Why are newspapers so bad at e-commerce?

According to New Media Age, Telegraph.co.uk is planning to launch (sub. reqd.) a “raft” of “ecommerce propositions” this summer.

Which means it’ll be selling a lot more stuff via its web site. In the works: an enhanced shopping platform, a price-comparison service and (er) betting.

Interestingly, New Media Age suggests that executives have “made it clear” that Telegraph.co.uk must have “two separate channels of revenue — advertising and etail — if it’s to be considered secure commercially”.

To my ears, this sounds like recession planning. A good long downturn of the kind envisaged by Mervyn King would depress digital ad revenues along with everything else. What better antidote could there be than a spot of e-tailing?

The Sun (which sends shoppers through to the web sites of dozens of retailers and collects a commission on the sale) and the Daily Mirror (which sells goods on its own site) are both supping at the same trough.

So is everyone else. But as a retailer might put it, the standard of both the merchandising and the retail environment leave a lot to be desired.

The devil will be in the partnerships that each newspaper group strikes up. At the moment, a small company called M-Tech seems to have a lock on the market. It provides e-commerce solutions for Telegraph.co.uk and the Mirror. M-Tech’s site suggests that it services The Independent, The Guardian and The News of the World. . . as well as a handful of small catalogue vendors.

Which looks rather like a case of “Er, I’ll have what he’s having, thanks.”

Is anyone talking with Dan Wagner’s Venda? No doubt the former boss of M.A.I.D. would love to sell some software to his old friends in the media. (Fans of Wagner may like to peruse the extraordinary picture of our man leaning against a golden egg on the home page of the site for his venture capital fund.)

Even more extreme: is anyone talking with Amazon? The monster e-commerce company runs Marks & Spencer’s entire e-commerce operation. But, so far as I can tell, it doesn’t work with many (or any) other companies on this basis in the UK.

That’s either because Amazon’s infrastructure is too expensive. Or because it isn’t too keen on doing deals with companies who might undercut the prices on its own site.

Or perhaps it’s because the nationals aren’t really serious yet about moving beyond the tired old Reader Offers formats.

E-commerce is a huge potential market for newspapers. Given this, it’s odd that almost without exception, the nationals seem to be making such a bad fist of it.

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