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Editorial copy, such as reviews, is infinitely more credible than space advertising. Here is an article that appeared in the late 1980’s that says it all—better than we can.
Appeared in THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Good Reviews Are Heavenly In the Crowded Software Field
By RON WINSLOW Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
BREAKTHROUGH SOFTWARE CORP. paid $6,000 for an ad in PC Week magazine last month to advertise its Time Line software program and received 100 responses. In January, however, a favorable review of the project management program in PC Products magazine generated nearly 900 inquiries, says William Lohse, president of the Novato, Calif., company.
That's one reason why the hundreds of magazines and newsletters that have sprung up to serve personal computer consumers are so important to software publishers and other computer product manufacturers.
Market surveys show that word-of-mouth and product reviews are the two most influential factors in a customer's decision to buy software and often a review gets word-of-mouth going. Such big-time software publishers as Lotus Development Corp. and Microsoft Corp. are sensitive to how their products are received. And small concerns clamoring for attention among the 5,000 software companies that issue up to 400 new products a month, would almost die for a favorable review in a leading magazine; they often die without one.
A review "authenticates your software in the marketplace," says Barry Smith, vice president, marketing, of Lightyear Inc., a small Santa Clara, Calif., software concern. "Not getting attention is a real problem. If you don't get above the noise level, it really doesn't matter how good a product is.
OF COURSE, some software, such as Micropro International Corp.’s WordStar word-processing program, have become dominant products despite critical reviews. Nevertheless, companies often revise marketing strategies in response to what reviewers write about them and their competitors. Magazine editors, meanwhile, must stay abreast of an avalanche of new products while grappling with deadlines, review standards, ethics and a demanding readership— and with trying to beat the competition.
For magazines, the quest to be first can be perilous. Monthlies, whose deadlines may be three months in advance of publication often write preview news articles based in part on so-called beta-test or pre-release versions of a product. A year ago, editors and industry analysts were impressed with an early version of an Ovation Technologies Inc. product touted as the first integrated software package. Personal Computing featured Ovation on its cover last July. But before the magazine hit newsstands, Ovation suffered setbacks and the software never came out.
To avert similar embarrassment, many magazines clearly tell readers when articles are based on beta-test products. Editors may check the financing of start-up companies before giving exposure to otherwise promising products. And it is industry standard that new products aren't formally reviewed until they are on retail shelves.
IN LATE 1983, Byte magazine alienated many readers with its practice of publishing "product reviews" written by the manufacturers themselves. Byte used the articles in part to provide technical insight into new products, but Byte readers grew worried that the magazine "wasn't on their side," says Philip Lemmons, the current editor. In an editorial last March, he apologized for the magazine's insufficient "zeal in purging promotional material from certain articles" and other mistakes and reaffirmed Byte's editorial independence, Byte still runs manufacturer-written articles, but their purpose and authorship are clearly explained.
Some magazines also have established guidelines aimed at providing fair reviews and ensuring integrity. Rory J. O'Connor, senior editor of InfoWorld, has written a 60-page manual— unavailable to manufacturers—to make sure his 30 free-lance reviewers apply the same standards to the products they write about. He requires writers to disclose to him any financial interests they have in high-tech companies to avoid conflicts of interest.
Meanwhile, software publishers play to and react to the reviews. Microsoft added cursor control keys to Word, a program for Apple Computer, Inc.'s Macintosh computer after reviewers commented that writers don't like using a mouse to work with text.
MICROPRO RECENTLY held a press briefing to "reposition" its Wordstar 2000 program as a "new" product aimed at a "new market." InfoWorld, which considered the product an upgrade of the original Wordstar, had criticized it for being slower than Wordstar and for difficulty in converting Wordstar files for use with Wordstar 2000.
And Ashton-Tate Inc., a Los Angeles software company, changed the shipping date last year of its Framework program to coincide with the release of Symphony, a similar product by Lotus. The strategy almost backfired when Ashton-Tate missed its new deadline, but it recovered in time to generate a flurry, of Framework vs. Symphony showdown reviews, nearly all of which Framework won. “We took full advantage of the (computer) publications with that," boasts an Ashton-Tate spokesman.
Lotus says it is "quite satisfied" with Symphony's sales despite the unenthusiastic reviewer reception, however. Indeed, Symphony currently outsells Framework by five or six to one, says Robert Lefkowits, an analyst with Cupertino, Callf.-based InfoCorp.
But Lotus plans to handle the press differently with the pending release of Jazz, a Symphony-type program for the Macintosh. Reporters seeking to review Jazz are being asked to attend a training class later this month, a spokesman says, to get "an understanding of the product and a perspective in which to review it."
That doesn't bother InfoWorld's Mr. O'Connor. He plans to give Jazz to a reviewer who doesn't attend the session. "The buying public isn't going to be going to one of these briefings," he says.
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