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Underestimating the power of Jeff Bezos (linkedin.com)
389 points by nocoder on Sept 18, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 184 comments

  It was at that awkward moment that Amazon decided that it
  would punish the New Republic. Our ad sales department
  received a note, informing us that Amazon would be yanking
  its advertising for its new political comedy, Alpha House.
  The missive left nothing to the imagination. “In light of
  the cover article about Amazon, Amazon has decided to
  terminate the Alpha House campaign currently running on
  the New Republic. Please confirm receipt of this email and
  that the campaign has been terminated.” It was signed,
  “Team Amazon.”
This is one of the reasons I really wish there was a decent, widely supported micropayment system for journalism.

So long as journalists' jobs depend on the ad money coming in, companies can use that leverage to get negative stories spiked. Amazon is one example in this article; HSBC with The Telegraph (and other newspapers) is another [1].

If we want to avoid this disease spreading, we really need some way to pay journalists that doesn't rely on corporate largess.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/media/2015/feb/17/peter-oborne-t...

I think people will find any way to simultaneously not pay for news while lamenting the lack of good news. Things will just be forever "almost there" and "all we need is" but no one's going to do it. Micropayments aren't going to work. People will say "if only it were 10 cents instead of 20" or "if only it were 1 cent instead of 10" until it's "if only this used Bitcoin so they don't know who I am" and so on and so forth until the publisher refuses to bow to some onerous request at which point it'll be this big deal about how they don't really care about their users.

I mean, the guy who solves this is going to be rich, but you only have to see about the complaints to Flattr, Patreon, etc. and you know no one else wants to touch this. The audience's Revealed Preferences are significantly different from their Stated Preferences.

People thought that about music services "No one will ever pay!" When we have P2P They said. Facilitating easy access to any available content without needing to think, proved it could be done. The key is variety, quality, and convenience.

If I had access to multiple a la cart choices (NYT, WaPo, Baltimore Sun (local), Politico, WSJ... etc. In any different formats (audio podcast, digital). If there was a nice app for curating a playlist of stories, bookmarking, playback controls. I would definitely pay for such a news service.

>People thought that about music services "No one will ever pay!"

The jury is still out for businesses that depend on people paying for digital music. Both digital streaming services of Spotify and Pandora have been losing money since their inception. Apple's iTunes digital downloads of music declined 14% in 2015. Its peak sales was 2012. There are even some industry whispers that Apple may someday drop iTunes music sales altogether since the shrinking revenues won't be worth their attention.

Nobody knows the future but the above trends may mean that digital music sales could eventually go the same way as encyclopedias: free. Not enough people are willing to pay for digital music. They still pay for live concerts though. If that's the remaining sustainable business, musicians would have to earn income from performances ... or licensing deals.

>I would definitely pay for such a news service.

Yes, but there may not be enough people like you. When people say, "no one" will pay, they don't literally mean "zero" payers. Instead, they mean "not enough" will pay.

Moreover, none of these services would exist if it weren't for the artists and labels capitulating and licensing their products for penurious rates.

Yeaaah I think this is a weird position to take.

The market for music is correcting from a time when publishers acted as artificial hit-makers and rent-seekers and imposed a monopoly on the distribution of music, and a small select group of artists got rich in the process (and we all paid many times over for the same content as formats changed).

It "corrected" too far for a while with piracy, that exploded as a reaction to a bad market, but now with Apple Music, Spotify and other subscription services, we have achieved "better than free" for those of us who are willing to pay a fair price for a good service.

Today's system may pay less at the top (and in the middle) but it pays out to way more people overall who can now more realistically make a living as musicians.

Speaking only anecdotally, I personally know of 3 bands who now make enough money with digital royalties + occasional touring to live a "typically middle-class lifestyle".

They would never have been able to do this back in the major labels + physical distribution days..

I guess to bring this back on-topic, I think there would be a market for someone to provide intuitive, personalized and multi-source access to high-quality news articles and investigative journalism..

"Average per-stream payout: $0.004891"


"If you’re trying to live off your Spotify spins, stop it right now.

Taylor Swift makes $400,000 off Spotify in a weekend. But nearly everyone else making bubkes. Which means if you’re hoping to making streaming your breadwinner, you’re probably snacking on crumbs."


I would hazard that, for the corporations that manufacture Taylor Swift, $400k is bubkes too.

Prior to streaming services, thanks to piracy, and not having money, I paid $0 for music in my life.

Over the past 5 years, I paid ~$500 for streaming subscriptions. It is incredibly unlikely that I would have bought $500 worth of albums in this time period. This is money that would have been left on the table.

What does half a cent per stream mean in this context? Half a cent per single song play? Per album play? How many cents do you pay per play to the artist for a song that you bought, instead of streamed?

It's half a cent per song play. Artists on record labels will be receiving a small percentage of that, independent artist will pocket most of the half penny, and consequently will get paid ~$480 for every 100,000 plays.

After $100 registration per album, on CDBaby, the artist receives 100% of the receipt. Bandcamp takes 15%. So, yes, there are ways to buy music in which an artist receives the money: we just don't choose to buy albums because streaming is cheaper and more convenient. But don't fool yourself: virtually none of the $500 you paid went to support the artists or further their work.

> https://www.digitalmusicnews.com/2017/06/21/spotify-million-...

Over the course of 3 months (the last month had a whole 30 streams, so mostly ignoring it):

2 albums and 42 songs sold - $57.42

4.3 million songs streamed - $5077.87

The real take-away: All that streaming isn't translating into digital album/song sales.

I can't understand why anyone would expect it to. Why would anyone buy something you've already got? For most use cases, it's not even a essentially different format.

I don't think pay-per-item is a plausible model for news, because of click-bait.

Music works well, because you can preview a song, even hear it three or four times, but still want to own it. TV and movies you can have trailers and ongoing series and online reviews to decide which to buy.

But news will always be a leap of faith, and click-bait will always be an excellent (short-term) strategy. If I previewed a song on iTunes, and then bought it, and the remaining ~2 minutes of the song was just static, I would be furious; I would be on the phone with Apple to yell at them.

