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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Food for thought » » Reviews, Reviewers, and Everything Else. (0 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

Jamie D. Grant
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Hiya Gang!

I've got an abnormal amount of e-mails & Pms lately (all positive, thankfully!) about my Magic Friday column. It seems like there's been some lively discussions, and a few new blogs that have popped up, and they've made some people think about what they read and who they trust. So, I thought it might be interesting to have a thread about what everyone likes and dislikes about reviews and reviewers.

First off, though, I thought I'd talk about how my review process works, to give some insight...

It will usually start off with an e-mail or PM from a creator asking me if I'd like to review a product for Magic Friday. Right off the bat, I send back my form e-mail explaining what Magic Friday is and what tricks will work (standing, no table, etc.) so I don't have people sending me Zig Zags, lol.

Once I get the product, I read the box. It sounds simple but you'd be surprised what a box can tell me about what's inside.

Next, I'll go on the Café and type in the product to see what people are saying about it. Believe it or not, I read every single word written about the effect I'm holding. I just want to know what the word on the street is.

Now, I'll retype the word into the search function but will purposely misspell it, to catch all the talk that I might have missed due to poor grammar.

Okay, so now that I have an idea of what I'm about to see, I'll watch the DVD or try out the trick. If it's a DVD, I watch every second of it. I can't tell you how much of my life that is gone forever because of this, lol. However, sometimes someone will say something off the cuff that will be worth the price alone, so I have to watch every second.

Next, I'll practice it enough to do a "hack" job. I'll have a good idea by now of whether it will play or not on Friday, but I still need to test run it. My first victim? My lovely wife. Generally this will have to be a trade on my part in order for her to watch. Dishes, chocolate, whatever it takes. Now that I've shown her, I can take it to a secret group of friends that I have, to "hack" it for them.

I should mention that I'll re-practice between the wife showing and the secret friend showing.

After the secret friend showing, we'll round table some ideas on if it it'll play or not and what it needs to be better (if anything).

Now I'll go back on my own and practice it, and get it ready for whatever Friday it's been slotted for.

Friday comes (sometimes far in the future depending on how much practice the effect takes), and I perform it close to fifty times, taking notes throughout the day (best lines, ideas, etc.).

Now, on the weekend, I'll start writing the review in my head and remember how it all went. Come Sunday night, I'll be able to write it here on the Café, and my blog, and get that all in order. While I'm writing, I'm playing the DVD in the background just in case I've missed something.

Post the review, and voila! Magic Friday is written.

Sorry - I had to end that post early but I'm back now:

So, as a purchaser, what do you look for in reviews? Are you looking for only good ones, or only bad ones? Are there specific people, forums, or magazines that you check?

Do you have a specific order of reviewers that you check? Do you check out reviews after you've already purchased? That's a lot of "checks", lol.

How about, do you try and see the product in person (at a shop) or do you buy online because you trust the reviews that you've read?

Curious,


Whew,

Jamie D. Grant
Magic Café Columnist.
TRICK OF THE YEAR: Industrial Revelation, BOOK OF THE YEAR: The Approach, The AIP Bottle, and my new book Scenic 52, can all be found over here: SendWonder.com
Kindness takes practice. My TEDx talk
Rpascual
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What I like to see in a review is someone I can trust that is the most important thing. I like to see people that I already know review product. Sometimes that doesn't always happens. If I see a review by someone I don't know but they have put enough reason and detail in the review then it is someone who I can trust.

I like a review that is not all "GET IT" "IT IS AMAZING." I want a review that can tell me the positive and negatives of everything.

I generally don't stick to one review. I look for the most possible amount of reviews before making a purchase (thank you google)! After reading everything I could possibly read about it and I like it, I make a purchase.

I don't like magazines that have different reviewers. I would prefer that magazines just stick to one-two reviewers. I was reading magic magazine and there are like 3-4 different reviewers. I don't like that.

Generally I have to trust Reviewers online and Magazines because there aren't any shops here (hell, now that I think of it there really isn't even one).

