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Brian Madden's vendor relationship disclosures

Written on Apr 23 2008
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2,008,620 views, 30 comments


by Brian Madden

NOTE: This post was written in April 2008. In November 2008, The Brian Madden Company was acquired by TechTarget. TechTarget is just a larger version of The Brian Madden Company. So now we're 600 employees instead of six employees, but we're still 100% vendor independent and everything written here still applies to us today. In 2011, we launched a second site, ConsumerizeIT.com. These same disclosures apply to that site too.

The Brian Madden Company is a tiny company--just a handful of employees. We don't have an office. We don't have any patents. And we don't have any "real" intellectual property. The only thing we have is our reputation.

This company started in 2001 when I published my first book about Citrix. I self-published the book, not because I couldn't find a "real" publisher, but because I thought "Hey, this is the Internet age. Who needs a 'real' publisher?" Plus I also wanted to be able to say whatever I wanted--however I wanted--without having a publisher cancel the project.

That book was very successful, and it ultimately led to me quiting my job five years ago and blogging / writing full time. (Check out my first blog entry from five years ago. I wrote it in the San Francisco airport on my way home from iForum Australia.) Since then I've traveled and spoken at events around the world, written more books, written about 1500 articles / blog entries, hosted five BriForums, taught about fifty training classes, and done a bunch of other really cool things that I'm forgetting about right now.

But one thing has remained consistent since I wrote that first book seven years ago, and that is my independence when it comes to vendors. Now that our website has become so popular and our articles and blogs are regularly getting 20, 30, and 40 comments, I'd like to take a moment to clarify what I mean when I say that I'm "independent."

What does independent mean?

"Independent" and "unbiased" are two words that are thrown around a lot, both by me and other writers/bloggers/journalists. But they are not the same thing.

I call myself "independent" because I don't work for a vendor, I don't sell or resell any vendor's products, and really at the end of the day I don't care if you buy a product from Citrix, Microsoft, VMware, or Bob's discount software. It just doesn't matter to me because that's not how I make money.

As for "unbiased"... that's a bit more tricky. In reality, everyone in the world is biased in some way. So I don't think I should say that I'm "unbiased," but instead I should say that "my bias is not bought or sold." In other words, it's "Brian's bias."

"Real" journalists try to cover the news in an "unbiased" way, but every human being has bias. (Just look at FOX News versus CNN here in the US.) And I guess if you look at this website, I certainly have my opinions and I readily share them. (After all, this website is "BrianMadden.com," not "UnbiasedCitrixNews.com.") But again, the key takeway is that my biases are based on my twelve years in this industry, learning about it from an "independent" viewpoint. So yeah, I'm biased because I think some products truly stink. But the REASONS behind my biases are based on my personal views and opinions, not based on which vendor paid me.

So yes, this website is biased. I think if you want someone to just report on the news of the industry, you can go to a site like InternetWeek or NetworkWorld (although one could argue that all they do is write stories based on press releases, but that's a conversation for another day). When you visit BrianMadden.com, you get Brian Madden's opinions.

I don't ask (or expect) that everyone will agree with me. After all, I have some VERY strong opinions about stuff. (See here, here, here, here, here, and here.) But what I want you to know is that when you visit BrianMadden.com, you will get my honest-to-goodness personal feelings, and you can know you're reading my own thoughts and that I'm not writing about some product or saying good or bad things because someone paid me to.

The fine line: taking money from vendors

One thing that's interesting about BrianMadden.com is that this website is not a "side job" or a "hobby." It's my only job, and I do it full-time. (And it's Gabe's only job and Emily's only job and Lara's only job.) You could argue that I am one of the few people (probably less than 1%) of "bloggers" or whatever who has actually turned blogging into a full-time job. While that's kind of cool, it also means that I have to figure out how to make money. If I gave everything away for free then this website would shut down in a few months when I stopped being able to pay my bills.

