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Earning Money as an Amazon Affiliate, A Small Experiment (alexn.org)
75 points by bad_user on Nov 29, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 43 comments

I don't quite understand the argument that some people made here.

This person wrote a blog post with a few Amazon links under his affiliate code. Some people read his blog post, click the links, (and probably read the reviews), and decided to buy the book.

The person gets the kickback, the interested readers get the books they want to read, and everybody is happy.

But why am I reading stuff like "getting away with murder", "purity", and etc?

Why such negativity/hate?

It's a pretty simple argument: having affiliate links creates incentives that may not align with faithfully serving your readers. It does not automatically bias your writing, but it can certainly create the appearance of bias.

A concrete example would be writing an especially glowing review of the new Kindle because you have a vested stake in people buying them. Or, perhaps, NOT writing a glowing review because you fear it will be perceived as shilling for affiliate cash.

It's the reason why most reputable newspapers do not allow their ad sales staff to communicate with the editorial staff about content.

In fact On The Media recently did a story about the Washington Post struggling with whether or not to include Amazon affiliate links in its book reviews. I think it presents both sides of the argument: http://www.onthemedia.org/2011/nov/11/web-links-money-makers...

As someone who's been vehemently anti-advertising on my own mildly popular (30,000 uniques/mo at the moment) website/blog, I support my site through Amazon and eBay affiliate links, and I feel justified because for years, I had a history of posting news with links to eBay and Amazon before I realized either had affiliate programs. (I should note that I don't judge other sites for using ads if they're relevant, but I hate when unrelated garbage takes up space on a site I'm reading. I just choose not to use ads on my own site.

I'd like to think that a regular reader of a publication should be able to figure out if that publication is shilling when it should be objective. On my Nine Inch Nails site, when I link to Amazon, it's about a CD/Vinyl/MP3 album that just came out, and I think that makes sense. If I posted about some shitty Trent Reznor bio and mentioned the linkKindle Version/link available for the linkKindle/link I fully expect my readers to flog me. And I'm not saying that every blog out there pays attention to editorial ethics the way I feel I do, and I've given people a hard time about sneaky affiliate links too. But I think that there is a 'right' way to use them.

When I started my site a dozen years ago, I wanted it to be a place people went to read NIN news. Money wasn't part of the equation. But if you're already linking to sites that have affiliate programs, you'd be foolish not to take advantage of those affiliate programs.

Understandable concerns, but shouldn't the content speak for itself?

If someone writes a meaningful glowing review of the new Kindle, then there should be information and details in the content of the writing that explains why they think it is so great. If there is no such information in the article, then the article probably isn't very helpful, and neither the presence nor absence of affiliate links will change that.

But what if it is an awful fluffy review written for the express purpose of making an affiliate sale? Is this wrong, per se? If something in the article either directly or indirectly prompts a reader to click on the link and they make the purchase, then what harm has been done?

Newspapers likely disallow such practices in order to maintain journalistic integrity, but a blog author who is writing posts on purpose to sell things is probably not interested in maintaining journalistic integrity. The blog author is just interested in selling stuff. Maybe the blog posts are well-written and interesting, or maybe they are not. If they are not, then readers who care principally about content will likely avoid the blog on the lack of merit of the content itself.

It's not just about preserving this abstract, ivory tower concept called "journalistic integrity."

A product review is close to useless if you have no trust in its author. The crux of a review is the author's opinion about something. Whatever verifiable facts are contained in the review are still only those facts the author chooses to highlight. Consider: if authorship doesn't matter, why is a review different from a press release? In short, a review cannot speak for itself because context matters.

Let's set aside the ambiguous case of adding affiliate links and talk about out-and-out payola. If a blogger takes a secret cash payment to write a false product review, then I believe that is dishonest and wrong no matter how well written or useful the review may be. (And not to confuse what's legal with what's ethical, but taking cash for reviews on your blog might even be illegal[1].)

[1] http://www.cjr.org/the_kicker/ftc_votes_to_end_blogger_payol...

When I see analytics showing any effect, I'll care. 99%+ of internet users don't even know what an affiliate link looks like, let alone hold an opinion on how they affect trust. My own data shows that users strongly prefer articles with relevant, high-quality affiliate links.

You might be in a position to turn down free money for hypothetical reasons, but I'm not.

This is a pretty good argument. I updated the article with it, hope you don't mind.

Neat - happy to contribute

Because pure hackers create profit, but don't collect it. We need Business Hacker News. We need to educate them so they can get rid of the suits.

He gets paid if you buy anything after clicking the affiliate link, not just the books he linked to. A lot of people just happened to be buying stuff on Amazon over the weekend with his affiliate cookie set.

Edit: I'm not saying I agree with the negativity. It's just an answer to the parent's question.

And why do you consider this unfair? Does the payment come out of your pocket or something?

Leaving aside that I have to ask this question (WTF dude?) for a $12 book you get something like 60 cents, considering a 7% referral fee. And you can make less than that per the number of items sold, as lots of people end up buying something a lot less expensive, like an MP3 (since they buy from Amazon and are right there anyway), with the more expensive items helping to balance that. And I haven't sold any tractors.