I hope that answers some of your questions.

Ricky
Paul Rathbun
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Jamie,

Here are some of the points I look for in a good review:

Angle/lighting Issues

Table hopping/walk around friendly (do you need a table)

Reset/pocket space issues

Examinable before during or after (or none)

Refill requirements if any

Reactions it received from lay audiences (this is why your Magic Fridays are so well received. You actually tell us the responses it gets)

Opinion of reviewer on why they like it or dislike it. Sometimes there are effects that I perform only because audiences like them but I don't. They are the ones paying the bills so what they want is what I perform.

Opinion of reviewer on whether they find the value to be fair for what you pay. I have to say some effects out there come with nothing more than an instruction sheet. I feel that if this is the case that it should not be released as an effect but maybe a magazine effect or an effect in a book. I know I feel like I have been shafted if all I get is two pages of instructions that were printed off a computer printer.

Keep up the great work Jamie with your magic Friday reviews.

Best,
Paul
Jeff Haas
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I like reviewers who are qualified in the area that they're reviewing, and who can express themselves well in writing. So Jamie, by telling the creators what you're looking for, you're not getting material that you can't use, or review correctly. Also, you've put up enough reviews over time that I understand your experience and preferences, so I know what you like and whether I'd like it.

The multiple reviewers in MAGIC are good, in my opinion, because they cover different types of material. For example, you don't want a mentalist reviewing a children's trick. I've noticed that MAGIC will have Trixie Bond, a great kids' performer, review new kid magic releases if Silly Billy isn't available.

I get both MAGIC and Genii and like the reviewers in both magazines. I also read Magic Fridays and like David Regal on Reel Magic. There is so much stuff coming out these days that I don't attempt to keep up with it all. I skip over a lot unless it gets a good review. "Word on the street" is usually not as good for me as a review by someone with experience, because over and over I've seen new tricks get pumped up and then turn out to be disappointing.
truthteller
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I will reiterate my offer: as a reviewer I am very interested in better serving the readerships needs. We get surprisingly little feedback other than basic 'good jobs' and the few 'I hate you and want you to die's'. So I look forward to seeing people's thoughts and comments and appreciate those who have taken the time to reply to me privately.

Brad
edh
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I personally like to see a mixture of bad and good reviews. I also want to the reviewers to state why they think this is good/bad. Both positive and negative reivews are good in that they give both sides of the effect.

Also if something else is required that is not included in the effect that is for sale it should be mentioned on the review and on the packaging. I don't like to be surprised when I recieve something and then it says by the way you will need to spend an additional $30 dollars to gather the material you will need to perfrom this trick.

The reason I want mixed reiviews is that I don't trust most professional reviews.
They seem to just sell something their buddies have put out. A type of "you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours" attitude. Not very fair.

Reviews(if you want to call them that) that say "AMAZING", "a must buy!" and other such claims are totally worth less.

Thanks for listening.
Magic is a vanishing art.
mike storz
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Hey Jaime!

Love your reviews! I will usually read as many reviews as I can find on the Internet before making a purchase. I like reading both good and bad reviews. As others have stated it is important to me that the reviewer states why they like or dislike a trick. There have been times I have choosen to buy a trick based on a bad review because I has enough info as to why they didn't like it and I knew it would fit my style of doing magic.

Things I like in reviews are:
1. How much practice
2. Lay person reaction
3. Magician reaction
4. Additional costs
5. How much set up or reset is required
6. Pocket space issues
7. Refills required, if so how much
8. Durabilty of gaff or gimmick
9. Honest pros and cons
10. Angry Bob's reaction

mike Smile
bugjack
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I'll weigh in briefly.

First, I love your "Magic Friday" column. I don't really perceive it as a formal review but more as its own thing. I think it does a lot of what a review should do but quite specifically doesn't do other stuff, and that's fine. In addition to attesting to the workability and audience appeal of an effect, it also is a real call for all of us to go out and just do stuff. I'm an amateur too modest to constantly inflict tricks on my work colleagues, but your column makes me want to adopt something similar myself: just pick one day and resolve to do stuff for whoever is interested in seeing it.

