News broke on Slashdot on Saturday that Jeff Bezos’s newspaper now uses Amazon affiliate links, but I don’t think that’s the whole story.
While reading a story in the Jeff Bezos-owned Washington Post, I saw that the paper had begun embedding Amazon Buy-It-Now links in the middle of story sentences. For example, in this article, a sentence about the sales figures for differing covers of The Great Gatsby read: At Politics and Prose, the traditional [BUY IT NOW] version — featuring the iconic eyes floating on a blue background — sold better than the DiCaprio [BUY IT NOW] cover.
While I can confirm that the buttons are cluttering up that article, I’m pretty sure it’s not as big of a deal as it first appears.
In the order of least to most important, here’s why I don’t think there’s a story here:
One, this type of link is not a new concept. It’s one of the common forms of web advertising, and it’s existed for a decade or more. Sure, the links on the WP website are more obnoxious than average but they are not that out of the ordinary. So there’s no reason to bash the WP for adding them (the rest of the advertising, on the other hand … ).
Two, The links don’t reference the WP. If you click one you will see that the affiliate tag appears to belong to Slate, which does not belong to Jeff Bezos. Slate belongs to The Washington Post Company, the media company which sold the WP newspaper to Jeff Bezos. It’s not clear how Slate affiliate links ended up on the WP website, but I do know that:
Three, The affiliate links are not showing up in all articles. I checked a half dozen articles, and I cannot see any links to Amazon. Update: Pando Daily found affiliate links in an article and a letter to the editor. I guess the links are spreading.
Based on the points cited above, my current working theory is that the affiliate links are the result of a technical snafu of some kind, but I don’t have enough information to say for sure.
I’ve tried to reach out to someone at the newspaper for an explanation but I can’t find contact info. Until I get more info I will assume that this is less nefarious and less important than it was originally described.
At the very least, there are too many unanswered questions here to reach a definitive conclusion. If I learn anything new I will update this post.
Update: Digiday has a response from a WaPo spokesperson:
A spokeswoman for the Post, however, said the paper has been embedding buy-it now links in articles “for many years” and that they haven’t been used more widely under Bezos. She said the buttons are added by the copy desk, so the writers and editors who worked on the story are not involved.
As for why the button no longer appeared in the Aug. 15 article, she explained that the in-article button functionality was a mistake. The button was dropped when the Post recently introduced a new article format, then unintentionally added back in a way that put the links into the text instead of on the side.
“It was not intentional,” she said. “And yes, the button is being fixed and will go back on the side where it has always been.”
See, I told you it was a technical snafu. And on a related note,
image by clasesdeperiodismo