Many news sites limit readers to a few articles before throwing up the pay-wall. Usually that means paying $$ for an ongoing subscription (/m, /y). Maybe if you could make a /d or /w micropayment? You've already had an opportunity to sample a few articles so know what quality to expect.

Blendle allows you to get your money back. I've used it quite often and as a result I've spent more on news through Blendle than I've spent on news throughout my life. I think that model can be quite effective.

> I would definitely pay for such a news service.

I think the question then becomes, how much are you willing to pay vs how much does such a service cost. Does the economy of scale factor in here? Right now most of those services ask for ~$10 a month. Expecting all of it for $10/month seems unlikely.

I could see a full service on-demand news service like that would (with the current pricing structure) run at least $50/month, which most people won't pay.

I think the music industry transitioned to streaming so well, because the recording companies were already dicking over the artists from the get-go.

> I think the question then becomes, how much are you willing to pay vs how much does such a service cost. Does the economy of scale factor in here? Right now most of those services ask for ~$10 a month. Expecting all of it for $10/month seems unlikely.

I see economy of scale as the key hold up here. A multi-source subscription that costs $10/month would be a no-brainer for a good number of subscribers but such an offering would immediately destroy the current subscriber base for publications like the NYT, Washington Post, Atlantic, etc. No one would continue to pay $10/month for one, when they could pay $10/month for all.

That would then mean that the $10/month all-you-can-eat plan would need to gain enough subscribers to offset the lost revenue from the old plan. Realistically it would have to result a 5 to 1 increase in new subscribers.

So you'd have to go back to an all-inclusive plan that is a discount over the individual plans but not a HUGE discount (let's say 20-35%). But then would that be compelling enough?

> I think the music industry transitioned to streaming so well, because the recording companies were already dicking over the artists from the get-go.

I'm sure that didn't hurt, but it was also helped by the fact that each song retains it's value long after creation - that's less true with news.

I don't think the music industry transitioned to streaming well at all. I think they were forced to which is different from your phrasing that implies they wanted to shift.

I'll admit my phrasing gave them more credit than what is actually due.

It took about 10 years longer than it should have. I'm also pretty sure that if piracy was something that could be effectively stopped - they'd raise their rates a thousand-fold.

> Does the economy of scale factor in here?

Yes. Current pricing is based on the number of people paying for the provided service. The marginal cost per subscriber is negligible so it's fair to assume the price would go down if those services could attract more subscribers. It's also fair to assume subscriptions would increase if customers got access to more publications for the same price.

But without hindsight doesn't expecting to see all the movies you want for ~$10 a month seem just as unlikely?

Spotify has yet to prove profitability, or even viability, so far. The streaming music scene remains undecided for the long-term.

There's also a big difference between a 1-time reading of news in comparison to music which is often repeated, timeless and can have a deep impact on your life and memories.

Even if an easy news bundle service existed, the cost isnt the problem, it's the fact that society has become used to digital news being free - turning that around will be a massive effort.

You are literally describing Blendle, which does this in NL. You can even link up digital newspaper subscriptions to it so you can read those articles for free!

I think they're in the process of rolling out in the US and Germany as well.

This sorta already exists (Bendle) but I've found it underwhelming.

Agreed - also see the number of people that block ads to get the news for free. How hard is it to have ads on the page?

I don't block ads to "get the news for free." I do it to marginally protect myself from an increasingly omnipresent surveillance apparatus that's tracking my entire path across the internet, across devices, as well as in the real world.

Safari is going to prevent ad tracking by not allowing cross domain cookies. Does that mean you are would use Safari instead when the feature is released?


Safari is going to prevent ad tracking by not allowing cross domain cookies.

That's been an option in Firefox for years.[1]

[1] https://support.mozilla.org/en-US/kb/enable-and-disable-cook...

It would be fine if advertisements weren't intrusive and obnoxious. I don't want to start reading a page, then three sentences in have my whole screen jump, then a few more sentences have an overlay pop up, then have some inline text that looks like it's part of the article but is actually an ad, finally to accidently mouse over some text that pops up a video with sound. That's how I experience much of the internet without ad blocking, not to mention how much slower things load. I disable on sites I frequent that don't do that.

they don't get paid for having you look at the ad, they get paid for having you interact with the ad. What you're really asking is "how hard is it to spend money on advertised products?" (after all, the value of advertising is exactly equal to the additional money you spend on advertised products as a result of the advertising, you can't claim to be adding value if that's not the case, by a trivial accounting argument)

I think I have a right not to spend money on advertised products as a rule. Some people are happy to spend money on advertised products. So many people, in fact, that the value I add by simply viewing your content and sharing it with society at large, that you still benefit from my interaction with your product with adblock active. Or it used to be before middlemen started sucking an ever increasing percentage of ad revenue away from content producers.

Ultimately your complaint is analogous to "some people go see free concerts, but don't buy 8 dollar beers". And, yeah, that's built into the business model.

You're right - journalism has a broken and outdated business model. Amazon has a modern and effective one. To fix the problem, you need to fix this dynamic.

I get a lot the crypto hate you see around here, there are some real problems in the space right now. But facilitating micropayments for online content is extremely low hanging fruit with the tech, especially if the US tax exemption for txs under $600 goes through and browser integration happens.

Brave Browser / Basic Attention Token is one of the few groups in ICO-mania-land that is trying to solve a real problem, and they're focused on this one. It's led by Brendan Eich, former Mozilla CEO and original Netscape dev. Worth checking out if you are in publishing.

The problem with crypto as a solution is that there isn't much money to be made from the pool of crypto users, they are a small niche and notoriously low spenders (a fact that anyone who has accepted bitcoin payments for legal products/services can attest to). Of course, more money is better than less money, however we're talking about a drop in the bucket, not a real solution for publishers. Finally, there's also a strong political ideology that tracks pretty well with crypto-users that would make it additionally prohibitive for many flavors of journalism.

Bitcoin can't directly do Micro payments, is there an Altcoin that can handle say 20 billion transactions a day?

If not then cripto currency's don't actually solve this problem.

Unfortunately, Brave is incompatible with the current business model of journalism, and I don't know if journalism can survive a war on multiple fronts - that is, a war on its pocketbook from the consumer side, and a war on its integrity from the government side.

