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Note: this is a copy of the letter sent from IDG to PC Magazine, who have told Aardvark that they probably won't be publishing it.

To: Keith Newman, Editor, PC Magazine New Zealand

From: Martin Taylor, Publisher, New Zealand PC World


In her column (April 1997), Vicki Bland complains about alleged unfair treatment of PC Magazine by PC Direct and wonders whether her "gripe could be considered `sour grapes'...".

Well, `inane, frustrated drivel' would be closer to the mark and I am astounded you would let your reporter so publicly lay bare your magazine's problems.

I say this because media that have trouble getting their share of important stories usually suffer from one, or both, of two problems: either they have deficient editorial staff or they are simply viewed as a bit player and are ignored-or fed minor snippets-by many major story sources.

Publications caught in this position are often tempted to blame their problems on some conspiracy theory. A very popular one is that the rival media organisation has been "bought" by certain advertisers. This is especially tempting if the accusing publication is also having trouble securing advertising. It's an easy explanation for that problem too and it spares them from any painful self-analysis (though not, as we've seen graphically in Bland's column, from self-pity).

Ironically, it's the struggling publication that is more likely to compromise its editorial standards. The market leader is far better equipped to lose advertisers without impacting its survival. And it knows that advertisers, above all, buy influential readers and influential readers don't buy shonky editorial.

PC Magazine's practice of selling ads with its "Editors Choice" logo on them_to appear in the very same issue as the review!_would have to count as a more ethically-suspect practice than any of the dubious practices you allege of PC World. We hope the advertisers were not first given the "choice" of whether or not they would like to win the award.

Bland, through her innuendo, invokes these completely false allegations of complicity against her much more successful competitor PC World as her explanation for PC Magazine's embarrassing failure to obtain review computers from PC Direct.

She implies that the only reason PC Direct's computers score well in PC World reviews is that PC Direct somehow "buys" the publication's editorial.

As partial "proof", she points to her own flimsy analysis using the "internationally renowned Ziff-Davis benchmarks". Her benchmark tests apparently put PC Direct's machines in the "average to needs-improvement" category. She then naively wonders why these same PCs can "regularly feature among the top three in PC World's monthly count-downs".

Well, let me explain. PC World's New Zealand Test Centre takes into account that most buyers rate raw performance as only one factor of several in their evaluation. Others include warranty terms, service and support, reliability, price and features. We regularly survey buyers to stay in touch with what's important to them. Raw performance, as PC World's published methodology shows, accounts for only about a fifth of the total score given.

Smart, successful companies like PC Direct, Compaq, IBM and others have understood buyers' wider requirements for years. Perhaps, if you plan to offer sound advice to your readers, your magazine ought to, also.

It's no wonder that some companies with successful business strategies, sound products and good reputations to protect would choose to avoid this kind of sloppy, uninformed journalism.

If you want to cure your magazine's problems, I suggest you replace your Bland bleating with informed, relevant journalism and try to get important.

But, then, who am I to tell you how to make a successful computer magazine.

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