To that end, there are several different ways that we make money, including:

  • Public training classes and e-learning DVDs
  • Speaking at conferences
  • Consulting
  • Book sales
  • Advertising on BrianMadden.com
  • BriForum (attendee registrations and sponsorships)

Some of this money comes from end users and the community, and some of this money comes from vendors. If we look at the ways we make money from vendors, it's just these three methods:

  • Advertising on BrianMadden.com
  • Sponsorship of BriForum
  • Consulting (for example, the Tech Videos that we recorded for Citrix.com)

Yesterday I spent some time going through the past financial records of our company, from 2003-2007. In any given year, we have NEVER made more than 20% of our total annual revenue from vendors. And we have NEVER made more than 3.5% of our annual revenue from one single vendor. So for those who think I've "sold out" to vendors, let me ask you this: Do you really think I would damage my integrity and reputation--the only truly valuable thing I have--for less than 3.5% of our annual revenue?

Let's be honest: everyone has a price! And I'll say this right now: if any vendor wants to give me several million dollars, I will gladly spend the whole year writing about their products. :) (With proper disclosures, of course.) But in the meantime, I'm not going to "push" one vendor over another for a measly 3.5% of revenue. It's just not worth it.

It comes down to disclosure

The single most important thing for any information source (especially in this Internet age) is disclosure. Sure, it's important for everyone to have a policy about what they will and will not do for money. But it's more important that the nature of the relationship is disclosed.

Our industry (the application and desktop virtualization industry) has a major problem with disclosures. It's not appropriate for me to call out specifics, but there are many, many cases where white papers, podcasts, blog entries, and "news" items are completely sponsored and paid-for by vendors where the site or author does not disclose this. There are many cases where a blogger "stumbles on a 'cool' product," but does not disclose that this was simply because a marketing person from that vendor called them and bought an ad and said "can you also mention our product?"

I know this happens because vendors ask me to do this all the time. I receive probably five-to-ten emails a week from vendors. Many of them ask questions like "How much does it cost for you to write about us?" or "How much does it cost to do a podcast with us?" This is not a problem with the vendor--they are simply asking questions they're used to asking. This is a problem with this industry and the blogosphere-at-large. It's a problem that many sites do write and record podcasts based on advertising from vendors.

I want to stress that taking money to do a podcast is NOT a bad thing. But taking money to do a podcast, and then not disclosing that podcast was done for money, is a very bad thing.

What we will and will not do with vendors

We've had an internal policy in place for years about what we will and will not do with vendors. But we've never made this information public. So here it is:

  1. The fact that a vendor spends money with us does not impact whether we will write about or cover that vendor's products any differently than if they didn't spend money with us.
  2. We will not accept money from vendors to record podcasts, write reviews, be involved with marketing or promotional campaigns, or to publicly compare one product to another.

Here are some examples of things that vendors have asked us over the years, and our responses as to whether we did or did not do this (YES or NO):

  • We record a video or write a paper explaining how a vendor's technology works - YES
  • We perform a scalability test of a vendor's product - YES
  • We write a paper explaining why one vendor's product is better than another's - NO
  • A vendor hires us to be in an ad campaign about their product - NO
  • A vendor pays us to record a podcast with them - NO
  • A vendor buys an ad on BrianMadden.com - YES
  • A vendor says, "Now that I bought an ad, will you write about me?" - NO
  • A vendor sponsors BriForum - YES
  • A vendor says "We will give you an internal use license of our product if you agree to write a review" - NO
  • A vendor wants to pay me to talk to their management team about this industry, and what they can do to make better products - YES
  • A vendor wants to pay me to look at their product and tell them how I would make it better - YES
  • That vendor wants me to publish the results of the previous item as an article on BrianMadden.com - NO

For the vendors out there who want to us to write about them, I will say now the thing that I've been saying for years: If you want to be "covered" on BrianMadden.com, you must:

  1. Make cool products.
  2. Tell me about your products. (Send an email to me at brian@brianmadden.com)

I read every single email I get (even though I cannot possibly respond to them all). So if you're a vendor, send me your press releases. Send me notes about what you're doing. Brag to me. Add me to your newsletter. Do whatever you need to do to flood my inbox with stories about how cool your products are. Just don't expect anything to happen unless your stuff is actually cool, unique, interesting, and/or relavant. And also, please understand that there are about 500 vendors in this space on only about 200 articles per year on this website, so we can't possibly write about everything.

