Its new disclosure policy doesn’t go far enough
This column appeared March 10, 1999, in the Online Journalism Review. Here’s the version on the OJR site.
By J.D. Lasica
If there were a doomsday clock for Web ethics, it would surely be approaching midnight. Nearly every week the line between editorial and advertising blurs a little more, and the gulf between old media and new media mindsets grows ever wider.
The year’s most famous culture clash between old and new media, of course, came with the Feb. 8 disclosure in the New York Times that Amazon was accepting “co-op placement” payments for titles that it recommends on its editorial section pages. Turn to this week’s Literature & Fiction section and you’ll find “Evening News: A Novel” by Marly A. Swick touted under “Fine New Fiction”; turn to Mystery + Thrillers and you’ll find Laurie R. King’s “A Darker Place” heralded under “New and Notable.” Amazon received payments from the publishers for running the books under those headings. (Amazon does not, and never has, accepted payments to alter its best-seller lists. And, to be fair, it receives no payment for most titles it recommends.)
The day after the Times story, Amazon turned on a dime and amended its policy, and it should be applauded for that. But it didn’t go nearly far enough.