Turning inner space into outer space

August 18, 2014

Affiliate links bring credibility into question

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory cover

I was all set to dump on the Washington Post for inserting “Buy Now” buttons in the text of its articles. Turns out it was a mistake — but still scary.

A “Buy Now” button was spotted on the Post’s website last weekend in a story about the creepy new cover for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Not only did it appear to be endorsing a book exploiting a JonBenet Ramsey look-alike, but it also called into question the authenticity of the article. Did the writer really mean what he said, or was he just trying to sell a book?

Making things worse is that the “Buy Now” affiliate is Amazon — owned by Jeff Bezos, the new owner of the Post. Could this really be how Bezos was going to save journalism? With cheesy buttons that send a few pennies to the paper whenever someone buys a book?

The buttons only appeared briefly, and were misplaced, a Post spokesperson told Mashable. They should have been over on the side, where they have been for years.

But even over on the side, affiliate links raise questions. With the Washington Post there is a level of trust that keeps the articles credible despite the presence of these links.

A run-of-the-mill blog, on the other hand, doesn’t have that kind of reputation. I’ve seen glowing reviews of software, only to find an affiliate link at the bottom. This has been going on for so long that readers seem to have learned to accept it as the price they pay for a free-wheeling Internet.

It’s getting to the point where the entire web needs a giant “Buyer Beware” button on it.