This is maybe my 8th attempt at articulating my evolving stance on tool brand or retailer sponsorships. Each time, the conversation just feels awkward, and I end up trashing my draft. But, I’ll give it a go once more.
Warning – this is a long post. This is something that I spent a lot of time thinking about, and there’s no quick and easy way to phrase my stance on sponsorships.
Every year, brands, retailers, and marketing firms ask for our media kit, which is basically a summary of website metrics and advertising rates. About two years ago, maybe a little earlier, an increasing number of those potential advertisers started asking for my sponsored posts rates. Well, I don’t have a sponsored post rate.
“We’re not buying banner ads this year, but we’re happy to talk about sponsorship opportunities.” A pattern emerged.
So, I started thinking about how to move forward with the industry on my terms.
This was the case last year when in a similar post I said:
Saying “yes” to opportunities I agree with allows me to say “no” to opportunities I don’t.
If you don’t grow and adapt with an industry, you get left behind.
This is not as recent a shift as you might think. I was talking to a potential advertiser 6 years ago, and I remember this because I was home with my infant son at the time, and they were interested in talking about advertising options and also “organic content” opportunities. I never pitched a story to them, but it just shows how far back brands started shifting towards sponsoring content creators.
Thinking back, I participated in occasional sponsored partnerships over the years, when they aligned with my ethics and interests. Early on, tricked myself into believing they were something else. I’d say I could do the review for free, but I’d see they wanted me to sign a photo release – ah, that’s what they’re paying for. I’d throw in banner ads to further convince myself of advertising-editorial separation.
The shift to mobile has also created advertising complications. I can create new placements for mobile and also flip a switch to boost performance (meaning revenue), and while I’d get paid a lot more at the end of the month, it would absolutely harm your user experience.
I had time to think about things.
But, the industry is shifting in multiple ways. I took part in a sponsored campaign last year, and I am fairly certain that I would not have been privy to the product launch if ToolGuyd was not included. Meaning, I doubt I would have had access to a product manager or review samples outside of that arrangement.
Let’s stop for a moment and think about ToolGuyd’s revenue streams. It’s an uncomfortable conversation to have, but here is where all the revenue comes from: banner advertisements (direct and ad networks), and affiliate links. I used to freelance for magazines to help boost revenue, but I don’t have time for that anymore.
I have always strived to provide readers with the type of experience I desire from the websites, magazines, and channels I visit.
Readers are everything I love about my job. Your questions, comments, emails, tips, requests, suggestions, social media messages, encouragement, and shared passion for tools – this all means so much to me. All of the joy I get out of this stems from you, our readers.
But also, you guys are critical to ToolGuyd’s upkeep and support.
What happens if I add too many banners? You would lose interest and leave.
What happens if I am too forceful with affiliate links? You would lose interest and leave.
What happens if I faked enthusiasm to sell you on sponsored messaging I don’t believe in? You would lose interest and leave.
What happens if you lose interest and leave? Less ad revenue, less affiliate revenue, fewer and smaller partnerships.
Do you see the commonality? A small boost in revenue now would absolutely negatively impact revenue later. But not only that, everyone that visits ToolGuyd regularly, even the very many that don’t desire to join in on the conversations, are a big part of why I do this. A big part of our audience comes from search engine results, but without those of you that are reading this, there’s no community, and with no community, this becomes a job instead of my passion.
In other words, it’s in my best interest to be aligned with your best interests. Engaging in any behaviors that would push you away would always be the wrong move.
I can understand the pushback about sponsorships, but I spent about two years thinking about policies and practices that will help me adapt to ongoing marketing trends and developments.
Consider a chef that owns their own restaurant and often also uses their personal time to cook for friends and neighbors. They plan to use the weekend to test out a new brownie recipe for their restaurant, and this is something they’ve wanting to do for a while.
Someone comes along – “we’re having a party and want to hire you to cook a feast for 50 of your friends and neighbors, and can you do it Saturday?” Sorry, the chef is busy. Maybe next month. “We’d like it to be Saturday, and we’ve got a budget to pay you.”
Time is my most valuable resource these days, and it has been for a while. There are simply too many things that deserve to be worked on and posted about.
In the chef analogy, there are three possible responses to the hiring request, and they apply here as well.
1) I’m interested, and would do this for free, but I don’t have the time, sorry.
2) I’m interested, here’s what I’d like to do.
3) I’m not interested.
There’s one other option, to stick a hand out and say “sure, show me the message you want shared, I’ll sign my name,” but that’s not me.
Earlier in the year, a reader requested that I review a particular router. I’d love to help them, and I made some guesses, but there simply wouldn’t be a way to shoehorn it into my schedule by the time the reader wants to make their purchasing decision. It’s not about interest or not wanting to oblige, but about not having the time.
But – that brand has since signed on as a ToolGuyd sponsor, and I can rearrange my personal projects plans a bit to accommodate that review. That sponsorship funding will also go towards other reader requests for reviews or comparisons.
Will my review process or assessment be any different? No.
You might say – “but if you don’t shower the product with praise you’ll never get another sponsorship again.” That’s the thing – sponsoring brands know what I and ToolGuyd are like. And if not, they learn fast. Some of my professional relationships go back more than 10 years. If we can’t come to an agreement, maybe there will be something more favorable down the road.
With unfamiliar brands or companies, we don’t always come to favorable agreements at all, ever. Two years ago, a brand wanted me to showcase tools of my choosing, and then things devolved into “we want you to video yourself shopping our Black Friday deals online.” I declined and will not work with that firm given their low quality expectations.
Here’s another analogy. Let’s say you have a pickup truck. Sally is moving and wants your help. You oblige, as you’ve been friends for a long time and they’d do the same for you. John, Larry, Peter, Amy, and Carol from the book club are all moving too, and they all want your help next Saturday. You’d ordinarily be willing to help at least some of them, but what can you do? You also already have plans to build a LEGO set and watch a sports game that day. John offers you gas money and a pizza. It turns out helping them will take two trips. They throw in a bag of your favorite chips.
Oliver is a bit of a jerk, but you try to be friends with them anyway – “I need you to help me move.” Sorry, you’re busy and aren’t driving into that part of town at all. “I’ve got pizza and gas money.” Sorry, it’s laundry day.
Sam also wants help. “Can you help me buy two sheets of plywood this weekend?” Next weekend works for me better, is that okay with you? “Thanks!”
Sponsorships are something a lot of companies are very interested these days. My time is very limited. There are advertising limitations due to mobile vs. desktop and the desire to provide a quality reading experience. Some exploration opportunities are increasingly exclusive to sponsored partners. There’s a long list of reader requests and content in the queue, waiting to be funded.
All of these things point in one direction. Getting on-board with sponsorships is an inevitability, and it’s better to do so now, on my terms, then in a future where I might lose that luxury.
Consider Brand O, who I have a great relationship with. “Can you make time to talk to a product manager about our new launch? Are you interested in testing it?” With many things going on, an interview or presentation might be hard to schedule for a couple of weeks. I might be able to test the tool, but a full review might take a few weeks (or longer) depending on different factors. Sometimes the work involved in testing a product would means 5X work today than in 4 months. “We’re launching the product in two weeks.”
Sometimes it’s not possible to do things as part of regular editorial content.
I have some ground rules, and all of them basically revolve around “no manufactured enthusiasm.” Sponsored content is about going above and beyond what I can accommodate as part of regular content efforts.
Last November I was approached about doing a product review. I came up with an idea – I can cram it into December as part of a sponsored campaign, or in January or February as part of regular content. They sent me the product and told me to take my time.
If they had a budget to offset the high opportunity cost that is tied to holiday season work, my post would have read the same but with a note that it was part of a sponsorship or partnership.
That was a one-time idea, but this is still new territory. Things are falling into place and I’m getting used to the idea. With each brand or post, I look at reader responses to see if the campaign was at all interesting or useful to you.
Let’s talk about why I don’t like reading sponsored content. Well, a lot of the times, they’re shallow advertorials and simply ad copy in editorial packaging. There’s generally no author – it’s a “staff writer,” and nobody is held accountable.
