Ina Steiner EcommerceBytes Blog
News and insight focusing on ecommerce.
by Ina Steiner, Editor of EcommerceBytes.com
Wed Feb 12 2014 12:55:29

The Changing Landscape of Ecommerce Reporting

By: David Steiner

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If you have felt, over the past five or six years, that what you read about the ecommerce industry in mainstream and tech publications feels more like PR rehash than actual news, then you're right. There has been a palpable shift away from "boots on the ground" reporting because of economic pressure that publishers are feeling which leaves large holes in content sites. News sites need to churn content, and when you can't afford to pay people to write it, you turn to pre-packaged articles, put out by marketing arms of companies, that give one (very favorable, of course) side of the story.

That's just one problem.

Another, more serious, issue is that there are far fewer qualified journalists covering this industry. When we first started reporting on ecommerce 15 years ago, we were lucky enough to be sharing the space with an impressive group of investigative reporters - Mylene Mangalindan, Nick Wingfield, Bob Tedeschi, Katie Hafner, Troy Wolverton to name a few. And although we were competing for the same eyeballs, there was a frequent dialogue with them. What's more, if we were lucky enough to break a story before a major publication, they would cite us, link back, or ask for a quote to color their article. 

Let me step back a second to mention that this was before Google began imposing penalties on sites for outbound links. Once news sites began to sink in search results for linking to the original sources of stories, those citations and links began disappearing. In fact, last year, after spending a good deal of time explaining a story to a reporter from a major publication, Ina asked if he would hyperlink the EcommerceBytes URL in his story. She was told, "I don't think that's something we do generally." Aside from quality journalists moving on, this has probably had the biggest impact on reporting - and not in a good way.

Here's a recent example: The story we broke about Alibaba's new foray into the US with its subsidiary's 11Main.com marketplace. Sellers turned us on to the story about 6 weeks ago, and we made inquiries to our contacts, but they were not ready to talk yet. In the meantime, we dug for more information about the impending "soft-launch" from our sources and decided to make one more inquiry to an Alibaba spokesperson before we broke the story on Sunday evening.

As expected, the story brought a huge amount of traffic to our site. Turn the clock ahead 24 hours, and Reuters published an article on the upcoming launch of 11Main. No attribution, no link back, nothing. Hmmm, where could they possibly have gotten the story? There was no other site publishing this information except EcommerceBytes. Within a few hours, no fewer than 24 articles were indexed in Google News about 11Main. Who was the "originating source" they linked to? Reuters of course.

An inquiry to one of the publications returned this response: "Much apologies for the mistaken phrasing in my article - Reuters was the one that first confirmed it with Alibaba. I am glad you broke the story more than a day ago, but as I go through plenty of stories each day, Reuters was the first I saw - and neither did they cite you. I wouldn't have known, apologies. Maybe in the future, you could just email me whenever you feel a story is worth us noting/picking up from you?"

And therein lies the problem. News publications are basically just riffing off of each other's' stories, and what we're left with is a big pool of piss-poor reporting. No effort to track down the original source, no effort to find merchants using the marketplace - it's just lazy.

If this had been an isolated incident, I would simply shrug it off as an anomaly. But the same scenario has played itself out dozens of times over the past several years. Publications don't link anymore because journalists don't have to, in fact, it's detrimental to the health of a web site.

Google News compounds the problem. Despite using "standout tags" to tell its system this was an in-depth piece, our story was not included  alongside the Reuters article, making it more difficult for reporters to realize there was an earlier, more indepth story..

What's the impact on readers? You lose. You don't get a full range of perspective because reporters are afraid to quote other reporters like ourselves, who are covering niche industries. The widely cited Reuters story about 11 Main contained 217 words, with no perspective from sellers who were participating in the site. Ina's article was 790 words, included a screenshot of the pre-launch 11Main.com home page and contained information from sellers participating in the marketplace. Our story also linked to the EcommerceBytes Blog that contained comments from sellers who weighed in on what they thought of this new Alibaba-backed marketplace.

