Don’t copy-paste e-commerce tactics. Here’s why #mediaproducts | Ritvvij Parrikh Humane ClubMade with Humane Club

Don’t copy-paste e-commerce tactics. Here’s why #mediaproducts

Published Feb 24, 2021
Updated Dec 29, 2022

News products are similar to e-commerce websites. An article can be likened to a SKU, and a section to a product category. Thus, a section editor is a category manager. The role of product management is to optimize the website’s flow.”

Excerpt from a conversion

Today, digital media products are heavily influenced by the tools and techniques developed for e-commerce, because e-commerce was one of the first financial successes on the Internet.

  • They pioneered many digital marketing techniques, user experience paradigms, algorithms, and Internet plumbing infrastructure (AWS), which other industries such as media and news adopted later.
  • Moreover, many of the product leaders at news and media products today first honed their skills at e-commerce companies.

However, not all strategies perfected by the e-commerce industry are effective for media.

Jeff Bezos famously said that Amazon would focus on improving product selection, lowering prices, and faster delivery even decades later. Beyond these, media aims to capture mind share through storytelling and high production quality. For example, Marvel’s or Game of Thrones’ success is determined by whether people watch their videos and, more importantly, how invested they are in the respective universe.

In e-commerce, effective marketing techniques involve providing detailed information about the product. This helps create demand for the product. On the other hand, media products are valued for the information they contain. Once the story is told, the product loses its value.

Characteristics
Escape products compete with sleep.
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Every time you publish a compelling story, you are essentially seeking to reserve 10-minutes in your readers’ calendar.

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In e-commerce, the transaction ends with purchase. Media, such as movies, songs, games, news, entertainment parks, and sports, needs to be purchased and consumed. Hence, audiences pay media companies with both money and time.

Most e-commerce products are not subject to expiration. However, some perishable items, such as milk, fruit, and medicine, have a known expiration date. News, on the other hand, is constantly evolving and requires editorial intervention to determine if it has become outdated.

A teapot is a teapot – it cannot be bought in halves. However, the amount of media consumed varies depending on the individual’s interest, context, and relevance at the time. For instance, cricket fans may spend hours watching a live match, whereas casual viewers may be content with 15-minute highlights.

Media is a highly malleable raw material. For example, the essence of a book can be consumed in its entirety with a Hardcover, as an audiobook, as a kindle eBook, as a summary video on YouTube, or as notes on Blinkist, or as a talk by the author. The same is true for a podcast, a research report, or an investigative piece of journalism.

Yet, early digital media products adopted principles from e-commerce.

There was limited need to invent when the Internet became prevalent, as media businesses already had an active offline business model. Going online was seen as an additional channel, rather than a necessity. In contrast, most e-commerce businesses had to invent their way out, as they did not transition from offline retail to online retail.

Additionally, most early digital media businesses, such as news sites and Blogger.com, and YouTube, relied on the advertisement or attention economy. Each click generated a new page view and ad impression. Click-throughs and website navigation became more important than making it easy for audiences to read. The focus gradually shifted from storytelling and capturing attention to improving click-through rates (CTRs) with click-bait headlines and cover photos.

Implications

E-commerce sites like Amazon often suggest related items, assuming the customer has a need for them. For instance, if you purchase gardening tools, you may be presented with seeds. Similarly, YouTube’s recommendation algorithms can lead to the formation of “echo chambers” – spaces where people are only exposed to ideas that match their existing beliefs.

News Websites Resemble Yellow Pages More Than Newspapers: Below are two screenshots: one from Amazon and another from a news site. Both sites offer a shopping experience. The user is presented with the widest selection of inventory/stories, laid out one below the other, and must click to another page to view more.

Professor Damon Kiesow tweeted how this UX is bad for journalism’s civic role in a recent tweet thread.

What happens when you think from first principles

In contrast, the print newspaper and magazine was a reading interface. One could quickly glance at an entire print newspaper in two minutes or read through it in twenty minutes. All the stories were readily available to read, segmented by typography, size, and placement. Charts, visuals, quotes, and cartoons were stitched together into a seamless page for the day. Let’s call this concept “composability”.

The New York Times website is among the few that have achieved this concept well. Articles, charts, and live blogs fit together as if it were a newspaper. If you have only 3 minutes today, come glance at the homepage for a sampling of everything. The NYT homepage continues to live up to its original slogan – “All the News That’s Fit to Print.”