It is? How so? As far as I can tell, sites don't need to change their business model at all; they can just start collecting payments from Brave in addition to their ad revenue from non-Brave users.

> Once a user enables Brave Payments, the Brave browser automatically and anonymously keeps track of the publisher sites each user visits. The more times that a user visits a site, the larger the proportion of the user’s monthly contribution is “ear-marked” for that publisher. These funds grow as new micropayments are added. When contributions for a publisher exceed $100.00 USD, an email is sent to both the webmaster of the site and the registered domain owner from your WHOIS information. The email explains how to verify the ownership of your website with Brave Software.

(See https://brave.com/publishers/)

I really like this implementation, because it avoids the chicken-egg problem that other solutions like Google Contributor have by not requiring the publisher's cooperation in order to work properly. Visitors on Brave don't see ads, period. Publishers can choose to collect money from Brave users if they want, but that doesn't change the experience from the user's point of view.

Brave blocks ads. If a user isn't using Brave Payments, then there is no replacement for that lost ad revenue.

Steem (https://www.steemit.com) is doing this. Basically a reddit clone with upvotes having value.

I don't see how Brave/BAT solves this problem. There is no anonymity between publisher and advertiser on Brave. Amazon could just as easily pull ads on Brave.

https://satoshipay.io/ is another interesting project. (Disclaimer: I don't have any stake in the company but Meinhard is a friend of mine.)

Reading the grandparent comment I was thinking to myself that Brave is trying to fix just this. Seeing you beat me to this comment made me happy!

It's super fast and very modern. Much faster than the live release of FF

There's no relationship with Firefox. A better comparison would be between Brave and a vanilla Chromium + uBlock.

As much as I understand a journalist's raison d'etre (reason of being), they hold a lot of power when they can publish to a widespread readership.

This is great if everything is balanced and fair (this is of course all relative and must use reason), however I believe companies and people aren't given the opportunity to share their side of the story - or their counterargument.

Usually you may see a quote of someone's response in to being questioned about something, or perhaps a company will say "no comment at this time" - neither of these are good IMHO.

I feel pre-publishing, a person should be given the opportunity to respond - and at least part of that response be included in the publication - and always there should be a permanent link clearly highlighted to a third-party platform allowing the person's full response (or really all people and organizations mentioned in an article), which a link/response that can be added to/edited later (with version control to view the previous versions - leaving the purpose of editing to expand upon or clarify).

Who pays for the wheels to get going on this kind of system? Is it safe to be government supported? This is an important system I believe we must implement as soon as possible. Getting it adopted is possible, it just takes effort which includes needing enough resources for a longer runway. It feels like it would be a similar type of service of importance as Wikipedia.

The first part of what you have outlined is in fact part of 'proper' journalism here in the UK. A journalist is supposed to approach the subject of the story and get their point of view, partly for reasons of fairness and balance as you rightly point out, but mostly as a defence against defamation actions after it is published. You'll notice that the BBC always does this.

However, it can very difficult to get any sort of comment out of any party that has acted less than admirably, and many see staying tight-lipped as a strategy that can make a bad story go away. Of course, it doesn't work like this.

Additionally, some publishers have deep enough pockets that they are prepared to risk a defamation action if the story is strong enough, or they actively don't want to tip off the subject to upcoming coverage because they may put countermeasures in place (either legal or a pre-emptive "My drugs hell"-type confessional in a rival publication)

The difficulty with quoting full responses anywhere is that, just for example, anyone ever asked for comment by one of our more popular UK papers would be well advised to work in something about their past support of the Nazis or indeed the tax arrangements of their proprietor. I'd expect many such responses to be defamatory in themselves, and thus unpublishable.

It sounds as though something like the Ethereum network would be exactly what you're looking for. It's decentralized, meaning no one entity has the ability to remove it. And it is as democratic as you want it to be, meaning the user base can push for the requirement of fairness you suggest.

It's called a subscription.

Micropayments don't work for journalism, because there's too much of a difference between the set of articles that people are likely to press the "pay 10cents" button on (or even read) and the set of articles that are necessary for civil society to function.

That's why journalists were almost disgusted by buzzfeed's "big board", the screen showing current traffic numbers for all articles: it encourages the sort of cat content that drives traffic for the least amount of effort.

As one example, there was the widely-shared frustration of one journalist on Twitter who had been investigating that Trump Jr. meeting with the russians for months, only to be scooped by Jr. making it public himself when he got wind of the investigation. It's not just that this journalist's work wouldn't be rewarded under a micropayment model. It also shows that some stories take an amount of work that I think people don't know about. Even if his article had become a hit, could it ever pull in as much money as the dozens of listicles you could pump out in those months of work?

Editors at high-quality publishers still tend to want to do the right thing. Subscriptions give them a bit of cover to send someone on an assignment that they deem important. Once every articles' costs and revenue become explicit data points on a colourful chart, even those owners that are currently willing to look the other way as long as the overall numbers make some sense will find it hard to resist the temptation to point at the outliers and ask if it's really necessary to spend a six-digit sum on that investigation of bribery at the Backwater County (MI) Department of Public Health when it only got 10,000 microflatters of 5 cents each, all from residents of East Nowhere (MI), especially since advertisers stopped being interested in readers from East Nowhere once they all started spending their money on Heroin.

Actually, I think Buzzfeed has it right. Make money where it's easy to do so then use that money to fund bigger stories. The fact that the silly stories often find a bigger audience says something.

Also, I would recommend following journalists rather than news outlets.

you're not wrong, Buzzfeed is profitable while they do some truly amazing journalism as well.

But I really can't see WSJ or NYT creating clickbait personality quizzes just to fund their business.

No, but it demonstrates that new business models are worth exploring.

The NYT site The Wirecutter makes it's money from affiliate codes. Before that happened, I would have doubted that the NYT would ever look for money by linking product reviews back to Amazon.

If the NYT doesn't stabilize and Buzzfeed continues to grow, I could see Buzzfeed buying the Times as a more respected place to publish serious stories.

That probably won't happen because I think the NYT is in decent shape today.

Yes. For that reason I have a subscription to one of the major papers.