So the total fee pales in comparison with the revenue Amazon generated from that article and if Amazon wouldn't do that, then the affiliate program would be basically a joke.

(edit: misspellings)

I didn't say I considered it unfair. I'm just offering an answer to the question.

Sorry then for misjudging (I haven't downvoted you btw).

This is why online communications are though and no substitute for real world interactions - there's no body language to read between the lines and so you have to be pretty specific in expressing yourself.

I still don't understand the hate. What's wrong with this?

Person purchasing the 'other stuff' never knows/cares.

Amazon is happy.

Affiliate is happy.

Who's hurt/injured?

Want to understand what's going on here psychologically?

To some people, whenever anyone is making a profit, however small ... some people believe that someone, somewhere, has to be getting the raw end of the deal.

Note: I'm not saying putting Amazon links on your blog means you can be still be 100% objective (you can't), but rather pointing out a deep-seated belief that I have noticed among some, especially those who've found a way to make a living on GPL'd code, for example, and think iPads should be free.

I didn't say anything was wrong with this, or that anyone was hurt. I simply answered the parent's question.

It's a stretch, but you could argue that prices are slightly higher because Amazon has to pay the affiliates.

So ... he won the amazon affiliate race condition lottery, and somehow this is a bad thing? You could argue that he sent you to amazon, possibly having a non-negligible impact on your purchasing something from them.

Also, seriously, his cut doesn't get added to your bill. Almost nothing happens totally for free, and I'd rather have free-to-view content with affiliate links than buy my way through a paywall for every damn thing on the internet.

I didn't say it was a bad thing. I simply answered the parent's question.

I think the "hate" is that this blogger still gets his affiliate code to work, while those in many other states (such as mine) were disabled because Amazon got into a disagreement with states over sales taxes.

But, how is the "hate" going to help anyone? He is not responsible for Amazon's tax issues?

I've always felt that blogs that have Amazon affiliate links should be held to a higher standard.

I've seen way too many poorly thrown together blog posts about the top 10 CS books to read, that I have my finger on the back button when looking at those types of links because past experience has taught me that 90% of them are just put together so they can put Amazon affiliate links on the books.

The rule of thumb I use is that if each blog post I see on the site has an Amazon affiliate link then the blog is probably trying to spam me and they'll have a harder time of keeping me there.

Some blogs do succeed via their tremendous writing.

Is it just me or do others feel this way? Does anyone else care at all if affiliate links are all over a blog page?

That's the same as saying that ad-supported products in general should be held to higher standards, which in general is not true - my feeling is that we are spoiled by free stuff, enough to make us get picky about the purity of the content viewed (supply and demand).

Personally, I never install ad-blockers. If a website or a mobile app is too obnoxious, I just close the browser window (or hit back, just as you). Ad-blockers, IMHO, solve the wrong problem. However, in general I tolerate such attempts, as content authoring can take a lot of time and trying to make a buck or two is not a sin.

Disclaimer: I'm the author of this article.

Originally I wanted to write a blog post about my adventures in learning how to draw, however feeling that my experience isn't adequate, I settled for a summary of the books I've been reading, plus I always wanted to experiment with either AdSense or Amazon's Associates, basically to see what happens (what the conversion rate is and so on).

Without in any way whatsover implying that you did, in some countries you cannot present an advert as an article or editorial without clearly marking it as such.

That's why on TVs you get the 'infomercial' warning and the 'this is an advert' banner in papers (certainly in my country anyway).

Having an affiliate link makes the article an advert as you are selling the book. An article such as yours can be interpreted as a shop front masquerading as free advice as soon as you put affiliate links in it, regardless of whether it affected your article or not.

Bloggers are getting away with murder right now compared to print advertising.

I realise this is not your intention, but that's why it is not the same as ad-supported products in general should be held to higher standards as their adverts are usually clearly marked where yours was not.

I'm not disagreeing with what you say, however:

    Bloggers are getting away with murder right 
    now compared to print advertising
I think this is a little blown out of proportions. Print advertising may be clearly marked as such for obvious advertising, however articles planted by PR firms are not.

It isn't the same thing with ads like adwords: With that, you don't know exactly what you're advertising, so you have no incentive in making false claims in your article to promote it. On the contrary, when I read articles promoting books with direct links to Amazon I automatically wonder if the author really liked that book, if he is qualified to judge it, or if he is just trying to sell me what he thinks would make him the most money.

Incidentally, that's exactly what happened when I followed the link to the post we're talking about :)

Sorry to dissapoint then.

I agree with your point of view, I wasn't aware of this aspect however as I haven't been spammed with Amazon links (probably because many such websites are filled with other kinds of advertisement keeping me away).

Well to be fair, in alot of countries you have to be very upfront about something being an advertisement.

See most magazines. They'll have 6 page pullouts that while they look like articles, they make it clear with bold print that its an advertisement.

> my feeling is that we are spoiled by free stuff, enough to make us get picky about the purity of the content viewed (supply and demand).

This I agree completely with :)

And to be fair I wasn't judging you post.