All of that said, what about other kinds of reviews? For the most part, I like the reviews in the magic magazines although occasionally I'm disappointed in them. When that's the case, it's almost always because I feel the reviews don't add much to the online discussions that are already out there about the trick or aren't opinionated enough. Given the publication schedule of the magazines and the time involved in putting out a print product, a product review arrives a couple of months after that same product has been dissected in the various forums. When I'm dissatisfied with a review it's almost always because I feel that the printed review hasn't told me anything more than the sum of the various board comments thread. Or, sometimes, because I feel that the reviewer is less informed than the posters on the Café when it comes to the usability of the product or, more often, the reputation of the creator and the product's place in his or her line. If I could offer one word of advice to the print reviewers it would be this: understand that a big chunk of your readership has already read about the product here (or elsewhere) and wants something more from your reviews.

(Having said that, I'm also aware of the pitfalls of review threads here: the frantic pre-release lead up of speculation, the tendency of most comments to be overwhelmingly positive, and then the sharp fall-off in attention and extended commentary once the conversation shifts to new stuff.)

Fortunately, I often -- not always -- do find more in the magazine reviews. That "something more" I seek is context: a deeper knowledge of history in terms of the effect's methodology or plot. Or, a more thought-out take on the theory behind the effect. Or, a discussion of what the product has to say about current trends in magic or where it fits in with the legacy of its creator. In addition to a simple discussion of the more practical elements involved with the effect (the consumer-reports stuff), all of that is what I'm interested in finding in the magazine reviews. (And, believe me, I understand how challenging it is to cram that stuff into tight word counts.)

As a related aside, the topic pops up here from time to time of whether magic is an art form or not, or, assuming it is an art, how much of an art it is. At the end of "True Astonishments," Paul Harris says that magic is the highest art form. I don't agree (sorry...), although I do respect the desire to make it so. One reason I'd argue that it suffers as an art is because it doesn't have enough of the push and pull between critics, audiences and creators that define and help advance the other art forms. Throughout history and certainly throughout the 20th century key critics and critical movements have articulated and argued for innovations in the arts that have actually enabled the advance of their forms. Where are the Clement Greenbergs, Roland Barthes, and Manny Farbers of magic? Why is so much magic writing targeted at the so-called "worker"? (I'm in my 40s, have eaten at thousands of restaurants in my lifetime and have attended corporate events and not once have I been presented with a magician to entertain me. So why do magic reviews -- more the ones on these boards, actually -- prioritize the values of the supposedly ubiquitous restaurant worker as opposed to those of the person who wants to ponder the pure creativity or outside-the-box nature behind some possibly impractical effect?)

As an example of some recent reviews I've liked, I thought Gabe Fajuri's review of Vigil's "HCE" in Magic was a good one just because it went beyond the online discussion of a trick most of us will never encounter in our lives. I respected the dialogue between Brad Henderson and John Lovick in Magic about "True Astonishments," even though I disagreed with some of it. I felt that in the very limited space they had they tried to discuss the broader context of the set in terms of the current magic market but also Paul's career. (I'd love to read the longer, unedited transcript of this conversation.)

Okay, that's my pretentious Sunday-morning screed. Now on to the stuff I really need to do today.
Platt
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Great topic. And timely. If you look at the Wayne Houchin "Art of Magic" threads you can see that there are some very polarized opinions on the topic of magazine reviews. As someone who has been reviewed by Jamie, Magic Magazine and many Café members, I'll try my hardest to remove myself from the equation and write as a purchaser, as opposed to a seller.

First off, I applaud Jamie for his efforts. Without question, the most important thing a reviewer can do is go out there and perform the trick. And Jamie does that in spades. The “all day performance/Angry Bob” approach is spot on. I've read reviews of effects that Jamie personally gushes over only to have him point out that it didn't pass the Angry Bob test. So to answer the question, as a purchaser, real world results and reactions are by far the most important aspect of any review.