And yes, I know some of you have a problem with today’s post, but that’s something different. If you’ve been reading ToolGuyd for a while, you know that I sometimes get overly excited about tools. I try not to tone down my language when talking about sponsoring brands’ products, but sometimes it slips through.
I’ve been seeing a lot of sponsored content on social media and YouTube, and I see a lot of examples of what not to do, but there are also a lot of content creators who share similar ideals and approaches as I do.
Every now and then someone questions my editorial integrity or motivations, and I LOVE IT. Well, it actually feels lousy, but I want people to ask questions. I try to disclose and be as transparent as possible, because it’s necessary.
Early on, I realized that it can be a problem for one hand to write the content and the other hand to pick up the paycheck. So, I made a rule about affiliate link recommendations. Besides, if I’m too pushy with a junky product, and you buy it and hate it, you’ll return the product, I get nothing, and I lose you as a reader.
I get phone calls and emails from marketing companies claiming they can help me boost my ad revenue. I ask for examples and they only ever show me examples of what not to do to ToolGuyd. If a small box of content is framed by ads above, below, and on both sides, and there’s then a pop-over, I’m gone before they all even load.
With every sponsorship in recent years, ongoing arrangements, and potential arrangements being discussed now, every partner is okay with working on my terms. They know what kind of content creator I am, what is important to me, and how I approach things, and they’re okay with it, or maybe even eager.
Every opportunity is always considered and discussed on a case by case basis.
I recently wrapped up a sponsorship, and I can tell you in no uncertain terms that the product it involved was of personal interest, but it wouldn’t have easily fit within my purely editorial queue. Maybe I could have tested it a bit over the next 6 months, maybe I could have fit an interview to discuss the product with a manager sometime in August, and maybe you’d see hands-on discussion published by September if I came across a deal post. Getting a big chunk of my attention in a timely manner like it did would not have been possible without a sponsorship.
Some readers have been encouraging me to hire more team members. Aside from liking control and enjoying what I do, where would the money for contributors and maybe an editor to manage them come from?
Another upcoming sponsorship will support several posts and buying guides that have been in my queue for years.
Ask questions. Raise eyebrows. Voice your concerns.
To many large magazines, sponsored content always seems to be advertisements parading around as content. To me, yes it helps support ToolGuyd, but it also creates opportunities for me to explore interesting brands and tools.
If I had to simplify things, I’d say that I see sponsored campaigns as akin to grant money. There’s a general goal, such as “make a dessert with Brand L cocoa powder,” and all I have to do is serve you whatever I decide to bake. There might be some discussion on my end, such as the why behind this particular cocoa powder to help me understand what’s different about it, but that’s about it.
A lot of people believe sponsorships are just about a paycheck, and I once thought the same, but that’s not at all true for me or ToolGuyd.
I’m trying new things over the next couple of months, and I’m relying on you guys to tell me what you think. I am always open to suggestions, requests, and feedback.
In a couple of months, after we try some new things, I’ll be asking for your feedback as to what you liked and didn’t like. Remember, we’re in this together. ToolGuyd has become a big part of my life, and readers have always given my efforts meaning. All of the joy and satisfaction ToolGuyd gives me simply would not be possible without you.
I realize that asking you to trust me requires a lot of faith, but have you ever seen direct ads here on ToolGuyd for brands or retailers I couldn’t genuinely endorse? Have you ever felt that I was bombarding you with ads? Am I too pushy when it comes to affiliate links (sorry, some tools I can’t help gushing over)? I aim to treat sponsorship and partnership content with the discretion.
You can justify “sponsorship” or its analogies any way you want, but the bottom line is that you will lose credibility quickly if you are seen to align yourself with sponsors rather than with readers. I for one will lose interest in your opinions.
The problem in dealing with “sponsors” is encapsulated in the old-fashioned saying that “if you sup with the devil, you had better have a long spoon.”
I suggest you should view ToolGuyd as a public service rather than as a way to make money. The internet is getting way too ugly with aggressive “monetization”. You won’t get rich by running a public service, but you will retain the respect of your readers.
Unfortunately for most of us we need to earn an living. For me its now mostly living off the earnings from the capital I was able to accumulate over my working life . For Stuart, I think that ToolGuyd is his business and source of income. So either he has to hit a Mega Millions Lottery or figure out a path for ToolGuyd that brings income in while not alienating his readership and/or sponsors.
I am sorry if I didn’t make this clear – I earn a living through ToolGuyd. This is my business. This has been my business for several years now. That’s the only way I can justify spending 14 to 18 a day.
I very thoroughly enjoy what I do, but I no longer run ToolGuyd “for fun.”
As a public service, will you chip in to feed and clothe my kids? And when more brands move to sponsored partnerships in lieu of providing press/media resources, what will you come here for when I am unable to provide timely and thorough information?
The reality is that everyone likes free content. My time is not free. My hard work is not free.
Here’s another reality: if I cannot earn a living from ToolGuyd on my terms, there is no ToolGuyd.
I can start flipping switches and “aggressively monetize” ToolGuyd, and this has been true all along. I don’t want to.
Marketing spending is shifting.
If I can start walking slowly to the train door, I can take the path I want and find a seat where I want to sit. But if I’m not on that train, I’ll eventually be chasing after it, huffing and puffing, as it leaves the station without me.
That’s okay, I have marketable skills and can find gainful employment. This was never my career choice, and that’s perhaps why I do not “aggressively monetize” it. This is why you (and probably many others) miss the fact that this is my full-time work.
But this is my passion and I very thoroughly enjoy it. I cannot fight industry shifts. So, the option is to find a way to set my own rules now, or ignore the need to adapt and find myself later being forced to try to play by others’ rules later on.
The entitlement in some of these comments is just wild. “you should view ToolGuyd as a public service”…. WHAT‽ How do folks not grasp how much time and effort you dedicate to this site? You just can’t win with some people.
Keep up the excellent work Stuart!
“the entitlement in some of these comment is just wild. “You should view ToolGuyd as a public service”…WHAT?…you just can’t win with some people”
What’s really disappointing is to warn of the dangers of sponsorship – the slippery slope, etc — then be accused of “entitlement” or being a “hater.”
For background, I run a forum of ~39,000 members, and another more specialized forum of ~1,500 members concerned with selecting electronic parts for industrial production. I put in perhaps 10hr/wk “in the public interest” without compensation. Like Stuart, I’m an engineer. Impartial commentary is absolutely necessary on such forums, and there can be no hint of “sponsorship” – regardless of “full disclosure.”
In real life, I evaluate parts for use in my employer’s and outside clients’ electronic assemblies. I get samples all the time, with occasional offers of dinner at Ruth’s Chris, or a goody bag. I refuse them all, not least of the reasons being that I need to make ruthless evaluations, and I would get instantly fired if I accepted anything more than a pencil with the manufacturer’s logo.
The situation is a bit different for Stuart. I have a day job (for now…), but Stuart is apparently trying to make a living with Toolguyd. I don’t question Stuart’s integrity. (But then, I wouldn’t trust even a monk with a naked lady). With very few exceptions, I find Stuart’s analysis and commentary to be useful and impartial. However, the analogy here is that of a website, sponsored by Ford, doing a critique/analysis of a car by Toyota. The optics are just bad, “full disclosure” and sincerity notwithstanding.
Regarding Stuart’s dilemma: I think a better solution would be a patreon (PBS?) model – a request for interested members to donate money periodically to support Stuart’s valuable work. So let’s start with you, Luke: How much are you willing to donate to ToolGuyd to keep it running (without “commercial interruption”)? After all, I’m sure you don’t want to be accused to feeling “entitled” to free advice…
LOL, eat those steaks. I did it all the time when software vendors offered me such nominal gifts. It didn’t change my recommendations one bit!
The patreon model in the context of tools is something I could see myself paying for. If their was a tier that I would get an email a month answered, then that can pay a lot for targeted to me answer. I pay consultants for their knowledge often enough and this could be no different. Today’s question would be “what’s out there for portable toolbox wrench organization”. In November it would be “what’s hot for Black Friday sales for deepest discounts in the cordless tool segment in Dewalt or Milwaukee.” I would pay for a 10 minute email versus waiting for article runs that may or may not run. Someone in the know with working knowledge can do in 10 minutes what would take me 10 hours even if it is a link to a previous relevant article.