I guess my question to you would be...

Why not be upfront that you are trying to make money off of me, the user?

What benefit is there to trying to hide it?

I wasn't trying to hide anything, as I was not aware of this aspect (got stuff to learn apparently).

I think that Amazon's affiliate program is perhaps the most benign, non-intrusive form of advertising on the internet.

If the blog post is a poorly-written list of links to books, then it probably isn't content that you're interested in, whether if it has affiliate links or not. I do not see why the presence of affiliate links makes the content any worse (or any better), though I suppose it may make people more inclined to slap up some poorly-written lists of links to books, so there's more low-quality websites to wade through on the internet.

But then again, there's already lots of low-quality websites on the internet. I hardly think there's any stopping that problem now, and I'd much rather see ads for Amazon, a place I actually shop at, than for some shady Nifty Larry's Bargain Basement or whatever.

> If the blog post is a poorly-written list of links to books, then it probably isn't content that you're interested in, whether if it has affiliate links or not. I do not see why the presence of affiliate links makes the content any worse (or any better), though I suppose it may make people more inclined to slap up some poorly-written lists of links to books, so there's more low-quality websites to wade through on the internet.

Yes I agree, this is pretty much exactly what I said above.

My point was that there are so many of these posts written just to attempt to get affiliate commissions that whenever I go to a link that has a top 10 books it already has 2 strikes against it due to previous experience.

What about the celebrities who appear in ads? Do we know they actually use the products they endorse?

You can make money with amazon affiliates, but it's such a small percentage of the sale. It's much better to come up with your own product or dropship something.

You take on more responsibility but you can also make more money.

not only that, but Amazon is pretty much the only company whose affiliate program cookie lasts a mere 24 hours. All other companies give you at least a month.

Wow, I hadn't done the affiliate thing with Amazon for a while and missed that change. That's a big deal and I bet it immediately cut the commissions people were getting by 10-20%.

I think the change was more like 50-60%. A lot of people shop on Amazon for other things, if you had a 30 day cookie like it used to be, you were more or less guaranteed a sale in that 30 days.

I did some analysis[1] on this for 2 merchants we send traffic to, admittedly it's not in exactly the same space the buying trends would probably be similar. The merchant with a longer history of data has 59% in the first 24 hours meaning you would be missing out on 41% of sales.

This is a trend I have noticed with affiliate programs, the closer a company comes to market saturation in a space the worse the terms get. It makes sense has had the blog post not provided links there is a good chance people will head over to amazon anyway.


In fairness, if they add stuff to their basket, the affiliate tag sticks with the item for 90 days, if I remember correctly. I certainly often add stuff to my basket and wait with the purchase for a few days or weeks, so it works for that use case.

I think this is a very important point which would invalidate a lot of the critics about affiliate links, in my opinion.

I was under the impression from years ago that the Amazon cookie was actually pretty long-lived and, for that reason, I always kind of think twice before clicking a link that I see is an affiliate link. (e.g. if I just want to check what book is linked, without thinking that the particular post "deserves" the affiliate money quite yet)

You can make as much as $1 per visitor by targeting specific keywords in your titles. Things such as "Canon T2i Amazon Coupon" or "Canon T2i Amazon Discount Code". Yes, coupon and discount code related keywords are highly competitive, but not when you add "Amazon" to it... that's because no Amazon discount codes really exist, thus not a lot of content for those keywords...

but you still funnel visitors to Amazon and get paid when they buy it... And since they're searching for Amazon stuff, they most likely will buy it from Amazon.

Personally, I have a strong preference FOR affiliate links / referrals over other kinds of advertising, simply on the basis that they're more targeted, and more likely to be relevant to me at that point in time. If I click through to a store based on your content, I'm generally pretty happy if my referer gets a little piece of the action.

That said, it's also pretty obvious affiliate links can be done badly, and there's a nice slippery slope in there somewhere. I actually like how Tim Bray does it on his blog - when he posts affiliate links he points it out explicitly (I think they're usually his partner's) and provides non-affiliate links as well so you can opt out if that's how you feel.

In general, more transparency is better, as usual.

Sure if you can pull that kind of traffic to your content day in day out you can make a good return from Amazon affiliate links, the reality is though, this is unlikely to happen.

What I look for in products to promote is something more like a $10 average commission per transaction and a conversion of more like 8-10%. Promoting of the kind done in this post only really works as an aside if you were going to mention these products anyway.

While much less invasive than AdSense in general the same amount of traffic would make you more (although probably not in this case given the large proportion of HN/Reddit traffic that are either blocking of ignoring AdSense).

A few years ago I ran both Google and Amazon ads, and I made more from Amazon than I did with Google. I dropped Google and kept Amazon. On the right side of my blog (http://boston.conman.org/) is an Amazon block. The books that are listed (and they're always books) relates somehow to the top post on the page (I did my own Amazon targeted advertising).

I had quite the opposite experience with the Amazon affiliate program. I ran very targeted ads (think photo equipment ads on a photo enthusiast site). I got around 20K views, 6 clicks, zero buys. Shut it down to not annoy my visitors.

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