Over the past few years, big business has had to learn that you can’t bully people into doing what you want. The social Web has changed things and we can no longer force customers to come to us. We need to go where they are. To embrace that. To evolve with the times. And for the most part, businesses have done a fairly good job at adapting, even the most stubborn ones.

Now it’s time for Amazon.com is to learn the same lesson. And they’ve chosen to learn it the hard way. Someone get the club.

A really interesting post came out of Search Engine Journal today. Joshua Odmark shared his recent experience trying to get Amazon.com to pay a commission on a link distributed through Twitter and Facebook. Joshua had found a product he was interested in, used social media and his reputation to promote it, earned some sales, and then was surprised to find a big $0.00 in his Amazon commissions column. According to Amazon.com, in order for Joshua to earn his commission, the link must be passed through a site he owns. Using a URL shortener or passing a link through Twitter or Facebook voids the transaction. No love for Joshua or social media.

Joshua asked:

If you really think about it, what is the difference between posting a link on my blog, which is read by subscribers who are interested in what I have to say, as compared to the followers who are following me because they are interested in what I have to say? Seems to me a simple matter of semantics. Oh, and that whole character limit thing.

I agree 100 percent. There isn’t a difference.

Affiliate links live and die on trust. If I pass a link through my blog or decide to do it through Twitter, it’s the same link, for the same product. Someone will still either click or not click on that link based on my endorsement and my reputation for passing on good stuff. It shouldn’t matter what medium I used to share it. And while I can sympathize with Amazon.com that URL shorteners can complicate the process, the burden to figure it out falls on them. Because they’re the ones getting rich off the system they’ve created. I don’t want to hear the Google excuse. We live in a URL shortener world. You need to adapt and do right by your affiliates. Otherwise, pack up shop now.

But they’re not doing right. Instead, Amazon.com is doing their affiliates a great disservice and not valuing what they bring to the table. And that’s not okay.

The fact that you’re a big dog in the space today does not give you the right to be a bully. It doesn’t matter if you’re Amazon, Google or someone else. Keep bullying the people who have made you successful and they’re going to go somewhere else. You open the door for a new service to rise up and fill the void you’ve just created by isolating your affiliates. By not evolving, you’re voluntarily taking yourself out at the knees.

If Amazon wants to take this stance against affiliates, let them. Over time, affiliates will go elsewhere. As Rae Hoffman commented, how long until Barnes & Noble announces they DO honor commission from social media? How long until an entirely social based affiliate system launches that capitalizes on the explosion of URL shorteners? My guess is not long.

You can’t force people into living behind the times just because you can’t figure out how to get with them. You either evolve or you alienate your audience and die. When you fail to adapt, you invite people to steal your place in the market. It doesn’t matter what your business is. If you sell greeting cards, if you own an insurance business or if, say, you’re Amazon.com and run one of the largest affiliate programs in the world. When you act like a bully and screw over the people who made you what you are, they leave.

Well done, Amazon. Can’t wait to read the upcoming TechCrunch obituary on the collaspe of your affiliate program. Bet I know where the story will start.


About the Author

Lisa Barone

Lisa Barone co-founded Outspoken Media in 2009 and served as Chief Branding Officer until April 2012.


32 thoughts on “Evolve or Die? Amazon.com Chooses To Die


  • Gabriel on said:

    I think that term in the contract is basically a move to force affiliates into giving them links that pass link points. I’d say PageRank, but IDK that’s the right word anymore…

    Also, this sentence is so innocent it’s cute: “How long until an entirely social based affiliate system launches that capitalizes on the explosion of URL shorteners? My guess is not long.” Social media affiliate spam has existed for yeaaars. From dropping links in forums for rankings, to fake Q&A on Yahoo Answers, to auto-replies when you mention “Godaddy” – affiliates are into social media. It’s just which affiliates that are changing – as you point out, here’s a non-spam affiliate doing it in a way not likely to piss off other social media users.


  • geobak on said:

    Hmm seems strange…I always thought that @scobleizer has used amazon aff links in the past through his twitter channel…i wonder if he did get a commission or not

    http://twitter.com/Scobleizer/status/1125723964 (Warning this tweet contains scoble’s aff code :P )

    :)

    It would be nice to see whether Amazon is picky with their affiliates or not eh?

    Anyway i completely agree with this post…Amazon should evolve…


  • netmeg on said:

    Am confused with all this. I’m pretty sure I got paid on at least one twitter referral. What about email? I email recommendations with a link shortener all the time; do those count? They’ve always counted so far. Is this new?

    Amazon needs to start talking to their affiliates. Between this and the tax situation, a lot of people are getting tossed under the bus.


  • Christina Gleason on said:

    They’ve really shot themselves in the foot with this. Several things are going to happen. Affiliates are going to stop promoting Amazon products through social networking sites, resulting in fewer sales for Amazon. Affiliates may instead promote links to their own Web sites that contain the kosher Amazon affiliate links, resulting in a lower conversion rate due to people who don’t make the extra click through to the transaction site, resulting in fewer sales for Amazon. Affiliates are going to say, “screw this,” and stop promoting Amazon altogether, instead opting for other affiliate programs that don’t have stupid rules like this.

    Just curious… How about email promotions? Is Amazon going to stop recognizing affiliate sales that result from newsletters? (Or maybe they already don’t count them. I don’t have a newsletter, so it doesn’t affect me.)

    Stupid move. Any way you look at it, Amazon will end up with fewer sales, and that’s less money in their own giant pockets.


  • Nick Norris on said:

    Lame. I hate it when an affiliate companies try to find ways NOT to pay the people who refer their sales to them. If you can track the referral, then I think you should have to pay for it. It’s a no-brainer. Isn’t that what the referral ID is for in the first place.


