Publishing in the Firearms Industry is Fundamentally Broken: A (Comedic?) Tragedy

I have recently jokingly begun to refer to myself as the tragic embodiment of the downfall of the print industry. That’s not (entirely) true of course, but it makes me laugh. Now that I’ve found a new home and a new family at Badlands Pawn I have been able to detach myself from the publishing world I have been engaged in and fueling for the past years. I have a few observations from my time steeped in this truly unique working environment: there are a lot of AMAZING people behind the scenes of your favorite blogs and magazines, there are a couple terrible ones, and the whole entire thing is a broken mess and it’s really not their fault.

Making money in the publishing industry is a difficult, daily uphill battle. What GunUp almost was and frankly should have been was a true anomaly in this day and age. Even the big companies are coming out with more and more print titles – essentially throwing spaghetti at the wall – in an effort to regain and retain consumer’s attention in a rapidly changing demographic of firearms owners and an infinitely adaptable digital world. With this understanding, there are a few behind-the-scenes practices I feel you, as readers, should understand that I hope will not only help you understand why a majority of the reviews you read are essentially useless and what we have been trying to do here at Gun Nuts to be as functionally independent as possible.

What I want to unpack is how different large firearms manufacturers deal with the press. I’m not going to name any names, because some manufacturers already get my verbal endorsement on a daily basis and others I do everything I can to steer people away from, even ones whose products don’t totally (totally) suck, simply because you shouldn’t be allowed to be a whiny little jerk toward ad sales people and get editorial reviews pulled and words changed around because your feelings were hurt.

My first example of the brokenness of firearms publishing comes from an experience with one of my favorite manufacturers. They are not very open with the press, but invited a select group out to see one of their longest-awaited releases early and opened their doors to their US factory. We were thrilled, signed NDAs with relish, and lined up to get a first look at the new product. We had a very specific release date, and I guarded the knowledge carefully.

It was leaked. Not by anyone in the editorial world, but by someone out of the shipping house of one of our at-the-time competitors.

If it was just the shipping house, why am I even bringing it up? Because it’s a problem. It should NEVER have happened and now that manufacturer will be hard pressed to open their doors even to a select group of press again.

So how do we stop it? I’ll be honest, I don’t know, I’ve never run a shipping house, but maybe ask Vanity Fair. You see, I don’t care how you feel about the Caitlyn Jenner story, but one of the most sought after stories of 2015 (love it or hate it you know it’s true) was kept safe until its release date, yet our industry gets a leak out of a shipping house? This is a mild, mild example of where we’re… They’re… Going wrong.

Then there’s the example of manufacturer number two who I have – at times markedly – avoided mentioning throughout much of my writing career. This is where you, dear readers, must understand what is really really going on behind the scenes. You see, once someone I know quite well suggested that another gun was a better tool for one job than this manufacturer’s, so naturally they’re out for blood. So much so that when another manufacturer’s firearm was called “laughably bad” (it is, you can’t fire me anymore publishing industry, I can enjoy my machine guns and probable alcohol problem in peace now) they called THE PERSON HANDLING THEIR ADS and had the phrase pulled.

You read that right. Welcome to firearms publishing, where ad sales managers like to call all the shots.

Could you imagine if Chrysler pulled advertising from Jalopnik for slighting their interior?! (Bad example, Chrysler has nice interiors, but you get my point.) What if Apple stopped talking to Tech Crunch because they ran a story about the bending iPhones? The thought is nearly laughable.

Money talks. Money will always talk. But when ad sales “professionals” and company marketers are calling editorial shots there’s a problem, a real problem. Ire is oft raised toward editors and writers, but it’s not their fault every single review you read is positive – they WANT to bring you the truth. What’s really broken is hidden behind the scenes, and can really only be fixed there.

Which brings me back around full circle: welcome to Gun Nuts. Yes, Caleb’s run a Kickstarter to go independent, yes, we are talking to some of our very favorite companies whose products we trust about sponsorship, because we want to get away from this, we want to bring you the truth. Readers who are familiar with us know we have always tried, and being in a position where we are hindered makes us uncomfortable. So bear with us, and maybe call for some behind-the-scenes change from the rest of the industry, because you deserve to know what’s crap (a lot of it is) and what’s not (I probably carry it).

Editor’s note: as of December, the kickstarter campaign has been cancelled, and refunds are being issued to donors

26 thoughts on “Publishing in the Firearms Industry is Fundamentally Broken: A (Comedic?) Tragedy”

  1. not too surprised. i have reduced the number of gun magazines for the very reasons cited. definitely avoid anything published in california.

