Rant 2016 – The Problem with sports watch reviews; freebies and bloggers

Fenix Chronos - Detailed ReviewFancy starting a sports blog and getting loads of freebies?

This post highlights lots of reasons why that won’t happen.

Well, you can start the blog but the freebies will probably not follow.

Also I’ll list some of the problems with reviews that you might not be aware of. Two posts in one.

Feedback and questions welcomed and I will update the content of this post if you prompt me in to further disclosures…

CONTENTION: Many consumers appreciate/suspect that PRODUCT REVIEWS are biased because the reviewer has been given a freebie.

Let’s accept that there’s probably quite a bit of truth in that. But let’s also expose a few of the myths from the side of the blogger and the industry rather than from the perspective of the suspicions of the reader.

First up.

I’ve said it before. If you want to write a sports blog to get lots of free stuff; then you can. If you like socks, nutrition bars and the like then you probably can get vast quantities of those. You’ll have to spend a fair amount of time doing that. Not too much, but a fair amount. If you want to treat that as a hobby and accept that your time is not too valuable then you’ll be happy.

Maybe you see getting free stuff as a challenge. It will be a good challenge.

Polar M600 android Wear TomTom Runner 3 spark Garmin Forerunner 235 reviewGetting Hold of Kit to Review

Unfortunately you will NOT get to keep lots of nice free stuff like power meters, bikes and high-end Garmin cycling computers. Well, maybe you might, BUT it will be EXTREMELY difficult.

If you are lucky a company might approach you out-of-the-blue. It will start off with a snackbar company and then, if you are lucky, a Bluetooth earbud company. More likely it will be a kickstarter company with no product who themselves want a freebie from you and who will probably never, ever return the favour. Just like with my blog, most companies will never have heard of you – most of them don’t really care too much about bloggers it seems. (Do they care about persistent digital content?…apparentlyl not…I would if I were them)

FWIW: I’m just about at the stage now where ‘quite good’ brands approach me.

Indeed just getting loan items from MANY brands/PRs is VERY time consuming and, in many cases, plain difficult. I say that from experience. I have reasonably good stats for this blog and it IS still generally difficult for me to get loan items – several hours with a new company. Even when you get the loan item you may well find that your country is way down the list of countries in which the product is released. So you might get devices in your country 1-3 months after release in the USA. You might also find that, in your country, the supplier or PR agent has tiers of media outlets that are served in order of importance – I found that recently with the Polar M600, for example. I probably got it 2 months too late through no fault of the UK arm of Polar and their PR agent it’s just the way their international rollout works.

As a new blogger with 100,000 hits a year no-one is likely to be that interested in you. No-one. You are on the lowest tier unfortunately.  Exceptions exist for 100,000-hit blogs, not many though. To be clear: my stats are significantly higher than that level. (I’m not boasting, just saying it how it is to put things into perspective for you)

So you may well have to wait a few more months.

By the time UPS deliver your dishevelled PR sample, the product could already have been out for 5 months. You write your review and it will NEVER get anywhere near the top Google search results pages. NEVER. Consequently your Google ranking will stay low as your blog never gets any hits. Catch 22.

Actually that’s not strictly true. There seems to be a window of opportunity for you with a brand new post. Google seems to reward ‘newness’ for a while; so your position in search results might be good for a week or so. If you don’t get any hits in that period then you really are doomed into insignificance. eg my Polar M600 review is on page 2 or 3 of an ‘appropriate search phrase’, no-one reads it via google. You’ll likely be even lower than me, not that it makes any difference as neither of us will be read via Google!! Instead the rubbish review from high-ranking WAREABLE.COM (or whoever) will appear well ahead of you and be written by someone who has little idea what they are writing about in their short review that re-hashes a Press Release.