If Toolguyd was run as a public service, it would atrophy and possibly die, because Stuart would do it “as time allows”.
I don’t think Stuart is trying to get rich; instead, reasonable sponsorships allow him to spend his work time on Toolguyd instead of working at another job (and, as he noted, can have other benefits too).
“Well, a lot of the times, they’re shallow advertorials and simply ad copy in editorial packaging”
There are a lot of youtubers out there doing that. I’d say Scott Brown Carpentry and Kyle at RR buildings are 2 that don’t shill for their sponsors. They take time to share what they love, not just the spec sheet. For instance, Kyle was stoked he could cut 5 sheets of 3/4 material leaving a line in the 5th to set up the next cut. That’s one of those sill, niche things that only real reviewers share.
Stuart, I’d put you with them if this were a youtube channel. Regarding your Flex article; I honestly do care about things like what the grip feels like. It’s the primary way I am going to interact with the tool. It’s also something I can’t just look up on their website.
Sponsorships don’t ruin your integrity. Anyone that says otherwise is just projecting.
I agree with your comment about the FLEX post. I use my tools around the house and for hobby work, so thoughtful features can be more important than a nominal increase in speed or power. I also appreciate that I get more insight and honest commentary as opposed to a stock fact sheet.
I Agree with you about Scott Brown and Kyle from RR buildings. What sets them apart is they are using the tools they speak highly of everyday. If you don’t believe that, just watch their content.
I think this type of post – and the reflection behind it – is what sets ToolGuyd apart. I really only visit ToolGuyd when I’m looking for info or reviews on tools. There are a number of Insta accounts I follow, but I’ve been losing interest in many as they all seem to get the same batch of new tools for free and then get excited when they’re able to drive some lag bolts or cut a 4×4. If you continue to evaluate each opportunity with this level of thoughtfulness, we will all benefit. Thank you!
The Power tool game is getting weirder and weirder. There was a time when it was all about phenomenally well built machines with minimal functions. Now it’s all about suspiciously built machines with a blue tooth tracker. I hope I can speak for many of your readers when I say you do an excellent job sir. Sometimes I go straight to your comment sections because you are exceptionally well engaged with your reader base and I enjoy reading the replies you send as follow ups to your main posts. This is something that lacks just about everywhere. Its very obvious you enjoy your job and that’s the secret to work, enjoy it. I compare all of this sponsored blowback stuff to a coworker you just can’t stand. You come in to work, you love your job, you love your office space, but dammit there comes so and so, the most annoying coworker ever. You tell yourself “Welp, can’t have it all.” That’s how I see it. I had a unique thought to the flex post. “The hell is he talking about?” And that’s actually a compliment. I say this because, as you mentioned, everyone else is talking about how damn strong it is and how fast it can cause a bit to spontaneously combust. You told us what “you” liked. I dont think chervon was jumping up and down with joy when they saw you saying “it can sit on its own back” Heck even they may have thought “what the hell is he talking about, we did that on purpose?” Thats toolguyd, even when your sponsored you still say what your thinking, its noticeable. “Hi I’m sponsored by dewalt, also the atomic line makes no sense to me right now.” -Stuart. Haha you did not say that exactly, but you get my point. Make your money, we’re here with you to share and be a part of the journey.
Sometimes small things like “it can sit upright on its back” can be really meaningful for some users. The first router I owned was very art-deco in style. I had a polished aluminum housing and domed top and 2 small knob handles. Then when I bought a Rockwell-Porter-Cable D-Handle router – could grip it with my big mitts and set in down on its flat top (still careful since the bit was still winding down) I thought wow!
As a near daily reader I certainly find some reviews to be less interesting to me personally then others but that’s great. How else would I know what a HF item or the new Flex drill is about?
Will your posts effect my buying decisions? Yep. For sure.
But why? Because whether I agree with your personal views or not I respect the manner that you present them. And the range of tool related topics.
Oh. And the great insight so many of your readers add to the train of thought on so many of your posts.
Would I buy a Flex drill or yet another ViseGrip given the ton of options I already have? Hmmm maybe?
I’m completely with Jim on this. Although I may or may not agree with everything Stuart says, I absolutely respect his opinion.
Clearly the Flex post was the tipping point for this article. The push back he got there really pissed me off. I absolutely understand why the points he made about the Flex products didn’t resonate with everyone, but seriously, if readers really think so little of him as to think he would sell his reputation for a single sponsorship, why are they even on this site in the first place?
As he said, he makes a living off this site. It’s his brand, and that brand’s value is tied directly, and exclusively, to his reputation. Maybe some readers just don’t understand that, but, really, if that’s the case I’m just embarrassed for them. I know I’m starting to ramble, but Stuart needing to defend himself on this is really annoying me.
This isn’t something I feel I need to defend myself on, but one where I could explain my stance.
As mentioned, this isn’t something that just came up.
I’ve been changing stances on a lot of things and transparency is crucial. It’s part of the culture here and it’s necessary even when the topic is awkward or uncomfortable to talk about.
…At this point… I… Don’t care… I come here because you review things in a form that aligns with the way I think, instead of by relating a product to past products… I’m a Nerd, and being told “It can do this, but only if You do that. If you don’t… This isn’t for you.” that’s how… well that’s how I Need my information summarized, and filtered through experience. You speak Nerdspeak, like I do.
Also… as a bonus… On a very deeply personal level, I’ve gained a lot of “Father Figure” type favourite posters here, whose knowledge and experience spans so far that it makes up for my own lack of this kind of Father in my life growing up… My Father was a Jock, and a Police Officer… And also a bully and a prankster… Having learned all I know about Tool use through self-education and my Mother has tinged a lot of my knowledge with completely detached, very feminized, attributes that don’t equate to me knowing the terminology for what I’m doing. I can do it without speaking, and do it perfect, but the second I start talking, I sound like an idiot. Until I talk to someone like yourself, Stuart, or fred, or so many other regular Trades workers who frequent the site. They’ll comment on a post of mine, and correct me in a way my Father should have, but didn’t. And I am a better tool user for using this site.
I will say it now, and I will not hold back or withdraw this sentiment. Whatever you need to keep this site going, your way, is something I’m willing to do, or endure, if it means you are still around. You can now have Subscription Services on YouTube, and websites regularly use subscription services such as Patreon to help keep the lights on. Whatever combo of these things you might be willing to install, I’m willing to pay into. I may not use your YouTube channel much (mostly because I was only dumb enough to remember to subscribe to it a few days ago, so I’m catching up.) but I would easily subscribe to that. I pay $12 US per month for Tested.com to watch Adam Savage build things, and teach me more about tools I don’t know. $5 a month, $10 a month… Decide what you need. Patreon can bring in very large amounts of money from single donors. Michael Rosenbaum (Lex Luthor from Smallville) has a Patreon that has levels of $10, $30, and $100 levels… What does he do in return? He was Lex Luthor, he has tons of his headshots that made him famous. He signs them personally, puts together gift packages, and personally mails them to the top level subscribers.
If all you want to do is ask for a steady income that allows you to do what you do, then a low-level Patreon could spark a lot of interest from all these Tradespeople and DIYers who frequent here. $10 a month/subscriber… maybe the only thing you do is have a long page that lists the Patreon subscribers, and a Thank you at the bottom of each article they helped keep the lights on for. With a link to the Patreon member list and the Patreon page itself, of course.
You Are Not a Schill for Brands… Nothing says that better than Reader-Supported Content in a time that is making use of Crowd Sourcing for so many things. Crowd Sourcing is how those Influencers mentioned before are used. Their “Fans” are the Customer, and paying an Influencer is the equivalent of paying a Marketing Firm to get the product news out to, funny enough, that exact crowd. The other way is Crowd Funding. Not just for emergencies or new products, services like YouTube Subscriptions, and Patreon, source the revenue flow to the single most important element of your passion project… In your own words… The Community.
This has been wordy, and I’m sorry for that, but the details matter. I’m down to sign up for a subscription to ToolGuyd if you are. Otherwise… Just be You. I came here, and have stayed here, for your input to help me. I have received far more in return than I ever thought I would when I first got here… and I haven’t paid you so much as a penny for any of it. You’re owed for your work, and if you want to take the ethical high ground, I don’t think I’m alone in following you there for the principle of it.
