The ‘Caveat Emptor Season’ has Begun

LAP_logo2_940During the summer, tool manufacturers crank up the factories to create new products for the big selling season: September through Christmas. The manufacturers also hold media junkets to ply journalists and bloggers with free travel, meals and tools.

This blog entry is a warning from someone who covered the tool industry for 16 years and was sent (against my better judgment) on a few of these junkets when our tool reviewers couldn’t.

Here’s How it Works
A tool company invites you to a city to see the new products they have planned for a fall release. They pay for your plane ticket, your hotel and usually all your meals. Usually you get a tour of the factory (the best part – I love factory tours). They show you the new tools, you get to play with them and then they send you (for free) the ones you like when they are released.

Some companies are more ethical about it – they loan you the tools and they ask you to pay your way to the press event. Others are less ethical about it – they take you on a beach vacation, pay for family to come and send you home with anything you like from their catalog. One editor brought home a cabinet saw – for himself.

Rather than shaming bloggers, YouTubers and journalists by delving into the details further (one story involves a strip club; another involves an escort service), I’d like to tell you how to protect yourself as a consumer.

Don’t Buy Newly Released Tools
Just like with cars, there is a shakeout period with manufacturing tools. The first ones off the line and into the stores are more likely to have problems, such as manufacturing errors. Or they are likely to suffer a design defect that the designers couldn’t foresee (such as a switch that is prone to dust contamination).

New technology – like new software – is buggy.

I know it’s tempting to want the latest gadget, but you are better off buying the gadget that has been in the stores for a few years and has all its bugs worked out. Plus, you can ignore the social media spooge-fest that occurs when someone puts a laser on a scratch awl.

Check a Blogger’s Disclosure
Believe it or not, bloggers and social media people have to disclose to you if they received an item free or were paid to promote it. The Federal Trade Commission covers this in Title 16 part 255 of the federal regulations of electronic commerce. Read the section here. A plain-spoken guide is here. Lost Art Press’s disclosure is here.

Some bloggers are really transparent and ethical. A good example of this is Paul Sellers, probably the hand tool woodworker with the most eyeballs. His disclaimer is linked to right from his home page and is completely clear. Bravo Mr. Sellers.

Other writers are ignorant or simply ignore the law. If someone doesn’t have a disclaimer or disclosure statement, I assume they are taking free stuff.

I know there are some of you who don’t believe that giving people free tools affects what a person writes. This post is not for you. For the rest of us, I advise being a little more wary of what you see on Instagram, blogs, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter during the coming months. You might just end up a part of someone’s brilliant marketing plan.

— Christopher Schwarz,

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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27 Responses to The ‘Caveat Emptor Season’ has Begun

  1. I generally try to offer disclosures in each post, but man is that time consuming. I need to get on the blanket disclosure statement train.

  2. Chris Decker says:

    I am really looking forward to the day that my work is good enough, and has garnered enough attention to have to think about endorsement disclosures! Even so, this honesty and insight is a welcome respite from constant advertisement.

  3. John Craig says:

    If it were only tool manufactures we needed to worry about…..this advice goes for every facet of life today.

    • Yup. If I ever get a tattoo, it will be a disclosure statement.

      • srunnels says:

        Where can we vote on said tattoo and donate to said cause because I’m warming up to the idea of full back tattoo from one of the Roubo plates. I’m envisioning something like a scene from Red Dragon.

  4. rwyoung says:

    /* begin slow clap */

  5. Derek Long says:

    I’m for sale, tool manufacturers. Anyone? Takers, anyone?

  6. A useful reminder – particularly as a reputation for ethical writing is hard won but easily lost.

    I generally remember to put a disclosure on each blog post when I review tools (which isn’t that often) but I’d not thought to include a general disclosure statement in my “About” page – will remedy that when I next log on. Generally for F&C I review tools I’ve already bought, but on the rare occasions I review something I’ve not yet bought it either gets returned at the end of the review or I keep it and send payment.

  7. boclocks says:

    A laser for my scratch awl! Got to have it!

  8. edfurlong says:

    Thanks Chris for revisiting this–so much goes undisclosed, intentionally or otherwise, that we lose sight of the fact that not everyone’s opinion is for sale and judge opinions on tools, software, clothes, whatever, with the assumption that everyone must be getting something for it (monetizing their expertise, in digital parlance). It is and has always been refreshing to be reminded of your stance.

    Oh and the sentence “Plus, you can ignore the social media spooge-fest that occurs when someone puts a laser on a scratch awl.” just tickled me! The thought of a lazer-equipped hand tool is precious. Be warned though, that a search for said spooge-fest (I didn’t know the meaning), is not safe for work!

  9. albear says:

    Thanks Chris. One of the best posts on this subject I have seen a good, long while.

  10. Neil says:

    Same goes for HealthCare professionals. If your Drug Detail salesman gives you free lunches and takes you out to dinner it’s not out of the goodness of his heart. Patients never are told which drugs they take are among those the Dr or the Dr’s office are pushing to pay off a detail man.

  11. Joshua Allen says:

    A laser scratch awl!? SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!

    But srsly, good advice all around. That’s why I feel pretty comfortable when you make a tool suggestion.

  12. I applaud you for your honesty and ethics. Sometimes it easy to get sucked up in all of the hoopla. Thanks for the reminder.

  13. mnrwoods says:

    It seems to me that if the tool manufacturers spent even a tenth of their marketing budgets on promoting the craft of woodworking to the general public, woodworkers would be in greater demand. Greater demand for finely crafted wood products would require more woodworkers to build an anarchist’s tool chest and to fill it, thus benefiting the tool manufacturers who helped to create the demand for better craftsmanship.

    The tool manufacturers have been barking up the wrong tree.

  14. It can work both ways. As a sole proprietor business making tools, I have been approached more than once asking to “donate” a tool for “review”, presumably to expand my market when the review is found to be favorable. I always decline on ethical grounds. There are better ways to do business, such as treating the customer in a fair and honest manner, and producing the best product possible at a fair price point. I am reminded of this every time I purchase a tool of high quality and receive personal customer service. It works!

  15. This is scary! Although I deal in vintage tools, I hold a Washington State business license and have considered re-sale of new tools. Bookmarked all the Fed regs and disclaimers you posted. A lot of late night reading ahead! Thank you!!

  16. Phil says:

    It’s easy for me to “armchair quarterback” this topic and say that I would certainly follow an ethical line of thought IF I were in that situation but I haven’t been….so Chris I can applaud you for being the type of person that I would like to be on this issue…..well said.

  17. nordichomey says:

    Pretty sure the pre-WWII Stanley planes I buy have met the break in testing requirement.

  18. Aaron Robichaud says:

    Social media spooge-fest. It is quite disgusting to watch. Frank Zappa would scream SPOOOGE! at his musicians when they would show off on stage. Maybe we should start that.

  19. bluefairywren says:

    Forget legalities – full disclosure is about being ethical. If you are choosy about the products you recommend and you recommend them from a place of genuine belief in their quality and usefulness, only the mean spirited would begrudge you earning a bit from affiliate sales.

    If on the other hand a site is peppered with products, all being voluptuously praised without any sign of critical assessment anywhere, then that is a dead giveaway that the site is merely a sales funnel. Another is sites so full of blatant advertising that they resemble a veritable Frankenstein’s monster of web design.

    Another benefit of not buying the latest gadget immediately is that the price is very likely to come down over time as well and you get a cooling off period to decide whether you really want or need this new shiny thing.

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