We're lucky - we have a built-in audience and are not reliant on search engines. That was a conscious decision we made years ago when we saw which way the wind was blowing. But there are thousands of small publishers that are not as fortunate, who don't sell out their advertising a year in advance, and who rely on search engine placement and contextual advertising for survival. Should this trend continue, those sites will be distant memories, and readers will be left with repurposed press releases disguised as news articles.




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Readers Comments

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This user has validated their user name. by: Rexford

Wed Feb 12 13:33:28 2014

This makes me feel very lucky that I know of ecommercebytes.com and I applaud Ina and David's (as well as those who work with them)reporting.  I also appreciate the hard and laborious work that they put into writing these informative and often eye opening stories.

I have actually found that most of the stories that I read about companies such as eBay and Amazon.com in the mainstream press read more like press releases submitted by the companies themselves.  In my opinion the mainstream press is doing "fast food" reporting.

Keep up the good work Ina and David.  You are a dying breed.



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by: brokentoys19 This user has validated their user name.

Wed Feb 12 13:53:52 2014

Agree 1000%, but it's not just ecommerce news. News seems like a copy and paste, rubber stamp feelgood prolefeed industry now. It's about driving traffic to your site, not the content.

It may help a reporter's popularity to have lots of tattoos and facial piercings. (because being trendy is far more important that delivering quality content. LOL

Another aspect is that while they may poach your story(s), they ignore other things which are much more newsworthy, like the current GSP scandal for instance?

How many major publications will be picking up that, or things like the broken search engine, hiding listings, purges, etc?

If not for ecommercebytes, what would the ebay news world look like? Barren- other than rainbows and unicorn poop.

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This user has validated their user name. by: Basset

Wed Feb 12 14:30:02 2014

You are so right – journalism ain’t what it used to be. I’m a self-professed news junkie & routinely read some sites daily, still read a rag when I can, & watch “news” on television. I recognize baby food when I am being spoon fed the same. Bieber anyone???

I’m old enough to have seen real journalism. These days when reporters try to practice REAL journalism, unfortunately they or their career can be put at risk. Too many stories over the past year about reporters getting hacked or threatened with jail that got quickly buried in the “pop news”.  Quite a few stories, actually.  And I’m not even talking about the Guardian’s EX- Glen Greenwald’s controversial experience.


I googled 11Main also, after I read the ecommercebytes article. I think your photo shows the same search results I got. I’m thinking the story is big enough to bear mention on any mainstream news, but maybe they are waiting on the “grand opening”.  


To practice REAL journalism, Ecommerce or other, takes bravery these days. Soldier on, David & Ina!

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by: MerryWhy This user has validated their user name.

Wed Feb 12 16:36:30 2014

Great discussion Ina! Have you read Ryan Holiday's book "Trust Me, I'm Lying" - it discusses this trend, and how to take advantage of it.  

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This user has validated their user name. by: Ina

Wed Feb 12 16:53:58 2014

Who did reach out to me on Monday after we broke the story? Not reporters - Wall Street analysts. What a world.

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by: TomH This user has validated their user name.

Wed Feb 12 17:19:59 2014

David, great article. It also illustrates in a side issue way Google's ''Do No Evil'' Yeah! Right! Anyone who wholly believes that; I have this bridge....

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by: Ogri This user has validated their user name.

Wed Feb 12 18:16:09 2014

Wonder also if the tech companies have become much smarter at dealing with press enquiries over the years and that may have an affect.
Many years ago I worked for a tech consulting company, a certain number of tech employees were sent on an intensive how to talk to the press course.  Everyone else was told to refer press enquiries to one of the trained people.
Can't remember the details now but it was content like how to avoid being led into giving a contentious answer, or led down a blind alley you can’t back out of and answer something you didn’t want to etc.  Along with how to project the best possible image for the company, the end result was a kind of 'laundered' output (without lying) to the specialist and non specialist press. and I guess not always obvious that the person had been trained, as they werent PR staff.

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This user has validated their user name. by: Ming the Merciless

Wed Feb 12 18:48:10 2014

Most business news "reporters" today are nothing more than press release aggregators and repackagers as long as doing so won't damage their careers.

