Profit vs. Popularity

There was a recent announcement that DPReview (its website, social media and YouTube assets) would be shut down by April 2023 after 25 years of activity. The published outcry has been huge, with opinion firmly expressing the view that this is a big loss for the photographic community.

How is it that something universally popular can be deemed unnecessary? It seems to happen a lot. This piece isn’t a commentary on the merits of any particular service. It’s about the decision-making of corporate owners.

It does seem to happen a lot. Small businesses are swallowed up by large corporate entities whose main concern is the bottom line. Sometimes (rarely), there is an altruistic benefit to either the public or to the small business that doesn’t have anything to do with profit, but that is rare. Charitable causes top the list for those rare spends. Sometimes it’s a pure reputation play as well, such as oil companies investing and making the case that their research activities are leading to more environmentally friendly solutions. That’s ultimately just a way to stave off regulation.

The parent in question here is Amazon. Oh, them. Yah. Big gorilla business that seems to swallow everything in its path. They are active in retail, warehousing, packaging and shipping as we know, but also web services, entertainment, media, logistics, enterprise software, even space flight.

They acquired DPReview in 2007, with a statement from Jeff Bezos that Amazon had been a fan for a long time. Well, it seems that the romance is now over. I suppose it is some consolation that DPReview was not uniquely targeted. About 9% of the total of Amazon’s workforce have been released in the past few months.

Amazon posted its first negative net income numbers in over 20 years last year, so realistically, cuts had to be made. Or did they? Pre-Covid earnings were off the charts, making it possible to fund fantasy projects like flying the average consumer (or a vain CEO?) into space. Then there was one year of, by comparison, modest losses. Of course that means the floodgates of cutbacks had to open.

Most of us average consumers are taught to save for a rainy day – that nothing is guaranteed and you have to have something set aside to cover your butt when times are bad.

Many smaller ethical companies operate exactly that way – protecting their employees from layoffs during downturns. They know how hard it is to find that accomplished talent and want to hold onto them. Especially when that talent represents their brand. I guess DPReview doesn’t and didn’t represent the fundamental Amazon brand. Amazon over the past few months has taken a slash and burn approach to much of its online service portfolio instead.

Are things really that bad? It may be that this company just has no sense of what it is like to lose. Nowhere in its history is there evidence of a significant downturn and they just don’t know how to respond to it. And when the fate of the enterprise is dependent on the whims of a single individual, no matter how broad the corporate oversight, there will always be knee-jerk reactions like this.

I don’t know what the profit and loss picture for DPReview has been. But if the outcry of public opinion is any indication, it certainly has a loyal following. It has a loyal user community. Not sure why that doesn’t count. I would have thought that access to 400,000 plus subscribers on YouTube would have meant something. And who knows how many regular hits the website receives.

I find it interesting too that where one company sees no value, another jumps at the opportunity to expand their holdings. PetaPixel will continue the legacy of DPReview. It will be different, we are told, but it will be true to the history of the original. All entities evolve over time. I personally certainly have. So it’s not unheard of to see change. I’m just glad to see that the roots won’t be disturbed.

And the guys are closing it out in style, going back over their favourite episodes, their favourite moments and telling folks NOT to subscribe to their YouTube channel. Chris Niccolls and Jordan Drake are the front face of DPReview and they are closing it out in style. Well done, gents. Looking forward to the next chapter. Enjoy your next spaceflight, Mr. Bezos.