How the analyst racket works

Technology beat reporters have a problem: They're required to quote experts, rather than making their own assessments of who's what is why. Armchair advice on business intelligence software flows like water out here, but readers want someone with implied credibility. Enter the analyst. Companies like Forrester or Jupiter — which Forrester just bought — create hefty reports punctuated by easy-to-grasp "magic quadrants." The one shown here ranks 14 companies by their "completeness of vision" and their "ability to execute" on business intelligence software. Since no one reads the full reports, it's important to upstart companies to get analysts to mention them to the press and add them to their magic quadrants. Gee, if only you could buy your way in. Good news: You can!

To be clear, I can't speak for anyone on the Gartner chart above. But I can offhand think of a half-dozen tech companies whose founders spent anywhere from $15,000 to $100,000 per year to keep an analyst "on retainer." In theory, they're paying for the analyst's firsthand counsel. In practice, they're paying the analyst to talk about them to the press and put them into reports. More than a "widespread practice," it's a standard business expense factored into the budget, just like the employees' health plan.

This is the food chain of what passes for fact in the Valley: The company pays the analyst, the high-paid analyst talks up the company, the low-paid journalist runs the analysts' quotes as instantly obtained "reporting." If I wasn't so bad at following instructions, I'd be cruising for an analyst gig right now.

Don't believe me? Try getting Jupiter or Forrester to give you even a partial client list.

(Magic quadrant of business-intelligence vendors by Gartner Research)