reviewercardWant a free drink? Want to be seated first? Use ReviewerCard to have a random dude on the internet accredit you as a reviewer, and start demanding perks! 

The business model behind Brad Newman’s ReviewerCard startup is quite simple. For a hundred dollars, shoppers can receive a wallet-size card titling them a reviewer, and can present that card to hint heavily for upgrades, free extra and discounts in exchange for more favorable reviews. It’s a win-win for anyone with a Yelp account who likes dining or travelling  and for Newman, who makes $100 to accredit each carded reviewer. Of course, it’s a lose-lose for local establishments shaken down by the threat of negative press and for folks trusting the information from user-generated reviews.

Hearing the inspiration behind startups might be one of favorite parts of covering new startups, but ReviewerCard’s site describes, with no sense of irony, Newman’s experience trying to get coffee swapped for tea as part of a breakfast combo. Most of us might shrug and accept that fast, discount meal combinations might not come with no substitutions, but when Newman discovered he was going to be charged extra for substituting, he threatened to write a negative review of the restaurant. The restaurant gave him a free breakfast, and he got the business idea for ReviewerCard.
While I applaud the founder’s chutzpah in charging $100 for a wallet-sized card accrediting one as a reviewer, the entire concept made me search carefully for parody.

Actual reviewers — you know, the ones with editors, deadlines and paychecks — are paid to create informed and unbiased reviews. In the age of Klout, sponsored blog posts, and social media influencers, the definition of a reviewer can be blurred, but good reviewers separate unbiased opinion from paid endorsement in any medium. Good reviewers make clear when they’ve received a review copy of a book, movie or game, and also keep their opinions of the product unbiased.

In the summer of 2011, the makers of Duke Nukem Forever were displeased with the terribly low review scores. One PR rep planned to keep review copies of future titles of 2K Games from reviewers who’d panned Duke Nukem Forever. The PR rep who’d said this was almost immediately removed from his position, and respected games journalists, editors and magazine publishers were all annoyed by the idea that a positive review was the expected payment for a review copy. This is part of a larger conversation about honesty and disclosure in game reviewing, and 2K’s PR team certainly aren’t the only ones to come under fire, but the exchange of perks for good press is avoided by ethical reviewers.

When a reviewer receives special treatment, it means they are reviewing the special treatment, not what you can expect from that establishment on an average day. There is a really delightful nonfiction book called Garlic and Sapphires, in which food critic Ruth Reichl, describes her experiences dining out as herself and dining out in disguise. While I doubt that flashing a ReviewerCard would get the upgrades to prime seating, instant service and extra-large dessert raspberries Reichl received, the possibility of reviewing special service as regular treatment makes the review invalid.

I suppose showing the card does reveal something about the carrier. The cardholder has internet access, poor journalistic ethics, and is $100 poorer.


Referencing sources: The Los Angeles Times, Jezebel, and The Independent.