Survey results: media coverage through the lens of authors and publishers

This article sums up what I found via a survey about the collaboration between WordPress authors(of themes, plugins) and publishers. It came as a side-effect of the story I wrote about media coverage within this ecosystem. Join me in finding what I discovered from those who took the time and energy to answer my questions.

November 1, 2019
Reading time 11 – 16 minutes

If you missed the article I mentioned above, please read it first. Otherwise, you are a bit ahead and get only half of the perspective here.

As my gut feeling wisely indicated to me, there were not too many people who contributed and shared their insights. 26 folks made time to answer my set of questions, even though I reached out 50+. 

If I put my marketing hat on, I would say that it is not that bad in the end (50% return is impressive). If I stick to the main points I raised in my initial story, this doesn’t come as a surprise. There are a few out there, both authors and publishers, interested in investing energy in making the landscape more transparent.

In every single community, there’s a percentage of people who prefer to watch the show from aside than put their skin in the game. And that’s fine because involvement requires plenty of resources and costs.

This being said, I was after the qualitative data from the very beginning, so next, I will share with you more quotes and fewer numbers to help you get a raw insight about what people think, and not just look at a few cold numbers.

Let me walk you through my findings.

WordPress authors genuinely care about how publishers cover their products

There are people out there who resonate with our approach at Pixelgrade regarding authenticity when getting reviews about our products. Once again, none of us aims to get a cheap promo or big words to sound cool. 

We all follow the same mantra: get an article that is true and written after a real test-drive of the product from top to toe, not just cherry-picking stuff.

The core question for authors was to share specific ways in which they could improve the partnerships they make with all kinds of WordPress publishers, no matter how big or small. 

Please bear in mind that I know that there are people out there who already do a fantastic job, but unfortunately they are the exception, not the rule. I hope we still can rebalance things a bit.

Here are a few specific and witty ideas from the respondents.

  • I wish publishers would also consider to report things like the overall health of an open source community as well. Not just pitch features… but consider the larger picture too.
  • By providing product testing with closer relationships between the brand and the publisher. 
  • Publishers know their audience better and it will be good if they could accept or reject a collaboration and offer valid reasons.
  • A paid review for a product that doesn’t fit the audience doesn’t do any good to anyone.
  • It will be good if publishers would ask questions about product features and functionality rather than just go through website content or some documentation when writing a review.
  • It will be good to hear honest feedback about what’s missing and what can be improved.
  • Publishers need to understand and adhere to journalistic ethics and practices.
  • Doing more in-depth research on products before writing up.

As you can notice, the bar is not that high from WordPress authors’ side of the world. They just want comprehensive testing, honesty in accepting or refusing a collaboration if the profile of that website is not a good fit, questions about the features and functionality to have more context, and some basic journalistic ethics and practices.

In the end, isn’t that just common sense? It’s definitely the bare minimum that you could ask for in such a scenario. If this is too much, then what is too little?

Let’s see what publishers have to say about how they see this collaboration and what they need to be able to deliver meaningful content.

WordPress publishers want a mix of freedom and assistance from authors

I genuinely want to highlight that the purpose of this survey was not to finger point one trib or the other. However, I am not that naive to believe that I left all of my biases at the door when creating it. In the end, it all started from my experience after almost four years of being in charge of this area at Pixelgrade.

I don’t see this challenge as a versus between them and us, I see it more like a common issue that affects all: authors, publishers, customers, and the overall WordPress community. 

I try to find bridges with two-ways streets, where we can work together to find solutions. Talking about strong beliefs, I felt the need to question them and keep an open mind about how do publishers choose the authors they work with. This is what I found out:

  • It varies, sometimes people contact me, other times I see something I like and I will ask for a review copy.
  • By the utility they provide and if we feel they’ll be really useful for our readers.
  • This is tough to pinpoint as there are literally thousands and thousands to choose from. It basically derives from products I know, use and/or that I feel are, again, useful for my readers.
  • Client-based brief usually, although we personally select solution based on real-world use.
  • First off, I don’t call my posts typical reviews. They are more educational and informational with a touch of review aspect. Most of the products I choose are based on what I believe will help my readers. Less than 2% of everything I have written about has been paid sponsored posts.
  • Combination of price, reviews, and features.
  • I check out their overall score and comments, to see how satisfied the users are with those products.
  • Context of Gutenberg / Block editor, and 100% GPL compliant.
  • My own interest in using them or someone I know.
  • I check out the latest news about the product I am thinking about reviewing.
  • Things I have used or need to use in the future, or just things that look interesting.
  • I don’t seek them, I find them by serendipity.
  • Sometimes they are submitted. Other times, I just find things that seem interesting.

It intrigued me to see that they are either watching the trends and adjusting the content accordingly (writing about Gutenberg), they are in touch with the latest news about WordPress products, they cover the most popular themes or plugins on the market, or they simply put together stories about things that they genuinely feel are interesting and useful. 

I wish they would put their audience first more often instead of writing about the trends and popular items. Sure, some popular items can also be interesting for their audience, but that’s not the case every time. It’s easy to see that chasing to cover the most popular products without necessarily putting the audience at the core oftentimes means in chasing the affiliate link.

I assume that this happens for a bunch of reasons. On the one hand, maybe their website is just a side-project they are passionate about and from which they can earn some extra bucks. On the other hand, the demand is high enough that they get confused and try to find external milestones, such as big news publishers within the ecosystem. Of course, there are some who don’t worry about following any strategy because the requests knock at your digital door, without too many questions upfront.

