Editor Note: This was submitted by George Sears, a well respected voice in the electric bicycle community. Full disclosure George was paid to write this story and has free rein to write on whatever subject he wants. The honesty and openness in this article reminds me of this story here: Ethics and honesty in ebike industry in which many of these important points were touched on .
I was surprised to find that 2017 is the year of the paid ebike review.
From Electric Bike Report:
Review Note: Each company pays a fee for a review on Electric Bike Report because of the considerable amount of time that it takes to provide an in-depth review of each eBike. A lot of time is spent on the full range test with distance & elevation profile, the wide variety of detailed pictures, in-depth video, and the write up with the specifications, ride characteristics, pros, cons, and overall thoughts. The reviews on Electric Bike Report are focused on providing you with a detailed “virtual” look at each eBike to help you determine if it is the eBike for you or not.
This Note appears at the end of every review on the Electric Bike Report site. The amount of the fee is not disclosed, but the reasons are valid.
In the comments to a YouTube and Electric Bike Review review of the MOAR 24/7 bike, Court Rye made the following comment:
Hey Phil, As of 2017 I charge a service fee to companies who want a full writeup with photos and stuff on the site. It’s optional and helps me cover travel and accommodations on my own and keep it fair vs. one company offering fancy dinners and hotels and stuff which could result in more of a conflict of interest. I’m open to other ideas if you have them. I chose to review the MOAR 24/7 because I saw how successful the Sondors was and happened to be in LA…
What Pete is saying is pretty cut and dried. He charges for his reviews. The only time I have ever seen a reference to paying for reviews at the Court Rye site, EBR, was in a comment on YouTube.
There are several things that have changed on EBR, so I decided to ask Court a series of questions, starting with the fees. Here is the text of the email I sent:
I noticed in your review of the Moar CF campaign bike you comment that, as of 2017, you charge fees for the reviews on your site. I am looking to write an article for Electricbike on this topic. I noticed Pete at Report is also charging a fee. He seems to put a disclosure at the end of every review.
I have a few questions, but there’s no hurry or anything.
1) Do you think this is a step down from the previous approach, where I think you were trying to get ad revenues to pay for all the expenses of the site?
2) If there are three parties in the deal, the reviewer, the company, and the public, who represents the public? I think in one of your videos you refer to the company, on a ride, as ‘partners’. That’s not much daylight between you and the people you have to evaluate.
3) The normal term for using a site to convey commercial information, by paying for the service, is advertising. Do you cross a line when you can check off all the elements for ‘advertising’, but then don’t call it that? Is there a disclaimer anywhere?
4) Could the failure of the previous business model, building the site, be a failure to execute that site very well. (I’ve noticed all the forums are drifting. There was too much excitement during the Sondors campaign, and not much since.) Pete does limited reviews, and Turbo Bob seems fairly inactive.
5) I noticed an admin on the EBR Forum responded to a post about problems with Crazy Lenny. The post was a little hard to follow. The admin came in and said there were problems with Lenny, mostly undefined, and then the admin shut down the thread. The thread may have been removed. The Forum is now pretty heavily censored, and there is no posted set of standards. An admin doesn’t like a post, or a poster, and the thread comes down, apparently. There is less a sense of community and more a sense of control.
6) I notice that there is no way anyone can do serious comparisons of ebikes, or hard tests, on the Web or on YouTube. An obvious comparison would be the mountain bikes that Lectric and Luna build from stock bikes. They just add motors. These are high power motors, especially for off road, but how do they work compared to a Haibike? Who are the target buyers? What are the weaknesses. People expect an evolution of products, criticism that brings changes. What is the level of criticism in your reviews?
7) There isn’t much targeted information for people who may want to buy parts. With batteries there are a lot of different vendors, different systems. I can go from BatteryBlocs to Titanflight modules, Ali Express, Ebay, Amazon and the kit vendors. I can buy cells in Texas and a spot welder in Germany. How much can you restrict production bikes from bike parts? Is there any comparison of different product classes, other than the obvious dealer point of view?
8) How do you get a handle on costs, relative costs in reviews? I don’t know how a SmartMotion compares to a Magnum, and where some of the price differentials show up. This is especially true with something like a Haibike where there are two model lines, but no real way to say what the diffrerence is, other than the price. You can take a $3,000 mountain bike and put a mid-mount motor on it. It will come in way below a Haibike, in many cases. Is there a need for real tests that show the differences?
