What Amazon's A9 might have up its sleeve

Posted by: Rob Hof on January 27, 2005

After reflecting a bit on the new online Yellow Pages from Amazon.com’s A9.com search subsidiary, I’m beginning to think there’s a lot more to this offering than meets the eye. …

Apart from the de rigeur Google sponsored ads, A9 isn't charging anybody anything. And Udi Manber, A9's secretive CEO, steadfastly refuses to speculate on how A9 or Amazon might make money from this. So everybody's wondering: What's the business model? I can see a couple of intriguing possibilities down the road.

First, there's no reason to think of these listings merely as paperless ads--any more than "horseless carriage" was a sufficient description of the automobile. Already, Amazon has provided maps, photos, phone numbers, and the ability for businesses and their customers to add whatever additional information they want for a much more interactive experience. At the same time, Amazon runs Web sites for large merchants like Target, and it lets other merchants sell on its site and use Amazon's payment system.

How hard could it be to put those two capabilities together, and turn those A9 listings into full-blown e-commerce sites for each of these businesses? That's something I'd bet most businesses would gladly pay for. And by the way, there may be another ready market for these stores: legions of eBay sellers angry about recent hikes in fees, which fell most heavily on the 240,000 merchants running eBay Stores on the site.

Then there's that little button on A9's Yellow Pages that connects you to the business via a free Internet phone call. Just the other day, I saw that Ingenio (formerly Keen.com) got the backing of America Online for a test of its pay-per-call technology. Basically, it's the phone version of online advertising's pay-per-click that made Google a blockbuster, so advertisers pay for each call they get from the ad. Amazon's not yet charging anything for its phone calls. But if pay-per-call clicks, merchants might be happy to bid for a chance to talk to customers directly. Oh, and it's a good bet Amazon knows all about Ingenio. Its CEO happens to be Mark Britto, a former Amazon exec.

That exhausts my imagination for now. Any other ideas?

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BusinessWeek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, Douglas MacMillan, and Spencer Ante dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. One of the first mainstream media tech blogs, Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.

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