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A review for a price: Fanfare magazine crosses ethical line

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A review for a price: Fanfare magazine crosses ethical line

TIM MANGAN

The Orange County Register

http://www.ocregister.com/ocregister/enter...cle_1234143.php

The whole thing began with e-mail from an old college roommate. He had recently recorded his first CD for a small record label, he told me, and was sending out review copies to various publications. There had been a few reviews, but he wanted and needed more. But in response to sending his CD to Fanfare magazine, a bimonthly that reviews hundreds of recordings in each issue, he had received a curious reply. He wanted my advice on how to proceed.

The editor of Fanfare, Joel Flegler, had sent him a letter quoting ad rates. If my roommate bought an ad, it said, his recording would be reviewed. If he bought a bigger ad or placed ads in consecutive issues, the editor would arrange for my roommate to be interviewed. The ad rates ranged from $706-$1,853. If he didn't buy an ad, a review might be forthcoming but there was no guarantee, and his CD would not "be given top priority." My roommate asked me if he should consider the deal.

The Fanfare editor's letter was so unethical that I hardly need to comment on it here. It broke every rule of good journalism by removing the wall that is supposed to separate editorial content (and decisions) from advertising. I asked for and received permission from my friend to publish the editor's letter on my blog (changing my friend's name), then sat back to see what would happen next.

What happened was that the blog (and my e-mail inbox) lit up with comments. Blogger A.C. Douglas weighed in first, questioning the authenticity of Flegler's letter, saying that no magazine editor would write such a thing unless he had a "death wish." Composer/performer Mary Jane Leach quickly countered by confirming that when she ran her own record label, Flegler offered a similar deal to her. American tenor Stephen Gould, currently singing Siegfried at Bayreuth, offered an anecdote suggesting that the same editorial policy held at another magazine. A Fanfare subscriber wrote that if Flegler's letter proved authentic, he'd cancel his subscription. The posting had gone global.

Flegler himself then proceeded to authenticate his letter to my friend. In a ridiculous missive, he defended his editorial policy unapologetically. Claiming that most record magazines did the same, Flegler posed the question: "Would it be more ethical to take someone's (ad) money and leave them wondering if they're going to see any coverage? I think not. Is it unethical to tell them that if they don't advertise they may still be reviewed, but their CD won't be given top priority?" Flegler went on to attack those labels and distributors that release recordings and don't support Fanfare by advertising. "To me, that's unconscionable!" he wrote.

A couple of current and former Fanfare reviewers (including Alex Ross of The New Yorker) defended Flegler, saying he never interfered with what they wrote, whether or not the CD in question had been advertised. But so what? An editorial decision had already been made, before the review.

If Fanfare came with a warning label that informed readers of its editorial policy, that would be one thing. But for now, the magazine is worthless. The appearance of impropriety is as good as the real thing here. As composer Tom Myron summed up pithily: "OK, fine. How much for the cover?"

Read the whole exchange for yourself at blogs.ocregister.com/mangan/ (then go to July 19) – and add your own thoughts, too, if you like.

---------------

Here are the direct links to the blog entries discussing the issue:

http://blogs.ocregister.com/mangan/archive..._pro_quo_1.html

http://blogs.ocregister.com/mangan/archive..._a_summary.html

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Without naming names, and to answer the question "What about jazz magazines?" all I can say is, "Yes."

In my experience, this is common practice.

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I'll name a name - Cadence.

This was in the early 1980s, so I don't know if they still do it, or if they do/did it to everybody. But....

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To defend Cadence, we've been reviewed in there twice and have never taken out an ad. Nor have they ever asked. I do have a letter from one magazine like the one described in the article, however. Not Cadence, another magazine.

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I'll name a name - Cadence.

This was in the early 1980s, so I don't know if they still do it, or if they do/did it to everybody. But....

Really?

Now it seems like every other monthly message talks about how they don't do that and everyone else does.

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This happens in the book publishing industry lots

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My mention of Cadence is based on experiences of 25 or so years ago, so perhaps (hopefully) that is no longer their practice. And even if it still is, it's in no way meant to be a dis on what is an excellent & invaluable publication. Business is business, and all that.

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My CD was reviewed by Cadence for free. I subsequently made a distribution deal with NorthCountry which is of course their sister company.

I had heard through the grapevine that this sort of 'buy an ad, get a review" policy was implicit with JazzTimes. As an independent self producer, I have found it damn near impossible to get reviews. I sent out numerous packets to no avail, twice to JT, and neither submission was even acknowledged (However, I did start getting advertisement packets, describing rates, etc for upcoming education issues, etc)

The only review I can hang my hat on - which thank god was a very flattering one - was the Cadence review.

I've always felt that Cadence was honest in their dealings, because I have read scathing reviews of artists whose CDs were at the time distributed by NorthCountry.

Edited by slide_advantage_redoux

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Downbeat just reviewed the new Reptet disc in their September issue. I was contacted by their advertising person only AFTER I got confirmation that the review was going to be in the September issue. This is the fourth Monktail Records release and only the first to be reviewed by Downbeat. Thankfully it's a positive review. :)

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What Clem said. Fanfare's pay-for-play proclivity has been noticeable for years, and still I read it and find much that's useful.

I'm sure Flegler isn't getting rich off the thing.

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FWIW, this is the first I've ever heard of Fanfare.

I guess they've had no influence on me.

On the other hand, I like Cadence.

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Downbeat just reviewed the new Reptet disc in their September issue. I was contacted by their advertising person only AFTER I got confirmation that the review was going to be in the September issue. This is the fourth Monktail Records release and only the first to be reviewed by Downbeat. Thankfully it's a positive review. :)

Great. It's going to take us FOUR records to get reviewed in Downbeat? ;)

Congrats, Johhny!

