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Testing direct donations over Alexa

"Alexa, take my money."

Sure, there isn’t a straightforward business model for publishers building Alexa skills quite just yet — grafting advertising products onto Flash briefing remains a dicey proposition on the platform — but there is most definitely some interesting experimentation happening, some of which is being seeded by Amazon itself.

From Current, the public media trade publication of choice (note the paywall):

NPR and KUOW in Seattle are testing a donation feature that Amazon developed to enable charitable giving through its Alexa voice assistant.
As of April, the two organizations were among the first nonprofits that Amazon invited to begin collecting donations. And while NPR is figuring out how to direct gifts to the donors’ preferred stations as listeners respond, KUOW has run promotions and found it’s more than just a novelty feature for listeners.

Later in the article, it was found that up to a quarter of KUOW’s monthly streams were facilitated through Alexa, and that initial fundraising experiments were able to generate some responses.

There’s quite a bit more detail in the (paywalled) Current piece, and I’m not going to aggregate any more information in this write-up other than to say: NPR and KUOW face very different implementation questions here. The latter is focused on figuring out just how effective the Alexa platform is going to be as a generator of direct donations from Echo-owning members, while the former is tasked with the more politically delicate question of how it can best serve as the practical touch-point of research, best practices instruction, and technical middle-man between Amazon and the broader public radio ecosystem.

Maybe I’m just being overly optimistic here — what a rare moment! — but I think direct donation behavior is something that can totally be unlocked within the current context of the Amazon Echo, which is a device that was developed in large part to dramatically reduce the friction between purchase intent and purchase action. (Random side note: man, the first time I bought something through Amazon Echo, it felt… really weird, and weirdly naughty, because of how frictionless the whole process felt. I suspect that has to do my feelings of guilt around spending money in general, so I wonder how different it’ll feel when it’s a transaction that’s actually supposed to fill me with moral warmth.)

For what it’s worth, I hope NPR, KUOW, and whatever research group comes from this figures this one out. Since I’ve started writing about smart speakers, I’ve always detected a pervading assumption that the economy of smart speaker media was always going to end up being built primarily on advertising, in the same way so many other new technology and media forms tended to assume advertising as its eventual key pillar of commerce. Maybe we’re still due for that — advertising has only recently and rapidly become a multi billion-dollar business for Amazon, after all, and who know how the company is going to express its interests in advertising in the future — but for now, it feels like there’s a chance for a strong alternative model to be formed.

Related reading:

  • “Marketplace” puts “Make me Smart” on Amazon’s Alexa. (TalkingBizNews)