In late August, workers at several publishers who participate in the Amazon Publishing Program, or OSP, logged onto their dashboards and found what seemed like a nice surprise.
Revenue has, in many cases, jumped in double digits and for many by more than 20%. For a program that has turned into a seven- or even eight-figure revenue stream for some publishers, the jumps have been more than welcome, especially for those who saw OSP revenue flat or even decline earlier that year.
Those same participants got a less pleasant surprise a few days later, when, without explanation or warning, all those gains vanished from their dashboards.
After days of complaints and inquiries, publishers received an email saying that Amazon had detected a reporting issue that “inaccurately updated performance metrics” for June, July and August.
It is proved that this hiccup is not the last. Earlier this month, some participants received an email saying that OSP commissions were not adequately reported due to a processing error that occurred in September.
These hiccups, very close to the start of the shopping season, put OSP participants on edge. It’s also emblematic of a program that has become increasingly frustrating for its participants over the past year, thanks to sudden changes in content requirements, the downgrading or removal of publisher content from search results, as well as an ongoing lack of communication that many participants say has become inappropriate, the sources said. acceptable.
While some participating publishers have continued to see an upward trend in revenue from OSP overall, many have seen a sharp decline. Sources at two of the publishers participating in the OSP program said their revenues had fallen so much that they were considering giving up the program altogether. A third said they were worried they might have to give it up next year.
“The future of OSP is very uncertain for us,” said a source at a fourth publisher. “Amazon provides adequate reporting by the affiliate company [with Amazon Associates] Where you can hire employees, and expect performance, you can follow best practices. With OSP, there seem to be tools being pulled that creators don’t see.”
After accessing the comment, Amazon sent a statement instead of responding to a set of questions sent by Digiday.
“At Amazon, we are constantly testing our software to create the best shopping experience for customers and to help publishers achieve success on Amazon,” the statement read. “On-site publishing is still in the invite-only phase and we will continue to test and learn how we share that content with customers – testing new placements across Amazon, making it easier for customers to discover great content and introducing publishers to a new audience. Our goals from the program are aligned with those of our publishers, and we We are committed to helping them succeed.”
loss of status
While all affiliate programs rely at least to some degree on retailers offering commissions, OSP requires participating publishers to invest a significant amount of trust in Amazon. OSP allows publishers to distribute product guides through the Amazon website and app, then earn commissions if the person who reads these guides purchases one of the featured products.
Although publishers can place all of their directories on profile pages within Amazon properties, the vast majority of directories views come from Amazon search queries; For most of the past couple of years, a person who has entered a search query like “best air fryer,” for example, or “best pillows” excerpts from a directory written by a participating OSP publisher will likely find among the first few searches results.
Like any digital media company, Amazon has been regularly fiddling with what it puts in its search results. These tests have sometimes had disastrous results for OSP publishers, who said Amazon rarely warned them that tests were coming, although sources contacted for this story said it was entirely reasonable for them to conduct them. A sixth source said, “They won’t do their job if they don’t try to improve.”
But this spring, several publishers noticed that Amazon was starting to rely on one experience they found particularly annoying. Instead of displaying publisher guides in various search results, Amazon was showing users products recommended by Amazon itself, or products that were highly rated by Amazon customers.
These recommendation tools, which included many of the same design elements as publisher guides, felt an ominous step toward an outcome that many participants had feared since the program began: that Amazon, after using publishers’ content to see how the content might compel a user to buy something, would simply lead to exclude publishers from the equation.
“They have basically replaced most of the OSP [content] I can see with “high rating” [results]A source at a fifth co-publisher said its revenue from the show is down nearly 90% from its peak.
Opinions differ about how much the share of search results from OSP content is lost. But beyond the revenue loss, the change sparked a wave of suspicion among many participants that Amazon might use data generated by OSP conversions to report items they recommend to consumers. Amazon has, in several different cases, taken data generated by other sellers and partners and used it to rotate features or products that directly compete with those offered by those sellers and partners.
“There is no industrial strength MSA [master service agreements] use control [OSP] The third source said.
change in standards
But Amazon’s support for its recommendations has been particularly troubling to some publishers in light of a separate change it began making in the spring, when it told publishers they would have to make changes to their guides.
In its earliest incarnation, most of the content within OSP came from well-known heritage media brands, many of which were edited light versions of the content they actually posted on their own sites. But within a few months, a new batch of publishers emerged, many of them more opaque, some of the sources questionable and making recommendations based on less stringent ratings.
“They didn’t go out to try and create an environment that rewards great content; they were out to increase sales,” said a sixth source. “On the one hand, they expected the quality to drop.” [when they let smaller publishers in]. I don’t think they anticipated how quickly people would push the limits.”
Earlier this year, OSP participants got a hefty dose of guidance. In late spring, Amazon began telling participants that it was changing the guidelines and list of features that each guide needed to include.
For many sources, guidance was welcome, but the time frame was not: many were told they would have 30 days for evidence, which in some cases amounted to hundreds of pieces of content, to comply.
“These are hundreds of articles. These are the things [been] Pre-approved,” the second CEO exasperated.
He made a lot of changes, not only to avoid a huge drop in revenue. But because some changes may lead to better performance. For some, this has not paid off.
“We’ve never seen a material improvement from those changes,” the third source said. “There was a bitter taste from it.”