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My CD was reviewed by Cadence for free. I subsequently made a distribution deal with NorthCountry which is of course their sister company.

I had heard through the grapevine that this sort of 'buy an ad, get a review" policy was implicit with JazzTimes. As an independent self producer, I have found it damn near impossible to get reviews. I sent out numerous packets to no avail, twice to JT, and neither submission was even acknowledged (However, I did start getting advertisement packets, describing rates, etc for upcoming education issues, etc)

The only review I can hang my hat on - which thank god was a very flattering one - was the Cadence review.

I've always felt that Cadence was honest in their dealings, because I have read scathing reviews of artists whose CDs were at the time distributed by NorthCountry.

For years I noticed that virtually every record reviewed in any given issue of Jazz Times also had an ad in that issue. Maybe they run it like Downbeat, with the ad dept. contacting you once it's decided they will review it.

However, if you are going to have any advertising dollars put into any jazz record, it makes sense that those are the magazines where you would place the ad. Chicken or egg?

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I've been reviewed in all of the magazines mentioned, including Fanfare, without being asked to buy an ad in advance. But does the practice take place in jazz magazines? Unquestionably.

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Downbeat just reviewed the new Reptet disc in their September issue. I was contacted by their advertising person only AFTER I got confirmation that the review was going to be in the September issue. This is the fourth Monktail Records release and only the first to be reviewed by Downbeat. Thankfully it's a positive review. :)

Great. It's going to take us FOUR records to get reviewed in Downbeat? ;)

Congrats, Johhny!

Thanks Jim.

ps. Looks like we're going to be playing in Grand Rapids on Sept. 29th...too bad you guys are gonna be in Lansing, we could have hooked up.

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Johnny, I just talked to Louis at Schulers and he mentioned that. I wish I could be there. How long are you in MI?

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Johnny, I just talked to Louis at Schulers and he mentioned that. I wish I could be there. How long are you in MI?

Just the 29th, then it's on to Chicago for september 30th and october 1st.

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A few things that come to mind in this discussion.

First, I wonder how anyone could be so naive as to not realize this goes on everywhere. Look at not only record review publications, but audio mags (despite protestations by editors the free equipment or paid junkets to reviewers game has been going on for decades) and plenty other publications - and it's much worse in the online publishing world.

Second, considering a publication's advertising department contacting a record company to ask if they want to take out an ad when a review of their product is running is not at all unethical, it is actually a good service to the company - after all, if my product were being reviewed, I would certainly want to reinforce the review and leverage it through an ad. Nothing wrong with the mag asking if they want an ad in the issue.

The key thing we have to realize here is, just like television or any other medium, the magazines do not exist to sell subscriptions or for newstand sales primarily, they exist to sell advertising. Subscriptions and newstand sales determine ad prices, but editorial ethics do not. Sure, it could be argued that unethical publications will lose their readership, but unfortunately, history does not show that to be true.

Anyone who relies on reviews primarily to form their judgements must be forewarnwed of the unreliability of reviews due to the underlying commercial conflict.

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Johnny, I just talked to Louis at Schulers and he mentioned that. I wish I could be there. How long are you in MI?

Just the 29th, then it's on to Chicago for september 30th and october 1st.

...where are you playing in Chicago???

m~

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Second, considering a publication's advertising department contacting a record company to ask if they want to take out an ad when a review of their product is running is not at all unethical, it is actually a good service to the company - after all, if my product were being reviewed, I would certainly want to reinforce the review and leverage it through an ad. Nothing wrong with the mag asking if they want an ad in the issue.

I don't think that is the issue. The issue is a publication saying, "Hey, if you take out an ad, we'll definitely review your CD! But if you don't, there's no guarantees." That's shady, imo. Do you really think the publication will print a bad review of the CD if they person paid $1500 for an ad? Hell no because if they did, the band wouldn't even bother with the magazine when their next CD came out and they'd lose that potential ad revenue.

And sure, it happens everywhere. Doesn't make it ethical.

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Come on...there's no ethics in the magazine business or any other. Business sucks.

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...where are you playing in Chicago???

m~

The Elastic on Sept. 30th and the Hungry Brain on the 1st of Oct.

I'll make a formal announcement of the tour within a few days.

-john

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I spent 28 years reviewing for Stereo Review, an average of 12 albums per month. Since the magazine did not carry record company advertising, that was not a problem. Still, there was a problem with at least one editor who allowed his personal friendship with record company people to interfere. Each month, we (the reviewers) were assigned a greater number of reviews than needed. Ergo, it was up to the editors to select what was printed. A bad review often did not make it to print if the label rep was a frequent lunch buddy; a positive review might also be bumped to make room for one where the editor had a closer relationship. I found that to be disturbing, but I knew that unwritten policies were much worse elsewhere. Cash Box and other trade publications allowed advertising revenue to dictate what was listed on its charts. Some reviewers routinely selected their own productions as "Pick of the Week", etc.

The story was that Stereo Review fired Gene Lees when he wrote (and they printed) an fantasy wherein a fine gourmet restaurant gradually became a hamburger joint. It was clear to all that the subject of the piece actually was Columbia Records.

Down Beat occasionally actually altered my text (ever so subtly) to make it better suit the editor's or magazine's relationship with the artist or label.

I don't think there can be any excuse for any of this.

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Down Beat occasionally actually altered my text (ever so subtly) to make it better suit the editor's or magazine's relationship with the artist or label.

I don't think there can be any excuse for any of this.

I'm curious about the editor(s) when that happened. Please let me/us know.

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I'm forever grateful to Mr. Albertson for giving my debut recording Stereo Review's jazz pick of the month without any influence peddling from the label or anyone else. In fact CrissCross was so cheap I had to buy all the promo copies from the label and send them myself.

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