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Amazon’s desire to fund Buzzfeed and The New York Times raises ethics questions

News media relying on big tech to survive may be a bad idea.
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Amazon’s grip on the online retail market outside the US is huge – yet not nearly as impressive as inside the country. And notwithstanding its dominant position, the behemoth, whose annual revenue last year reached almost $233 billion, is driven to find new ways to change that situation to its favor.

The obvious way is to reach even more customers overseas, and Amazon thinks this can be done by harnessing the power of some of the most successful US publishers, specifically their e-commerce segments, and make the selection of these partners as diverse as the New York Times (and its Wirecutter site), New York Magazine (The Strategist) and BuzzFeed’s shopping site – if, that is, they managed to expand to other markets, and thus spread the net wide.

Recode is reporting about this, specifying that the intention is to go deeper than Amazon’s existing affiliate links program for publishers, that allows them a cut (reportedly likely to average about 10 percent) on each purchase that visitors make by clicking on Amazon-destined links embedded in these companies’ websites.

But now, the chosen publishers with a wide reach in the US would effectively be funded by Amazon to work on expanding their presence in foreign markets – in order to then, from that newly gained position, give more customers to Amazon itself.

But the report is short on relevant details, such as how much money the giant is willing to dish out to publishers, and which markets they would target together in this way.

However, what seems clear is that Amazon wants to work with those who already heavily mix their publishing properties with e-commerce, including the New York Times who acquired the Wirecutter shopping guide several years ago for a reported $30 million.

And while Recode in its report goes into the dangers of publishers tying their future revenue fortunes with the whims of a tech giant like Amazon, and its future market priorities, it doesn’t address those ethical issues stemming from publishers that become coupled in this way with another commercial entity – and an enormously rich and influential one at that.

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