Here is the part that is very difficult to convey – this is not just a means of generating revenue, this is also a way to improve content.
Press relations is an increasingly dead art, and this is the shift everyone is going to have to make unless you’re a major news network.
Let me see if I can use one of your analogies to simplify my rambling.
You are the host of a famous TV show about Restoration of Historical Buildings. Your big key to fame is that you actually live in one of these historical era homes yourself, and you started this TV empire with a small show about your research into how to restore your own home.
This got you the deal, which paid you the money, which ultimately helped you fully restore your home, which you documented on a regular basis over the many seasons of the show. Most of the show was all about you joining crews, as they restored monuments and historical housing from various eras, and you spoke in a language that common users and tradesworkers could both understand.
You’re now a fixture of the convention circuit, you have a manager, you have deals flying your way to host celebrity makeover shows, you name it. But you have always done historical restorations, and don’t have it in you to debase yourself for topics of such low quality. This is understandable, and very parallel to what ToolGuyd is encountering with how the media coverage is changing. So you are now on your fourth or fifth talk show, explaining yourself as to why you only appear to be walking away from millions upon millions of dollars in revenue, over a matter of scruples. You’re frustrated, and just as the fictional audience can see it, so can we here on ToolGuyd.
Y’see… Leaving the analogy for a moment, along side this move toward Media Access Control, is also a development of direct-to-audience crowdfunding that disrupts the flow of cash, and opportunity, that the currently developed Media Access is trying to Control. And I offer this up, not to cover your funding, but rather to show you that their Media Access isn’t the only result of how they’re corrupting the old ways of doing things. Regardless of how much you would gain from it, it still compromises your integrity, and you are very troubled by that. What I propose is an alternate way to be set as a default influencer. US. The Readers. If the other influencers lose audience share to you, because you have the blatant disclaimer that all content is Reader-Funded, without the Bias of Manufacturers… You can achieve the switch over to the new way of operating, without losing your methods.
To finish up the Analogy? The City you live in has deemed your section of Historical Homes to be superfluous for the Historical Tourism aspect of their bottom line, and as such they have decided to enforce a city ordinance that says you must be running nearly off-grid in terms of power consumption, and waste byproducts from the methods used on your historical home. You must upgrade your Historical Landmark Home that you are famous for, in a way that means you have to spend a huge amount of money to buy more efficient systems to install in the house, hidden as best as possible behind the veneer of its historical look. So, instead of compromising to the TV and Streaming producers who want you to lend your voice to their low-quality schlock shows… you decide to use their own weakness against them. Your image, your reputation for what you do, has resulted in people trusting you, and admiring your work for its integrity for so long, that you set up a different kind of funding for renovating your home. And it is bringing you revenue, yes, but the very thing that made you desirable to the schlock garbage, is the resource you use to both save your home, and prove you can make more directly from your fans, than through the controlled lens of these big producers. If you say no to them, you are also costing them the audience they want you for.
Same for ToolGuyd. Posting or not, you’re a known authority, to many visitors and tool users. If you switch to defy the Media Coverage model being forced on you, you can count on your current Audience to come with you. Whatever you choose, they’ll follow. That is the exact reason why there is so much push against you. Because you play by rules that are fair, and can’t be bought out to sell garbage. The very thing we trust you for.
Sure. Let Makeup and Clothing companies go ahead and use influencers. All those shallow, no-stat products that are emotionally-driven buys can gain huge from the new system… but when the Tool companies try to do it, in such a Spec-Driven Audience… You’re the Specs-Guy with your ToolGuyd Blog. When your Audience follows you, and the Media Control method ceases to gain the companies any sort of progress in the field… They will be forced to come back to you. For the same reason the invention of Nitro Glycerine never caught on in the Firearms Industry. Mining? Construction? Sure. But it didn’t fit with Firearms because that’s not how they work. Plain and simple at its core, without a Tech Spec based, Unbiased source like you, the Tool Companies will be forced, albeit slowly, that quarter after quarter of losses are the result of them turning away from what works best for Tool Buying. Their Clients, the Big Box Stores, will lose money on them, products will go unsold, and at some point the reason will be made clear to them.
“Because ToolGuyd doesn’t Lie, and those companies refused ToolGuyd.”
I am aware this is significantly longer than the first attempt… but the concept is significantly simpler. It’s not about Revenue, just like you said. It’s about examining All the developing changes of this new system, not solely the one directly in your face. And given the choices? Choose the one that best fits your methodology as it best suits your audience. And for That change? Whatever it may be? I frankly don’t care what it is. I will trust you before I would trust some twinkly snowflake on Instagram that just got paid to be a parrot. If I gotta pay for it, then I gotta pay for it. You earned that trust.
Time to enable Patreon or similar and maybe you could be even pickier about your sponsored content or purchase a competitors product to do a proper comparison.
ToolGuyd is pretty unique in the breadth and depth of coverage while appearing unbiased. Since you have that precedent and goodwill I want to give you the benefit of the doubt for all your posts, but the sponsored content can read a bit like marketing speak at times and I lose interest.
I understand that since you are already choosing sponsors who are known for quality products we should expect positive reactions. But I’d like to hear specifically how it is better than the competitors product based on your first hand usage or independent testing. I know you already try to do this as much as possible.
Please keep up the good work regardless.
First of all, I love your site, check it daily, and want for this to be profitable to you.
Secondly, I have no issues with sponsored posts or you evolving with the business model. As long as you stay true to yourself, I won’t lose interest and leave.
From a constructive criticism perspective, today’s Flex post included a “ToolGuyd sponsor” disclosure, for I think the first time ever, along with a review that was a little more enthusiastic and flowery than normal. “The most effortless battery connection”, for example, strikes me as unnecessarily superlative (that could just be because I dislike absolute statements).
What I’m trying to say is that the pushback from readers is likely due to your flowery descriptions of the sponsored tool, not the fact that the post was sponsored.
That may be, but it was an attempt to deviate completely away from obvious points.
I thought it would be a good idea to start off with what I really liked and cared about, you know before we get to the OMG do you see how fast it blazes through large holes?! part.
EVERYONE that’s talking about these tools are focused on the power/performance claims and tests.
I’ve got questions in my inbox asking for a general opinion, and this is what stands out to me.
A year from now, another brand might have a drill that delivers 1405 in-lbs max torque, but the things that stand out to ME will still be unique here.
I test a wide variety of cordless systems, and some are not so user friendly. I have to squeeze with two hands, I need to pivot my wrist a certain way, I need to yank, I need to remove gloves… there are lots of good connections, and lots of bad ones. With this, it just glides…
I’m easily excited when it comes to tools, and this tends to be a problem anytime. Kid, candy store.
I’ve seen people hammer batteries off drills and drivers. Good battery connections make a bigger difference then you might think.
For real. I’m about the biggest Milwaukee fanboy you could find, but man I struggle with their battery connections at times. Especially on a new tool or new battery. ESPECIALLY on that M18 Rover light… woof.
I thought it was only me – with stiff battery slides on many M18 (even some M12) connections. I’ve taken to using a broken candle end to to lubricate some sliding parts – but that still only helps a wee bit.
Likewise, I love my Makita x2 tools. But trying to take a battery off always requires two hands. It’s one of those annoying things that you don’t really understand until you have used the tools for a while.
Slippery slope indeed.
If you have integrity , nothing else matters. If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.
You can’t have it both ways. You certainly have integrity to even do a post like this. If enough, then nothing else will matter, meaning you won’t push your readers towards stuff that you’ve been laid to promote.
I find that extremely unlikely. It might even truly be subliminal, but you will. Take their money, promote their product. It’s how the world goes ‘round. I suspect most everyone starts out thinking, “all this money does is speed up my getting to their product”, but it sure won’t end up that way.
Anytime you want to know how something is really playing out, just “Follow the money”.
“In a slippery slope argument, a course of action is rejected because, with little or no evidence, one insists that it will lead to a chain reaction resulting in an undesirable end or ends. The slippery slope involves an acceptance of a succession of events without direct evidence that this course of events will happen.”