What I'd like is a federated system, where say 90% goes to the paper I'm subscribed to, but 10% goes into a pool of other participating papers, allowing me to view a few articles a month at other papers. 2 factors at play: I can't reasonably have multiple subscriptions and I don't have enough time to take advantage of content from more than 1 large paper. But I'd like a way to support good articles from other papers on a more occasional basis.

Disclaimer: I haven't fully thought this through and I'm sure there are pitfalls in this approach… happy to hear about them!

> This is one of the reasons I really wish there was a decent, widely supported micropayment system for journalism.

I was looking for that also, and have been happy with Blendle[1]. Pretty good selection, recommendations and "return" policy.

[1] https://launch.blendle.com/

"Get early access"

Why do sites do this? Flattr has been around for almost a decade.

I remember having signed up for Flattr ages ago so I tried it out. Turns out they seem to have scrapped their original product and I'm now on the waiting list for its successor ("Flattr beta"). I have no idea wtf they're doing. Edit: Also can't login w/ old credentials or recover my password. Duh

IMO micropayments would only be additive. (Ad-itive? ;D) In the "you fill the space you have" sense. XYZ news org would be giddily accepting micropayments w/ no ads but then there'd've been "the lean times" and instead of laying off 75% of their staff and having the C*'s take massive pay cuts, they'd add ads. And we'd be right where we are... only with micropayments.

Scale is a problem. To give you an example, as of a few years ago, you could buy copy of a typical mid-sized city newspaper for $2.

The other $15 it took to produce that day's single copy (that's everything combined, editorial costs, and 30% print costs) came from advertising sources, of which something like 10% is digital, including subscriptions. And that's after years of massive layoffs and reductions in cost.

This is a simplified view, but it should illustrate the scale of operations. The headlining stories that people would pay for are currently loss leaders in a sense, so turning them into sole breadwinners is dooming rest of the stories produced for that day (I'm not paying for a police blotter story, unless it features a stolen tomato). And under that model there's the feedback risk of majority stories becoming tailored to their patrons, becoming images of darling kittens and pet goats.

Sideline to show I'm not just being my usual cynical self: for a brief time, AP tried to syndicate lolcats (yes, the i Can Has Cheezburger blog one) but then someone asked about the issue of image rights. Had this happened, it would have resulted in pretty much all of US newspapers ending up with kitten pictures in print, because readers would love it and it's no work at all to produce it.

These cost breakdown numbers are changing and vary greatly from newspaper to newspaper, but I hope it illustrates a dark and complicated reality of news decline. I don't know what's the solution, but you can't dismiss brick and mortar news agencies and think they can either instantly convert to digital media and revenue, or that independent online-online agencies can come replace it.

The non-syndicated stories you see in today's newspaper (go pick one up wherever you are) have been worked on for days, weeks, even months. And tomorrow's stories will have a similar breakdown of labor. Isn't it mind boggling? AP, AFP, Reuters will not concentrate in towns and fact check the local authorities and governance because they'd get stretched too thin, so newspapers mix and match local coverage with national as best they can. The kicker is that all that hard work spanning days, weeks, months gets used by local TV stations that very morning and (if the story is that unusual), by online-only agencies and aggregators, because they don't have all those boots on the ground.

It's complicated.

Reward for reading any of this rant, Dick Irwin's tomato blotter story: "Someone entered the rear yard of a house in the 5900 block of Johnson St. on Saturday morning and removed a tomato from a tomato plant. The tomato was valued at $3, police said."

At the most basic level "don't bite the hand that feeds you" seems like the main takeaway from this story.

A long time ago I did an internship at a marketing firm that did work for Subway Sandwiches. As such, it was considered a fireable offence to bring any other branded "sub" into the office.

>As such, it was considered a fireable offence to bring any other branded "sub" into the office.

Ugh. That's just so stupid. What if they do work for a bank, automobile manufacturer, clothing designer, etc? Are the employees obliged to then buy new clothes, cars, hide their branded debit cards in the cafeteria?

Haha. In realistic terms they simply wanted to avoid that awkward moment. Although, if you work for GM, and exclusively drive a Toyota, would you feel pressured into switching at some point?

Edit - to answer my own question I searched Google and found this: http://jalopnik.com/dear-car-companies-stop-punishing-employ...

I live near the Tesla office near Arastradero Road. The last time I rode my bike by and paid attention, there were very few Teslas visible in the parking lot ( though one cannot see very far in the lot from the street due to the terrain/landscaping).

I think that totally depends how high you are in the company and whether you're client facing.

I doubt that the majority of people that work for Mercedes drive their cars.

You’d be surprised on both counts. Union factory workers face significant pressure — as in slashed tires — from their peers not to drive foreign vehicles. Auto makers give sizable discounts to their employees.

Funny how you put outright vandalism that would cause hundreds of dollars of loss in such an understated manner (face significant pressure).

You should perhaps be more optimistic. ;) Mercedes has a program for "Jahreswagen" ("Year cars") where employees get cars at something like cost, drive them for a year, then can hand them back to be resold. There are a lot of these in Germany. It's popular way to get a nice car without paying the full cost of a brand new vehicle. [0]

[0] http://www.expo.be/en/jahreswagen/index_nl.phtml, lots more info if you read German.

If memory serves, employees at PayPal are chastised if they don't use PayPal to buy their lunch in the cafeteria.

That is certainly a possible takeaway. My takeaway is that we shouldn't have one man's hand feeding everyone who contributes to the political and intellectual life of the country.

Any society that can't draw a distinction between marketing and journalism probably doesn't have a long shelf life. In the past, news orgs could enforce a firewall between news and advertising, and advertisers generally respected it as a norm (to the point that allowing advertising to influence news/editorial would cause a scandal). For a variety of reasons -- declining profitability of journalism, the existence of powerful platform monopolies, and the nature of attentional economics on the web -- those norms have eroded, and society is the poorer for it. (Ironically, I think WaPo is actually more insulated from this kind of interference, just because any direct interference would land on Bezos' doorstep rather than Amazon as a corporate entity).

> This is one of the reasons I really wish there was a decent, widely supported micropayment system for journalism.

Well, to be fair, there is a decent, widely supported payment system for journalism. It's called subscribing to your local newspaper (or the Times, or a magazine). And, depending on your income, this may be a micro payment. The NY Times costs something like 33 cents a day, for example.

