I don't think anyone ever expected (i) to be more than just a little extra cash; and (ii), as they say, was never heavily promoted at all. So it seems like (part of) their solution today is to try to push (ii) as far as it will go. I don't believe it's going to get them very far in its current state, but it's a valid first step.
I think this highlights, once again, the need to actually build a viable business in addition to a quality product- one does not make the other, and it's hard to retrofit a business model 5 years later.
Sadly, everyone expects everything digital to be free (software, social networks, services, magazines, games, etc.), so it's an uphill battle. I think Reddit has some interesting cards in its hand though: AMAs are a growing trend, so that's something I'd try to monetize if I were them.
Regardless, I'm curious to see where Reddit will go.
So the idea of leveraging pseudo-AMAs for marketing
purposes seems like swinging a broom at a hornets nest.
If you set expectations accurately and provide real value then there will be no outrage, there was an AMA a few weeks ago from an ex death row inmate who did the AMA to promote his book, did anyone complain? No, because he was open about it and spent time answering all the questions regardless of their value to his promotional intentions.
Just like if a celebrity went on to Conan O'brien and answered every question with "Okay! So about my new film! It's really great, everyone should go and watch it!" people would be pissed.
Here's a couple of AMAs that I just picked in <1 minute that are promotional but had no complaints:
Would sponsored AMAs be front paged immediately? Could they be downvoted to hell? Would comments that the sponsor found offensive be removed? Would a company want someone linking to r/SpaceDicks in their AMA? It's kind of a Pandora's box promoting on Reddit.
Does this example work? Top comment, "Let's cut the shit: Buy our new book."