Then there are also issues with the kind of product you want to review. If you want to review a mass-market Samsung device then ALL of the REALLY high-ranking sites will get first dibs. eg techradar, arstechnica, wareable, pcmag and CNET…those kinds of sites and more besides. Their inherent domain-importance to Google’s ranking means that they can write absolute drivel and still rank highly and WELL above your perfectly crafted review. Some of them absolutely do write absolute drivel.

FWIW I am WAY down on Samsung’s list of priorities, they first want tech media and maybe lifestyle media. I’m an endurance-sports-tech blogger which is too niche for their mass market offerings. I’m even too niche for their GEAR offerings.

OK you can always go out and buy the item. That works for a while but then becomes quite expensive.

There are other, less scrupulous ways to get hold of free kit that I know some bloggers use, but I don’t do that and I don’t think you should … so I won’t tell you what they are 🙂

Favero bePRO Power Meter Pedals - Carbon Cranks

Favero bePRO Power Meter Pedals – Carbon Cranks

Kit and the N+1 rule

The ideal number of bikes really is N+1. Where N is the number of bikes you currently own.

However with other kit it just becomes a faff to keep it all somewhere safe and charged up and paired with the ‘right’ other devices. So the ideal number of sports watches is 3 or 4.

So REALLY why do you want to get free kit? It’s MUCH easier to buy it.

If you want to get paid to write about gadgetry-stuff then you DO NOT want to write a blog like this.

The sort of thing that paying brands are generally more interested in seems to be ‘lifestyle’ bloggers. Have a look at @challengesophie. Here’s where you do interesting stuff and fit the gadget or placed item into the content you produce. AND the content that many brands like is VIDEO content. Although some like a mix including Instagram, Twitter and FB. Don’t ask me why.


I told you not to ask that! OK, here goes…

Simplistically: many brand-produced, professional, in-house videos cost about £30k and get about 40 hits when put on youtube. With my limited knowledge of accounting; that’s ‘rubbish’. So the brand gets someone who is a bit more popular than them (the elusive vlogger) to produce something for the vlogger’s followers and then get maybe a 1000 hits. How many of the followers will watch all of a relatively poorly-produced, and turgidly-long, 10 minute video? Not many. Some vids are very good though (emphasis on SOME).

Maybe the brand also host the video content themselves on their corporate site and get a further 50 hits. The problem for you is that they will probably only give you a free XXX device and £500 to cover some expenses.  .

So if you are showcasing their product on your trip across the Sahel; that trip is still costing YOU THOUSANDS of pounds/dollars and a great deal of time. They are just helping out a bit with the costs. Which is fair enough.

You are providing them with slightly more interesting content at a significant cost discount to that produced to a professional standard.

You are a paid hobbyist. Which is OK, if that’s what you want to be.

Garmin Forerunner FR235 FR230 230 235 GPS Running Watch Detailed Review

Yes there are some high-end exceptions to all of what I have just said.

You won’t get paid MONEY to write a review. Here’s why.

PR agencies get paid by brands to do whatever PR agencies do (awareness, mentions, tweets, editorial inches, etc.). PR agencies don’t want to waste their fees and profits on you. You are an amateur and they are professionals (allegedly). They don’t have to pay you and won’t. The reason they don’t have to is that the more traditional mega-domains eg Pocket-Lint, Wareable, etc make their money out of on-site ADVERTISING. Those mega-domains are playing a numbers game where they want lots of TRAFFIC from new content. Traffic delivers some ad-clicks and also sometimes inherent revenue with the traffic. So THEY NEED LOTS OF gadgets to review; and upon which to create direct content and indirect opinion-content – both of which get advertising revenue … both display advertising and click-advertising. Their content gets displayed lots of times over the world. That’s a WIN-WIN. Free gadgets in exchange for ad revenue from mass-displayed coverage/content.

To even stand a slim chance of getting paid you would need to bypass the PR agency. You would have to pitch directly to the brand. But:

  1. The brand manager is busy and “Who are you anyway?”, “What’s a blog again?”
  2. Your site is too small. Why would I want YOU to review my awesome product?
  3. Even if the brand manager is convinced that you have a good pitch; you are still too risky to put too many assets (cash) into. How do they know you will deliver ANYTHING AT ALL?
  4. But persevere, it could work, if you have the time.

