AP Technical Editor Andy Westlake reflects on his time at DPReview, following the news of Amazon’s plans to close it
Amazon’s recent announcement that it’s closing down the DPReview website has sent shockwaves through the photographic industry. The world’s biggest camera review site, for decades the benchmark against which all others were measured, will stop publishing new content on 10th April. Then some time afterwards, it will simply disappear from the internet. That’s almost 25 years of resource and hard work, gone at a stroke. It’s something I feel especially upset about, as I worked for DPReview for seven years, and still have good friends there now.
I joined DPReview in 2007, as one of the first new recruits after Amazon bought the site, alongside camera reviewers Richard Butler and Lars Rehm. I was initially tasked with introducing lens reviews, before eventually taking on camera reviews and becoming the site’s Technical Editor. I’ll always be hugely grateful to DPR’s founder Phil Askey for trusting me to do this, as I was a scientist with no formal background in either photography or journalism.
Unsurprisingly, I was an avid reader of the site long before I joined. Like many other photographers, I first became aware of it at the start of the digicam boom in the early 2000s, and bought my first digital camera, a Canon PowerShot G2, based mainly on Phil’s in-depth review. I continued to read about the latest and greatest cameras whenever new reviews were published, and when the site advertised for new staff, I decided I had nothing to lose by applying.
I remember the years in our London office with great fondness, as we learned to produce reviews to Phil’s incredibly demanding standards. It wasn’t necessarily always easy going, but I used to walk into work every day with a smile on my face, genuinely unable to believe my luck at what I was being paid to do. It was amazing to work in an office full of like-minded people, many of whom I now count as friends for life.
When Amazon decided to move the site’s base to Seattle in 2010, I stayed in the UK and continued working with my US-based colleagues against the backdrop of an 8-hour time difference. Ultimately, though, this became unsustainable. When I got the chance to join Amateur Photographer in 2014, with its incredible heritage dating from 1884 and massively respected position within the UK photo industry, there was no way I could turn it down. It was, after all, about the only place where I’d still get to produce camera reviews and lens reviews to anything like the same level.
Everyone who ever worked for DPReview was both a fan of the site, and passionate about cameras, photography, and digital imaging technology. We also tried our hardest to be scrupulously brand neutral, although this usually meant being accused of bias by fans from all sides. But ultimately, the aim was always to provide readers with as much detail and insight as possible about the cameras and lenses they might choose to buy. Something which became increasingly important as bricks-and-mortar camera shops disappeared (driven substantially by Amazon’s mastery of online sales).
During my time at the company, Amazon was, to its credit, always willing to give DPReview the editorial independence it required. But this perhaps reflected the fact that it never quite fitted into Amazon’s overall business strategy of selling things. Attempts to branch out, firstly by covering smartphone cameras, and then by launching its own online camera shop, were unsuccessful. More recently it struggled to adapt to a shrinking market, with many fewer new cameras being released each year due to the collapse in the compact camera market, along with disruptive factors such as the 2016 Fukushima earthquake, the Covid pandemic, and resultant supply chain problems. Now, it seems, this has led to the site’s demise.
This isn’t just a huge shame, it also highlights how so many of the resources we take for granted on the internet are controlled by a few huge tech giants, who can grant or remove access on a whim. It’s entirely up to Amazon what it chooses to do with content that it owns, but I’m disappointed it seems intent on discarding the contents of DPReview entirely. On a purely selfish level, that’s seven years of my work being thrown away. But more generally, it’s a treasure trove of information being lost, and there’s nothing else quite like it on the internet. Not just the reviews, but also the comprehensive product database and, of course, the huge forums.
(As an aside, it’s perhaps not too much of a stretch to see this is a salutary reminder of how unwise it is to trust in any service provider, be that Amazon, Apple, or Google, to back up your own photos and other data. Of course they’ll be there forever – until suddenly, they’re gone.)
On a final note, I’m sure that my former colleagues will be every bit as shocked and devastated by the news as the site’s readers seem to be. In particular, I’m gutted for my old friend Richard, who’s been at DPReview for over 15 years and is probably the most knowledgeable and respected camera reviewer in the business. Given a chance and a more sympathetic owner, I’m sure the current staff would have much preferred to keep DPReview online for another 25 years. Sadly, though, it seems they won’t get the chance.