It does have the virtue of already existing.

"It's called subscribing to your local newspaper"

This won't support, or get you access to, the overwhelming majority of articles, though. It's as if each musician required their own, independent monthly subscription.

"The NY Times costs something like 33 cents a day, for example."

Newspapers can, and will, quietly double their prices without telling you and then make it very hard for you to cancel. See my article on the Boston Globe, for example: https://rationalconspiracy.com/2016/04/24/dark-patterns-by-t....

> This won't support, or get you access to, the overwhelming majority of articles, though. It's as if each musician required their own, independent monthly subscription.

Fair enough. Sounds like "Spotify, but for news" is what you're looking for. I see your point.

> Newspapers can, and will, quietly double their prices without telling you

And that's just plain old bad customer service.

If there was a way to get access to all articles published that would create an even larger demand, and subjective value of, single-publisher subscriptions like the NYT.

People, including you and me, don't want to have access to everything, they want choice access to the "best", chosen by a reputable entity.

But here is a counter question: why would I pay a journalist in the first place?

In other words, there must be an objective I am seeking and I somehow find this jouranlist or this group of jouranlist align with my objectives and beliefs. So how does a micropayment system can help promote free and honest journalism?

I wouldn't pay journalist working for Breitbart (Steve Bannon's news outlet) because I don't agree with them.


This is the problem.

If journalism is broken down into a market problem, (which will happen regularly on an American board for entrepreneurship) then the product will always be cat pics and scandal.

Because thats what people want. As someone said above, revealed behaviors of news consumers are different from stated behaviors.

If someone actually wanted objective information, they already pay for it - they go buy the wsj/bb for finance. If they want political analysis - they pay for those magazines.

I don't think Journalism works in a free market model.

The problem really boils down to 5-7 slots of short term attention span a human being has.

For all the desire to want good news, people will still dump that attention on junk food for the brain.

Since Good journalism is expensive, takes time to process, and may not be well received - its extremely time and attention intensive.

In a world where we're blowing that resource regularly, good journalism dies. It has to be capable of going toe to toe with attention seeking feel good material.

In a Market system - journalism end up being about hacking human attention. Otherwise not enough people reads it to support the paper.

This is generally a solved problem -

You pay the govt to make a single news agency - give it operating money, independence and stick an oversight group on top of it.

And you call it the BBC, and spend the rest of your days trying to defund it, while a majority of groups call it biased in one direction or the other.

No idea. Journalists to me perform the same function as search engine robots/crawlers. And probably have the same value as those robots do in the info economy.

Google hasn't created a robot to do indepth scans of lets say all the Wikipedia tennis tournament pages even if they can afford to do so technically and financially. Why? Cause its results returned are good enough for the waste majority of ppl. If I ask who last years 4 US open semifinalists were Google isn't able to produce just the 4 names. I can rant about how dumb that is. And why more in depth scanning/parsing is required.

But if Google can't find any great reason to upgrade its crawlers why should a news org do so. Maybe we are past the point where there is any great value.

> I really wish there was a decent, widely supported micropayment system for journalism.

The audience for news isn't as big as I think lots of people wish it were. For the micropayment system to work, I bet the payments wouldn't be very micro.

Then a lot of news can go away, which is fine. As ad-blocking becomes more popular, this'll happen anyway.

I'm not a big fan of microtransactions unless everybody pretty much used the same service. Otherwise there's too much mental overhead.

Also, I'd pay for a service that got me free access to a dozen original news providers (I don't want a dozen copies of the wire story) with different points of view, I'd pay for that.

But that's not the landscape right now.

One thing that might work is really lean organizations surviving on donations for original reporting. I know Michael Yon made that work in Iraq, and there were a bunch of people trying to do that (somewhat successfully, I believe) on youtube before the ad money dried up.

IDK if there’s a perfect (or even good) solution out there. There are and were many ways of funding publications, each with their own problems. Nothing consistently yields good work.

A pattern-like donations system has biases of its own. Where big national dailies tend to have centrist-conservative leanings, donor supported journalism would tend to favour political wings and fringes as they play to their supporter silo. In both cases, there’s a big incentive to do opinion, talking heads, and less incentive to do first hand investigations.

I seem to in a minority here scanning the comments, which are focused on "advertising".

The OP is discussing "the power of Jeff Bezos". To illustrate, he has anecdotal evidence of an attorney bowing out due to concern for his daughter's upcoming book.

He is talking about a network effect with scope far beyond the matter of a specific publication and its relationship with a key advertiser.

This is always why the pleading to make me sit through my alloted dose of ads for the good of capitalism always sounds so weird to me. You're trying to make me feel guilty about not wanting to allow my mind to be distracted and polluted by a third party that's trying to get me to buy something neither you nor I actually care about?

Bloomberg has already established the market price of accurate independent journalism:

https://qz.com/84961/this-is-how-much-a-bloomberg-terminal-c... ($24K per year per head)

Not holding my breath on micropayments...

This is quite obviously not generalizable. Bloomberg provides financial data, which is at a much more valuable point of the funnel in direct monetary terms to the purchaser.

The sad fact is that real journalism doesn't provide that much value directly to the purchaser: much of the value of an informed citizen accrues as a positive externality to the rest of society. The latter by definition doesn't affect willingness-to-pay, however, so newspapers in general have had to rely on their customers' willingness to pay coming from a vague need to sound informed in front of their friends. This is obviously a lot less sensitive to the _quality_ of journalism, so you end up with a situation where there's no real channel for providing quality journalism to the average person.

Even back in the day when they were still getting paid, the overall quality of mainstream media content was almost as bad as it is today.

Even back then, they were still businesses. Their customers were still the advertisers, not the subscribers. If there was dirt to dig up on a politician, they'd probably cover it. If there was dirt to air on the local car dealership, grocery store, or real estate brokerage--silence!

To be an actual public service, the agency relationship has to be right. It was never right for the mainstream media. Bloomberg terminals do have it right (I'm the customer, not the product), but expensive!

Private Eye have an interesting model - they are deliberately not online. They do not try and bait and subscribe you.

A lot of what they write is too focused on whitehall and fleet street to be terribly interesting to a wider public. I've often wished they'd expand to do serious journalism too.