Now we turn to magazine reviews. I'd like to point out something very telling that Brad Henderson once revealed about himself in one of his own reviews. He revealed that when he took the job at Magic Magazine, he was told- the terrible reviews and great reviews are easy to write. He seemed to agree that the toughest reviews to construct are the ones that fall somewhere in between. As a professional writer, I can attest that this is true: colorful writing is rarely neutral. “Pretty good,” is death. So in an attempt for the reviewers to shine, they try their ***dest to give you strong, superlative statements. If you need proof, read just about any John Lovick or Brad Henderson review. Now if you’re looking to be entertained, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with pithy, sharp-tongued writing. However if you believe that that the truth generally falls in that not-so-fun area dubbed “grey,” you may want to consider taking their reviews with a grain of salt. Or as they might put it “avoid their reviews like the plague.”

But in an attempt to be grey myself, let me take a step back and confess that neutral and colorful are not always mutually exclusive. David Regal, for instance, has a rare gift. He can give an honest, extremely entertaining (often laugh out loud) “B-” review, while completely avoiding the well worn “this is great, but this is wretched” path.

This brings to me the café member reviews. Like the Magic Mag guys, we are a polarized bunch. Only we tend to gush rather than jab. Somehow, we manage to do it without blushing (or feeling that we’re somehow damaging our artistic cred.) I suppose I’d prefer a bit more neutrality here too. But by the very nature of the café, that will never happen.

It’s quite obvious that with the growing number of bloggers and internet forums, published writers must fight harder than ever to stay relevant. I just wish there were more folks like Regal who could do it without taking the easy way out.

It may seem that I have something against the aforementioned Magic Magazine reviewers. I don’t. I actually have a very deep respect for both of them, their writing, and the many other things they do. I’m simply calling them out on their tendency (and to a lesser extent, the other Magic Magazine reviewers) to go for the easy jab when they could be enlightening me about the often hard to articulate…grey.

So there you have it, Jamie. Just another a-h***’s opinion.
Sugar Rush is here! Freakishly visual magic. http://www.plattmagic.com
truthteller
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Great posts all around. I would like to clarify the statement that platt has expounded upon. It is hard to write about a medicore product, not because it is a challenge to make it interesting, but because it is hard to decide what to say at all. While it is true I try to make my writing entertaining, I would be remiss if I did so at the expense of the content of the review. Thankfully we have editors who generally do a good job of keeping it product focused.

But I would like to follow up on this; if a reviewer were to review an 'eh' product, other than being told it is 'eh' what information COULD we provide that would make our review useful to you?

Brad
Jamie D. Grant
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Any other thoughts on this? I'm always keen to hear what real people have to say. Maybe a question would help- how about: How much does a review affect your decision to purchase?

Obviously, we all read reviews before we go out and buy anything but I guess what I'm asking is:

Do you buy items *solely* on reviews? Or do you still go to a brick and mortar and try and eyeball it first? Or, conversely, will a bad review completely squash your purchase or will you hunt out a positive review because your heart's already set?

Thanks for posting!

jamie
TRICK OF THE YEAR: Industrial Revelation, BOOK OF THE YEAR: The Approach, The AIP Bottle, and my new book Scenic 52, can all be found over here: SendWonder.com
Kindness takes practice. My TEDx talk
Mr. Muggle
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I buy items on how I envision the product to play to the audience as I would present it. Once interested, I’ll ask a few working pro’s I know if they have any knowledge of the effect and what their opinion is and/or if they are currently using a pre-release copy. (Obviously not everyone can do this). Next, I’ll attempt to handle the item for myself and search for independent reporting by those not related and associated to the project, the advertisement I found the product in, and the author/creator.

