Guides to the good stuff or old-fashioned advertising?

When is a ‘guide’ an impartial publication to help a diner find the best place and when is it merely a vehicle for paid listings?

Can recommendations be trusted if money has passed from venue to publisher? Can readers rely on the professionalism of editors, who are often removed from the commercial functions of a publishing business, to act with integrity?

It was interesting to see this issue aired, not by the publishers or journalists I generally hear from, but by one of those who get written about in these publications – by a venue asked for cash for its inclusion for the first time.

The Northern Snippet blog explains the dilemma and wonders if a decision against payment could change a venue’s standing:

“Last year,for the first time in its 28 year history,the guide introduced a charge for featured pubs. At the time we hummed and hahed over whether we should stay in the guide,then a twitter friend commented that  if we thought it was good PR for the pub we should just stump up the cash and stay in.

So we did.This year we didn’t really give it much thought,the invitation to be included arrived  and we sent off the payment.”

The blog then goes on to describe the way a previous County Dining pub of the year has fared under the new scheme.

The discussion has already prompted some heated debate but what do you think? If you’ve an opinion on the topic of paid insertions, the Northern Snippet would love to hear from you.

I’m left wondering whether the old-style guide can ever hold its own in a digital age – doesn’t the prevalence of food blogs, review sites and social media makes for a more rounded and reliable recommendation system anyway?

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3 thoughts on “Guides to the good stuff or old-fashioned advertising?

  1. Good post and interesting questions.

    As a small independent publisher, I did explore the potential of inserting on-topic ads within our guides and businesses paid on a pay per click basis. These ads would be highlighted as such, so that the readers would know that the business has paid to be included in the guide. I spent some time asking for feedback from readers and it all become too complicated.

    I shelved the idea – at the end of the day, we want people to trust our recommendations – these recommendations aren’t based on anything other than personal experiences. So, to answer your question, no, recommendations cannot be trusted if money has passed hands.

    You said:

    I’m left wondering whether the old-style guide can ever hold its own in a digital age – doesn’t the prevalence of food blogs, review sites and social media makes for a more rounded and reliable recommendation system anyway?

    You mention food blogs and review sites – how many of them do you think get freebies and disclose it. I reckon 0.99999% of them disclose. I’ve seen it for myself when a new restaurant opens, they are a sudden increase in blog posts about how nice the restaurant is – but what has happened has the PR agency has invited them a long for a free meal.

    It is VERY difficult to be subjective when you have received a freebie.

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  2. Thanks for the comments Darren, I agree it is difficult to be subjective when you’v received a freebie – but not impossible, provided you’re open with all involved about how any freebie will be handled. I always tell people that if I find it lacking, I’ll say so – it’s their risk as it were. Personally I always declare any arrangements with PRs and I always refuse those ‘come along and have a free nosh up’ invites as I only review places that are unaware I’m there. That said, invites to launches etc. are slightly different as that’s more of a news event and I wouldn’t review a place in it’s early ‘try-hard days anyway – not a true reflection. But I take your wider point – transparency is vital.

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    1. I see now where the traffic to my post is coming from!
      I think you’ve hit the nail on the head ,the old style guide book must be struggling to hold its own.The number of on line review sites,blogs and free information available must ultimately affect book sales.
      One of the justifications for the charge was the smart phone app which they’ve introduced.I suppose all has to be paid for but at the expense of the relevance of information I guess.
      The people who use these guides are in areas they’re unfamiliar with,I know I wouldn’t trust it now as the doubt will be there 😦

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