In recent years, media companies have sought to insulate themselves from the unpredictability of the digital advertising business through affiliate links, which send readers to a product page at, say Amazon, and provide the publication a small cut of any sales made. (Our company does this in the form of Kinja Deals.)
But a new report suggests that companies like Google wants to challenge Amazon’s dominance of online shopping by doing an end-run around affiliate links—perhaps because Larry Page needs extra cash for an additional spaceship. Who knows!
Done poorly, affiliate links can be cynical flogging of crap. But done well, they’re a way to directly monetize a publication’s existing relationship with its readers. It works particularly well when it’s done like the Wirecutter—transparently, and frankly helpfully, because you were going to buy the damn thing anyway. (Shout to the really great radio I just ordered for my kitchen using their reviews.)
But a recent report by the tech site The Information says that Google is attempting to develop new ways to compete with Amazon:
Google is testing a new feature on its YouTube video service that displays product prices and recommendations under videos playing on the site, and makes it easy for viewers to buy them on Google. It’s rapidly adding retailers to its Google Express marketplace, which it plans to rebrand as Google Shopping, according to two people familiar with the business. And earlier this year it launched “shoppable images,” which allow advertisers to highlight products in ads in Google image search results.
And Fast Company quickly pointed out that that’s not great news for publishers, and the Google search results already look alarming for websites that have bet big on affiliate links:
But things may be changing soon, as Google continues to advance its e-commerce efforts; Google appears to be building a shopper recommendation algorithm. For example, when I search “best blender,” I am given sponsored blender choices at the righthand side of the search results. A little ways down is another Google-made list of the best blenders, feeding recommendation content from the website healthykitchen101.com.
Then, if I scroll down even further, there’s another box that gives even more recommendations–and it mentions the myriad sites on which they’ve been rated.
Not that Amazon has any intention of going quietly into that good night. Over at Re/Code there’s a report about how Amazon is trying to give publishers money to expand internationally, specifically in the form of sites like the Wirecutter.
Regardless, this is fairly depressing news for media companies used to cushioning themselves from the ups and downs of the digital ad business with affiliate links; and ironic that Google, a company disproportionately responsible for hovering up ad revenue, is responsible.
Personally, I’m pivoting to cozy mystery writing when digital media finally collapses. Or maybe Christmas prince movies? I’m open to all offers.