Mr Rainmaker COULD get paid LARGE sums of money to write reviews – many tens of thousands of dollars/pounds per review. Easily. He knows that. He appreciates that getting paid would jeopardise his business model and so will not do it. Good for him. And he has a business model that probably VERY easily pays him an annual, multiple 6 figure sum. Why should he change his currently successful business model? I wouldn’t. He has gone on the record, I seem to remember, to say that he believes that reviewers SHOULD be paid for their time/content. For the reasons just outlined, that won’t normally happen.

Maybe it SHOULD happen. But it won’t happen in the current climate.

Nevo Balade ParisienneThe Madness of Advertising

In my ‘other work’. I see competitors spending, say, >£5,000 on an A4/single page glossy ad in well known trade magazines. Maybe it’s the same in 220 triathlon, I don’t know. For my ‘other industry’ example, let’s take a monthly circulation, including subscriptions, of 50,000 (it really is another industry):

  • How many of those 50,000 people will see the ad? – a fair amount. (BTW not even all subscribers read the magazine).
  • Of those how many will spend more than 10 SECONDS looking at the ad? Almost none.
  • Of those how many will remember the ad? – some, not too many. 10%??
  • Of those how many will be prompted into making or changing a purchase decision? – a few. Let’s say 100 Garmin 920XT’s – that works out at a advertising cost of £50 per sale (ie more than the marginal cost of production of the same item)
  • What will be the additional impact of that ad next month? – ALMOST ZERO. The magazine is already in the bin by then.

Repeat that £5,000 spend across lots of media publications/channels and you’ve easily spent 10x that amount. Factor in the costs of: producing the high quality ad; the marketing staff, or agent; and the costs multiply again.

I’ve MOST DEFINATELY had more than 50,000 unique visitors on some of my reviews; so that number EASILY compares with the circulation of some good magazines. You could probably assume that both readerships were from similarly relevant demographics.

  • How many of my unique visitors will see the review? – most readers specifically expressed a google-search interest to see the review. VERY MANY saw it and read it – taking 5-10 minutes. That’s a MASSIVE ENGAGEMENT in the content compared to a print ad. I know for a fact that the MAJORITY of those visitors then go on to read something else on my site.
  • How many will remember my review? – ahem. Obviously I’m highly entertaining :- ) but quite a few I hope. By definition they remember the product as they knew about the product before arriving on my site for the review.
  • How many will be prompted into making or changing a purchase decision? – very many I would imagine. They are INFLUENCED in some way, positively or negatively. Especially in conjunction with other similar content from other bloggers. PLUS if someone is READING A REVIEW they may well be close to the point of purchasing something…perhaps weighing up a few options.
  • What will be the additional impact of that review next month? – 100% – the content is there FOREVER (near enough, Google results permitting).

Print advertising. It’s madness. IMO. Well at least print media is madness for small brands.

Of course there are exceptions.

Of course many people will buy a watch and never read a review.

But it is OBVIOUS from my site’s stats and other review sites that VAST NUMBERS of people read reviews before buying technical products. VAST numbers.

Brands: At least use Google AdWords and create a decent landing page on  your home site that speaks with a genuine voice. WAY more cost-effective than traditional advertising in many cases and WAY better than the corporate-speak blandness you currently have on your site. If Garmin changed the word ‘Garmin’ on their site to ‘Polar’ it would probably then sound the same to Polar’s site. GENUINE VOICE is 2017 corporate speak is c1987.

Brands: Or, instead, listen to your marketing team who all did MBAs. Keep paying them £/Eu/$30-80k, or more, each and keep paying your external agencies to support your integrated MARCOMMs campaign.



The Madness of Twitter

The witterings of the Twitterati can be entertaining.