I would suggest the following considerations:

1. You chose the effect, don’t accept solicitations from creators
2. Do not research the item during the review process – especially on the Café as this can give the appearance of bias due to others endorsments & opinions on this forum.
3. Use the same criteria every time.. such as:
4. Effect/Item category (stage, close up, etc.)
5. Craftsmanship, maintenance and durability of product(s)
6. Reoccurring costs (if any) to maintain, replace, etc.
7. Quality of instructions, video, content, gaff, etc.
8. Assembly required? Batteries included?
9. Skill level – is it a ‘gateway’ into higher learning, do you need specific knowledge to perform, etc.
10. Handling (can the audience examine the item, what are the storage requirements, does it reset easily, is the clean up complex, etc.)
11. Level of preparation (clothing, fabrication, etc.)
12. Limitations (lighting, angle, distance, noise, etc.)
13. Audience reaction based on classification of lay audience e.g. children, teens, and adults
14. Portability – how easy is it to use in a variety of formats and mediums?
15. Astonishment level
16. Recommended for use by…
17. Pro’s and Con’s (equally applied)
18. Would you recommend this to a friend, relative, child, etc.

If the item is ‘eh’ simply say you were not impressed by it. Don’t try to write a good review on an item that is a ‘throw away’ or something that is fair-to-midland at best. To many people don’t give negative reviews and there is a lot of junk out there people end up buying.
"Now you're looking for the secret... but you won't find it because you're not really looking. You don't really want to know the secret... You want to be fooled." - The Prestige (2006)
Lawrence O
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Further to the good and intelligent requests above (especially the ones focused on audience reactions), I'd like to read reviews that cover (even if only with check-marks or notes) what is explained in Darwin Ortiz's Strong Magic and Designing Miracles

Quality in establishing a theme
Dramatic structure with conflict and resolution
Script and patter merits
Audience participation
Absence of challenge
Subtlety in canceling out solutions
Existence and appropriate marking of the magic moment
Variation in rhythm and pace comments (as entertainment components)
Misdirection quality comments (Ramsay with the eyes, Ascanio's In transit actions, Slydini's body language...)
RPMs (reactions per minute)

In my opinion this would allow us to rate tricks even better than with performers (valid) practical concerns and would focus us on selecting tricks otherwise than from a self centered point of view. It might also participate in improving magic in general (sellers would have to take this in consideration and buyers would realize better the importance of presentating magic properly)

... and I agree that whatever system you use should be consistent (even when subjective or personal) trick after trick to allow us to compare and rank effects.
Magic is the art of proving impossible things in parallel dimensions that can't be reached
stijnhommes
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Good reviews don't just say why an effect did or didn't work for the reviewer, but why it may or may not work for any other performer. Things like requirements (pockets, jackets, tables, lighting, angles), scipting, required experience for complicated moves are important for me. When an effect is particularly heavy on patter, I also want to know if it can be adapted to any non-English languages.
karbonkid
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Honestly, I have to trust a reviewer. Is he/she technically capable of performing said effect? Does their knowledge base permit an accurate review? I trust very few people for these reasons considering that most of the 'new' material out there is just regurgitation of older, and glossed over, effects and ideas. I think it's the reviewers job to keep these guys honest, in a sense and advance the art through their words and support.
Craig Ousterling
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Karbonkid touched on the same nerve that bugs the crap out of me. The regurgitation farm.

I've noticed a lot of people are creating tricks and videos that don't give credit or reference to the past people that have worked or added on to it.

On Dingle's Stars of Magic tape he blatantly says: "I'm not going to give credit or mention any names for reference as it would be to much information for a one hour tape. You can find ALL of that information in my BOOK.

Now I see the problem. Some of these new tricks and videos are being produced by people who didn't write a book or didn't do the research to discover someone else had work on it.

Now to the point: I'd like to see a reviewer that talks about those credits and references when and where appropriate. It would make the review less of an 'ad' and more of a valuable article. It would also build a trust of knowledge with the reviewer. Some reviewers already do this. Some don't. I wish they all would for all the reviews. It sure would help people weed out a lot of badly regurgitated tricks.

There is a huge difference between adding something to an established effect or method and just doing that already established trick but with your own words. I don't want your words. I want the new additions to the method and routine.

Once this proof of knowledge is established, I'll pretty much purchase anything that the reviewer recommends that also fits my style.
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