When bribery becomes policy: how you can pay the publication MacTrast to review your game
It can be frustrating for developers to pitch their game to publications for coverage consideration, but it's even more frustrating when that publication openly asks for payment in exchange for editorial consideration. One developer ran into this issue with the publication MacTrast, and received the following e-mail in response to their enquiry:
Thanks for getting in touch with us! We have several options available for those who'd like their app featured on MacTrast. You can choose to have us publish a sponsored tweet about your app for $120, in which we push out an advertisement for your app via Twitter to our nearly 185,000 followers. We can also do a full feature and review of your app for $50, which includes the following:
- A full review of your app
- Featured on our homepage in the review section
- The review will be posted twice to our 184,000+ followers
- Posted to our Facebook page (8,000+ fans)
- If your review gets a rating of 3 out of 5 or more, it will featured twice more in our “App of the Day” tweets.
Let us know if you are interested in any of these options.
“Glenn” is J. Glenn Künzler, the managing editor at MacTrast. I contacted him to see if he'd discuss what paying for coverage in his publication entails, and his response was to ask if I'd guarantee his anonymity. I told him that anonymously discussing the policies of his site was… an odd request.
“I agree this is a topic that must be openly addressed - and one I am passionate about. But until there's greater understanding and acceptance of ANY sort of paid review coverage…I don't want to get myself or MacTrast blackballed by other sites, media institutions, or developers,” he said via e-mail.
I'd like to point out that at no time during these e-mails did he ask for anything to be off the record, nor did I ever agree to speak off the record or anonymously. I stated that I was gathering information for a story on those practices in my very first e-mail on the subject.
He said he wanted to talk about this issue with his team, and then dropped this bomb on me:
As it stands, I want to clarify right up front that, as of this particular moment, I have NOT yet authorized you to make any mention of us or our policies - or the contents of this private conversation - in any form whatsoever. Just so we're clear on this. Please let me discuss this with the team before I say anything further.
I want to be clear: if you consider a conversation with a reporter private, you need to say so at the beginning of the conversation. You don't get to “authorize” the use of your own site's policies, or statements said to reporters when they make it clear they're gathering information for a story a few e-mails down the line. The e-mail they send to developers asking for money in exchange for coverage is, to put it frankly, news.
When it comes to dealing with sites charging for coverage, I'm unwilling to grant editors anonymity when asked to discuss their policies, and I don't respond well to being told I need their authorization to write about their business of trading payment for coverage.
If you're a developer, and a publication asks for money in exchange for a review, don't do it. Send the information to a reputable site so we can try to eradicate these practices.
Künzler has stated that he may pursue this matter legally if we discuss his site's policies.
Update: We were just sent this official statement about the “pay for coverage” policy. I'm publishing the statement with no edits of any kind.
Cormac here from MacTrast. Glenn has filled me in on the discussion between you both.
Yes. We charge a fee to cover apps. We receive 100's of enquires per month from developers to have their apps covered. App reviews tend to be consume a lot of time. A single review could take anywhere from 2 to 5 hours to complete.
Reviews account for a small portion of our traffic too. Our main writing staff cover Apple rumours and “how-to” guides.
The vast majority of reviews published on MacTrast are covered by a small team of writers who specifically cover reviews. They receive $40 of the $50 charged for reviews to compensate for their time in reviewing the app.
In return, the app developer gets featured on our site, on our Twitter, on Facebook, and in other sources.
Paid reviews do not at all guarantee a positive review either. I have the threats to prove it! :(
We can't possibly fulfil the volume of enquires for apps to be reviewed. It would be counter intuitive for us to operate like that.
Because of this, I decided to introduce a charge. Plenty of app developers are happy to pay for the coverage. Others are not. I'd love to be able to cover more apps on MacTrast than any other Apple news site, but it's possible for us. We also have to compensate our reviewers who take the time to review the apps.
I hope this shines a bit of light on the logic of why we decided to charge for apps.