But of all the hundreds/thousands of people I follow there is absolutely NO WAY I even see all of their witty and insightful tweets. It’s clearly a percentage game. I DO see some tweets obviously.

Let’s say I tweet something, maybe 100-200 people will see it? Who wants to pay for that? Madness. If you/me, the blogger, get two sales from that (which you wont) that’s about £15-£25 for you and only a slightly higher profit than that to the brand.

KINEMATIX TUNE Insoles and APP Running Analysis


On-Site Advertising

EDIT: I now have ads. Obviously. You’ll get about $3 for every 1000 impressions taken. but maybe only 70% of your views will be ‘taken’ by the ad agency. You can do the math.

There will be an ad, below, from wordpress.com on this post. I don’t get paid anything for that. This blog is NOT self-hosted, so I don’t run annoying syndicated ads.

If I put those kind of ads on this site then it will probably annoy you guys as much as it would annoy me AND it would slow the site down or cause it to hang. Furthermore I think I would make very, very little on click-through sales and, in fact, clicks on ads to ‘somewhere else’ might take away the chance of a click-through sale directly to Amazon for me.

If I did run ads I could maybe get 0.1 to 1 cent per impression ($1-$10RPM). So with 35 million hits per year dcrainmaker should make between $35k and $350k from that channel alone – totally ignoring CT commissions. Nice.

For the sake of cargument; maybe I could get you to pay $10 a year to remove the ads. Also another source of revenue.

Or I could just be nice and not put them there in the first place. Which is what I did. Although now I’ve just realised the dcrainmaker could be getting $350k pa I’m starting to re-think it 🙂

Edit: I did.

Polar M450, Garmin Edge 820, Garmin Edge 810, MIO Cyclo 505HC

Polar M450, Edge 820, Edge 810, MIO Cyclo 505HC

Problems – Content

We all make mistakes.

But the real problems with reviews of new products are many-fold. Take the under-featured Suunto SPARTAN or most newly released Garmins that, ahem, simply don’t work properly eg the Edge 820.

Most reviewers, like me, want to produce a review as soon as possible to get on the Google review rankings.

If the product is bad then that bad review is often on the internet forever. That is a problem Suunto partly have. To which I can see no solution other than rebranding & upgrading their SPARTANs at some point or relying on the fickleness of human nature! (Edit: June 2018…told you so! The Spartan name as a brand is being ditched…we now have the Suunto 9)

6 months after a product is launched, the product is fixed and all featured-up…but the review is unchanged. The blogger has moved on. This is ESPECIALLY TRUE of larger review sites where the reviews weren’t that detailed/good in the first place and are never updated. I try to update some of my reviews and know that I fail to update them all – look at the 920XT, it’s now effectively a different product to that which was released. I’d need to re-write the review. Remember, it’s not my day job and I don’t want to re-review 2 year-old products! (Edit: I just updated it a bit 🙂 )

Lots of reviews are false. The reviewer has simply NEVER used the product. LOTS of reviews.

I used to use stock photos produced by the brand as I thought that the quality was much better than what I could achieve. The upshot of that was that no-one believed I had actually used the device but rather had just read the manual! So now I take pictures 🙂 and, yes, I still RTFMs.

Even some pictures in ‘reviews’ are ‘false’ ie the image is of a demo unit being held by the ‘reviewer’ at a trade show. Sometimes these are labelled as ‘hands-on’, sometimes not. This is done by quite a few of the big names who can actually afford to send their staff to trade shows in other countries for a jolly! Nice work if you can get it.

Reviews are copied from other reviewers to varying degrees. Ray knows this. We all suspect this. I try NOT to write mine to a repeated formula to keep my creative juices flowing but I do a sense-check against at least two other reviews once I’ve finished.

Reviewers are biased for all sorts of reasons. Every reviewer is biased (yep, him too). Even trying to be fair and independent might sometimes mean that you sometimes try harder than normal to find fault in a product. If you have a standard template or methodology then that will favour the discussion of features from some brands whilst overlooking innovative, new features from other brands.

