Amazon Zooms In

If content is king, Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) wants to crash the royal wedding as the bridegroom. The leading e-tailer announced the acquisition of DPReview.com this morning. The site -- which stands for Digital Photography Review -- has been kicking the proverbial tires of digital cameras since 1998 and claims to draw 7 million unique visitors every month, serving them 120 million page views along the way.

Why does Amazon need DPReview? It already has stock photography and editorial reviews for many of the 3,952 digital-camera items it currently stocks. Amazon also has passionate user ratings and reviews to fill up the gaps. It recently launched community forums on individual product pages.

So why snap up a credible, unbiased source for shutterbugs? Well, it's the right call because it expands Amazon's reach to a niche audience that it covets. It also keeps the site away from the competition. As of this morning, some of the ads on DPReview were sending visitors to Amazon rivals like CNET's (Nasdaq: CNET  ) comparison shopping site and resellers of Kingston memory cards. That will change.

The fabric of the community may change, too. DPReview's discussion boards today are full of threads like "The END of DPR as we know it" and "A sad day for DPReview readers - a happy day for Phil."

"I'd like to reassure you that this is a good day for everyone," editor Phil Askey responded in the latter thread. "Amazon will have no affect [sic] on the reviews we write or the products we choose to review."

He does have a point. Amazon acquired Internet Movie Database nine years ago, and if it weren't for the tiny "an Amazon company" disclaimer at the landing page's footer, few would know that the popular online retailer owns the flick-junkie site. Amazon has owned website-traffic rating site Alexa.com since 1999, and it too seems to march to its own beat.

The quest for content
In the dot-com bubble days, eyeballs were the pass/fail metric. Absent profitability, views were the primary gauge of Internet success. The stocks that survived the dot-com bubble have mercifully improved their finances, but eyeballs still matter.

It isn't all about the specialized traffic that DPReview is generating. It probably won't be long before the site's reviews become the editorial reviews on Amazon.com itself. It's all about the four Cs in e-tail: content, commerce, credibility, and capsizing the competition. I made that last one up, but it isn't far from the truth.

Even today, when pennies are all it takes to generate a legitimate potential customer through paid search campaigns on Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) and Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO  ) , there is nothing like organic, loyal traffic.

Acquiring community-driven sites can be tricky. CNET had some hiccups from rebellious members of TVTome.com when it acquired the site to help launch TV.com. However, the Chowhound.com acquisition seems to be more vibrant today than it was as an independent.

Naturally, CNET itself is also a candidate for content-hungry acquisition chatter. It's a major source of consumer electronics reviews, and that includes digital cameras. This doesn't mean that Amazon has CNET in its buyout crosshairs. The more likely suitor would be one of the large portals like Yahoo!, Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) MSN, or Ask.com parent IAC (Nasdaq: IACI  ) .

Sure, Amazon would be able to take advantage of CNET's active destinations. Amazon's video store would love having the Gamespot.com community of diehard gamers on board, just as TV.com and Tech Republic would fit in perfectly with Amazon's DVDs and computer products, respectively. It's not likely to happen, though. Amazon prefers to take smaller nibbles like DPReview. Terms of the purchase haven't been made public, but it's not likely to be a substantial sum.

One of the community members noted how the search feature on DPReview has been buggy lately, arguing that Amazon's purchase may make it more reliable.

Oh, but I think that Amazon.com itself knew exactly what it was searching for here. It found it in DPReview.com.

Microsoft has been singled out as an Inside Value stock pick. Amazon.com and Yahoo! are Stock Advisor recommendations. CNET is a scorecard staple for Rule Breakers. Free 30-day trial subscriptions are available to all of the newsletters.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz isn't much of a shutterbug, though that doesn't stop him from trying. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool's disclosure policy encourages you to take a picture -- it'll last longer.


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