  2. I would find it very refreshing to read truthful reviews on guns. As it seems with each new development there is a corresponding jump in price, we the gun buying public deserve to know the truth about what does and doesn’t work. Let me point to Taurus’s latest offering, the CT9. I had a friend text me a link to an ad for it. I had not seen it before. It was just lucky that I was in route to a gun show. As I was walking through I saw one and picked it up to see it. Let’s just say I was not impressed. It felt cheap, almost completely plastic. It reminded me of Mossberg’s little .22 caliber AR style rifle. The price tag on it at the show was $550. The dealer said that they actually retail for around $700+. I was astonished. I wouldn’t pay $550, much less $700. The dealer agreed that it was not worth the asking price. I’m sure there are glowing reviews out there for this pistol caliber rifle, and maybe it is a nice shooting rifle, but I was turned off by the feel of it. It felt cheap. I would be scared to drop it.

    So, yes I would love some honest gun reviews.

    Glenn Bourbon

    1. What you describe is the Consumer Reports in the Gun World, and it’s called Gun List!!

      They buy the Firearms at a Retail Store, they don’t take Advertising and they are at times brutal in their reviews!!

      The Publication is NOT Cheap but it is completely unbiased.

  3. “What if Apple stopped talking to Tech Crunch because they ran a story about the bending iPhones?”

    It is well documented that journalists/publications who do not give glowing reviews to Apple products do not get access to review units, which of course cripples a publication… if your review isn’t online within minutes of the product announcement, you don’t exist. Steve Jobs was famous for mentioning reporters by name and singling them out to become victims. So the tech industry plays ball with Apple. If a review of one of their products is posted earlier than a few days after the initial batch were shipped to buyers (in other words: the publication bought it themselves), I can assure you that the review is a load of hot air, written by someone who needs to protect that publication’s best financial interests.

    The problem is the publishing industry’s business model. I wrote for TechRepublic for 7 years, and did additional contract writing for another 2 years for another site, and I saw a lot of very uncomfortable changes, especially after they got bough by CBS Interactive. Experienced journalists and editors were replaced with folks right out of college to cut costs. Articles get linkbait/clickbait headlines that often don’t match… or are even flat out contradicted by… the actual article itself. The ad model leads to integrity problems. And the alternative (user-supported content) has not proven successful.

    It’s a no-win situation.


  4. Yet, even if you do realize this ability to bring people the ‘truth’ it will still be on a limited basis. The companies (gun or gear) who do not wish to play the game and give up editorial control wont return your phone calls and they wont give you a single product. More importantly they certainly wont give you any inside access to be the first to the market with the news/review. (Thats the holy grail here)

    You may soon have the sponsors/kick starter funding to keep the doors open, but you will essentially be mitigated to being the sound of one hand clapping. You will be a black-balled outsider and will essentially be neutered… or at the very best, well behind the big stories.

  5. “So much so that when another manufacturer’s firearm was called “laughably bad”) they called THE PERSON HANDLING THEIR ADS and had the phrase pulled.”

    I’m sorry, but it’s hard to determine “Who’s on first.” Does “they” refer to the first manufacturer (whose gun was the wrong tool) or to the second manufacturer (whose gun was laughably bad)?

    1. This sentence, among others, made me wonder if the gun publishing industry is fundamentally broken or just populated by poor writers.

  6. Sorry, but any business model which relies on advertising for dollars is subject to the same issue. Including cars, electronics, etc.

    You want to be independent? BUY the weapons you want to review. Most of us that read reviews in magazines are suspicious about anything sent to the reviewer anyways. (Recent Remington pistol reviews anyone?)

    BUY them off the shelf, state WHERE you bought them, state WHAT ammo you ran, and give us REAL information. I would pay $30 for a quarterly magazine that had REAL reviews, not the pablum turned out by the gun rags, who are bought and paid for. I’ve let ALL my subscriptions go. I occasionally will pick a magazine up to read about something new, not because I trust the article, but so I will know what to look for in the gun stores.

    Take advertising for ammunition, parts, etc. if you must, but don’t review them.

    Sorry it came to this for you, but most of us old guys could have told you it was going to happen a long time ago.

    Ah….The optimism of the young!

    1. Billw – Gun Tests magazine. $24/yr, monthly issues, and no shit product testing, because they don’t have advertising.

      I’m hoping that the Gun Nuts crew can pull it off, too!


    2. I’m with you Billw, car magazines honest, really, not too much; not in my 50+ years of life. But why would anyone expect publishing, marketing, advertising to be any different that any other business or politics for that matter? It’s all about making money and or making the public buy into what you are selling.

  7. Anyone who has been around this industry for more than a little bit of time knows that review that are based on a bit of coonfingering are worthless. Reviews based on a session or two at the range, maybe a little less than worthless, but not by much.

