Can an on-line retailer own an on-line magazine that reviews products sold by the parent company without a conflict of interest? That's the real question now the Amazon purchased DP Review.
If Amazon only sold one camera brand, and the reviewer was charged with pumping it up at the cost of all others, then there would be an obvious conflict. Fact is that Amazon pretty much sells the whole spectrum of brands and so having a reviewer in-house is of little consequence to the bottom line. Amazon does not care which brand or model you buy, as long as you buy something and are satisfied with it.
If Phil is less enthusiastic over one model than another, what does Amazon care? In the end, they will have more happy customers and fewer hassles with returned merchandise from people who bought Canons when they should have bought Holgas.
Amazon has customer-reviews of many of their products - often contradictory reviews. If I am considering a purchase, I will read the reviews in order to get a feeling if the product will fit my needs. In any articulate review, the customer will explain the reasons and I can see if they relate to me.
If I am in the market for a high-end digital compact camera, and the reviewer is slamming it because it does not have a mirror and focusing screen along with interchangeable lenses, obviously I will find nothing in the review to influence me away from the product. On the other hand, if there are a bunch of reviews that say in spite of going through the manual and doing a lot of practice, they still can't figure out the user interface and it gets in the way of image capture, I would have some reservations.
With Phil, the difference is that his reviews are in extreme depth. He has his biases as do I, and they do influence his ratings. Again, I look at his pros, cons and conclusions with my needs in mind. The last camera I bought, he rated higher than I would have - his biases. The previous camera, most of what he did not like was the reason I bought the camera - and it has been wonderful.
In both cases, I learned a lot from the illustrations, descriptions and to a certain degree, from his tests. This was the most valuable information he offers. I got to examine the camera in detail - its features, controls, menus and so on. For an Amazon customer, I think this is priceless information, and opinion-neutral.
Sure there are customers as dumb as a bucket of hammers, but chances are they don't read reviews, and probably don't buy through Amazon. They walk into a discount camera store waving plastic and totally put their trust the salesdroid when they say "I don't know anything about cameras and photography. Can you sell me what I need to get started?" Oh, yeah! They are beyond help.
Studying any product prior to purchase through reviews and descriptions, pretty much defines one as an informed consumer.
In all, I think it is a great fit for Amazon, and a good service for their customers. It should also be a good fit for Phil. He no longer has to worry about scrounging for advertisers to keep the site afloat. He now has the budget to hire more staff and have more time to do more reviews. Good for the buying public as well. I expect there are or will be, links from products to his reviews. The more information one has, the easier it is to make a wise and informed purchase.
You can watch all of the major TV channel news programs and still get a very biased and incomplete picture of what is happening in the world. Is that being well informed?
That Amazon is likely to find any interest in influencing buyers in favor or against any brand is likely true, they don't care which you buy just that you do buy. So you have to ask what is their motive in investing in a web site like DP Review? Surely not because the site itself has any great profit potential. So then maybe to steer sales of any kind to Amazon instead of its competitors? That's very likely a rational assessment considering it can be done easily and without being too obvious.
But isn't the Amazon acquisition of DP Review in principle really a lot like WalMart buying the local newspaper in every town in which they have a store? That would start a real firestorm of protest, but apparently Amazon acquiring DP Review is perceived to be more benign. Why is that?
Vertical corporate integration of a marketing channel. like much of the media today, is becoming almost commonplace and increasingly hostile to the publics access to unbiased, disinterested, objective information. The specific reason are subtle from an outsider's perspective. But will Phil the head and founder of DP Review if he stays on be motivated and free to function in the same way as before? With ownership and control in Amazon's hands he could only do so as an employee of Amazon, and corporations are not known to be run very democratically. Will it influence what is written in DP Review? How can it not?