Amazon: bastards in “bastards” shocker

Something that you might not be aware of is how much newspaper, magazine and website publishers rely on affiliate marketing: if they link to a shop selling product X and you buy product X via that link, they get a small fee. Those revenues are particularly important during this coronavirus lockdown: the other big revenue drivers, print advertising and branded events, are effectively dead right now.

So naturally Amazon has decided to kick the publishing industry while it’s down. Starting next week, it’s slashing the rates it pays its affiliates, in some cases by more than half.

It’s terrible news for the industry, of course, but it’s also an indication of a wider problem: as print sales have continued their inevitable decline, publishers have repeatedly put their business eggs into single baskets – only to discover that by doing so they’re vulnerable to the whims of companies that see them as expendable. The giant tech brands have demonstrated again and again how ruthless they are. That’s how they became giant tech brands.

There are lots of examples. Many businesses find that when Google changes its search engine rankings, their traffic disappears overnight. YouTubers find that rule changes or arbitrary decisions leave them unable to monetise their channels any more. The most awful example is Facebook, which lobbied media firms to “pivot to video” to reach huge audiences; its figures were falsified – in some case viewing figures were inflated by as much as 900%. Media firms fired their journalists to embrace the new world of video; when it turned out that the new world was fraudulent and the promised money wasn’t there, they fired their video people too.

Whether you’re a publisher or an Amazon marketplace seller, a musician on Spotify, an artist on Etsy or a small business selling on social media, you’re ultimately trying to pretend that a furious, hungry tiger is a sweet little pussy cat. It’s not a question of if it’ll turn on you. It’s a question of when.