Kurt - Warship Models Underway
I have been visiting this site for quite a while, and find your recommendations honest and reliable. If you have sponsored content, and mark it clearly as such, I see no problem at all.
If the sponsor raises a question, point out that as an influencer, you have to maintain credibility, and that means maintaining a clear boundary between paid and standard editorial combat. Compromising that for short term gain reduces the sites value to them in the long term. Hopefully, at least some of the tool companies will understand this, enough to keep this a going concern for you.
I’ve been coming here for a long time and found it hard to believe there’s people who think you’d sell out that easy. I can count on three fingers the sources of reliable tool reviews or opinions available on the internet, and toolguyd is definitely one of them. The flex post was highlighting “unique” aspects of a drill but never claimed “this is the drill to rule them all.” I guarantee anyone who questioned that post will be logging back in tomorrow, there aren’t better options available, bottom line.
I am one of the folks who posted wondering about the odd excitement over the back-standing ability (I’m pretty sure my old porter cable 20v will do that, but I digress.)
To be clear, I did not mean to cast doubt on your credibility, but I can see how it might be taken that way. I was trying to figure out the excitement over “features” that seemed odd focus points. So I wondered if you were finding nice, honest things to say about a product that wasn’t all that exciting.
I -was- seriously worried about impalement. You took the time to address that and I appreciate it.
I respect your work and experience with tools and sharing news about them. I know you’re working to make a living at it while keeping your integrity. That isn’t easy to do.
Thanks for sharing the info you do, and I appreciate you taking time to address this topic with a separate post. It shows that it is important to you and that you spend some time on introspection.
My parents love to tell stories about how in elementary school I was accused of cheating on a math test. They retested me in front of them (or something like that), and I got everything right.
I still don’t always “show my work.”
Any company can take some parts, throw them together, and call it a tool.
Maybe I rest a drill on its back once a year (and never on the ground). Maybe I’m drilling inside a cabinet and the extra 1/8″ of clearance I get from a flat motor case over a curved case makes a difference.
To me, things like that answer a question “what did they pay attention to?”
I thought that post would be a good way to “break the ice” so I can start working on answering some specific questions.
I rarely think “hmm, how’s this going to come across,” I share and it’s only a problem maybe a few times a year.
But you guys care enough to give me an earful, and so it’s still a win. =) (Plus as you said I can learn something for next time.)
I usually find that your discussion of sponsorship or ethics doesn’t leave much that needs to be said.
One thing I’ve been curious about lately is how does your audience compare to other sites or content providers? For years I assumed Toolguyd was a niche blog, but I guess other people like your content too. Are you in a strong enough position that your negotiations work or are you a fly to be batted away?
It’s not a competition, but… =)
https://www.similarweb.com/ is a good tool for comparing relative website performance metrics, although it’s far from exact.
I like to think that I’m in a strong enough position where I can walk away from a table and not look back.
That number for “direct” as source seems like a pretty big deal and something to be quite proud of! That’s people who check in because they hope that THIS SITE has new content, not because you appeared in a search or feed. The audience that your site had cultivated that isn’t dependant on any particular story. It looks like by that metric of loyalty in particular you are in a class apart. That’s a pretty amazing thing to have cultivated that many people who just check the page to see what you’ve posted!
As a frequent reader and occasional replier, I have faith in your ethics stuart. You aren’t an influencer, but an influence. I’m sure you could shill something if you really wanted to, but I don’t think you do. Some of my favorite articles of yours are you disliking things. Other times, I’m not quite sure I’d appreciate the same aspects of something you highlight, but I don’t doubt you honestly found it a benefit. Others probably did too. More ads wouldn’t drive me away. Sponsored articles you favor – or don’t dislike – or verbally do dislike – won’t drive me away. I don’t feel like you’d be happy just signing off on marketing pitches, but even if you did – I’m positive at least some of your readers would ask what’s up before just disappearing. I think the large majority of the people reading your words want you to be successful. It’s delusional to think you shouldn’t be compensated. This article in itself is a testament to your ethics.
Thank you, I appreciate it!
Reading the comments it seems like the Flex post encouraged this one. I saw the article on Flex and skipped right over it because I am so dang sick of hearing about it. The company completely lost credibility with me when they released that super “cringy” head to head so much so I will never trust Flex – BUT that is what makes the internet great. I can skip over articles I have zero interest in.
You gotta do what you gotta do to make money. I think most people (besides the ones that think you just run this website for fun) understand that.
Kind of, but really it’s something I’ve been sitting on for a long time.
I’m at a pivotal point where some brands want to work with us in new regards, while others don’t like my honesty and blacklist us from media/press info.
It might be a little scortched earth, but have you considered publishing a list of where you’ve been blacklisted? I think you’ve had a few articles on particular brands, but a list that your readers can reference might be revealing.
I’ll usually mention it when relevant.
Not to mince words, a lot of marketers are inept these days. For every speed, competent, and hard working marketing, press, media, social, or communications contact I work with, there’s at least one more that takes 4X longer to get 1/2 the useful information out of.
But if I don’t make an effort, the next day I have emails and phone calls to deal with.
Some brands will play favorites but still try to help me with information. For small inquiries, I’ll post and then ask, and update the post later. If my questions are never answered, I’ll update the post at some point or the “we’re waiting for an answer” will remain.
Some other brands are like car dealerships where if you won’t answer a survey 10/10, you don’t get a customer satisfaction survey form.
I was blacklisted once before, and after I turned my back I was asked back to the table.
But with a current blacklist, they simply stopped answering questions they had no favorable answer to.
It’s like going to a restaurant and asking about their fish, and instead of telling you that they’re freezer-burned patties they got from the bargain fish market, the server turns their back and walks away, avoiding eye-contact until you leave the restaurant realizing what the hell happened.
They can’t (won’t) tell me the fish is rotten, so instead they just stopped answering questions.
Meanwhile the restaurant supplies a booth at the food court, and a marketer from said restaurant asked the food court to see if I’ll work with them to recommend the fish.
You’ll see mentions where there’s contextual important.
Also, a response has to be appropriate.
If I leave a restaurant and someone says “how was it?” I can say “they won’t answer questions about the fish and gave me the stink eye until I left.” This serves a helpful function.
Scorched earth does not serve anyone.
As a marketer in the space and somebody who has communicated with you about potential rates (long time ago), I really respect your approach and your honesty. As you said, the influencer/sponsored content game is so messy and continues to get worse, so having sources like you out there is invaluable. Keep up the good work!
I appreciate you taking the time to write this article. I don’t realistically see me ever not reading this site; it’s simply the best. If you can get sponsors, go for it. Stay objective, and you can even have someone else try the tool and see what they think. I think sponsors are fairly necessary, and simply disclosing it and being objective is good enough for me.
Personally, my favorite articles are the ones where you do something and show the tools you used to do it. I understand that those types of tasks that both require tools and are worth writing about are likely few and far between, but perhaps a series where readers can comment on what they’d use for a designated task would be popular. Also, the kit articles, such as assembling a first-time homeowner tool kit, are great. I enjoy all the articles on here, though, so keep doing what you’re doing.
I REALLY like those posts too.
It’s a goal for me to get back to them, because I really want to work on more projects.
Changes take time. Thank you for your feedback – everyone! I can look at logs and see what people read, but hearing from you lets me know what you like and want to see more of.
As for the kit articles, that’s something I enjoy also, and I found a sponsor willing to help me make it possible. More on that over the next few months.
Thanks for responding to so many comments! I’m definitely looking forward to those articles!
Seconded, and if being sponsored allows you to write more of these posts, that’s great.
Count me as one of the many that think your site is one of the best for honest tool reviews.
Reading through this article one thing occurred to me, and I have a hazy feeling that it was suggested before. Would you ever consider occasional unpaid guest tool reviewers?
My thought is it could be people that comment a lot, perhaps a contest to be selected or your favorite commenters.
It may help help current readers feel even more engaged with your site.
Please keep the excellent content coming.
I’ve tried it, and guest reviews don’t work out well.
“Sponsored” posts should be clearly labeled as sponsored posts.
