February 22, 2018

Amazon plans to help online publishers in a way that overwhelmingly benefits Amazon (thanks?)


As revenue from digital advertising remains low for everyone except Facebook and Google, magazines and bloggers are struggling to find ways to stay afloat. Last week, we detailed Salon’s clever initiative offer users the chance to mine crypto-currency while they read, in exchange for an ad-free experience. Newspapers have also tried paywalls and (cringe cringe cringe) sponsored content. Fortunately for no one with a soul or business-sense, Amazon offers another solution.

Amazon Affiliates is a program that dates back to 1996. In it, Amazon offers bounties (usually six to eight percent) to publishers that provide a way for users to buy their products on Amazon. Originally, this was done through simple hyperlinking: go to a site, read an article, then click a link to buy a recommended product. Now there are widgets and recommendation engines that will follow you around the internet, even when you aren’t on Amazon’s site, recommending Amazon products to you. Publishers allow these tracking scripts into their code in the hope of turning an extra dollar.

The only possible next step would be if Amazon published the content itself. But they’d never do that. It’s not like Amazon harbors some secret ambition of becoming a massive media conglomerate, too.

Oh wait. Fuck.

As Max Willens at Digiday reported this week, Amazon is moving toward hosting content in the hope of increasing sales. “For the past several months, Amazon has been running a test with a small group of publishers where versions of publishers’ commerce-focused articles are accessible directly inside Amazon’s website.”

This means that, for certain products, an article about the product you’re after will appear in Amazon and Google searches. After clicking the link, you’re led not to the website on which the article was originally published, but directly to an Amazon page with both the article you wanted to read and sales widgets to make conversion easy.

Unfortunately, Willens writes, “Amazon is not offering publishers licensing fees to run their content. Instead it is tying publishers’ content fees to performance in driving purchases.” In other words, Amazon isn’t planning on paying publishers for that content, which it will be, in effect, publishing. The only incentive will be in the promise of more sales. Because they’re only ones incurring costs under the scheme, publishers take on all the risk. Amazon just watches the bucks roll in.

Of course, it’s also worth pointing out that, since it’s only some portion of a given article’s readers who’ll go on to purchase products, Amazon will also be drawing increased traffic, essentially at the original publishers’ expense. Or worse, this will encourage publishers to shift their priorities, offering content whose focus is not on overall quality, but rather on the likelihood of producing sales.

So, as usual, Amazon is making everything worse, and the world keeps spinning.



Peter Clark is a former Melville House sales manager.