So what I try to do is be BALANCED. You will see that some posts I write  about Garmin are VERY positive and some are HIGHLY CRITICAL. You are all big boys and girls and no doubt can make up your own minds unless you were simply looking for an echo chamber. I’m reasonably sure you don’t need me to think for you.

PRs: PR agencies do not know the answers to complex technical queries. I’ve given up trying to waste my time asking technical questions with nearly all of the PR companies I deal with; as the response either gets forgotten, mislaid or never correctly answered.

Assumptions: Every time I assume something that is undocumented I invariably assume wrongly. Nightmare.

Brands need to open a direct channel with reviewers. Otherwise they expose the likely awfulness of their customer service/help desk. If I have to wait 2 days for a response (that will be rubbish) then I’m just not going to do it. Some companies have that direct channel – STRYD, RUNSCRIBE, FIRSTBEAT, MOXY – they’re all doing pretty well in their chosen markets, right? Strange that. Go figure.

And remember it’s not my day job. This all takes SO MUCH time.


So how do I/You make money?

I don’t make a lot of money from the5krunner.com. Certainly not enough to live off. Probably an AWFUL LOT less than you think I do.

The only money I make is from coaching (not really the5krunner.com but it is linked to here), a few affiliate partnerships (which are disclosed NRG, PMC) and from disclosed, click-through purchases from Amazon which many of my kind readers click from time-to-time and which I really appreciate.  Edit: and now advertising

I know for a fact that reasonably popular reviews that I write can EASILY lead to 3 figure unit sales of that item on Amazon. Or absolutely no sales at all if the timing is wrong and the google ranking position too low.

  • If you are certain your reviews can lead to sales then the best route is to buy and hold stock for resale. But you are not certain! Neither am I. And holding stock takes time and cash.
  • Next best option is to partner with someone. You might get a 5-10% commission. But unless you also offer the buyer an incentive (discount) then they won’t necessarily click on one of your links. So if your business partner also agrees to give a customer discount as well as a commission to you then all is good. However now we are talking about a reduction of maybe 20% of the revenue for the seller which may well be at least half their profit. If you give a coupon for a discount then the seller will also be worried about that coupon being passed around and used by people who have NOT visited your site. So for all THAT to work you have to deliver LARGE SALES LEVELS to make it all worth the while for the brand…you can’t, you’re too small. The fact that your blog is too small means you won’t find a partner who will work with a discount+commission structure; unless you are lucky.
  • That 20% reduction CAN be handled by small companies if they are selling directly. They don’t have to give a margin to a shop to resell.  But that 20% discount (eg for my relationship with Power Meter City) is MUCH more difficult to make work financially as the margins for resellers are probably something like 25-55% (40% might be a good average, I don’t know).

Or you could just do the reviews-blog because you enjoy it!! I do.

Anyway I’ve waffled on too much. Penny/2 cents for your thoughts?

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BorisXXthe5krunnerFaizan Javaidforefoot Recent comment authors
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Eduardo Mateos
Eduardo Mateos

As a sports gadget reviewer myself… The only thing I can do is confirm each and every one of your points. And point specifically to one thing I think the company don’t see… As you said, many reviews are viewed tens of thousend of times. To produce that review the company ONLY have to send the device in time to the reviewer. The only cost for them are shipping expenses. Well, and the wear of the device. Let’s say you have 10 devices per country that you will end receiving back in the end. Meanwhile many companies fail to provide devices in time. Some prefer to do a big event with some people (20-30 at most) and some of their promo athletes. They spends thousands for such a little impact and some tweets or facebook posts. Or they go to a middle size marathon where their stand will be seen by… 10.000? And how many of them will get any info? Much, much less of that. Some companies still don’t understand this. I still struggle getting units from one specific company (even when I pass the million hits every year…). And as said, they are spending A LOT of money… Read more »

GPSRumors (@gpsrumors)