I’m not going to ask for more than a few minutes of your time. I just think the whole review space has shifted pretty dramatically. I follow truck sites and off road sites. They are full of action video and tests, very high production values. That kind of money is not floating around the ebike space, but I wonder if you think the energy level is high enough with ebikes?
Thanks for any response you might want to provide. I’m at least going to put your comment and YouTube and the EBReport disclaimer in an article and comment on what the change seems to mean. Their other stuff is peripheral, but it goes to what people see on the Web when they want to know about ebikes. Or, if they follow ebikes.
I got a fairly speedy response that covered the fee issue, to some degree. Maybe Court will want to fine-tune the disclosure.
I’m currently traveling with limited Internet and time but wanted to clarify on the paid reviews… All of my videos are free and a good portion of my writeups are still unpaid but the demand for reviews has required more travel and support (with the forum, photo editing etc.) so I have created a service fee. I do disclose this in my terms of service and in reviews at the end as a partnership. I believe I charge less than Pete and my goal is to remain as independent as possible.
Thanks for your support and sorry to be short here!
Anyway, the business model for these sites has shifted. The people who request reviews can become ‘partners’. But it’s always going to be a three sided relationship between the companies, the public, and the reviewer. The confidence you need, as a buyer, to trust a review, is pretty critical. And a company does not want to pay a fee and then find they are getting bad publicity.
I think reviews that start with a business relationship tend to be canned. The formula is something like “Well, I don’t like this, but right after I mention the lousy PAS system I’ll say how great the pedals are”. You never get a strong enough impression of what the bike really does, or how it compares to other bikes. There are so many bikes out there, right now, it’s ludicrous to ask how a total noob makes a decision.
I encouraged Court to respond to the other questions, but I’m not optimistic that he will. I think this is a long term project, anyway. How do you get the Web, the video sites, the Social Media sites, the vendor sites, the forums, to work? My sense of the Web and ebikes is that the level of energy is going down, that some of the social sites are in a death spiral.
Everyone should want ebikes to be fun and exciting. People who know what they are doing, people who are pushing good designs and good ideas, should make money. But the level of understanding across the whole population of the US is very, very low. That’s a killer. The technology is too good to be ignored. But right now, the word is not getting out.
I wish the EBR website was strong enough to support independent reviews. I don’t know if you can be independent enough if you accept payment for a review. I get paid to write these articles, and EB is pretty close to Lunacycle. So I’m not pretending to be a journalist. I have been assured that I can write what I want, that it won’t be censored. So I’m writing commentary and my opinion, but my opinion is based on facts. Maybe EB, this blog, can have the breadth you need to really understand ebikes. That would take a number of people who really understand a lot of different things. From Court’s response, I have to ‘guess’ that he wants to continue the site just on the review style he has been using for several years.
The final word from Court Rye:
I really appreciate you giving me an opportunity to chime in and that you’re working to clarify what’s going on in the space. I left a message trying to connect but perhaps you’re busy too 🙂
My goal with EBR is to be objective but constructive. You might notice that even with bikes have clear issues I try to emphasize counter points. I love that the space is full of options these days… there are kits, affordable ebikes, mid-level, tandems, mountain, road (with drop bars) and even $10k+ models! I realize in many ways my reviews are actually “overviews” and I’m okay with that. I leave my comments and forum fairly open but rely on moderator support now. I do my best to measure specs accurately and provide tools for sorting and comparing. For one rider, a fancy look may outweigh a higher speed or smoother motor, for another the quietness of the motor may outweigh having bottle cage bosses or rigid pedals. All of my writeups contain a list of pros and cons and I’m always open to input. My sites serve as a resource and it’s exciting to see what others are doing (Endless Sphere, Luna Cycle Forums, ElectricBikeReport.com) it’s all good.
I don’t sell electric bikes and am not independently wealthy so my goal has always been to deliver a service that is close to pure, but can still support itself. If you ever feel like I’m not fair on a review, please chime in with a comment. Sometimes I miss stuff as well, I appreciate the opportunity to learn, and did not come into this space as a real technical engineering type. I’m more of an average guy who just likes ebikes because of my injured knee.
Written by George Sears, March 2017