And if you're a reader or visitor of this site, be happy that my inbox is receiving the brunt of vendor information, and that I'm not just blindly copying-and-pasting this stuff to the front page.

Will this plan backfire?

Maybe. If other websites continue to not disclose their vendor relationships, then BrianMadden.com will look bad because we're the only ones disclosing anything, and that will have the unintended effect of causing people to think that we're the only site that has something to disclose. But at the end of the day, each of us has to be able to sleep peacefully at night, and (one hopes) we each need to feel that we're doing the "right" thing.

For me, the "right" thing is to disclose, disclose, disclose; to remain true to myself; and to keep on sharing the opinions that I have.

Again, you may not agree with or like what you read here, but you can know for sure that my opinions have not been bought.

 
 




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Comments

Joe Shonk wrote All I can say is...
on Wed, Apr 23 2008 4:54 PM Link To This Comment

You guys (and gals) have done an awesome job with website and the BriForum conferences.

Don't be discouraged by the negative comments.   There will always be bitter people.  And bitter people are just that,  bitter.

Joe

Timco Hazelaar wrote right on
on Wed, Apr 23 2008 5:24 PM Link To This Comment
yep, I agree with Joe, keep those balls rolling :)
Guest wrote Keep it up!!
on Wed, Apr 23 2008 6:05 PM Link To This Comment

Nice post, I was never a sceptic at all, but its nice to see it on the table..

As far as your contribution to the industry...

My first interview question for new Citrix Administrators here, is not what is the session reliability port, but who is brain madden?

SYeoh wrote Brian, you ROCK!! :)
on Wed, Apr 23 2008 6:41 PM Link To This Comment

It is definitely an honor for anyone who truely has a passion for Citrix/SBC/Virtualization to be a part of your website/forums..

Keep on doing what you do best, being true to yourself and your fans...we are behind you 110%..

Guest wrote Re: even more independent
on Wed, Apr 23 2008 8:43 PM Link To This Comment
I dont think I want a 4 week VMware implementation done in 2 days.... I do them myself and 2 days gets you a build not an implementation... Besides FREE... you get what you pay for... Why advertise your crap on someone else's site...
Joe Cruz wrote Your OK by my account!
on Thu, Apr 24 2008 1:41 AM Link To This Comment

Brian,

I think you have a great insightful site.  I read it daily, and everyday i either learn something or gain insight.  For those who criticize you and claim you sold your soul to the devil, Well "We all know jealous people are envious of success they don't understand"  So, Keep up the good work and live on.  I will continue to visit regardless.

Guest wrote keep doing what you're doing
on Thu, Apr 24 2008 3:12 AM Link To This Comment

Brian, your integrity is beyond reproach as far as I'm concerned. Your website is an invaluable source of information and may it long be a source of opinion rather than merely news.

Michael Keen wrote Ditto
on Thu, Apr 24 2008 6:26 AM Link To This Comment

I've known you for a while now man, and I have to say to everyone here, that Brian is the most stand-up, honest person I've met in a very long time in this industry.  Everyone always has an ulterior motive,but Brian has remained true to his credo.  That takes balls and a deep level of integrity.

Cheers to you my friend.  You are truly an ambassador for this industry and a site of great knowledge and insight.  Keep it up!!!!!!!!!

