Can Amazon please show mercy to the brands and products we love?

DPreview can prove to be a lesson on how to sell your business

Digital photography review (best known as DPReview) was considered one of the best review and news sites and backed by a strong community. It was founded in 1998 at the dawn of the internet and was bought by Amazon in 2007.

The staff was slowly replaced by contractors and freelancers over the years until Amazon ditched it in March. The backlash was intense, and the company promised to put the site on an “archive status” so people could continue reading it even if no new content was added.

After Amazon vociferously announced it was shutting down the site, there seemed to be a chance it might still survive. Sources tell me several companies have reached out to Amazon to ask if they can buy it. Private equity saw opportunities but was rejected.

I’ve spoken to a number of people over the years who have worked at DPReview, all of whom worried about what they could and couldn’t say to Amazon due to various contractual obligations.

However, they told me that the site staff were not kept up to date with what was going on. And when Amazon put DPReview on hold, several sources told me that Amazon was planning to shut down the site altogether; In other words, it wasn’t interested in selling DPReview.

Then, just last month, it did another U-turn and sold the site to Gear Patrol. “It wasn’t a stock deal, but beyond that I can’t reveal anything,” Eric Yang, founder and CEO of Gear Patrol, told me. “We didn’t raise venture capital, just a bit of debt. We believe this allows us to continue to make independent editorial decisions. Ten people from DPReview are coming on board.”

DPReview’s saga made me wonder why these companies decided to sell to Amazon in the first place.

It goes beyond DPReview

DPReview isn’t the only brand this has happened to: Amazon bought Back to Basics Toys in 1999. Four years later it was sold to children’s book and magazine publisher Scholastic.

But it also has a long history of successful acquisitions: For example, Canada’s AbeBooks, UK’s Bookpages, and Germany’s Telebook have all been integrated into Amazon’s bookstores.

Other acquisitions were more strategic. LoveFilm was integrated with Amazon Video, and online payment processors and Tapzo were integrated with Amazon’s financial services, and parts of it became Amazon Pay. CustomFlix and BookSurge became CreateSpace, Amazon’s print-on-demand company. Audible, Zappos, Whole Foods, Ring, MGM, iRobot, Shopbop, and Twitch were all able to retain their original brands and presences. PillPack became Amazon Pharmacy, and who knows what the long-term strategy for Amazon’s $4 billion acquisition of One Medical is.

Amazon has already quietly shut down a number of brands, including Brilliance Audio, which it acquired in 2007 and shut down in 2018. Crib of the North was a well-known editorial tools company that was bought by Amazon in 1999 before quietly disappearing as a separate brand and later re-emerging as Acme Tools after the non-competition clause expired.

There’s a very long list of popular properties that Amazon owns that haven’t had any significant investments recently. For example, it’s worth keeping an eye on Goodreads and IMDb.

There are countless brands that are a good fit with Amazon, especially brands that Amazon Web Services buys. However, when it comes to editorial brands like DPReview, it seems Amazon has changed its mind. Perhaps the company’s change of heart offers some opportunities in the future; I just hope it doesn’t set fire to the brands we love the most.

For startups, I think the lesson here is to consider who you’re selling to to see if there’s a long-term match between you and the buyer. If the answer is no, it might be worth looking beyond the dollar signs and back to your company’s original mission.

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