Their spin is worse than being on a rollercoaster after too many cocktails.

Most reporters have exchanged honest reporting and investigative journalism for access and job security.

How many appearances would The Ho make on Jim Cramer's sorry program if Cramer consistently reported the truth about ebay?

How many analysts would get the inside information they get from ebay management if they consistently rated ebay stock as a hold or sell?

All those Silicon Valley industry cheerleading online sites and reports would have little or nothing to say if they report the truth about what's really going on inside companies like ebay.

It's all about access and money.

In 2012, I wrote this here:

Shortly after The Omnipotent Ho took over, Ina reported -- and I'm paraphrasing -- that an ebafia executive told her they didn't like the the "tone" of the then Auctionbytes website or reporting.

From that point on if the "tone" didn't please ebafia, the Steiners' access to top ebafia executives would be cut off. But if the Steiners improved the "tone" to ebay's satisfaction the they not only would have access to ebafia management but that ebafia would pay their expenses for an upcoming meeting.

In other words, attempted bribery and extortion.

The second incident occurred when the head of ebafia's laughable public relations department, Jose Mallabo, posted a vicious and mean personal attack on Ina here.

Mallabo left ebafia not too long afterwood and when last heard from was posting asinine comments on some social blog."

Ecommercebytes is the Diamond ecommerce news site among among the cubic zirconias.

It is the only place I know of on the net where traditional ethical journalism prevails -- no convenient infomercials masquerading as "news" -- when reporting on e commerce.

Unless we can figure out how to change the direction the internet and e commerce is taking, we'll have essentially the same paradigm on the net that exists in the brick and mortar world.

The big boys will do their best to purge the little guys using a modified Walmart strategy and control who has access to which sites and which things on those and how fast these sites will run and/or load.

Google is well on its way to becoming another Walmart. Shut down your Google email accounts and go elsewhere.

My appreciation of and admiration for the Steiners' integrity knows no bounds.

I couldn't have stayed in business post Neg Meg without the unbiased and accurate information they've provided.

Thank you.

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This user has validated their user name. by: Ming the Merciless

Wed Feb 12 18:50:16 2014

PS

The internet is run by aliens. The grays or maybe the reptilians.

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This user has validated their user name. by: Ming the Merciless

Wed Feb 12 18:55:25 2014

PSS

Today's media with a hand full of exception is corporate media run by and for the benefit of furthering corporate agendas.

Its purpose is to generate revenue by intentionally releasing disinformation to manipulate the thinking and behavior of its consumers.

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This user has validated their user name. by: David Steiner

Wed Feb 12 20:56:52 2014

We received a good question asking for some clarification on the statement about Google imposing penalties for outbound links. I didn't want to get too bogged down in the technical aspects of Google's algorithm in the post, but essentially Google discourages sites from linking to sites with lower Page Rank. There's a decent explanation of it here:

http://www.kahenadigital.com/importance-of-links-and-thei
r-effect-on-pr/

While
I don't believe that Google's intent was to keep sites from linking to each other, the reality is that in order to keep from lowering their own Page Rank, many sites just avoid external links altogether.

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This user has validated their user name. by: Tula

Thu Feb 13 00:42:22 2014

The level of impact Google has on journalism is kind of scary in a Big Brother sort of way. They don't even have to do things overtly. Small changes and everyone just piles on and follows them, no matter how it affects things. And no one seems to think long-term any more. It's all about getting as much as you can now. It's a sad commentary on the amount of common sense that's seeing any action out there these days.

I'm just glad we have sites like this to gives us real info and insights, otherwise we'd be stuck with biased "rah-rah-rah, look how great we are!" press releases.

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by: LinneyPinney This user has validated their user name.

