Fratello Watches Editorial: the State of the Blogosphere
It’s been roughly a year since I joined the Fratello Watches team and I thought it would be a perfect time to reflect on my experience in the watch blog world. I’ll also take the time to discuss some of the trends I’ve noticed on watch “blogging” while also attempting to dispel some myths that have arisen in various places. Why write this article? Well, there are two reasons. First, the watch hobby seems to be growing at an impressive clip and I wanted to talk about some things I’ve noticed. Also, I’ve always felt that information is power, so it’s a good opportunity to give you, the reader, the chance to understand a little more about what’s behind the curtain – or perhaps the dial in this case.
Let’s step back, though, and talk a little bit about how I arrived in this place. I’ve always loved watches, so it’s no great surprise that, like most readers, I started by reading most of the big online publications and participating in forums. It was a daily thing for me and I pretty much knew when most sites were dropping their articles. When I lived stateside, this typically coincided with late afternoon and it gave me a much-needed excuse to grab a coffee and take a 15-minute respite from my real job. When one reads blogs every day, they form an opinion about the sites that they like most and this ultimately led me to contacting Robert-Jan at Fratello.
Actually, the initial contact was pretty innocuous. I think Robert-Jan had posted on Instagram that the team was headed to Basel, so I dropped him a note and said it would be great to meet up for a coffee or a beer. He tentatively agreed based on his schedule. Well, he was too “busy” or in too many “important” meetings, so it didn’t happen (believe me, after experiencing Basel in person, I get it…so I joke about this now). Anyhow, I wasn’t put off and we kept chatting, which led to me doing some early stories as a guest contributor. Ultimately, those stories grew to what we have today, which is myself as a normal contributor that happens to focus primarily on the vintage segment. So, no real rocket science there, but the cause of my current situation really spawned from me liking the site and following up with communication.
So, now that you understand a little about how I landed here, let’s talk a little about what it’s like to work with the Fratello team. First off, and this is not a complaint, doing what we do isn’t easy – I’ll explain that in a minute. I, along with the bulk of the Fratello team, hold other full-time jobs. I enjoy “producing” on Fratello because it’s actually a nice stress relief that takes me away from my normal, typically brutal, work schedule, but also because I love watches. I have many interests – my family being a firm #1 – but watches have such a grip on me, and the rest of the Fratello team, that being closer to the industry is a real benefit. Seeing things before the general public, getting an invite to a watch-related event, or getting a test piece for a couple weeks are all still novel things to me that are exciting. So, what makes up the hard part?
The hard part is – duh – the content. It’s “relatively” easy to go to an event and to generate content, but that’s only part of what we do. And believe me, even those types of articles don’t write themselves. I don’t read as much blog content as I used to and there’s a good reason for that. The main reason is that I feel that there are only a handful of sites out there that are really putting out good, creative content. Why? That’s because it’s difficult. If the Watchville site and app has achieved only one thing (it has obviously achieved more than that), it’s to show that there are a lot of sites “puking” out warmed over press releases with stock photos. We chuckle in our virtual Fratello clubhouse when things like the “Only Watch” announcements come out as there is little to no differentiation from site to site when sites think that they are “breaking” the news. The effect is exacerbated on an aggregator like Watchville when 3-4 blogs “break” their story after an embargo lift and ALL use the same stock photo! The recent Tudor Black Bay was a good example of this as well; we spent a lot of time preparing the photos and article so that you, the reader, didn’t end up seeing something that you can get from Tudor’s own website. Sadly, this wasn’t the case for a lot of sites (though some did a really nice job). I get it that someone has to report the news (there’s one big site that does it masterfully), but as a reader, you should realize that this type of press release regurgitation takes almost no time to produce and is often coupled with almost no opinion verbiage. It’s a lot of cutting and pasting…and it’s really the product of the fact that, sadly, the hurdles to starting one’s own watch blog just aren’t high enough.
So, therefore, doing the investigative work to come up with what we think are interesting stories takes real time. Sometimes, as I often do, it’s about writing on one’s experience in finding a watch or perhaps mentioning side stories around the piece. Other times, we interview a person with an interesting story, which also takes time and, often, patience. And then there are the pictures… At Fratello Watches, we despise press photos and really only defer to them pre-Basel or if it’s a new watch that we think is overly key to our demographic. We normally don’t even include stock photos alongside our own home-cooked pictures. So, obviously, there is the staging and taking of pictures – try to shoehorn this in on a rainy weekend during winter when the light goes away – and the editing. The editing… I’m an absolute neophyte with my camera versus our maestro, Bert, but I’ve always believed that a decent raw photo is necessary to come up with a good final product. In other words, you can’t create chicken salad from chicken sh*t. Still, though, it’s rare that any one picture makes do without some sort of editing and this drains a lot of time. Once you’ve written an article and have your pictures in order, all sorts of online work awaits that needs to be done in order to make the article presentable and publishable. Finally, one has to do publicity on social media…more time spent.
