If you want to buy the new LaFerrari, you might have to buy another one just to pay for the privilege. And if you want to review the car, you'll have to pay about $70,000 in fines to Ferrari if you publish that review early.
I'd heard chatter that Ferrari was making journalists sign a form agreeing to pay 50,000 EUR (or about $70,000 at today's exchange rate) if they did what we call "breaking an embargo," i.e., publishing a review earlier than a mutually agreed upon date. And not just of any car, but of the nut-twistingly powerful, glorious and expensive LaFerrari.
So what's going on here?
Journalists in the auto profession have agreed to sign all manner of contracts with PR people to get access to cars, and it all goes back to the days of print when magazines needed to get info ahead of the publication date of their magazine (as opposed to one of those super fast newspapers). So they'd "embargo" that info to a certain date.
With the advent of online journalism this has turned into a bit of a joke, and Jalopnik doesn't do traditional info embargoes because they never work, and violating an embargo doesn't do much to you if you're big enough and powerful enough.
So how do you give it teeth? I'll let Steve Sutcliffe from Autocar explain:
Soon, I will be driving the new LaFerrari at Fiorano with a strict embargo date of 30 April. And on the face of it this looks very much like a bingo moment for Autocar (the magazine) because 30 April is a Wednesday.
Trouble is, Ferrari has quite understandably set a second embargo date of 12 May, which will apply to all other syndicated words about the car. In other words, if you are a front line invitee, you can publish on April 30. But if you're not, then you won't be able to publish words that you've bought (or sold) to other titles around the globe until 12 May.
Which is fair enough on Ferrari's behalf. They want the titles that they have invited personally to be able to publish first, which makes sense.
But as is the way with publishing, we also want to then syndicate those words to other titles around the world in order to keep the wolf at bay financially; and without being able to do so, most publishing houses would go out of business.
Which is why it was somewhat perplexing to be informed by the Scuderia's press office that, as of late this week, the embargo date for the syndication of words about driving LaFerrari has now gone back by a fortnight – to 26 May.
Result; editors of the world's car magazines and websites that haven't been invited to drive the car direct, and who were relying on those who have to provide words and pictures to publish on 12 May, have just gone into a complete flat spin. Hundreds of cover stories that were due to hit the streets globally about the car on or very soon after 12 May have just disappeared into the ether. And I'd imagine the phone lines at Maranello have been reasonably busy ever since.
This actually reveals a lot more the status quo than most, and much respect to Steve for telling the truth about how automakers use their leverage against automotive publications, especially ones with printing arms.
They get magazines and other pubs to agree to follow their schedule, and get them to agree to who knows what else, in order to have an exclusive. Ferrari further promotes their exclusive by keeping other publishers away from the story. Ferrari — a brand who will make fewer cars in the future — maintains their exclusive persona.
Is it absolutely ridiculous? Yes, but doesn't it make you want to read a review of the LaFerrari that much more?
I wanted to get $70,000 out of my boss for this, thinking that if you set a price to break an embargo you aren't so much discouraging bad behavior, but instead putting a value on an exclusive review of your car. Joel doesn't think it's worth that much, but I disagree... especially if you can get it first.
He did say it was probably worth $10,000, though, so if the nice people at Ferrari PR are reading this (they had "no comment" on this story) we'll give you a $10,000 check if we can get the story up before, say, April 27th.