Be skeptical: Amazon Prime Day is Monday

Websites promising great deals get kickbacks. Can you trust "shoppable" articles?

Amazon’s Prime Day, the made up holiday created to help the e-tailer sell more products, kicks off Monday morning.

So when you read your favorite publication, whether that be the New York Times, the Verge or Rolling Stone, for instance, and come across “news” articles talking about unbelievable Amazon deals, know it’s probably not so.

If there are links in the piece, the publication gets a kickback if you click it and buy.

That’s why you’ll be stumbling onto so many “articles” about Prime Day this weekend. In an era where cash-starved publications need to replace lost income from the pre-Internet era, gushing about a big sale that isn’t helps pay the bills and keep journalists employed.

And while it is true that Amazon will indeed offer true discounts on homemade products like the Echo speaker, Fire TV streaming players, Ring doorbells and Kindle e-readers, most of the “deals” ain’t. Despite the hype, Prime Day is mostly like a close-out sale of supposed “bargains” that aren’t. (Remember that discounts only apply if you’re a member of the $119 yearly Prime expedited shipping and entertainment service.)

It’s not just trusted publications that have gotten in on the act. Amazon and its affiliate link fever is all over the web, with word of mouth recommendations from your favorite “influencer.” Amazon has a program set up to financially reward YouTubers, Tweeters and Facebookers who recommend products.

Sign up and “inspire customers to shop Amazon’s millions of products by curating your personalized page on Amazon where you can publish your livestreams, shoppable photos, and videos.”

Speaking of “shoppable,” on the Web, publications are falling all over themselves to offer this kind of copy, in the guise of journalism. The thirst for Amazon commissions is so strong that many publications now advertise openings for an e-commerce reporter. Like someone to write about Amazon and its cut throat business practices, how it treats employees, or the destruction its had on our Main Streets?

Not exactly.

The Hollywood Reporter, for instance, has an opening now for a journalist who can create “shoppable” content.

“The writer will also be writing in-depth reviews on some of the latest products available in the marketplace.”

Great, a tech reviewer job.

Not exactly.

“Experience with affiliate networks and link tracking platforms preferred and is a major plus.”

Think about it. You’ll spend your days writing 5-10 list articles about supposed deals. Fun!

The pubs contend that the affiliate links don’t influence editorial policy. (Just like politicians say that contributions don’t help convince them on how to vote.)

The New York Times, on its Wirecutter subsidiary website, defends the practice. “There’s no incentive for us to pick inferior products or to respond to pressure from manufacturers. If a reader returns their purchase because they’re dissatisfied or the recommendation is bad, we make no affiliate commission.”

Sounds plausible. And Wirecutter is the gold standard. But do a search for “Amazon Prime Day” in Google News, and you tell me how much journalistic judgement you find in the offerings, as opposed to shopping lists.

If you’re in the market for an Amazon made product, by all means, shop on Monday or Tuesday. They’ll be discounted. But be on your toes.

Father’s Day 2021

If it’s Sunday tomorrow, you know what I’m about to say: grab your phone and interview dad about his life. (Or mom. Or your kids. Or grandkids. Etc. You know what I mean.)

Because thanks to technology, it’s never been easier to have our stories live on, just by clicking a button.

You’ll need a tripod and smartphone mount to fit on the tripod because you can’t keep your hands steady for an extended interview. I don’t recommend buying a small, table-top tripod, as it will be awkward to fit dad in the frame that way unless you stack it atop a lot of books. I like this tripod set-up from Target that comes with a ring light and a smartphone mount. It sells for $30, and beyond interviews, you could use it for Zoom calls, with your phone replacing the webcam as a higher resolution camera.

Week’s Tech News

Facebook wants to be more like NextDoor: The Social Network said it would give moderators to its private groups more power to clean up their community. ReCode notes that this is similar to how it’s done on NextDoor, but that its groups are “plagued by a haphazard approach to misinformation and complaints of toxic fights between group members, along with accusations of biased and inconsistent community moderators.” Good luck Facebook!

Speaking of Facebook and Amazon: The E-tailer is awash in fake reviews, just like Facebook and fake news. Put the two together and what do you get? A private Facebook group bribing its members with free goods in exchange for flowery Amazon reviews, as noticed by CNET. Amazon prohibits incentivized testimonials and is occasionally policing its site. This week Amazon dropped several vendors, including Ravpower, for offering gift cards in exchange for reviews. Good move Amazon. Thank you.

Now can we get hotels to stop tricking us into leaving rave reviews for them on Trip Advisor? I don’t believe the reviews there either.

“It’s Grand to Re-open.”

If you’re in the Los Angeles area today, the wonderful Manhattan Beach Roundhouse Aquarium will have a grand re-opening today. It will feature outdoor activity tables, crafts and live performances by “two local jazz and classical guitarists, Jefferson Graham and Paul Ellis.” That’s per the aquarium, which is at the tail end of the Manhattan Beach Pier. Come say hi!

I spent several days this week in Palm Springs, USA with the great Sean Fujiwara and survived and thrived in the record breaking 120 degree heat. I’ll have more on this Photowalk shoot in the coming weeks! (Sales pitch time: don’t forget to tune into the Photowalks TV series this weekend on the streaming TV app Tubi, and watch our six episodes from Portugal, the Big Island of Hawaii, Morro Bay, Oregon Coast, Los Angeles and Catalina Island.)

As always, thanks for reading, watching and listening, and let me know your thoughts on today’s edition with a HEART tab click, or a reply!

Jeff