In addition, if Company X paid you to post about a product, the next time you talk about a different Company X product you should put a disclaimer in that they’ve been a revenue stream in the past. Kind of like how NPR says “Company X has been an underwriter in the past” anytime they report on Company X.
I don’t begrudge anybody a living on the internet. Just be up front about it.
Stuart, you are the man. I’ve been reading Toolguyd for years, all the time, everyday. You’re one of the few sites left that don’t overload me with ads to the point my iPad crashes. Seriously, have you ever tried to look up a recipe? The pop ups and slide ins are infuriating. Heck, even my local news station website is a complete travesty with ads, sometimes full screen ads that pop up where you have to wait five seconds to click out, while all I want is the damn weather.
Keep doing what you’re doing. Your posts are insightful and detailed, and often play a large part of my purchase decisions for tools and equipment. To me, you come across as an enthusiast who is honest and sincere. Do sponsor reviews, do thought pieces, do whatever you’ve been doing because it’s working.
Thank you, I appreciate it!
Talking about recipes:
I’ve noticed that recipe sites (blogs, not talking youtube) always seem to have a long intro about the life, the universe, and everything before they get to the d**m recipe, which is all I’m interested in.
Most of the time, I prefer text recipes, because I’ll scan several to get an idea of what I want to do, and will often combine recipes, although I have to admit my family does have a fondness for Maangchi’s youtube channel (Korean cooking).
Stuart seems pretty honest about sponsored posts. I agree from my own attempts and people I know who do it making the economics of a site work with only ads is increasingly difficult.
Also in many ways most product journalism for lack of a better term, has done some form of paid content for decades, car magazines boat magazines etc. And the ones that outright turn it down do tend to have issues getting access to those companies in the future. The best way to handle that is to do what Stuart is doing and just be honest about it.
Some one else mentioned Patreon and that may work as well, but so far it seem to work much better with lifestyle content then reviews and such, but it might be worth an experiment.
I’ve always loved what ToolGuyd does and how you operate. As much as I abhor sponsored content, I do realize as a reader its a necessary evil.
Perhaps if you call out or tag which content is sponsored vs. which is just your own volition and opinion that would help? I know that would help me as a reader differentiate and view it thru a different lens.
I have been a long time reader on your blog and I absolutely enjoy it. So long as you notate which posts are based on sponsors, I really don’t see a problem with this model. Honestly, I take sponsored content with a grain of salt (on your site or anyone else’s) at some level but that doesn’t mean there isn’t something to be learned or some value. Keep up the good work!
i read that article yesterday and though about responding but then didn’t . i mean, it was one of the stranger ones you have written but then again not every article interests me and i don’t agree with every one. so what?
i say that because in general, you speak your mind and are honest. nobody agrees on everything, if i find value in most of what you write i will keep checking in as will most people. yes, you do need to walk a straight line but it doesn’t have to be narrow. i wouldn’t take too much stock in those trying to force you one way or another by “threatening” to leave or move on. what they are doing is trying to force their opinion on you . sometimes it’s better if those people pack their bags and move on.
Not meant as disrespect but I have never understood Stuart’s expertise in the field of tools other than he talks about them. I make build more things, use more tools on a regular basis than he yet I have no need to write posts for a blog. I’d rather just do than talk. A blog as income is fluff.
Along the same lines, what does toolsbydesign have as qualifications to tell 250K people on his gram page about tools other than he gets free shit.
What qualifications am I supposed to have?
You’ve been commenting here for nearly 3 years. If you don’t find my content to be interesting, informative, and helpful, why do you keep coming back?
Growing up in the 1950’s I used to love Red Barber’s calling of Yankee baseball games. I learned later that he had never been a professional ball player. But he seemed to be knowledgeable of the game – and rather dispassionate and objective in his on-air reporting. I liked his style – but I believe his fairness may have gotten him fired.
Back to Stuart and his background on tools. I never recall him claiming that his expertise (if any) came from years of work in the trades. But just like many of our best teachers – who may not have been world-class experts in their subject matter – he seems to be able to help elucidate many aspects of the tools on which he reports. Better yet, he seems to engender an interest in his readership to share with us different perspectives – many representing professional experience.
Since you don’t need to write blog posts and would rather do than talk isn’t it nice that someone else has those things covered for you? If he’s providing content that we enjoy and sometimes helping people make better tool decisions shouldn’t that be compensated?
Stuart’s research background heavily shapes the way he covers things. If you actually meant those to be questions you might be interested in reading a post from a few months ago about his journey with Toolguyd
As long as you keep thinking about sponsored content with as much care as you do, and continue being transparent about a) what is sponsored content, and b) the specific arrangement that allowed you to receive said product/access/etc. for free, then all good. Toolguyd is a helpful resource when picking tools, but I take your words with a grain of salt – by you explicitly stating your relationship with a product and a manufacturer, I can gauge how big that grain of salt should be.
If a sponsorship post is clearly labeled as such in the post title, readers can simply skip over the post in the same way we skip over banner ads. Readers should understand that you’re a for profit site and you have to make your money somehow. As long as you aren’t part of a gratuitous circle jerk with your sponsor, I don’t see the big deal as long as there is a clear boundary between sponsored and actual posts and as long as there isn’t a perceived bias with your posts that require journalistic integrity.
Also, have you considered licensing some of your existing posts to publications? Seems like an easy additional revenue stream without much additional work.
My goal is to have sponsored mentions up at the top of posts, and at the bottom when product is provided where product sourcing details are always found anyway.
I experimented with a company that was supposed to help syndicate recommendations into Amazon content, but nothing happened and all you still see on Amazon in-page recommendations are useless bestsellers list “expert picks.”
affiliate links are non-invasive to me. Whatever you review, if I find interest to buy the product, let me know that I support your family and livelihood when I use those links to make a purchase. Have the link allow me to add the product to my cart at that retailer website.
Start an affiliate web store where we can shop.
Have links to your product reviews and our comments right in the store product page. Figure out how to get other retailers to drop ship products that are purchased through your store front.
Make shopping easy and insightful by wrapping this unique experience up in a place we can feel safe making decisions and our purchases.
When you have sample product that you intend to give away, you can raffle the product as a free prize to a random purchaser of that product.
It’s an added benefit on this site for a chance it would ship to the buyer for free.
Toolguyd is the Amazon of tools.
I’d get some toolguyd swag for sure. It wouldn’t sell, at least I don’t think, in volumes that would eliminate the need for considering sponsor posts. But it’s a great thought.
Stuart, first, I appreciate this site. It helped me navigate and choose a brand based on dozens of articles on batteries, tools, service, etc, several years ago when I didn’t even own a drill. I now visit every day just to see what’s going on. I don’t click on articles every day, but visit because I value your opinion. As a reader, I trust YOU. So sponsored or not, I trust that you’re going to give me an honest opinion…and that’s what keeps me.
I would be curious about how the age of readers impacts their opinions on this. **I realize that this is stereotyping, so please don’t yell at me! :)**
As a millennial, I’m on a lot of social media and don’t have a negative opinion of sponsored articles/reviews in content like yours. I see sponsored products in Youtube, Instagram, articles, etc. My primary concern is trusting the voice. I find new content creators when I’m looking for reviews on a particular item. You can usually tell pretty quickly if they are a trustworthy reviewer or not. If so, I will usually dive deeper into their content to see what else they’re saying and what else they’ve reviewed. If not, I move on. This is the type of content I am used to navigating through these days. It doesn’t bother me, it feels normal. I know people get stuff for free and get paid to review/write/post/video certain products.
All that to say, I support you supporting your family. Your voice (and this site) is my most trustworthy when it comes to tools. That won’t change with sponsored content…that would only change if you changed, which I for one am not worried about.
Stuart I think the first bit is putting out there that this is your job. Apparently not everyone reading here knows that. I’ve assumed that was the case I guess 3 years go.
As such you have to do something to make that work. I don’t really have an issue with sponsored content when it’s marked that way on the onset.
OK this post/article is sponsored by _________ about _________. Colors what I read, but you have to do that to stay in the black. Do that, I’m still going to be interested perhaps a little less so.