William Kellogg wrote I agree with all of the previous posts-
on Thu, Apr 24 2008 7:05 AM Link To This Comment
Don't give up the ship or get get discouraged [besides where will you live].  There will always be those people who think the minute you give an opinion or take a stand, you are biased, close minded, or have been assimilated.  I find those people are usually the ones who have gone over to the Dark Side & don't realize it because they are now in the darkeness and have lost any clear vision.
Glenda Canfield wrote Independent
on Thu, Apr 24 2008 8:40 AM Link To This Comment

I am pretty sure that anyone who has been reading your site for more than a minute knows how independent you are Brian.  The thing that is shocking to me is the 3.5% of revenue off of advertisement/sponsorship.

When are these guys (Sofware/Hardware Co's) going to take this site and site's like it seriously.  You get more hits from their core customer base then internetweek or freaking networkworld.  The problem is the people making the advertising decisions are completely unplugged from the technology and the community that drives it.  Therefore, they have no clue who the thought leaders are.

Eventually these guys will get their heads out of their hind-ends and realize that it does not matter if you write an article about them or not, if they advertise on your site they will get more business.

Dan Murray wrote Always had MY vote of confidence!
on Thu, Apr 24 2008 9:21 AM Link To This Comment
Brian, this site has always been a breath of fresh air.  No marketing hype, just the straight goods on the various technologies out there that play in the virtualization/SBC space, and helpful hints, tips and tricks from many people that, although I've never met them face to face, have gained my respect over the years.  That's why I keep coming back!
jkenzig wrote Good for you
on Thu, Apr 24 2008 9:37 AM Link To This Comment

Brian

Great post.  I've always tried to be an agnostic (definition for the unknowing: 2nd definition of an agnostic is a person who denies or doubts the possibility of ultimate knowledge in some area of study) when it comes to this industry. I try to learn enough about a product to be able to decide if it is worth taking my time to learn more or use it. I'll also make a point(like you) to readily pass on what information I have learned via my blog or posting on the the Thin list.

I'll admit I don't know everything there is to know about SBC but whenever I've needed to know more yours and Doug's site have served me well. 

You take pride and integrity with how you run your business and what you do and nobody EVER better fault you for that.  I'll agree we don't always agree on everything but that is because we both are A type personalities and passionate about what we do. We have one big thing in common and that is that we will never sell our integrity or reputation. I totally respect you for that. 

Jim Kenzig
now on twitter http://www.twitter.com/kenzig

 

Guest wrote Way to go Brian!
on Thu, Apr 24 2008 10:02 AM Link To This Comment
I'ts too bad that you have to write this kind of article.  I hope all your other readers out there are aware that most of your anonymous critics who post to your site are probably the people who take money from vendors and dont disclose, or they are from vendors who are unhappy because you didnt take their money or perhaps you wrote an honest article about their product that they did not like.  Keep up the good work.

Chris
Michael Platsis wrote Brian, why did you write this article?
on Thu, Apr 24 2008 6:17 PM Link To This Comment
just curious
MaDDo wrote Go Brian !
on Fri, Apr 25 2008 4:04 AM Link To This Comment

Hey Brian I think it's too bad you had to write this article, it probably means that there are too many people thinking you're letting money, licenses and other bribes shapre your opinion. I have never doubted this !

You and your team just keep up the great work !

Mads Soerensen wrote We love you man.. :-)
on Fri, Apr 25 2008 4:27 AM Link To This Comment

Just keep up the good work.. brianmadden.com is the number 1 place to read and collect information about the SBC world.

Now you just need a competition where we can win a ticket or two to the BriForum in Chicago, - so we that don't have the economy to travel to US have a chance to attend the US BriForum.. :-)

Guest wrote indoctrination
on Fri, Apr 25 2008 7:31 AM Link To This Comment

I think Brian has the right perspective. Thanks for this explanation! Of course I have been reading your articles on your web site for 5 years so I may be indoctrinated. :)

Being Philisophical: Indoctrination can lead to our bias. We ultimatly can control it unless/until it controls us. 

