The classical world, like everywhere else, is soaking in paid-for opinion

My Toronto colleague Colin Eatock is reeaping the fruits of much labour, with the imminent release of a new CD of his work and the publication of a book of interviews about Glenn Gould.

On his blog, he has posted a letter he just received from the editor of Fanfare, a magazine some people go to for news and opinion about classical music, especially recordings:

Dear Mr. Eatock:

Please contact me for details about the magazine’s interview proposal: an in-depth interview with you; reviews of your new Centresdiscs CD and Gould book attached to your feature; and a major ad in two consecutive issues of the magazine. (Note that your label doesn’t support Fanfare with advertising.)

Joel Flegler

The message is: Pay us, and you’ll get some ink.

There was more about Fanfare‘s “business model” from English critic Norman Lebrecht yesterday, who posted a longer letter one of his musician sources had received from Flegler:

Included in the letter was:

But we can do more. If you advertise at one of the four levels listed below, I’ll assign you to an interviewer, carefully chosen to match your interests, for a feature story. Our interviewers go far beyond the puff pieces common today; our typical interview runs about 2,500 words. How many times have you had the opportunity to talk about what you do with someone who truly understands your problems and issues? And, best of all, you’ll be able to use the interview and review almost as soon as they’ve been submitted and edited – you can quote as much as you like, even before they appear!

Here are the four options for advertising if you’d like to be interviewed (and have your CD reviewed):

1) Inside front cover ad or inside back cover ad in two consecutive issues (total cost $3000). (The Sept/Oct and Nov/Dec 2012 inside front covers have been reserved.)

2) Inside front cover ad or inside back cover ad and full page color ad in two consecutive issues (total cost $2500). (The Sept/Oct and Nov/Dec inside front covers have been reserved.)

3) Full page color ad in two consecutive issues, or a two-page spread in a single issue (total cost $2000).

4) Full page color ad and 1/2 page color ad in two consecutive issues (total cost $1700).*

When you’re interviewed, the review of your CD will be attached to your feature in the front of the edition instead of being published in the regular classical CD review section of the issue.

It is rare for a print publication to not be upfront about advertorial, where articles and reviews are nothing more than an extension of the magazine’s advertising department. In keeping publicly mum on the subject, Fanfare is, essentially, selling out any shred of credibility it may have had.

It is much more common for bloggers to use this practice, especially those who review products and services. As far as I know, though, this isn’t happening among traditional music critics.

Or, at least that’s what I would like to believe. Our credibility and, hence, relevance, depends on it.

After a few years of being awash in sponsored Tweets and Facebook posts, paid reader comments and corporate freebies-for-review, the whole relationship of trust between writer and reader could be compromised beyond redemption.

I think it may be time for everyone who reviews or criticises or comments to commit to a code of ethics, a simple message in the masthead of a magazine or on the “About” page of a website that declares what the publication’s relationship is with its source of revenue.

We can’t afford to take anything for granted.

John Terauds


One thought on “The classical world, like everywhere else, is soaking in paid-for opinion

  1. This is a practice started in the ’60’s in New York when the papers cut back on coverage. Here we are now without critics in Toronto being published by the publishers of the ‘news’ papers. Where do we go from here in communication and critical comment that we can trust? We know the problem, it’s the solution that seems to escape us. Publishers say they contribute to their community but ignore a good part of it. Any suggestions? Ann

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