This is an updated ethics policy, with effect from 5th July 2016.
I run Pens! Paper! Pencils! because I want to create the website that I would most like to read myself. My perfect website features reviews I feel I can absolutely trust. The purpose of this policy to be completely clear about what I do so that you, the reader, can make up your own mind about the trustworthiness of my reviews. It’s quite long: it attempts to cover all eventualities and to provide the rationale behind my decisions.
Requesting items to review
I no longer ask companies to send me review items.
I’ve done this in the past and on the whole, because I only asked for items I expected to like, it’s resulted in positive reviews. On the rare occasion the item I asked for and received turned out to be not very good, I stated that in the review. That’s not a nice position to be in, though: ask someone to send you something for free and then criticise it online. To avoid feeling like that again I’m not going to ask any more companies to send me anything.
Receiving items as part of a site sponsorship
I sell adverts on Pens! Paper! Pencils! Some companies pay me in money, some companies pay me in goods. In return they get a sidebar advert for a month and, if they wish, a blog post. The blog post is clearly marked “SPONSOR” and is not a review. It’s another form of advert.
As far as I’m concerned that’s the end of the transaction. The advertiser gets an advert and I get compensation. If that compensation is in the form of goods then those goods belong to me with no further obligation. If, later, I choose to review them then it’s no different to if I had bought them myself. I’m certainly not going to feel bad if the review turns out to be thunderously negative. However, for the sake of complete transparency, I’ll say if I received an item as payment for a sponsorship.
Buying items at a discount
This is a little more difficult. I have in the past been able to buy some items from vendors and some items direct from manufacturers at a discount. I will continue to buy items from vendors at a discount when that’s possible but I won’t buy any more items from manufacturers at a discount.
The reason for making this distinction is this. If I criticise a product that I’ve bought from a shop then I’m not criticising the service the shop provides, merely one of its items for sale. If I criticise a product I’ve bought direct from the people who make it, I’m directly criticising that company.
Therefore, if I write a positive review of a product I’ve bought at a discount direct from a manufacturer, it might be perceived by some that I only did that to please them, in the hope of more products from them in the future. While I maintain that I would never do that, I want to remove as far as possible any doubt.
Of course, some people could make a similar argument about me buying discounted products from a vendor. I understand this and in a perfect world I would be able to buy products at the full price. However the income Pens! Paper! Pencils! receives is less than its running costs and I wouldn’t be able to review the range of products I do if I didn’t get a discount. It enables me to review items I don’t necessarily want myself. (I am simply not rich enough to spend lots of money on things I don’t want just for the sake of this website.) Vendors I have this arrangement with do not require a positive review in return, just an honest review and a mention.
Personally, to be clear, I don’t feel I owe the vendor anything other than a mention. I’ve still given them money and actually bought the item. The vendor’s profit is less than it might have been but they’ve still made some money out of me.
Receiving items to review
While I’ll no longer ask companies for review items, I am still asked by companies themselves to consider reviewing their products. I will continue to accept these items if the company accepts that I will write an honest review, whether positive or not.
Subject to some exceptions detailed below, if I’m sent an item to review I will either return it after the review or give it away. If I like the item enough to want it I’ll buy my own.
I hope this will make it clear that in this way I gain nothing from receiving review items other than material for this site.
I’ll continue to state clearly in reviews when an item’s been given or loaned to me. I am always clear to companies that contact me asking if they can send me a review item that the review might be a long time in coming and will always be honest. This has led to some companies not sending me things. In particular, it’s quite common for a company to want to send me an item in exchange for a positive public review or private negative criticism. I’ve never agreed to that.
There are some items I receive for free to review that I can’t give away or send back.
Notebooks: I review these by using them. Once they’re used they’re no good to anyone. Many pocket notebooks come in packs of three and I usually put one of those to the side to form part of a giveaway at some later date.
Ink: usually arrives as a sample. By the time I’ve tried out the ink and drawn an Inkling there’s not much left. If I’m sent a whole bottle I plan in the future to give some samples away. These will have to be restricted to the UK as the cost of shipping overseas would be greater than the value of the sample.
Wooden pencils: wear down and aren’t worth much to anyone after I’ve used them a while. However if I receive a pack of pencils then I’ll give the ones I haven’t used away, probably within the UK again.
I hope this clarifies what I’m trying to do. Honesty and integrity have always been foremost in everything I’ve written here.
If you have any thoughts or questions about any of this, please leave a comment.