Thu Feb 13 01:42:09 2014

Though I have been selling on eBay 16 years, I only found this site about 6 months ago. I never got involved with the boards on eBay. I am very involved with selling groups with my etsy shop and on FB.
I was frustrated beyond words with the lies spun by eBay and the inconsistent information that I was receiving. I went on a quest for the truth and found this site.
You people were all saying what I was thinking. I was trying to tell these things to my peers and they called me a ''Negative Nellie''. I am not! I am a realist and something is very wrong. The paradigm is shifting and wanted to know what is really going on.
You all have given me piece of mind. The honest reporting of Ina and the blunt and truthful comments of all of you have provided me with the information that I was seeking.
Now, I cannot wait to read every issue. I know that I will learn something, find someone who is thinking what I am thinking and I will read truthful reports instead of stories that were spun to keep eBay shareholders happy.
Listening to the Carl Icahn interview yesterday on Fox, it was amazing to hear him say what all of us have been thinking and many of you have been saying about eBay and it's poor leadership.
Thank you Ina for this site and all of your fantastic reporting. And thank you all for speaking out and saying what might be unpopular, but is so right on and true. Just know that there are many of us reading that don't comment often, but we are thinking ''Bravo! Well said.'' Please keep doing what you are all doing.  

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by: Ebay's Slow Death This user has validated their user name.

Thu Feb 13 03:36:06 2014

I try to read this site every night before I go to bed. It is the only information about Ebay, and other sites, I trust. Ina and David tell the truth about breaking news, or what they have discovered on their own.  They can be totally trusted not to regurgitate some corporate news release.

What would we do without EcommerceBytes? I learn so much from your reporting and the great comments that follow.

Please keep up the good work (even if it feels like you are swimming up stream against the rapids sometimes).

You are appreciated!!!!

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by: ewegolf This user has validated their user name.

Thu Feb 13 07:22:17 2014

The majority of the large media outlets, newspapers, radio and television, are controlled by companies with large leveraged debt. Their interest is producing material with the least cost. We have local television trumpeting the upcoming "mini-documentary", all 90 seconds of it. There is increasing encroachment of network filler pieces on local broadcasts. Many fault newspapers with not changing with the times but sadly, many actually are with press release reprints and reductions in staff. Now, as we continue the downward slide into the informational abyss, there is a generation in which any news or communication must be done in 140 characters or less. It is a disturbing trend.

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by: FREDDY This user has validated their user name.

Thu Feb 13 08:26:01 2014

Please keep up what you are doing. Very informative.
I wonder what the real reason Bezos purchased Wall Street Journal. Is it just a way of controlling certain stories that will benefit Amazon?????

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This user has validated their user name. by: Al G

Thu Feb 13 09:20:49 2014

**Sigh**

Welcome to the world of 1984.

I have dealt with flesh & blood "reporters" on numerous occasions & was not impressed. You, like a politician, will let them know what you will say, will say it, and tell them what you said - and they still screw it up!
Granted, this is not the CBS wunderkind (Murrow,Kronkite etc) of the post-world war 2 era, but 99% of the reporters are in the former boat, to wit, clueless.

So Corporate America will always take advantage of the situation - the have the money, they have the access, they have the politicians (excuse me, lobbyists) in their pocket. And they have the confusion of a new paradigm for channeling news from the source (tainted or not) to the drain (the space between the consumer's eyes). Look what the printing press did to the town criers and how the political pamphlets during the American Revolutionary era worked. Most of those pamphlets were rife with innuendo (Thomas Jefferson took part in the process BTW). It was only in the early 20th Century in the US when "muckraking" overcame yellow journalism. Even the Pulitzer Prize had its roots in questionable journalism - József Pulitzer did not publish the best of newspapers when he was amassing his fortune in the New York City tabloid competition.

So it seems that we are now in an information overload, with many sources, many channels and many drains. With the confusion comes opportunity. With opportunity comes the chance to cut corners. We have seen it in the Balkanization of TV news, what is left of it other than sports & weather (which is turning into a sport venue - storm EASTON is racing up the coast tackling the I-95 line --- yabba, yabba, yabba).

Finding the 1% is difficult, requires effort and a modicum (maybe 7th grade) of intelligence. Unfortunately most of the sheeple do not avail themselves of the facts because they are lazy, worried about finding a job, or busy flossing their teeth.

Kudos to you, David & Ina for your efforts. Getting rewarded properly is frustrating to say the least.