All are fine and acceptable, of course. In the end, it is a matter of choice. Thus, this doesn’t mean that it will not impact the credibility and the authority of both your website and you as a professional.

Regardless of how you manage your content, the way you pack it says something about you. 

Another curiosity I had for publishers links to the same challenge I had for authors: how they suggest improving this complicated relationship. Their insights are a gold mine that we all should try to consider.

  • Some just send a link to review a plugin or theme, without taking the time to view my blog and what I’m all about. I write reviews from a consumer view, I post my findings, issues I’ve had etc. Authors need to read a blog first before blindly sending off review requests.
  • Placement is going to be important, but many of our clients already value what impartial reviews can do.
  • Don’t ask strangers just because they have a popular site. Build a relationship first. Do not try to entice them by saying “join my affiliate program and make big bucks”. Authors need to understand that we can write about a product and once people click through, it’s totally up to them to sell it. Once it is out of my hands there is nothing I can do. Many have to much expectations of what a post might or might not do. And when you are starting up, don’t whine to us about your little funds and how much help you need. Find customers who are already using your product, happy with it, and maybe they can write about it.
  • If they had an official in-take form and process to help authors like us to write the best content. Media assests, videos, etc.
  • The main thing I want is reliable tracking, good affiliate areas with reporting tools and the ability to test drive products
  • It might be cool if there was some way to indicate that I’m a legit reviewer, as opposed to someone who simply wants a free copy of the plugin.
  • The question makes the assumption that there should be collaboration. Collaboration introduces bias into what should be an honest review.
  • Product creators should make sure to provide any and all info that they hope makes it into a review up front if they are submitting a product for review. They’re wanting to make a compelling case for the quality of their product, so the best thing they can do is make sure any data, docs, notes, or related are in the reviewer’s hands.

At least two of the previous ideas I found super interesting to give a second thought. One is related to the lack of feedback and limited access to products and assets. Some just pay for the content and move next without having an interest in building a stable relationship with publishers based on honest communication. 

Not to mention, some are not even trying to understand the audience for a certain publisher, and that says a lot about how some authors treat their products and customers. As always, it takes two to tango, right?

The other one that raised my eyebrow is around the assumption that since this partnership is a collaboration it ultimately implies a bias. I wonder what is terrible in collaborations and biases since we know that we can’t get rid of them, it’s just how our brain is wired. 

What I’m trying to say is that a review is done by a human being who has his collection of beliefes, certain expertise, and knowledge, so of course, all these will influence the outcome. And that’s okay.

Everyone feels they’re right, just a few want to challenge that assumption

There are undoubtedly various pains and frustrations regarding how things work regarding media coverage at the moment within the WordPress community. Some of the people who took the time to contribute were kind enough to be crystal clear about their thoughts.

Facing and acknowledging the problem is a very good first step: 

  • I think there is an issue at the moment or has been for a while. The bigger blogs out their just run list posts, and thin reviews from guest authors. These reviews do not serve a purpose, nor do the list posts, they serve to make money for the blog author.
  • I have nothing against affiliate links, when I see a blog that’s reviewed a theme or plugin, which I know to have flaws, I’m done. I will never read that blog again, as they have blatantly misled visitors. That’s now what LyrWP is about, I’m a consumer, helping consumers.
  • It may take time to build traffic and trust by not offering list posts etc. And I’m cool with that, I’d rather build a reputation and help others. If I make some money along the way, great if not, at least I’ve helped someone.
  • This is much bigger than just crappy content out there. What I feel is that to seek a higher standard of writing on these sites is a bit pie in the sky. Each author does what they do best. The WP community is like any other community or even industry. 
  • There is always going to be sites with inferior content. It’s the way of the world. I feel it is more on the shoulders of the plugin/theme authors to make the decision of who will write about their content. As far as the readers, like anything, they need to find the sources where they can trust the site, the content and the publishers. 
  • There really is so much more I could add to this conversation and I am finding that we are weighing too much on the publishers responsibility. Each of us will do what fits our business model and will do what we feel is right.

Moving on together and sustaining each other could make the effort more sustainable:

  • Perhaps more fairness with a balance between the newcomers to the more established, as WordPress is not only about the popular and big money makers
  • Take a larger look at reviews within other industries, such as publishing, film, and music. They are much different than what you see within the WordPress community today.
  • The survey seemed heavily biased toward product creators or those who write for some sort of return (monetary, traffic, etc.). In future surveys, I would recommend collaborating with journalists on how to present the questions in a more balanced way.
  • Thanks for working through this and create a survey. Looking forward to the results.
  • I have a lot to say about this, we should do a podcast together. 🙂

Maybe I dare too much because I trust my gut feeling once again, but I rather be true-to-myself than avoiding reality. It seems like the problem we are facing in media coverage is the same as the WordPress community in general. 

We talk a lot, but not take the time to hear each other. We go to WordCamps and act like fans, but don’t make room for vulnerable conversations. We shamelessly promote our products, but do not care about how we mislead customers. We make advocacy and lobby around the corner, but do not listen to more diverse opinions. We bring sponsors within the Automattic garden on the stage, but we don’t give the mic to those who make too much pushback. 

💜I want to thank those who joined the conversation and made time to let their voices be heard. I am grateful I came across you, and I like to believe that even we’re a hand of people who vibrate to similar values, and we feel quite alone in this murky waters we’re, in fact, stronger. 

They deserve applauds more than others on WordCamp’s stage, so here I go: 

oana ebook author

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