


  1. a person who is highly interested in a particular activity or subject: "a sports car enthusiast"synonyms: fan · devotee · aficionado · lover · admirer · follower · [more]
Perhaps not totally on target regarding this forum topic but an experience I recently had on eBay;
I purchased a fairly expensive turntable from a "reputable" seller (NOT AMAZON) with 100% positive feedback. Received the item and, as it turned out, it was originally shipped to Amazon from the manufacture. How did I discover this? Someone left a shipping invoice showing it was originally shipped to Amazon in the box along with the turntable. Additionally, the turntable was missing parts and the hold down screws were rattling around in the bottom of the box. Evidently they re-package returned items and sell "as new" for full retail! I sent it back, got a complete refund but before I could leave any feedback of course the seller canceled the transaction therefore closing my ability to leave any feedback. That's how they maintain 100% positive feedback. All I can say is lesson learned!
mapman13,321 posts05-24-2016 8:26amHow about a spin free zone here like that nice unbiased O’Reilly guy does?



But what I propose is a program run by its Non-Shill members, not a central authority with their own agenda. In the case I refer the Owner/Dealer is all about a spin-full not spin-free zone.

watts, I was being a bit facetious.   The no spin zone seems to be such in name only really, a marketing ploy.   Is such a thing even possible on an open website?


I suppose high end audio forums could be regulated like the financial industry that I work in to help assure integrity. Sounds like a good idea on paper maybe but probably won’t happen it that it usually cost money to enforce anything. I’d like to think that a more transparent site would be good for business but who knows?   It is what it is and up to the individual to find their way.   Is that such a bad thing?  

geoffkait3,473 posts05-24-2016 8:39amShill Free Zone? There is no discernible difference between shilling and enthusiasm. Get over it. Maybe we should have name tags for Shills, Trolls, Pseudo Skeptics and Enthusiasts.
  

geoff,

As mapman points out you could not be further form the truth with that comment. Honest enthusiasts are exactly of what the forum I propose would consist: like-minded hobbyist looking for experience based feedback void of deception and profiteering by flimflam men and their cadre of helpful charlatans. 

Maybe rather than directing me to "get over it," you could be so kind as to offer a logical position as to why such a thing would be bad for hobbyist whom want to participate. Oh wait, other than the fact it would make life more difficult for the scammers.

Peter (pdnaudio),

Please let me be very clear, if you read my OP carefully I am absolutely not impugning reputable dealers, manufacturers and/or others whom make a living from our hobby. These people play a very important role on forums. They disclose their roles and engage in meaningful discourse regarding differences of opinion and experience. There is a wide crevasse between these folks and the other stuff I reference. They have very little in common.
wcc,

I feel your pain. What I fail to understand is the argument that says "well that's just the way the system works." First, that is simply not true; that's the way the rigged system works and that is the position championed hardest by those that don't want it changed.

When the architect of the rigged system is also the governor of the forum, its simple to halt reform by just hitting the ban button and the charade is maintained for the next innocent victim whom stumbles along in search of objectivity. Instead they get a well choreographed bag of doo-doo.
mapman,

I do not argue for a regulation of existing forums. I get that forum owners are of various ilk and some are going to behave as they see fit often out of ignorance as to sound business practices (to their own detriment). I frankly could care less about these individuals. Rather I propose a separate forum to augment the current condition that would be member controlled, not for profit, and Shill-Free.
Post removed 
@wattsperchannel , if you are successful cleaning up all the corruption in the forums, I suggest that you take your talents to Washington DC then, as there is a rigged system, full of corruption that could use some fixing too.

Fact is this site IS for profit mainly so there you go.

The are other sites in the sea as well but not sure if any are any better in this regard.  The main thing here is probably average cost of items discussed is significantly higher than most other sites and more people willing to pay any amount if they think it might improve their sound.

Post removed 
 
  I suggest that you take your talents to Washington DC then, as there is a rigged system, full of corruption that could use some fixing too.
Sounds like "Mr. Smith goes to Audio Forums." Maybe I will make a movie.
jmc, I was curious about your thoughts????
jmc, I was curious about your thoughts????

Thoughts about what? Work? Music? Women? Golf? Religion? Politics? Environment?
His deleted post above..... and those things too would be nice.
I guess I didn't see the post before it was deleted.

Work: Against.
Music: For.
Women: For.
Golf: For.
Religion: Against.
Politics: Against.
Environment: For.
Pretty remarkable; you could be my twin brother.

I must confess though I actually enjoy a challenging political discourse but it must be with an intelligent counterparty.  
I had a bad experience with a very small audio boutique company. I trusted forum reviews, a few magazine reviews and thought? this company was a great small audio outfit. After many many months of trying to get three pieces of equipment fixed which I had purchased the owner/engineer ignored me. Finally he took the stuff back and never admitted the hum and spurious had come from his equipment. I took a big $$ loss on selling back to him! He has a forum, I posted my experience. Now I am banned from posting on his forum.
Funny, he never banned the positive comments. Mostly, I suppose it was great advertising for his company. So I agree, many forums are there for advertising, not for an honest exchange of opinion and experiences shared by owners. Most are for fanboys and really helping the audio company sell more stuff. What was the comment that got me banned from this guys forum? I said I agree he is almost impossible to get in contact with. A completely truthful experience.

Post removed 
Back in 1979 I was a commissioned salesman at a high-end audio shop in DC, and behind the counter we had a small plaque with "There are Lots of Liars in this Business" on it.  True then, and true now, but now with the internet as our vehicle for knowledge, it's particularly difficult in this world where businesses can do stuff like purchase Facebook "likes".