Wednesday, November 28, 2001

Another Overblown Teapot?

J. Max Robins, writing for TV Guide, blows the whistle on an interesting marketing arrangement.

Those of you who watch news programming from any of the NBC sisters (MSNBC, CNBC, or the broadcast network) may have seen a commercial from encouraging you to browse to a special URL for books mentioned in the broadcast you're watching. Well, says I to myself, how handy. What a public service.

Well, not exactly. It seems that NBC gets 10% of each sale generated by that page.

Robins (or at least Tom Rosenstiel of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, and Deborah Potter, executive director of NewsLab, both of whom he quotes) is hot and bothered over blurring the line between news program and infomercial. "Undermines journalistic integrity", blah blah blah.

Big whoop. This is just an extension of something Amazon has been doing all along, their Associates program. I'm an Amazon associate myself, and that doesn't mean I'm an employee: On my ARTC page, I have a link to, and ARTC gets a cut of any purchases you make if you go there from Not the 10% NBC gets, but then I bring fewer people into the tent. So what?

(If it isn't obvious, the "Amazon associate" link above is just such a link. ARTC also gets a cut of anything you buy if you go there from here. Fair disclosure. Costs you nothing, puts a couple of pennies in the pocket of a non-profit that can use it.)

Maybe I'm missing something. Authors don't appear on talk shows at seven in the morning because they enjoy it: They enjoy seeing their books sell. This sells books, painlessly. This motivates authors to appear on the show in the first place. Television demands a steady stream of people with something to say: People who've just written a book should have something to say.

There is even an advantage to the viewers, who otherwise will be stuck at the mall the next day explaining, "I want that book by that guy about that thing. I saw it on Today. The cover's blue, I think." Everybody wins. Duh.

I swear. Next they'll be wanting to close down Oprah's Book Club.

UPDATE: You have to respect the publicists at the Project for Excellence in Journalism, though. The LA Times and the Denver Post must be on their mailing list as well: Both join TV Guide in breaking the story that the broadcast networks use their morning shows to publicize the rest of their schedules, as well as the products of their corporate siblings.

Uh, guys? They always have. I remember when Barbara Walters was the Cute Girl on Today, rather than the Grande Dame of Television News. Heck, I remember Dave Garroway and Jack Lescoulie. Those guys read their own commercials, live. Was that a conflict of interests?

Oddly, although all of these stories cite the Project for Excellence in Journalism as a source, none of them take the initiative and link to it. As they are the professionals in the field and I am an amateur, I'll risk it. (I guess they're saving the exposes of news organizations that package press releases as if they were "real reporting" for the next sweeps week.)

(And before someone else says it: Yeah, I'm doing pretty much the same thing. But I'm not getting paid.)

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