Let’s now shift gears and talk about a huge misconception regarding watch blogging and the watch industry itself. A lot of people think that we receive piles of money for reviewing watches or that advertising sways our opinions. Not true. You may look at these mega-luxury brands as cash cows that are willing to shower anyone with loads of ducats for the mere mention of their wares. This is a glamorous thought, but it really isn’t the case. In fact, most of us on the team work without compensation other than the occasional invite to an event (or, we will happily work for schnitzel). Why do we do it? Again, we simply love watches, thankfully have a well-read platform to share that love, and we enjoy the perks of closer access.
There are some site writers (sites for that matter) I’ve met in Basel and quite honestly, they’ll be writing about nose hair trimmers next year if that’s the latest fad. They write fluff for people who buy fluff and, in their writing, cozy up to the idea that slobbering over an ugly, overpriced watch gains them favor with a certain type of tasteless, yet unfortunately moneyed crowd. We feel that this type of “content” is a disservice to you, but we’ve heard little whispers asking why our hands-on watch reviews are generally positive. The answer? As bona fide watch guys, the real reason for our generally positive reviews is that we typically choose our subjects. We think we know our demographic and it’s no great coincidence that we’re generally into the same watches as you! Therefore, we choose watches that, from a distance, seem interesting and we let you know how they actually fare in person. Of course, we do cover significant breakthroughs from time to time, but we don’t and can’t cover the entire industry. There’s simply too much out there and, besides, you’ve made it abundantly clear that you don’t visit us to read about overly complicated or diamond-encrusted $300,000 showpieces.
On a related note, because it’s near and dear to my heart, I’ll touch upon vintage watches. We cover vintage watches primarily on our weekly #TBT feature, but they also show up on Speedy Tuesday. We’ve read some emotionally charged, ill-informed suggestions on other sites and forums that we, and other sites, are involved in some sort of cartel-like behavior to prop up vintage watch prices and that, naturally, we receive piles of money from sellers and auction houses if we mention their watches. Not true. Much to the chagrin of my bank account, and the same can normally be said of our other Fratello members, we’re not big sellers or sellers at all. Some of us “flip” but usually only to fund another purchase. Also, we simply don’t receive anything from sellers for mentioning a watch they’re selling. I shouldn’t say that; we do sometimes receive “thank you’s” from various sites for mentioning them, or notice that they’ve received something interesting, but that’s about it. Regarding values and trends, I mention them because people ask and also because I love market dynamics. I find the current trend in vintage watches fascinating and I like to write about it. If it adds fuel to the fire, so be it, but I like to write about old watches, primarily because, up until the last several years, there was a real dearth of good information and images on some really neat pieces. Oh, and again, I’m damn happy that Fratello provides me with the perfect platform to share this enthusiasm.
Finally, I want to talk about what I’ve seen about the watch collecting or buying community in general since I’ve started with Fratello. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some truly excellent people, the Fratello team included, who I’d call great friends. Others, I may not know as well, but I’ve been enlightened by listening to their knowledge on watches or awestruck by admiring their artisan-like craftsmanship (we feature this in our accessories column). At the end of the day, watches are a bit of a niche item and they’re no longer necessary, so it is the community that often makes the hobby highly compelling. On the flipside, I’ve also met more than my share of sycophants, snobs, style doofuses, poseurs, and plain old thieves or liars. Yes, sadly, watches are generally considered as luxury items so one often has to deal with shallow, unknowledgeable people or those who like to prey on the unlearned that are new to a hobby. It’s the peril of any hobby that increases in popularity so quickly and so vastly. Thankfully, there’s a lot more good than bad out there.
Personally speaking, despite the hard work and the occasional headshake or deep sigh, I’ve really enjoyed my tenure with Fratello Watches and have no regrets. In fact, I consider myself to be very lucky to be with such a great team. Hopefully, you’ve gained some insights from my findings after doing this for about a year. But wait, there’s more…
So, what can you expect from us? First off, we think we have the best readership out there and we’re not about to disappoint you by changing directions. For certain, we have some exciting developments coming that we can’t quite mention now, but trust us; they’ll be worth the wait. One thing is evident; we will continue to provide you with approachable content on a subject, watches, that can often be quite unapproachable. If you don’t have the means to afford a watch we’re discussing, don’t expect elitism or condescension. Similarly, if you’re fortunate to have deep pockets, don’t expect to be entered into some faux exclusive club. As an example, our “Get Togethers” will continue to be open to all of our readers no matter what your collection looks like. Most importantly, though, we’re here for you; so don’t hesitate to ask us questions and to let us know how we’re doing. You can be assured that we’re listening.