As a closing remark to
@LinneyPinney

Whilst us subscribers seem to have the same outlook, it is not conducive for growth of the intellect. Differing opinion is necessary because it forces you to think. I value dissent if properly presented. Otherwise we'd be just part of the mob. I apply it to the radical news outlets of any stripe as well (maybe even more so). Being part of a mob does society no good because it will not be able to grow, it will only go where the leaders of the mob who generally brook no opposition take you.

So I welcome dissent & controversy here as long as we are civil and can present cogent arguments to support our position.

Oops - time to get shoveling, the beagles need a place to go.

"Watch out where the huskies go, and don't you eat that yellow snow" Frank Zappa


Peace, love & Cherry Garcia

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This user has validated their user name. by: Ed Gadfly
Web Site

Thu Feb 13 09:59:46 2014

How can you write a hard hitting article and still get invited back?

There was an article yesterday on some business site about how Johnny D. "Saved" eBay. Just nauseating.

Here is a funny article about how the PayPal president is railing on PreyPal employees who refuse to install the PreyPal app.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/liz-ryan/paypal-president-to-sta
ff_b_4776490.html

Maybe
they are afraid PayPal will hold their funds.

Maybe EcommerceBytes has an email address for news tips. Step forward eBay workers!

This is a good site. The comments are great. How many people come back and say "Wow, it happened to me."

Google's motto is "Do no evil."
PayPal claims to be the most loved payment system.

Propaganda 101 - The Big Lie. Repeat the lie enough and people believe it. Howard Stern, King of All Media, copied the technique from Michael Jackson, the King of Pop (self proclaimed.)

Want to hear another big lie? There is no place better than eBay.

Good Work ECOMM Crew!

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by: Moonwishes This user has validated their user name.
Web Site

Thu Feb 13 10:50:24 2014

Seems like this is going on all over and not just on line news/reporting. Last night, for the third night in a row, On TV news I saw the same story about a local sports story. Not a new angle, but the same people featured saying the same thing. With the death of newspapers, I guess people gave up going into journalism which affects both on-line and TV reporting. Sad to see.

For those of us that sell on line, with no other good source to go to for ecommerce news, many of us rely heavily on EcommerceBytes to get the latest news. Thanks for the good job you do.

As an older person that has had to learn computing on the fly, I get tired of people that talk about something without explaining what they are talking about. Several years ago I remember many silly commercials about going to the cloud for TV shows etc. Well I missed their point completely since they apparently assumed everyone knew about 'the cloud', but I know I sure didn't, At this point, I just barely understand it but don't have any idea on how to get to my cloud if I have one! No one has bothered to spell it out anywhere in a news article that someone like me would read. It probably was featured in a tech magazine, but how many on line sellers have their noses in tech magazines? I guess what I'm trying to say is that you are right journalism is almost a dead art and it goes along with everything else that those of us that have been dependent on the written word to explain things to us, right down to those silly three cartoon pictures with no text at all on how to set up electronic equipment! No explanations on boxes as to what something is, what it is to be used for, how to get the best use out it, etc. Reading for many people is a dead art. I'm just glad this site isn't dead. I'm glad for the reporting you do and the comments from readers that help to give an even clearer picture of the news article.

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This user has validated their user name. by: Basset

Thu Feb 13 12:27:10 2014

A few months back I had to go to a “how to talk to the press course” very similar to what Ogri describes above. Only for the government. “Being on message” is getting impossible to escape no matter what you do. Scary times. Paranoia was so rampant that they ended up just having the “class” refer the press to someone higher up.  Can’t let someone damage the image.  

One more reason to value a site like this.




@Al G – in remarks to LinneyPinney including:  “So I welcome dissent & controversy here as long as we are civil and can present cogent arguments to support our position.”

Amen.

When you compare the (mostly) civil discourse on this site to the online commentary of some of the news sites (liberal, conservative, everything else) – well there IS no comparison. Perhaps David should give them moderator tips. (maybe we are just THAT civil : )

Even NON-political news stories turn into such online virtual bloodletting it is  enough to make you think society is one step away from all hell breaking loose.

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