Nov 25, 2013 · 3 minutes

There's nothing objective about reviewing software. Pretending that there is leads to boring reviews containing little more than a list of features and some screenshots readers could've found on their own. Rather, worthwhile reviews answer one (seemingly) simple question: Is this app worth downloading, or would I be better off with something else?

The Sweet Setup, an app reviews site launched last week, intends to answer that question by embracing its inherent subjectivity.

In that respect, the Sweet Setup is much like the Wirecutter, a gadget reviews site founded with a similar purpose in 2011. (Blanc recognizes the similarity, and even mentions the Wirecutter in the Sweet Setup's "About" page.) It won't try to keep pace with the frantic technology news cycle, and it won't review every app release. Instead, it will offer reviews of what its writers have deemed the best apps in their categories and interviews with people who use this software to get shit done. Consider it the slow media counterpart to comprehensive reviews sites that try to cover every app released.

As someone who used to review apps for a living -- and who currently writes about tech startups -- it's refreshing to see a site that cares more about helping its readers find good software and less about attracting as many eyeballs as possible to command higher ad prices. And much like the Wirecutter before it, that commitment to discovering the best products might be rewarded through affiliate links, which offer these publishers a slice of the revenue generated by their readers.

As my colleague Hamish McKenzie put it last December:

On the face of it, affiliate links might seem a trifling part of a publisher’s revenue mix, but there is evidence that, as digital ad revenues flatline and publications cultivate more targeted audiences, they are becoming more important. If nothing else, they offer another revenue option that can help support a new wave of Web publications that are moving beyond a mentality that equates pageviews with money.
The Sweet Setup founder and editor-in-chief Shawn Blanc says that he expects the site to be run profitably, and much of that can be attributed to its affiliate links. He also uses affiliate links on his general consumer site, Tools & Toys, which he says is already profitable. (The site also draws revenues from sponsored posts published on a weekly basis.) But that isn't to say that these sites will become titans of the technology media:
Each site is profitable, but they’re also run on shoestring budgets. I’ve got a couple guys that help me write on The Sweet Setup, a couple guys that write on Tools & Toys, and it’s definitely been very time consuming and as the sites grow a little bit I’ve been able to bring on some help and spend a little less time directly managing them.
That slow growth mirrors that of the Wirecutter's, which has been growing steadily every quarter, according to a report from the New York Times. As the Times' media columnist, David Carr, put it:
Mr. Lam’s revenue is low, about $50,000 a month, but it’s doubling every quarter, enough to pay his freelancers, invest in the site and keep him in surfboards. And now he actually has time to ride them. In that sense, Mr. Lam is living out that initial dream of the Web: working from home, working with friends, making something that saves others time and money.
Blanc says something similar of the Sweet Setup and his other sites, each of which have started as side-projects and then become full-time jobs as more and more readers find value in their content.

"These sites are not making a lot of money, but they’re making enough to run at a profit and help me pay my mortgage and pay my writers a fair wage,” Blanc says. "What else could you want?"

[Image via artnote]