There is no real fixed system for obtaining gear for review. It’s all over the place, with different companies and relationships. Do I get to keep the stuff I review? Unfortunately, no. Otherwise I would be a very wealthy man. So it all has to go back.
There is a great deal of trust involved in the system. I ring up my contact in some company or other. We chat. I say I want to review product X for such and such publication. They courier it to me. A couple of weeks later I give them another ring and they arrange for a courier to come and pick it up. But increasingly, of late, trust has begun to be replaced with paperwork. In the last two days I have sought review products from two companies I have been dealing with for years. Neither has previously had any ‘loan agreement’. It has been a pretty good arrangement. But in these last two days both have required one.
Most of the items in a loan agreement aren’t a problem, and are understood anyway. They still own the product. If it gets stolen, smashed, etc, while it’s here, it’s my responsibility. I have to give it back when they want it. But some things just won’t work with what I’m doing. With one of those agreements, I had to exclude two of its items.
The first was a paragraph which said:
You will at all times operate the product in accordance with operational instructions provided with the product and/or specifically recommended by [The Company].
But this is not appropriate for a review. I may find it necessary, in conducting the review, to do unusual things. Run it excessively loud with broadband pink noise. Take to it with a screwdriver to find out something or other (I almost never do this!) The purpose of the review is to describe the product to my readers. However, I should note that I don’t think I have ever actually damaged any of the equipment I’ve tested, beyond normal wear and tear, during the two thousand plus reviews I’ve done. In fact, on several occasions I’ve performed minor repairs (a crossover in a high-end pair of loudspeakers come to mind — with the company’s permission, I resoldered the wiring since the thing had come adrift during transport so the loudspeakers wouldn’t work).
If there are difficulties or problems with the Product please contact [The Company] on the details of this letter and we will endeavour to solve the problem as quickly as possible.
There are two kinds of difficulties or problems I encounter with the products I review. Some are clearly such things as the product being damaged or otherwise operating incorrectly. Of course I contact the company about those problems. I had one of those just a fortnight ago: a home entertainment system with an add-on module for wireless rear speakers. The transmitter and receiver in the add-on didn’t match. I called the company. We nailed down the issue. They sent a matching transmitter and receiver by overnight courier. The next day I continued doing the review.
The other kind are areas of inadequate performance or difficulties in operation due to what I judge to be design flaws. These are the kinds of things that are supposed to be brought out in the review, and should generally not be disclosed to the product supplier prior to publication (since there is the potential for some unscrupulous suppliers to attempt legal action to prevent publication).
Having said that, if I judge that a design or performance flaw may be able to be fairly easily corrected, then I often do contact the supplier. I am working on a review right now, and am shortly publishing another review, where there were problems correctable with firmware upgrades.
Still, what I’m saying is that this has to be my choice.
I suspect that I’m going to have to come up with my own ‘Loan Agreement’, because I’m spending too much time writing lengthy emails explaining why I exclude certain parts of their agreements.