We have all been indoctrinated in some way. Yes - we are all biased as Brian says. Even the pope, Billy Graham or Mulhammad have all been indoctrinated religiously and politically. The person reading this right now is indoctrinated. The challenge is is to recognize truth from deception and to always take the path of truth and what is right (the high road) regardless of the benefit or loss to you or your loved ones. Do not compromise what is noble!

The things that interest us (and sometimes fear) or stimulate us in some way influence our bias. This could be our culture, our friends, our boss, our pastor, our God, or whatever/whoever is giving you what you want - whatever that happens to be....ie. love, money, encouragement....

Mark Prigg wrote Re: We love you man.. :-)
on Fri, Apr 25 2008 8:01 AM Link To This Comment
That's a great idea!  I've been to two US BriForums, and am based in the UK.  Might not be able to make this one, which is a real shame.  In fact I only missed one US BriForum because I was in hospital having my knee reconstructed! A free trip via a competition, and its game on! ;  Amsterdam later in the year appeals too though!
Guest wrote Your number one fan
on Fri, Apr 25 2008 8:12 AM Link To This Comment
I got a room full of your posters and your pictures man
I like the stuff you did with Gabe too, that stuff was phat
Anyways, I hope you get this man, hit me back,
just to chat, truly yours, your biggest fan
This is Stan
Guest wrote Is it me?
on Fri, Apr 25 2008 9:52 AM Link To This Comment
This may seem a stupid response, but what is the point of this thread?
Brian Madden wrote Re: Is it me?
on Fri, Apr 25 2008 10:27 AM Link To This Comment
You mean what's the point of this article? The main point is that I had never explained very specifically what I will and will not do with vendors. So now I have this article that I can link to when a vendor asks me "how can we work together." And I have this article I can link to when someone says, "Hey.. you only write good things about this company. How much are they paying you?"
Guest wrote Re: Is it me?
on Fri, Apr 25 2008 10:49 AM Link To This Comment

....you might be new to this site but come join us.....its refreshing not to read the marketing hype and get more accurate perspectives.

Have you ever read marketing hype and find out that there is no "synergy" between the marketing and the functionality of the product?.....Citrix has some great products but sometimes their marketing is 2 years ahead of a functional feature/product.

Mark Prigg wrote Re: We love you man.. :-)
on Fri, Apr 25 2008 11:25 AM Link To This Comment

Sorry, just read that there's not going to be a Europe BriForum!

Mark Brophy wrote Say what?
on Sat, Apr 26 2008 6:42 AM Link To This Comment

Say what? BrianMadden.com is about Brian Madden? Since when? :-)

Great post Brian. Keep up the good great work that you and your team do every day. I think I can speak for a great many people that you've become a great resource to many and we dread to think what would happen if you stopped. Kudos.

Mads Soerensen wrote Re: We love you man.. :-)
on Sun, Apr 27 2008 5:00 AM Link To This Comment
Yes.. I have also just read that there's no Europe BriForum anymore.. :(  Now we really need a competition Brian?? :-)
Scott Chiara wrote Good Points
on Sun, Apr 27 2008 6:26 PM Link To This Comment

Brian, Your website is the leading independent SBC technology site on the net. You and your team keep up the great work. There's always something new to learn on the site and forum. 

Scott Chiara

Guest wrote don't forget...
on Mon, Apr 28 2008 3:52 AM Link To This Comment

Also how important the actual forums here are, I remember when searching/posting on the madden forums where the only option for a realistic reply. 

Guest wrote Re: Keep it up!!
on Mon, Apr 28 2008 8:47 AM Link To This Comment

My response to that would be "Is he related to BRIAN Madden?" :-)

Jonathan McCully wrote Full Disclosure
on Tue, Apr 29 2008 11:07 AM Link To This Comment
Nothing personal in this comment but I long ago stopped visiting dabcc.com as you cannot produce 'paid advertisements' and be an independent voice at the same time.
Guest wrote Re: Full Disclosure
on Tue, Apr 29 2008 3:06 PM Link To This Comment
That's right. At a point you just become a puppet...

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