Stuart, do what ever you feel is right to survive. Feed, house and clothe your family first and keep the site up. Server or server time/space costs money. I trust what ever you do. Mahalo for this website and all you do.
the fact that your wrote this post shows that you are walking that fine line. I believe posting disclaimers is the way to go. I also believe you have enough credibility that if a sponsored product was so bad that you would not post it or fluff the situation just for the money. Keep up the good work. I wish more sites were as honest as yours.
Not everyone has the same capacity and comprehension, the details and big picture fly over their heads. You are a rare gem on the net and most of us get it and understand. I think your a great guy and try to please and reach everyone, but you can’t focus on the few that makes the most noise else you will waste so much of your time, and never win or make progress with them. If you focus on the few with their complaints and try to please them, then you become a sh!tshow like our government.
If you continue to write/make content with integrity then I think most of your readers will understand and enjoy it. Everybody should understand that you’re trying to make a living. There’s a line you have to navigate to both keep that integrity but also earn as much as you can while doing it. I’ve been reading toolguyd for years now and have always appreciated your steady hand while navigating that line.
I know… but I also feel compelled to “show” rather than tell, and that involves conversations like this from time to time so that nobody thinks a switch was flipped one day.
Other changes in policy are coming too, but that will be a separate conversation.
I’ve been a supporter of yours for like…. 10 years?. PLEASE have sponsored posts and sponsored ads on the banners. just please make sure it’s CLEAR that it’s a sponsored post and i have no issues.
I’m appreciative of everyone!
In my 12 years and looking back, one reader mentioned checking in daily, and even read my earlier posts on a different website. I’m no stranger to the fact that the most passionate readers can have very strong memories and loyalties.
I appreciate this site because of the way you present it. With certain changes, I’d even pay for a subscription. It wouldn’t be the first time I paid bc I am aware that nothing is actually free per se. Its just a form of cost shifting. Some of the comments this post also crack me up. Better you deal with these people so I don’t have to. I can come and read. In my mind, you’re credible and not prone to losing that credibility. However, it is clear that some will automatically judge you to have lost your credibility with regards to a sponsored post by virtue of the sponsorship. Sounds like blindly following a view without considering the ethics of the person doing the work. Some of people might “cancel” you. Out of those I bet several would be ones who otherwise decry cancel culture. You don’t need them. Some of the pouting in this post and yesterday’s demonstrated my points. I guess all readers are $$ to some extent. My point is that your loyal core followers aren’t likely to leave because you are inherently analytical and therefore less likely to ruin your credibility. You do what you need to do and the unhappy ones can do what they will. Sponsorships can turn me off too, but not likely in this case for the reasons articulated above.
I, like most people that peruse the interwebs these days, use an adblocker in my browser, and I can honestly say ToolGuyd is one of the few (if not the only, I honestly can’t think of another one at the moment) websites that I whitelist. Not because you pay for that clever software that gives the oh so cringeworthy “we noticed you’re using an adblocker” popup, but because I’ve been using this free resource for going on 8 years now, and it’s the least I can do to support what you do.
Since I feel like I’ve known you for years Stu, when your Flex ad, I mean article (sorry Freudian slip 🙂 came out the other day, I read it like I normally do. I sat back and basked in the wealth of information and attention to detail like it was August in Arizona. I did notice that you mentioned it was a sponsored post, but like I said, I feel like I’ve known you for years and you “selling out” never even crossed my mind.
Over the years I may have shared a difference of opinion on certain tools that you’ve reviewed, but never once have I felt like someone at ToolGuyd was trying to fleece one over on me, just to get me to click a sponsored link. If anything, I can tell that you (and Benjamin) are overly cautious about your review content and strive to stay above board.
So all that to say, if you never would have published one word of this article, I still would never have had reason to question a “sponsored post” or anything of the like. ToolGuyd would have to do a complete 180, as far as the type of posts and content, before I would even to question you selling out. So ignore the haters and keep running your amazing business that you’ve built from the ground up and be proud of it! You’re part of the 99th percentile left on the internet!!
You have always proven to be thoughtful, truthful and forthright and have scrupulously high moral standards. Whatever you choose to do I am sure it will the best possible solution. You will have the support of a high percentage of those who view you website and follow you on media.
Stuart, keep up the good work. I’ve been following you for many years and I know I ALWAYS trust you to give me your honest opinion of a tool. You do the work so I don’t have to.
Love the site, and I appreciate that you are thinking about issues of editorial independence.
I worked at Time Inc, a defunct magazine publisher, for many years. They had the concept of “Church and State.” The editorial side of the house was “Church” and the advertising side of the house was “State,” and they didn’t interact. Advertisers could place ads with ads sale folks; writers could write whatever they wanted (well, as long as the editors approved) without an advertiser knowing what was being published a priori.
Over the years, these lines blurred. There were advertiser-sponsored sections. For example, Sports Illustrated realized that if they added a lot of golf coverage–a “Golf+ section”–they could attract a whole new tier of advertisers. Here, the advertisers still didn’t have control over the coverage. Then there were advertorials: ads where the copy was written by the editorial team. These pieces weren’t so great.
Interestingly, the magazine didn’t have to worry so much about the ads to editorial content ratio. In order to get bulk-mail status as a magazine (and lower postal rates), the USPS set minimum standards for the amount of editorial content. Interestingly, this lead to situations where if there were too many ads, the editorial staff had to write more content. (And things like a masthead counted as editorial content.)
I would like you to keep on working on ToolGuyd; I really enjoy it. I would happily support you via a Patreon or other subscription model, especially if I didn’t have to think about it. (I know support The Hook Up channel in this manner.)
I think the best thing you can do is to continue to be very clear about the sponsorship you receive. Be very clear when someone is sending you a “free” tool for evaluation versus you purchasing a tool. Let the readers decide if you are being biased by advertisers.
I would also suggest some common (but not necessarily practiced) editorial practices:
* Do not allow an advertiser to pre-review an article
* Do not accept things like hotels, trips or meals from sponsors. Or if you have to in order to do a review or write a piece, disclose that you received XYZ. (And limit free meals to something reasonable. You can set your own dollar limit. Interestingly, there is IRS guidance here anyway) [An example of something which you might consider acceptable is travel and hotel that is linked to a factory tour.]
* Do not accept gifts over $X.
Even the middle bullet might get you in trouble. A friend of mine who worked on a technology column for the New York Times in 2011 or so was fired for accepting a trip to a watch factory in Asia. (He had a side job at a watch review site.) He’s still doing quite well and is a successful editor, but he will not work at the New York Times again. (You can read about their standards here: https://www.nytimes.com/editorial-standards/ethical-journalism.html#)
I’m happy to chat about this topic a bit more if you want. Disclaimer: my main job is for Google, but I work in Google Cloud and not the advertising groups. Additionally, I do not speak for my employer.
* Do not allow an advertiser to pre-review an article
This is something that has been requested in the past, usually as a legal requirement. Some brands also have brand typography requests, and they’re usually reasonable.
* Do not accept things like hotels, trips or meals from sponsors. Or if you have to in order to do a review or write a piece, disclose that you received XYZ. (And limit free meals to something reasonable. You can set your own dollar limit. Interestingly, there is IRS guidance here anyway) [An example of something which you might consider acceptable is travel and hotel that is linked to a factory tour.]
With things like media events, there’s really no alternate option. If it’s close enough, I can drive in for the day, but that has led to complications. Everything is so tightly organized, it’s easier for everyone if you’re fully integrated in the planning. ToolGuyd policy is always to disclose.
* Do not accept gifts over $X.
I don’t, and when there is something I tend to spend ~1.5X the retail value in a giveaway to balance things out. This happened twice – I asked about a toy car in a brand’s video and they sent me one, and one time I got a box of frozen meat. Swag is small value stuff, and I usually pass it along.
Things like review samples are a bigger issue. I have a no-money, no-services policy. If it arrives in my possession at no cost, it leaves my hands at no cost so that the net value is always 0. It’s not always easy to turn things down, but policy means I don’t have to think about. I donated a saw to the local daycare owner’s husband who handles maintenance, hoping he’d provide 2nd opinion review commentary. They wanted to give me a gift card and I felt rude repeatedly turning them down, but it’s necessary.
