I write a lot of app and game reviews and round-ups. My work covers iOS, tvOS, watchOS, Android and the Mac, and my various app store accounts have many hundreds of apps lurking within. When I write about a product for a ‘best of’ list, it’s because I’ve tried something that I want to recommend to people — a fairly simple concept that was for a long while the cornerstone of reviews-based journalism.

Today, something really hit home that’s been nagging at me for a long time. I was browsing my RSS feeds and chanced across a recommendation for a watchOS app that sounded really amazing. It was extremely simple, but had a use-case that would benefit a large range of people. The website reviewing it in a round-up was glowing.

I installed the app. On the iPhone, it worked well, but on Apple Watch, it was essentially broken. It didn’t do what it was supposed to do, was fundamentally flawed in terms of concept and execution, and even continued wittering away in the background to the point I had to force-close the app.

My question was how much — if at all — the app was tested before someone penned the write-up I read. And this is far from an isolated case. I now so often see apps and especially games recommended despite being objectively mediocre. But in also receiving the press releases for said products, I unlike the vast majority of readers see a flow from marketing agency to readers’ eyes.

When I mentioned this on Twitter earlier, I had a couple of quick replies. One person noted that the difference between someone rewriting a press release and providing an opinion based on testing is the difference between a bad and good writer. But the current market for journalism makes things complicated. As someone else remarked, there’s diminishing incentive to put the work in any more, and so people don’t.

That in itself is of course a big generalisation, but I’ve spent the past few years watching publications close, including two of my absolute favourites I ever got to work on: Tap! and Adam Banks’s superbly revamped MacUser. Elsewhere, belts are tightened every year, resulting in print magazine page counts falling, and rates everywhere being squeezed, leading to lower pay per item or fewer commissions for writers. But simultaneously, readers are usually unwilling to pay. Magazine circulation figures almost never rise, and ad-blockers have cut one of the remaining sources of funding for many publications.

Some magazines and sites are, naturally, still fighting the good fight, and affordable subscriptions and patron-based models offer some hope for the future; but even when asked for direct support from a publication they love, it seems a great many readers will hope someone else will plug the financial hole, and anyway there’s plenty of other stuff to read online, for free.

A couple of years back, I wrote for Stuff that we should pay for the things we love, or we’ll be left with garbage. I still believe that. But, worse, it now increasingly appears what will be left is a slew of content driven primarily by marketing rather than a writer’s experiences with it, and how will readers know any different if this is all that remains?