Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Prime Day Press Prostration

Karl Bode in a lengthy Twitter thread:

It’s so bizarre that the lion’s share of tech news sites traffic in Amazon blogspam a few days a year and nobody in any position of power seems to think that’s gross or weird in any way.

Affiliate linking schemes seem to blur the line between advertising and reporting when they are used as an excuse to promote a sale. These posts do not represent a typical ad or “native ad”, where an ad is made to look like an article; Amazon has not directly paid for this coverage. But Amazon does give media outlets a cut of every sale they direct readers toward.

The remarkable thing is that these posts are not tainting coverage of Amazon as one might assume. If anything, the press is leaning into the company’s worst aspects in the same breath as providing critical coverage, which is almost surreal in its presentation. I have used Bode’s thread as a starting point for a few examples.

This morning, the Verge’s homepage contained thirteen separate Prime Day posts — plus another with links to products on sale at other big box retailers — alongside a summary of that ITV investigation that found millions of products destroyed by Amazon annually. Wired’s homepage yesterday featured a story about Amazon’s poor labour practices — strangely tagged “Office Politics” — literally surrounded by posts about Prime Day and competing promotions from other retailers. CNN’s homepage this morning contained an entire block of Prime Day promotion just below the top stories.

I think there is a subtle difference between this ravenous Prime Day coverage and something like the New York Times’ ownership of the Wirecutter. The latter is a review website that uses kickbacks to fund its operations instead of advertising. I have often used the Wirecutter’s advice, but purchased the product in a store or through a different online retailer. These Prime Day posts are different: they specifically instruct readers to go shop at Amazon. They are nakedly promotional in a way that I think crosses a line and cannot be seen as ethical.