Comfortable vs Safe

Amazon is putting the squeeze on digital content publishers, reminding us that it’s risky to let Big Tech be your middleman

I know a dealer of rare books whose website has averaged 30k unique visitors a month over the last 15 years. As it should – it contains handwritten descriptions and color photographs of about 10,000 rare, unusual children’s books. You can’t recreate these objects. They are as unique as antique furniture or artwork. Not the most elegant website but content is king here.

Long ago I advised them to run Amazon ads. Fortunately, they ignored that advice.

My thinking was that some of their site’s visitors are interested in a children’s book – but not an expensive, rare one. They just want a copy of the book they had as a child. Their website analytics confirmed this theory – about half of the site’s visitors were simply “looking for a children’s book” (the site ranks high for that search on Google, Bing, and DuckDuckGo). So send those non-buyers of expensive, rare books to Amazon to pick up a cheap reprint.

Now I realize this advice was bad. It would have been good to run ads – but not Amazon affiliate ads, which is what the Amazon Associates program amounts to.

Proof that my advice was bad came out in this week’s news – Amazon will slash affiliate commissions by 60% to 80%. This will reduce income for a lot of niche online publishers. Some publishers have designed and cultivated a content marketing strategy relying on ads. When you start making money from a given source, you want to amplify that – you turn your own website and its copy into the top of an sales funnel.

Then poof – the pandemic hits, Bezo’s net worth goes up by 24 billion, and Amazon doesn’t need your warm leads as much as it used to.

Last week you made 20k on commissions, next week 7.5k – for the exact same value delivered to Amazon.

Relying on the big ad platforms is a subtle form of digital sharecropping – vice business models such as cannabis know this better than anyone.

What to do? One approach is to diversify advertising income to reduce risk. Using a tool like Adroll, for example, lets you quickly diversify remarketing advertising across the large digital advertising platforms.

More precise advice, though, is to create your own advertising agreements directly.

That’s not nearly as hand-rolled as it sounds – there’s a large ecosystem of independent ad-tech firms that provides products and services that let businesses advertise with one another.

Who to sell ads to is a non-issue for most of us. If you run a B2B services business, you’re probably not capable of driving a significant number of people to someone who would run ads on your site.

But on the flip side, you can also buy ads through the independent B2B advertising ecosystem. I already wrote about the new audience intelligence too, SparkToro (which has many uses beyond ad targeting), but there are dozens of other options out there for crafting your own digital advertising strategies.

Options that let you cut out the gigantic middlemen of our day. 

All the best,