Publishers love getting affiliate revenue from their reviews. So is it okay for Amazon to pay to get more of those reviews upfront? » Nieman Journalism Lab

Publishers love getting affiliate revenue from their reviews. So is it okay for Amazon to pay to get more of those reviews upfront? » Nieman Journalism Lab
Written by publishing team

Not sure if this is an example file healthy The platform/publisher relationship or what, exactly, but it’s definitely different: Amazon’s on sites like Wirecutter in the New York Times, the BuzzFeed shopping channel, and The Strategist in New York is leading shoppers to a way you’re considering pushing these sites to expand their buying recommendations internationally, according to Vox’s report Peter Kafka.

From the Kafka piece:

Amazon already pays online publishers who refer shoppers to the company via “affiliate links” built into their site, but it believes the business could grow exponentially if US publishers had more readers outside of America.

Currently, publishers are paid when a shopper clicks on a link on their site, heads to Amazon and eventually buys something. But sources say Amazon is proposing various deals that would give publishers cash up front in order to expand their international sites or open up new markets.

This may seem like a relatively rare example of the goals of a platform that actually aligns with those of a publisher. The New York Times, which acquired The Wirecutter for $30 million in 2016, is gaining international subscribers faster than those in the US, with Australia, Canada and the UK being its largest international markets; It is conceivable to create buying guides for those markets without the added complexity of the language barrier.

And while BuzzFeed has scaled back internationally, some sort of deal with Amazon would likely keep some international employees working a little longer (though it wouldn’t necessarily rebuild the investigative forces that BuzzFeed lost overseas). New York Magazine, with its strategy, sounds like a slightly different case – it’s called New York – but it also reaches a wider international audience. Last year, when it launched its $5 per month membership program, the press release cited “a global audience of 45 million readers per month,” and Adam Moss then noted, “New York has expanded far beyond its namesake city, both in its coverage and audience.” .

However, this certainly raises ethical questions, as affiliated relationships often do for publishers. The main tension usually lies between the editorial independence of the reviewers – whose objective skill is to evaluate, after all, the value they add – and the business aspect, which knows that (a) positive reviews generate more sales (and thus affiliate profits) than negative ones, and that (b) some retailers give publishers a greater share than others, which may skew the recommendations readers get.

Publishers have made an effort to prove that they are working above the board, in terms like these from Wirecutter:

Our writers and editors are never notified of companies that may have established affiliate relationships with our staff prior to making their decisions. If readers choose to purchase the products we recommend as a result of our research, analysis, interviews, and testing, our business is often (but not always) backed by an affiliate commission from the retailer when they make a purchase. If readers return their purchase because they are not satisfied or the recommendation is poor, we offer nothing. There is no incentive for us to choose inferior products or respond to pressure from manufacturers – in fact, it’s quite the opposite. We believe this is a very fair system that makes us committed to serving our readers first.

Or this one from the strategist in New York:

Our guiding principles are to be trustworthy and persuasive about what your money is worth. If you buy something through our links, we often earn an affiliate commission, but we never recommend anything that we don’t fully support.

Does this ethical equation change if a particular company — say, the world’s largest online retailer, 2.5 x larger than its nearest global competitor and 4.5 x larger than its nearest US company — finances content up front? It’s hard to say that (let’s say) Wirecutter India writers wouldn’t be “aware” of the money the company is paying them. A recommendation site usually features two different layers of editorial judgment: What products to recommend And Any online retailers to connect their readers with in order to purchase them. Would Amazon be okay with reviewers who lent startup funding to hook up with Jet if it had the cheapest price on the best waffle iron?

It should also be noted that the Amazon search experience—when you search for a broad category of items rather than one you already know its name—appears to have gotten significantly worse in recent months; It is, in short, more “sketchy” than it used to be. It’s full of sponsored links and other ads, and it’s the core of what has become Amazon’s $11 billion business; unknown brands dominate; False reviews are common.

(Want an example of what I’m talking about? Search Amazon for “Steamer”, as I did recently. It’s impossible from that page to tell what you should buy. I ended up going to Wirecutter, and his recommendation didn’t even show up on the first page of search results in Amazon.)

This sounds like something Amazon could fix on their end, but that would require them to give up awesome sponsored product revenue. So perhaps the “reliable” recommendations will be outsourced to publishers instead.

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