Thanks for posting this, it’s interesting to see behind the scenes of content creation in the field of tools. I think you’ll make the right decisions, based on your deep understanding of the situation and your ability to self-criticize.
However, in the big picture, you’ve already had significant bias whether you take on sponsored posts or get free tools etc. or not – that started the minute you decided to make this site your primary source of income. You’re inherently biased to do whatever it takes to keep this site generating income; it is simply a survival tactic. So if you take on more sponsorships and get deeper in bed with tool companies, that’s not a big deal to me, since I already take everything I read on here (and everywhere, for that matter) with a grain of salt. But unlike the vast majority of content creators, it’s refreshing to see that you actually grapple with the ethics of this game, and are transparent about this with your readers. For that reason, I’ll continue coming back to this site! Thanks for all you do!
I have no objections to making a living; nor with sponsorships. You can also maintain your integrity and do both.
Sure sometimes you may upset the sponsor; but in the end if you’re honest they should use that feedback and improve their product. Else they won’t sell the products and not know why because they weren’t interested in honest feedback.
Using my personal experience…… I was critical of yesterday’s Flex post. Today I am back and engage in this post as well as the post about Makita’s xlock grinders. Why? Because I was disappointed in the post and the ‘wow’ – however in the end you heard the feedback and yes it wasn’t a post for all of us. That’s perfectly fair and the overall value of this site and your work continues, IMO, to set the standard I judge other tool reviewers (on all platforms against).
Make that paper, but don’t sell out. In the end you’ll make more money by being one of the few trustworthy sources of information on the internet.
This is your business, and you need it to put food on the table.
I think you’re doing a fine job of walking the line between all the competing factors in making this work. Keep it up, and we’ll keep reading. That said, the world is filled with unhappy, vocal people who will quit and scream about it. Let them go.
Kalos, “I suggest you should view ToolGuyd as a public service” may be the dumbest internet comment I’ve read all day. It is Stuart’s site and he can run it as he wants. I don’t feel entitled to view the product of his hard work for free. I don’t know why you do.
Stuart, I appreciate you’re mindful of maintaining integrity while needing to earn a living. I think as long as you clearly mark reviews as sponsored, we get the best of both worlds. You get to run the rest of the articles as you like. Glowing reviews sponsored by large companies can provide enough money for you to pay the bills. I know running this can’t be cheap.
Even if you totally “sold out,” where could I go? I haven’t found any site of the same quality on this topic. Toolguyd is the best site I’ve seen about tools and I love your emphasis on tool storage (I’m happy with all of my tools, many I bought after reading your review, but I can never find a perfect enough place to store them).
I am pretty sure every publication, even those you pay for, lack the integrity Kalos is preaching for. I know I have found Fine Woodworking’s annual tool roundup issues to be odd in their rankings.
The adults in the room know you need to pay your bills. Respect us and we’ll respect you and keep coming. The children who whine about you advertising to pay your bills?…well, I bet they’ll come back as well. Your articles blow the competition out of the water.
The only way to keep getting your great articles is to find a sustainable arrangement that works for your audience and you.
Thank you, I appreciate it!
To be fair, rather than take their comment too personally, I assumed that they assumed this was just a hobby and that I wanted it to be something else.
That I’m asked not to “aggressively monetize” ToolGuyd makes me feel good about the choices I’ve made over the years and the work I’ve put into constructing as positive a reader experience as possible.
I enjoy the content and benefit from it monetarily by making informed choices. Beyond using your affiliate links, I would gladly give a small amount each month if you enabled the donations.
“To be fair, rather than take their comment too personally, I assumed that they assumed this was just a hobby and that I wanted it to be something else.”
Yes, I admit I thought Toolguyd was a hobby, and any money you got from affiliate referrals was pocket change. I do it myself in an indirect way, by getting the occasional consulting gig.
And yes, I think there is a moral hazard attached to “aggressive monetization” and seeking/accepting sponsors. That is NOT a criticism of you – it’s just the way the world works. You don’t want to be in a position one day of either appeasing/pleasing a sponsor or not paying that month’s mortgage…
I think some form of patreon(age) is a better business model. I would likely contribute, or at least use your affiliate links (I do already).
Incidentally, have you published a list of your past and present sponsors and other ways you “monetize” ToolGuyd?
Of course there’s the potential for moral hazard. There is and was always the risk.
My same hand that writes content endorses all checks, and this has always been the case.
There’s a certain level of trust involved.
I like to think that, over time, my standpoints become known. Luckily, brands don’t often cross ethical lines. When they do, I take it very personally. (https://toolguyd.com/inappropriate-request-of-tool-brand-home-depot-attention/) .
Agreed. If it came to that, there are options.
I am lucky to have worked and been working with partners that aren’t pushy and they give me the freedom to explore opportunities in a way that works with my ethics and ideals.
It has never been “say this.”
I’ve turned down large sums of advertising dollars before, because I didn’t believe in the brand or retailer. It was really, really hard to do so. But, being able to pat myself on the back today as I reflect about it, as immodest as it seems, gives me faith that I’d be able to do it again.
This is absolutely a complex field to navigate, and one ripe with very strong temptations. But luckily I have practice.
I might look into Patreon or similar subscription service at some point, but it’s not something I have seriously considered.
The hardest thing to convey is that sponsorships are FUN.
I have a big project coming up with a company. There was something I wanted to do, and without their support, I could still do it, maybe a little differently, and it would take a long time before I could prioritize it and fit it into my schedule spread out over time. But with their backing, I can explore it, tackling some reader questions and requests, satisfying my own curiosity, and it has been a blast so far.
We’ll see how it goes, and I’ll ask for feedback in a few months to see if/how my approach should change moving forward.
“Kalos, “I suggest you should view ToolGuyd as a public service” may be the dumbest internet comment I’ve read all day. It is Stuart’s site and he can run it as he wants. I don’t feel entitled to view the product of his hard work for free. I don’t know why you do. ”
Your high dudgeon is too funny.
“I don’t feel entitled to view the product of his hard work for free.” So, Steven, how much money have you donated to keep Stuart’s site running? Or, do you want it for free?
Incidentally, how much money should Stuart accept from sponsors to ensure a decent living? $50,000/yr? $100,000/yr? The more the better? Is there a limit before readers start to question motives?
Of the dozen or so blogs and sites I follow regularly, some with tens of thousands of viewers, they ALL, as far as I know, are not sponsored. They ALL ostensibly do it — wait for it — “in the public interest” (or maybe their own ego gratification).
Some do make money in other ways, such as selling T-shirts, or Amazon referrals, or patreon lists, but no credible blogger I know says “I’m sponsored by (ie take money from) X but I feel OK to criticize the products of X’s competitor Y”. Maybe Stuart will be the first…
I also know that the fastest, most effective way to lose credibility, is to have recipients of bad reviews say something like “follow the money.”
I don’t know what to tell you. Looking at your same-email comment history, ToolGuyd was a business back then too.
Have you ever felt treated like piggy bank? That you were just someone I could show ads to?
If I were recalled to my home planet tomorrow, I can count on one hand how many people I could trust – really trust – to run ToolGuyd in my absence in the same manner as I have.
How many people in my position would actually talk with you about these things, vs. how many would say “eh, they’ll deal with it” as they delete comments without blinking an eye?
ToolGuyd is my passion. I’m glad it has become a business and my career, but it is my passion.
Just because I have become more open to sponsorships and have created some internal guidelines, that doesn’t mean I have to take on anything, in a similar way I’ve turned down certain ad opportunities.
You’ll see in a few weeks what kinds of things come out of it, and I ask you to hold judgements until then.
But if you have questions, I’m glad to hear them, and I’ll answer what I can. That’s how I ran ToolGuyd when it was a public service, and that’s how I’ve run it as a business.
This shows why I’ve been a reader for a while and why I likely will continue to be. You care about what people think, and seem to take that into consideration with changes to the site. I’m fine with sponsored content, as long as it’s not faked enthusiasm, which I don’t think it would be.
My biggest turn off going to any web page is pop ups on page load of any kind, any cookie disclosure messages. If required, I would much prefer smaller close-able messages over full page pop ups. Keep up the good work!