How publishers are trying to Amazon-proof their e-commerce strategies

Publishers worried about platform dependence have to watch their backs on e-commerce, too.

As more publishers have charged into commerce looking for new revenue, many have run straight into the jaws of Amazon, which is a convenient, yet addictive partner. For some publishers, Amazon represents upward of 80 percent of their affiliate commerce revenues, and its penchant for dropping the commission rates on certain categories of goods has the ability to make or break entire business strategies.

That’s left many publishers trying to figure out how to Amazon-proof their e-commerce strategies. We gathered some advice and opinions from the Tap conference on Sept. 28.

Use audience data to personalize
“The advantages of publishers building gateways [for commerce] is they know their user base better,” said Aram Zucker-Scharff, a digital ad engineering director at The Washington Post. “Amazon has to be very general because they have to serve everyone. If you know that your readers are very interested in a particular thing, you can customize that experience in a way that caters to them.” He added that publishers could use the detailed audience taxonomies they’ve established for article recommendations to also understand product recommendations.

Embrace the role as an authority
While Amazon is a place where most people head to purchase something they’ve planned to purchase, they are just scratching the surface of curation, which gives publishers that have gained their readers’ trust an advantage. “It’s all about curation,” said Jacqueline Wladis, the director of partnerships at “They’re coming to you as a top-of-funnel publisher because they want new suggestions.”

Tell products’ stories
Many brands are still leery of Amazon, and they have limited ability to make their products stand out inside the e-commerce giant’s properties. That “democratization of product making” gives publishers an opportunity, said Jack Jia, the founder of Musely.

“Think of how many different kinds of bottled water we drink now. There’s audience for each of these makers. But those stories need to be told before someone wants to buy one of those products,” he said. “The Walmarts and Amazons of the world struggle to do that.”

Embrace Apple Pay
One key reason publishers wind up yoked to Amazon is the convenience it offers to consumers: More than 40 million people use the Amazon iPhone app on a monthly basis, and over 1.5 million new people download it every month, according to Apptopia data.

Many publishers are reluctant to direct their readers to different retailers, which have a smaller base of app installations and may have a more cumbersome, time-consuming checkout process. Focusing on speed and convenience, which a checkout system like Apple Pay offers, can ease that friction.

“You’re trying to make that checkout as fast as possible,” said Attn CTO Jake McGraw, who spent five years at Refinery29. “A lot of shoppers are price-sensitive, but a lot more of them are time-sensitive.”

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