Part of me keeps wishing there was a paid kindle edition of it or similar ... but then I remember that I mostly read the eye as a result of impulse purchases from railway news stands, and suspect that that's why there isn't.

Always funny when you see part of an eye page clipped from a photo to post on twitter - the one time that having an image instead of text seems actually suitable ;)

would it really make a difference? my guess is that expenses would be as always adjusted to the budget. and if the budget is u-payments + ads then the advertisers will still have power.

what actually matters is the ideology of the journalists involved. do they have a mission or are they primarily interested in wealth and fame.

Shouldn't they be compensated for their work, no matter how passionate they are for it?

Also, WikiTribune is in the works and has potential. It won't be funded by advertisers at all.

The problem here isn't Amazon, but the business model that TNR chose for itself, and the implications of that.

This covers a period in TNR's history when Chris Hughes (formerly of Facebook) was in charge, and essentially wanted to turn the site into a 'vertically integrated digital media company' (native advertising / clickbait factory).

It shouldn't be a surprise that this had deleterious consequences for journalistic integrity and allowed advertisers to apply undue pressure.

Foer (the author of this piece) didn't want to go along with that, and he and almost the entire staff resigned in protest. Hughes ended up putting the magazine up for sale, and Foer was brought back in under the new editor.

Oh, and Foer's new book is now available on Amazon.


Why does the term "vertically integrated digital media company" make me picture someone trying to stack bags full of trash on top of each other, seeing how high they can go before it collapses?

Why does that sound exactly like what most online media do nowadays?

Amazon is part of the problem, it is not black and white like that.

Where exactly is the moral violation here? Businesses utilize leverage all the time. Nobody is stopping New Republic from publishing but that doesn't mean that a company needs to keep paying them.

Who said anything about moral violations? Even totally natural, non-manmade systems can present problems worth addressing (hurricanes, for example). You can simultaneously believe that the companies involved are morally fine and believe that the overall system isn't a good one.

Exactly. But it I still think we shouldn't promote any system where Amazon was considered wrong for pulling its ad.

The purpose of the ad was to get people to sign up for a Prime Membership so they could watch a niche TV show. If someone was reading an Article titled "Amazon Must Be Stopped" it is very unlikely that the ad would have been effective.

Amazon wasn't punishing The New Republic. The New Republic just rendered the banner ads on their site completely ineffective, and Amazon chose not to continue to waste marketing budget.

Yeah. This is like making your whole business model centered around selling things through Fulfillment by Amazon. They handle the shipping and returns and customer service...and also deciding whether to grace your small storefront with another day of continued existence. You COULD always move to eBay, or Etsy, or Tindie, or try pitching your products to local brick & mortar stores.

But if you invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in Amazon's particular ecosystem...well, I hope you've already pulled that much out, because you are depending on the goodwill of a third party who can contractually tell you to fuck off for more or less any reason, with your only options being small claims or arbitration.

The message I'm starting to get from a handful of posts along these lines over the past couple of years is something like: "don't make anything more than a side business which depends on a 3rd-party service with no competitors that you can easily switch to."

Interesting followup from The New Yorker on the implosion of TNR: https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/inside-collapse-new...

I wish I could say the turn of events shocked me, but it all just seems so predictable.

“There’s the peacetime C.E.O. and the wartime C.E.O. Not to be overly dramatic about it, but this is sort of a war. This is a wartime period. That just means that we need to change a lot of things. We need to just break shit. Sorry to say, we’ve got to break shit and embrace being uncomfortable sometimes. And it’s scary. It’s definitely a scary thing to do. But it’s also fun: you know, lean up against the wall and break it.”

Does these kind of words work with people older than 20? I once had a CTO that also started with these shitty things on the first meeting and he was fired less than 3 months later, as people sabotaged him and his work. Almost nobody gets excited when someone tells you that your professional life is going to change drastically, come on!!

When behaviors are entrenched, you have to be diplomatic, smart and cautious..

Amazon pulling advertising is scary but not entirely beyond the pale. I find the idea that authors are afraid to criticize Amazon to be much more worrisome: these days, writing a book is an important source of income for politicians, academics and many other import leaders. If none of these people are free to criticize one of the largest and most powerful business organizations in the country (and that business is an arbiter of what they choose to sell more broadly), that's a huge loss for democracy.

It's rather silly to think you can publish an outright hostile and disparaging article about a big advertiser and not lose them.

The fact that you are forced to choose between making money and speaking the truth, shows your business model is broken (if you are the CEO or shareholders) or that you've really made crap life and career choices if you are an employee (or self employed).

Not really. I've seen plenty of cases where there's, for example, an article about how McDonald's food is full of salt and calories and is bad for you snd yet on the next page you'll find an ad for McDonald's. To actually be as vindictive as Amazon apparently was is quite extreme.

News outlets have account managers that wouldn't let scheduling conflicts happen. Commercial placements are carefully considered.

It's a balance. McDonald's would get more hate for pulling ads than for they would for the original article.

Why is that (it seems to me) whenever the discussion of Google's possible use of manipulating its search results for its own benefit there's a vocal response from all corners but Amazon gets a pass when then manipulate their results to similar ends. To my mind both are equally atrocious.

I am softer towards Amazon because they are a customer-oriented company. Google doesn't give one shit about me. Amazon gives the impression that it does.

> Google doesn't give one shit about me. Amazon gives the impression that it does.

And yet, both companies, under the veneer of PR, does not give any shits about anyone except their own bottom line. Amazon just has better PR than google.

That's an interesting perspective. I am also softer towards Amazon because I can easily imagine buying products at a different website.

Google scares me a bit more because I so often forget that its services are even products that I can choose not to patronize. Google has become invisible to me.

Great great branding and customer service. Almost everyone on Earth has a positive personal relationship with Amazon on the consumer side and it makes us complacent.

I think this highlights a big difference between media and tech (or at least big tech companies). In tech, leaking is a cardinal sin. Foer chose to send information about a customer pulling an ad campaign to a friend, who then "excitedly" forwarded it to the New York Times. Foer was using internal company information as a weapon in a personal crusade.