You should tell wiggle to read this article 🙂


I bought the V800 based on no reviews, just Polar speculation. Sorry…


great post dude. i really appreciate your efforts and reviews. thumbs up because by reading your reviews one can tell that you put a lot of energy in it and have fun doing it. it´s no job/work for you, that´s great!

i´d wish you could earn some money, or at least you don´t have to buy the products yourself!
I think your blog is now at a size where it gets interesting in terms of advertising a product. I really hope your get some more love (or at least sample products)!

i the past i often thought of making kind a blog like yours myself but then i started building my house and time/money went into that one 😉 but maybe i give it a go again? need some help? 😀


I think a good opportunity for bloggers who have genuine content is to at one point release an e-book or guide of some sort.

With their authority and readership, they can get easily sales. I’ve seen that happen often on photography blogs, fitness, cooking blogs etc.

For e.g. write “How to train for your first Triathlon with the Garmin 735XT — includes training plans, nutrition, tips etc.”. That would sell hundreds. And more interesting than getting pennies from Google Adwords


Repeat this several times – guides on 735XT, Suunto Spartan, guide on how to do your first century and you can get nice recurring revenues

Dimitri Kiselkov

The only thing that doesn’t work with what you wrote :
take for example the Suunto Spartan Ultra. Based on your and Ray’s review of the watch, it would NEVER sell !! but because of the magazine page ads and facebook ads, they will sell more.

They (brands) do not control what you write in your review. So they pay agencies and ads that write exactly what they want !

Matthew Swainston (@StraightlineBoy)

It’s certainly a different era for reviewing tech given that software updates and patches are now the norm. I think my take though is that companies should take more care to ensure that products work from day 1 and the updates should only be fine tuning. If you review a product and find it to be bad then the company has no grounds for complaint if the review is no longer accurate after 6 months of software updates…I don’t want to pay hundreds of pounds to be a beta tester. There’ll be people who buy a new Suunto, find it to be unreliable, put it on a shelf and never think to check back to see if future updates fix things and that’s perfectly reasonable. If it was a car with faults, you’d be back at the dealers and threatening legal action if you were told we might fix it eventually.
Keep doing what you’re doing and call out the bad products. Maybe it won’t endear you to Suunto and Garmin but any least your site has integrity. I don’t suppose it will change anything but we can dream that companies might one day ship finished products again.

IM Booster
IM Booster

so what’s teh solution then? create a site for peer-created reviews. wiki-reviews? that will put you and dc out of business.

Dimitri Kiselkov

this idea of peer-created reviews already exists. It’s called forums. Checkout the official Garmin forum and Suunto sub-forum on Watchuseek.com


are you hobbyist? there are paid ads on your site. reviews are overrated i ask what my friends think

Eduardo Mateos
Eduardo Mateos

Obviously the information given by your friends reading the specs is far superior to the one given by someone who not only have actually tested the device, but have also tested many similar devices.


Worst part: a running gadget given to a hoarding few (group of bloggers) who can’t even run or give justice to what the gadget given to them can do. Very sickening to know.

Faizan Javaid


I want to get a sponsored post on your site and I will pay for it. I will research on your current contents and provide you a high-quality post that will attract more visitors to your site.

I have a great team of native writers


I think you’ll find (or maybe you won’t…), there are ways to make enough money from this type of work. Enough to leave your day job – I did and I’m so glad to be out of my sh..tty, mind numbing, slave-wage, 9-5 corporate job. The only thing that kept me going was the fact that I used the time in the office to work on my site…:)

But you need to treat it as a business – not a hobby. Not be stubborn and acting like your website is above other websites – which are actually earning decent income from this type of work because they have approached it as a business. Experiment, find what works. If you can’t make money from a market which numbers hundreds of millions, you only have yourself to blame.

Most people think blogging can’t generate income, but they are wrong. Some friendly, honest, advice. Take it or leave it. Or you can choose the other route and act like you are above others. But then, don’t complain that you are not generating income…


What’s your website/blog?