September 15, 2022

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🤝 Situational awareness: Adobe has agreed to buy design startup Figma for around $20 billion.

Today's newsletter is 1,259 words, an 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Tech media charges back to the future

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

As the era of giant social networks begins to fade, media outlets that cover tech are looking to their past to navigate a complicated future, reviving formats and features that they'd long ceded to larger platforms, Axios' Sara Fischer and Scott Rosenberg report.

Driving the news: This week Vox Media's The Verge redesigned its home page around a Twitter-like feed. Earlier this year, The Information began offering its subscribers a private social network.

The big picture: Since the web began, sites devoted to tech coverage have led the way in pushing innovations in the aggregation and distribution of news online — from Slashdot in the late '90s to the blog wars between Gizmodo and Engadget in the mid 2000s to the popular embrace of Reddit and Hacker News in the 2010s.

These sites and services all understood that tech news devotees wanted their information fast, with the newest stories highlighted. They wanted it linked, so they could compare different versions from different outlets. And they wanted to be able to connect with the journalists covering their favorite topic.

  • Blogs took off in the 2000s partly because they allowed writers to connect with audiences directly whenever news broke.
  • The arrival of Big Tech platforms like Twitter and Facebook muddled those relationships right at the moment when they were becoming more commercially valuable.

Now, though, Facebook is de-emphasizing news and Twitter's future has grown cloudy, leading tech news outlets to try to reclaim their direct relationships with readers.

The Verge's new home page offers a Twitter-style feed of news tidbits curated by the site's editors and reporters, mixed in with the usual links to its own stories.

  • The idea, Verge editor-in-chief Nilay Patel explained to Axios, is that the feed will make The Verge's own scoops and reporting more relevant to its audiences by highlighting conversations happening around them. It will also help build readers' trust by elevating original reporting from other outlets or creators.
  • "I 100% think we can revolutionize the media with blog posts," Patel said. "We're kind of in a going back to basics moment" of building communities around writers.

The Information earlier this year launched a series of networking features on its site, including a Reddit-like news feed (with up- and down-ranking for articles), direct messaging and a directory.

  • Jessica Lessin, The Information's CEO and founder, told Axios that internet platforms meant for networking, like Facebook and LinkedIn, have become so big and focused on engagement that they've lost the ability to help users create meaningful connections.

Between the lines: The outlets that cover tech and the audience that follows them are at home with a decentralized culture of linkage and aggregation that goes back to the early days of blogging and RSS.

  • Other communities of interest that came online later — like beauty and fashion media — remain more reliant on intermediary platforms like Instagram and TikTok.

Yes, but: The innovators of tech journalism were always better at coming up with faster tools for surfacing and sharing links than at figuring out how to turn a profit.

  • In this latest wave, they're hoping to reclaim direct connections with readers in order to monetize them better.

2. California sues Amazon over antitrust claims

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

California's attorney general on Wednesday announced an antitrust suit against Amazon, alleging the retailer's contracts with sellers lead to higher prices for consumers, Axios' Margaret Harding McGill reports.

Why it matters: The lawsuit claims Amazon's contracts with its sellers lead to inflated prices for goods online and hamper the ability of other online retailers to compete with the e-commerce juggernaut.

Driving the news: The lawsuit, filed in a state Superior Court in San Francisco, alleges Amazon requires its third-party sellers to enter into agreements that penalize them if they offer their products for a lower price on another website.

  • Merchants lose the chance to have their products sold through the "Buy Box" add-to-cart button on Amazon or must "compensate" Amazon if other online stores sell their goods for lower prices, according to the office of state Attorney General Rob Bonta.

What they're saying: Amazon's policies "effectively set a price floor" for online goods, Bonta said in a press conference announcing the lawsuit.

Flashback: District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine sued Amazon in 2021 over the contracts with third-party sellers.

  • Amazon convinced the D.C. Superior Court to dismiss the lawsuit earlier this year, but Racine indicated he would appeal the ruling.

The other side: Amazon says the California suit, like the D.C. one, "has it exactly backwards."

  • "Sellers set their own prices for the products they offer in our store," Amazon said in a statement. "Amazon takes pride in the fact that we offer low prices across the broadest selection, and like any store we reserve the right not to highlight offers to customers that are not priced competitively."

3. EA CEO touts player-made creations

EA's Apex Legends. Screenshot: Electronic Arts

Video game giant Electronic Arts is planning for a future in which player-created virtual worlds are more central to its profits, Axios' Stephen Totilo reports.

Why it matters: Video gamers, already the most active audience in entertainment, are increasingly helping shape the games they play.

Driving the news: EA CEO Andrew Wilson said late Tuesday at a Goldman Sachs conference that the zeal for players to create will change his business.

  • "On a 5–10 year time horizon, what we expect to see — and we've started to see this today — is that there will be creation of new worlds that will fit right next to the worlds that we create," he said.

Between the lines: For EA, the creation of more content, by developers or players, is expected to boost playing time.

  • Increases in playing time are then expected to boost EA's revenue. That's because the company's games, like many in the industry, are designed to offer players more in-game content to buy for weeks and months after release.
  • "Minutes engaged and money spent correlates on almost a 1:1 basis," Wilson said.
  • About 20% of EA gamers already create content for its games and Wilson estimates that half of players interact with content generated by gamers.

The big picture: Players' appetite to create turned Minecraft into a cultural phenomenon more than a decade ago and is now integral to the success of Roblox, where most experiences are built by regular users.

4. Take note

On Tap

  • Google CEO Sundar Pichai has bipartisan meetings on Capitol Hill today to discuss issues including economic growth, small business support, immigration, cybersecurity, and protecting online information, spokesperson Jose Castañeda told Axios. Apple CEO Tim Cook huddled with House GOP leaders Wednesday, per a spokesperson for Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

Errata

  • An item in yesterday's Login referred to the price that Elon Musk had agreed to pay for Twitter as $44 million, rather than $44 billion.

Trading Places

  • Adobe has hired Nubiaa Shabaka as chief privacy officer and chief cybersecurity legal officer. Shabaka previously served in a similar role at AIG. The company has also hired Microsoft, Amazon and Google veteran Maarten Van Horenbeeck as chief security officer. Van Horenbeeck was mostly recently chief trust officer at Zendesk.

ICYMI

  • Zillow and Microsoft face a federal lawsuit in Washington state accusing them of breaking wiretapping laws by following customers' movements on a website. (Axios)
  • A South Korean court has issued an arrest warrant for Do Kwon, the founder of Terraform Labs, following the collapse of two of its crypto tokens. (TechCrunch)
  • South Korea levied tens of millions of dollars in fines against Meta and Google yesterday for violating privacy laws.

5. After you Login

Even not-so-smart TVs need some love.

Thanks to Scott Rosenberg and Peter Allen Clark for editing and Bryan McBournie for copy editing this newsletter.