Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 15 seconds

Shoppable content appears to be growing in popularity with publishers and retailers while also raising questions regarding writers’ objectivity.

The concept of shoppable content refers to adding sales tags in text and pictures within articles. It’s part of a broader trend of online retailers seeking to provide constant opportunities for individuals to shop within emails, videos, and websites.

Online publisher and entertainment provider Mashable is the latest entity to embrace the strategy. It recently teamed up with eBay to plant tags in its content. The tags take viewers to items for sale on the online auction platform. The tags correspond with the content.

For example, a picture of a movie star could have tags on the various clothing items or jewelry being worn by the individual. By clicking on the tags, readers can shop for similar items without leaving the Mashable website. The tags are inserted in the articles or pictures by Mashable journalist who in turn can receive compensation when items are purchased with the transactions processed by eBay.

Mashable isn’t the only platform to embrace shoppable content. Instagram has a similar program with Target, reports RetailDIVE.

Online retailer Shopify also offers items through Instagram. Shopify’s website promotes how it makes it easy to add sales tags to content on the social media platform. The program is still in development, so only a limited numbers of companies that currently use Shopify for online retailing are eligible. Once testing is complete, the program will be opened up to more businesses.

RetailDIVE also reports that Amazon is pursuing a similar strategy with its shoppable content feed called Spark and Walmart has a partnership with Buzzfeed’s Tasty social food network. RetailMeKnot also provides shoppable content within its mobile apps.

In addition to selling products, eBay will use the program to learn more about how individuals shop. In particular, the online auction will gather data on shopping activities that occur on websites other than eBay, says Dan Burdett, Head of eBay EMEA Marketing Lab. According to an eBay blog, the program also seeks to provide a simplified shopping experience.

Industry watchers, or at least some observers, may question the impact on writers’ objectivity because of shoppable content. For example, journalists may have less incentive to write about topics, such as poverty, religion, or crime, that may not be considered shoppable content. 

In a related concern, shoppable content gives journalists an incentive to write favorably about items with hopes that the items will be purchased and create commissions.

The concern, of course, is just one of many regarding digital content. Consider that publishers have an incentive to generate web clicks rather than produce solid journalism.

The concern is widespread and has given rise to the term “clickbait.” PBS has even said that “clickbait” could be the end of journalism as publishers layoff seasoned reporters and instead hire freelancers whose primary skill is attracting eyeballs.

Facebook, for its part, has taken action to curtail clickbait, including clickbait videos.

Affiliated marketing has also raised concerns regarding objectivity, especially with websites that provide product reviews. With affiliated marketing, product reviews provide links to sites where readers can purchase products that have been reviewed.

The website that has provided the reviews and links, in turn, receives compensation when the links result in purchases. The issue received heightened concern this summer in a FastCompany article regarding mattress reviews.

Sponsored content is another concern, at least for the Federal Trade Commission that enforces regulations that require publishers to clearly disclose receiving compensation in exchange for displaying marketing content that is produced to look like regular news articles. Certain consumer protection organizations have also raised concerns regarding sponsored content.

Publishers, however, realize that they need to maintain a certain level of integrity to maintain readers. With that in mind, it’s likely that leading websites will try and curtail the incentives that writers have to promote products.  

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