There was a blip in the Twitterverse last week when The Washington Post temporarily added a “Buy Now” button in line with article text for a story on the new cover art for the children’s classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.The move sparked concern from some, but gratitude by others, for what seemed to be an in-article advertisement for Amazon. WaPo quickly removed the button, stating that while the news site does place Amazon Buy Now buttons alongside articles, it was a mistake that led to the button being inline with the article text.Here’s what the button looked like before The Post took it down:
The move was controversial for a number of reasons. A number of the Twitterati speculated that the button signaled Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon who used his private fortune to buy The Washington Post in October 2013, is looking to make The Post into one big content marketing and lead generation device for Amazon.But others, particularly media pundits, are questioning whether the move is an ethical lapse or a smart opportunity.For my part, I think placing Buy Now buttons are smart affiliate marketing opportunities, when the ads or buttons are placed alongside (not in) the articles. This is not only because of the difference in reader perception. From an ad sales standpoint, it will be easier and less editorially-compromising if news sites sell inventory alongside an article than in it. This case is particularly problematic because the article was highlighting the controversy of the new cover for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which features a sexualized image of a young girl dressed as a doll. Smart ad sales persons would use the controversy to help a bookseller link to the book with the original cover, not try to sell the controversial version.That said, the unlikelihood that Jeff Bezos will allow other online booksellers such prime real estate in The Washington Post is an issue that The Post will have to deal with if it wants to retain its reputation as a credible news source.
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