You call it leaking, I'd say it's whistleblowing in abusive practices meant to stifle criticism. Same as the red flags raised about Uber's cultural environment can hardly be considered "leaks".

Are you saying that an advertiser deciding not to feed the hand that bites it (wait, that didn't work out right) is somehow the same as institutional employee abuse?

Every newspaper, every news magazine has had this same tension between the advertising department and the content department. Every advertiser should understand that; every editor certainly does. This isn't new.

The fact that this isn't new doesn't mean we have to condone it.

If we do (or are) then all a large corporation has to do to stifle most MSM criticism is to push enough money into advertising with those platforms. Of course we already have cases in this area [1], but hopefully the proposition as a whole sounds as ridiculous to you as it does to me.

[1] - https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/aug/30/new-ameri...

No one condones it.

However, the solution that was well developed in the 20th century, the "iron curtain" between the advertising and news departments of a publication, worked reasonably well (with editors being put into difficult positions periodically, though). Up until, that is, advertising dollars for news publications dried up almost entirely, creating an existential threat to the news organization.

Now, we are back in the pre-20th century world, where every publication is owned and published by someone with a particular viewpoint.

Don't bite the hand that feeds you, especially if you are not someone in charge.

Don't lick the boots that stomp on you, either.

I don't work for people who stomp on me.

So never reveal abusive practises ever if it's by someone who employs you?

Amazon didn't employ him.

You can go Tony Li on a door.

It looks more like a precipitate and emotional response that handed the initiative to his opponents. Whistleblowers have to be careful to not let their outrage get the better of them.

It may have been a "crusade", but it does not seem to me it was personal.

this is kind of irrelevant. why do you bring that up?

yes, he might get even more retaliation. but we should care about his message here, that Amazon control the news.

NYT could have reported that there is no longer Amazon ads on the magazine that told truths about them, like it used to have before. without ever receiving the "leak".

the "leak" just stated the obvious that everyone could see anyway.

> Why do you bring that up?

Perhaps as a something to learn from? Foer appears to have let his feelings of outrage get the better of him, and went off half-cocked with a pointless and ill-advised gesture that only benefitted his opponents.

Aren't we having this discussion here because of his actions?

I think he got what he wanted.

Some people are OK giving up a little comfort for a better world, you know?

I greatly appreciate the fact that he made a stand, but he may have rendered himself less effective in doing that by forwarding the message to someone whose judgement he thought he could trust. Maybe the leak turned out to be the best outcome anyway, given the New Republic is still publishing.

I was shocked that they seem to have got away with bundling a video service almost nobody wanted with a loyalty program for their near monopoly on online goods.

That's exactly the behavior the EUs anti-trust laws are designed to stop. And every time a company gets sued/fined for breaking them there's an outcry. Well .. that's what happens without such laws or if they aren't strictly enforced. We'll see if Amazon finds themselves on the wrong side of an EU anti-trust probe in the near future.

The bundling continues, they have now also bundled in "twitch prime" including a free subscription each month.

The old twitch prime ('turbo') no longer exists.

Am I happy that I suddenly have a free sub? It's nice to have but it worries me that more and more services are bundled until the point where Amazon Prime is no longer a luxury but there is so much bundling where the price isn't worth it for any given service but there's no alternative.

If it heads down that route then it'll take something drastic to break it up. It took the internet to break up cable tv bundling.

> m I happy that I suddenly have a free sub? It's nice to have but it worries me that more and more services are bundled until the point where Amazon Prime is no longer a luxury but there is so much bundling where the price isn't worth it for any given service but there's no alternative.

Rest assured, that is precisely their goal:

"Our goal with Amazon Prime, make no mistake, is to make sure that if you are not a Prime member, you are being irresponsible," - Jeff Bezos

src: http://www.businessinsider.com/amazon-ceo-jeff-bezos-says-it...

I don't think it will take that much to break the amazon subscription model. Netflix is doing fine, Spotify is doing fine, and I'm sure other niche subscription services will continue to be made.

"Unfortunately, I had already forwarded Amazon’s note to a friend"

Dude ... really?

The New Republic was a hobby business for some rich guys. It lost money for most of its life. That made it vulnerable.

It was sadder seeing the San Jose Mercury News go down. It was an excellent newspaper with a large, effective reporting staff, and profitable. It was sold to the parent organization of the Contra Costa Times, which is one step above an advertising throwaway. Today's Mercury News is one step above an advertising throwaway.

With the American election debacle and not being around during Nixon, I have realized the outsized role press has to play. Blogs, citizen journalism do not do it. You need dedicated sharp investigative journalism without fear Of retribution either from the owner or from the government. It actually becomes important if say Bezos plans to run for president and in fact becomes the president.

I didn't understand the segue from author's meeting with Vitra to the main story about Amazon.

His previous boss Chris Hughes (the owner) wanted to turn a profit -- but didn't have expertise to do it.

Therefore, CH brought in Guy Vidra with a directive to make profits.

Criticizing Amazon about the Hachette negotiations triggers Amazon to pull advertising dollars. This conflicts with making profits. (Which points back to why Vidra was brought in: make the magazine profitable.)

Has anyone ever made a profit with The New Republic? It seems unlikely to me.

>The one year we turned a profit, we celebrated with a pizza party that pushed us back into the red.

Literally the 3rd line of the article.

Seems just intended to show that the politics at his work place weren't likely to support his crusade against Amazon. Basically that he picked the worst moment to do it.

But, he appears to still have his job. So perhaps that part was a bit exaggerated?

Edit: Apparently, he was fired, but didn't change his LinkedIn profile to note that. That's odd, especially since your current job shows up in the byline on these posts.

Unless I've entirely misunderstood, he was fired, most of the rest of the team quit because they hated the clickbait-happy CEO, the publication was sold to somebody else, and then he got hired back again. There's more discussion on this upthread.

I think the whole article is an excerpt from a full book, maybe that story continues there?

Does no one else notice the collusion to suppress calls for anti-trust action against Amazon, Google and Facebook?

These companies have all been actively suppressing any information that would force a review on this issue.

They've effectively closed off the internet, none of these services let consumers follow links off site now and it's made a major difference in the ability to compete.

Do you have any specific examples of that happening?