    There’s a satirical piece that compares the draft of a gun review to what it read like once the marketing department edited it.

    1. One of my jokes with the industry PR guys I know, is that I could write a program that could pump out the typical gun magazine reviews. Just feed it in the specs, and the 25 yard groups out pops a gun review.

      “Recoil is brisk, but manageable…”

      “Acceptable grouping at 25 yards for a combat gun…”

      The list goes on.

      1. Template goes:

        Today I tested one of the most wonderful Combat Firearm (Gun I got for Free this week) and I would ONLY use my Trusty Ammo (Ammo I got for free this week) and I would only use this Holster (Holster I got for Free this week)…..

        1. And don’t forget that although there was only one failure to feed/fire every hundred rounds or so, the gun was completely reliable.

  8. You folks do realize there is a little publication/website called guntests? Been around for a long time. They buy the guns they test and take no ad revenue.

  9. Heck even at publications where the reviews are pretty honest, you don’t see negative reviews. As it is better to not review something than to give it a negative review and deal with the repercussions from the manufacturers.

    1. Exactly, I have tested and tried some God Awful firearms, I rather not write a review than to bash a product, I don’t see anything positive coming from it.

      1. I don’t understand why you would not publish a negative review. You said nothing positive would come from it.

        Firstly, it might steer potential buyers away from it. If you are there to serve your readers, then that’s all you need, right?

        Secondly, it might gain you a loyal following of readers if we realized you would publish accurate reviews.

        Seems like a review that only publishes honest yet positive reviews and refuses to publish the negative reviews is only a bit better than the writer that claims to love everything he ever got his hands on.

  10. “We are talking to some of our very favorite companies whose products we trust about sponsorship”

    But isn’t that what you’re complaining about??

    To be truly independent, you can’t have sponsorship from your “Favorite” Companies, the word “Favorite” denotes bias!!

    I started my career bacon in 1985, in 1990, I got my first “Staff” position in a Magazine, ya, a Dead Tree Magazine, way before the Interwebz!!

    Say a Magazine Advertiser, who manufactures goods, but also has a Retail Outlet and places a whopping 30+ Page AD pages per issue is sponsoring an event, what do you do?? Well, if you are a smart publisher, you will send your Staff Photographer to that event, no matter what the cost is. You make any arrangement necessary to make that Massive Advertiser feel needed and appreciated!! How do I know that?? I was the one guy sent on that last minute trip from CT to TX and I know how much it cost!!

    Don’t you find it odd, that when there’s a review of Product “X” on a Magazine, there is a FULL Page AD of Product “X” somewhere close to the Product “X” Review?? There is ABSOLUTELY no coincidence there!!

    Like it was said above, if you really want to remain unbiased, you can’t have “Favorite Companies”, they ALL should be treated the same. You should buy Firearms in a retail store, Mention the Store and price, buy ammunition in a retail store, mention the store and price and establish a testing procedure that can be repeated for every firearm type you test, so there’s no questions or doubts about your Unbiased opinions!!

  11. Thanks Shelley for helping us take a glimpse behind the curtain. I contend with a lot of cognitive dissonance when reading gun rags. Remember one mag that lost a couple editors over a back page think piece suggesting preemptive capitulation is a valid tactic where second amendment dustups are concerned. New editor came in and promised a dawning era of straight talk was at hand and in the same issue gave a glowing review to a SERPA holster without noting any of the problems associated with ’em.

    I’ll point out this stuff is not confined to magazines. Post Sandy Hook an industry retailer made some policy changes I’ll characterize as ah, making deeper the derp. Chastising the retailer for their spineless behavior however, lead to shills showing up and making claims that speaking to their spinelessness was tantamount to siding with Sarah Brady, which IMO is the race card of the firearm biz. “Love guns, love my equivocation” seems to be the expectation.

    And then there are various instructors whose ego eclipses their quality control. All three of these categories are trying to control the message as a means of increasing the bottom line and so seek to shamelessly embrace the techniques crony capitalism.

    I’ll note I’m not a fan of Gun Tests magazine. I think comparing ’em to Consumer Reports is like comparing Reader’s Digest to a literary anthology. Can’t escape the sensation that their teams of testers consist of the author and any neighbors, cousins, or passing strangers who can be wrangled into a range trip, with little in the way of consistency or rigor.

  12. Thanks also for a glimpse into what happened with the magazine. I was a subscriber from issue one, and it is the only dead tree gun publication to which I have ever subscribed. It wasn’t perfect, but it had a unique voice and I really enjoyed it.

    I hope that everyone involved has landed somewhere that they can proster and love what they are doing.

    Keep up the great work here, I sense some positive movement.

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