When Google does the same with Open Markets they are denounced as evil. Amazon? The response is comparatively muted.

Just another example of "the power of Jeff Bezos," or hypocrisy and inconsistent standards?

The whole bit about New Republic's reorg seems really strangely out of place to me

Indeed: although it's part of his upcoming book, they could have excerpted better so as to integrate or give structure to that unfinished part of the story.

"Neither side struck me as worthy of huge sympathy. But then the battlefront encroached uncomfortably close to home. I watched as Amazon punished Hachette’s writers in its effort to make the publisher feel pain. Books, the products of years of passionate labor, were prevented from reaching the market. Amazon used its bully’s arm to delay their shipments or direct readers to older books on similar subjects, as well as a raft of other vengeful tactics."

I see Foer decided which side needed sympathy. There was another side to that story after all.

And I take it Foer was fired from the New Republic?

For those of you that think this isn't business as usual, I highly recommend Manufacturing Consent which shows how corporate media narrows the range of political discussion through methods like this one.

I don't care much about Amazon playing hardball with TNR - car companies have been doing this for ages. The fact that he owns WaPo is a much bigger deal.

Since I enjoyed using this bookmarklet on this site, I thought I'd recommend it to others as well:


That's odd, I already submitted this one. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15265016

I thought HN handled duplicates by redirecting to the existing submission and automatically upvoting it?

Once a submissions grows old enough without having gotten significant attention those upvotes don't matter anyway, so a repost is allowed.


Yikes, I guess I should be ashamed of myself for even asking...

One on occasion I saw a second posting of the same article as me from a few minutes apart - commenting on the other one being confused was for some reason taken as some sort of attack on the other person to post it rather than my wondering what the software had done and attracted anger and downvotes in equal measure.

People confuse me sometimes.

Ironically (?) the book is on Amazon & there is some dark humour in the fact that Amazon will probably end up contributing significant in sales to this book. I bet Bezos has a evil smile on his face.

Other possible titles:

"I didn't understand that the world's second richest person and publicly the world's most powerful person, who is extremely competitive, quick, intelligent, with little patience, who also controls the majority of the world's publication/data/hosting/streaming (BTW- Netflix and Hulu run on Amazon, so don't give me that Prime ain't everything argument) could affect me."

"I significantly underestimated the heat of the sun when I touched it."

"I've basically been a hermit for the past 20 years."

I agree that the author is embarrassingly proud of his naïveté, but if you can't read past the author's personal foibles, you'll miss out on an important story.

(Also, if you're looking for knee-jerk reasons to dismiss the article, his cringeworthy self-presentation is a pretty silly one. How about the fact that he's using it to promote a new book subtitled The Existential Threat of Big Tech? That's a more plausible excuse for not engaging with the substance of the article, but still not good enough, in my opinion.)

"All those comments on HN on WaPo articles about how they're owned by Jeff Bezos and won't say bad things about Amazon anymore might have some merit."

Another rich guy owning a media outlet, another media outlet owned by a rich guy..

He didn't seem to suffer for it much. Still has his job, and still writing about Amazon.

Edit: Apparently, he was fired, but didn't update his LinkedIn profile. Odd.

> When I asked Chris Hughes if I could pick a fight over Amazon’s cancellation, he sent me a curt note instructing me to remain quiet. Unfortunately, I had already forwarded Amazon’s note to a friend—who, in turn, excitedly and unadvisedly forwarded it to the New York Times.

From 1 great decision to the next...


??? is weirdest thing I ever heard. I can be a feminist and a capitalist; feminism != communism. I suggest you consult a dictionary for the definition of feminism and reconsider your attitude.

Intimidating people into submission so that they do not report on valid criticism isn't just "capitalism", it is unethical behavior, Cersei.

Anyone have a mirror of this text that isn't behind a walled garden?

Out of interest, what do you mean by walled garden in this case?

When I open the page it requires me to have a linkedin account and login.

It's insane, I can't make sense of how it works, here's a rundown of a quick test we did:

I have no LinkedIn account. I cannot view the article (nor anything else) on macOS in Safari and Firefox, neither normal nor private mode, and it has been so for months, possibly years. I can view the article in both normal and incognito modes on Chrome.

Coworker 1 is on Arch, has a LinkedIn account but has never logged in on his machine on any browser. With Firefox he can only browse a couple times before the wall kicks in, until he throws cookies away (manually or with private mode). About 15 min later, he is locked out and cannot see the page, even in private mode. Clearing every single bit of data from his Firefox profile does nothing at making the page accessible again. Still, Chrome displays the wepbage fine in both modes.

Coworker 2 is on macOS. Using Chrome he can see the page in normal mode (he had previously logged in). He cannot view the page at all in Incognito, ever.

We all share the same IPv4 but have IPv6 enabled.

It has to be some wickedly twisted heuristic possibly involving some evercookie.

Maybe a bit of browser fingerprinting going on? https://panopticlick.eff.org/


In the future could you put this in a pastebin and add a link? It makes it easier to traverse the thread.

FYI, you can click on the [-] to minimize a comment with a wall of text and easily get to the next subthread in the discussion.

Eh, I appreciate it. After all, what worth is the thread without the content to discuss? Good to have it front and center.

It was already in a pastebin. Added here for convenience, because reading a pastebin on a phone is awful.

He doesn't have the power to make a nice UI.

Can we please stop posting links to articles that require registration to read?

Massively annoying advertising with crappy content, or you can pay for it as a service- your choice.

I'm not sure if LinkedIn requires payment, the giant doorslam popup only offered registration/login…

This article is poorly written and the title is pure click bait.

The article is an excerpt of a book, but still nonetheless I am wondering why you would say it was poorly written?

Title: "I significantly underestimated the power of Jeff Bezos"

The article never discusses Bezos directly. He has a reputation of being a micro-manager, but was Bezos even involved in what the article details? The whole story seems clunky from that point forward because the title makes no sense.

Q: Did he get fired?

Q: Who won the Amazon-Hachette dispute?

Q: How was the situation at TNR different from all the other newsroom-advertising dept. conflicts?

I wonder if that book will be for sale on Amazon? And, sadly, if not, will anyone know it exists?


Doing well, too...has a Bestseller icon.

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