  • Todd Mintz on said:

    This reeks of a low-level staffer making a stupid decision without realizing its implications. I can’t imagine that the head folks there, once informed about what’s going on (with the help of blog posts such as these) will not reverse the decision and issue apologies.


  • john andrews on said:

    I’d guess it’s a communications problem…Amazon like everyone else is having to figure out the URL shortening spam from the genuine referrals, and that ain’t easy. Plenty of people are swapping shortened URLs when RTing, which is a form of commission hijack since the reputation of the original tweeter is used to boost a spammer’s affiliate account.

    Of course we all know the right answer – adapt or die. Queue the Amazon URL shortener, and the policy that ALL affiliates use it or lose commissions. That would give Amazon quite an upper hand overall…. but they either aren’t that smart or just can’t communicate well.

    In the mean time, I wonder if I can sell shares in a URL shortener so that all participants “own and control” the site, and can thus use it for affiliate links. Surely the smart affiliate network folks are working on these issues, no? Someone make a system that can’t be skimmed, and demonstrate it?


  • Nathan Hangen on said:

    I suspect that Amazon has a substantial ego and doesn’t think that they need a majority of their affiliates. In fact, I’d venture to guess that they think they could do without them all together. The recent cancellation of NC affiliate accounts is proof they don’t want to put much work into keeping affiliates around.

    Their paltry commissions suck anyway, but it is still nice using them as a fallback. It won’t be long before someone takes up the cry of the desperate affiliate. Here’s hoping Amazon figures it out first.


  • John on said:

    I’m not really sure this will matter much longer because as more states start tax grabbing Amazon is just going to drop all of their affiliates, it is far too costly to comply. Other companies will follow suit.

    Call your state reps NOW and tell them not to go this route.


  • Yawn Webmaster! on said:

    Lots of Spam, lots of hacking lots of issues with security. I can understand why Amazon wants you to put the link through one of your own properties, it’s about accountability, and quite frankly they had this mechanism in place can you imagine all the places on the SOCIAL web that you could go off and start dropping an affiliate code in the links…. THINK WIKIPEDIA FOR A START. For all the others, you could just put the links through a secondary redirect on your own server (but that’s probably going to mess with an affiliate strategy which has been possible up until now).

    The absence of an extract from Amazon’s terms and conditions that were being violated, does give weight to a questionable level of transparency and skewed storytelling here.

    Basically my message is, stop whinging, read the terms and conditions and think outside your own little World :). If you’re not happy change it, Amazon’s been flogged like a dead horse by affiliate’s over the years, try something else.

    :)


  • Joshua Odmark on said:

    Lisa,

    Thank you for reading my article and developing it further.

    Amazon will take their sweet time addressing this problem unless we force their hand.

    I can’t imagine how many people are missing out on commissions due to this.


  • Jared on said:

    Yawn has got it right. Just set up a tiny url that points to either your blog or a redirect you’ve set up on your server. It’s really not that complicated or worth all the fuss.


  • Josh on said:

    Wow, Lisa. Very well stated. Amazon either needs to pay Joshua or Twitter because Amazon sure as heck didn’t lure the buyer on it’s own.


  • sciencewarrior on said:

    Doesn’t anyone think people clicking on a link have the right to know in advance if it’s an affiliate link? Personally, I commend Amazon for trying to be a good citizen and inhibit spam on social networks, even if it means taking a (tiny, I suppose) hit to its revenue.

    Expanding on John Andrews’ idea, I think it would take maybe 4 hours for one of their engineers to come up with a much shorter alternative to their current links. Just converting the ISBN and affiliate ID to base-62 would already reduce it to 20 characters — beefy for a tweet, but already manageable.


  • Dawn on said:

    Amazon is a leading e-commerce site. They do a lot of things right, from easy, accurate search to recommending titles relating to previous purchases to delivering products promptly, often for free. I’ve bought many things from Amazon because I didn’t trust a lower-cost competitor.

    I think Amazon is more interested in keeping up their image by reining in affiliates than giving affiliates every opportunity to refer traffic. They don’t want Google Adwords spammed with affiliate links (as it was, for a while). They don’t want to attract negative publicity because affiliates are spamming in social media, either. I’m sure if they can figure out a way to prevent affiliates from blanketing unsuspecting people with low-value links, they’ll start allowing social media links.


  • HA on said:

    You are talking about how Amazon treats affiliates… Look how they treat sellers! Seller support are the worst support I’ve ever dealt with, it always takes me weeks and several phone calls and email to until they acknowledge a bug in their system (and their are many when you are working with them on a large scale). Their procedures are made to ease Amazon’s life and make sellers’ lives a nightmare, they change things as they wish and they force publishers to accept their 65% off the list price wholesale price and they don’t honor affiliate commissions over social media… Sooooooo frustrated…


  • vseo on said:

    Share links trought SMO may repressent in most cases just spam so amazon takes care and don’t allow it. I don’t thing is a affiliation die. It´s just a way of taking care about the comissions and potential problems.


  • Sockmoney on said:

    I think Amazon is ahead of the game here. Twitter is a spam haven. Every day I read posts on how to take advantage of Twitter for commercial purposes. Amazon reads the same posts I am sure.

    Good for them. If this kid wants to sell products for Amazon, have him simply start a blog and then link to his reviews from there…

    Twittering affiliate links is just tacky….


  • Carlos Redondo on said:

    It´s not a affiliation die. They are protecting protecting amazon of spam attacks. As happened with spam affiliate forums for some time.

    Other problem is for tracking short URLs for example


  • Susan Fuller on said:

    This is the least of Amazon’s sins…they are closing affiliate accounts of people who live in states that have passed ‘Amazon tax’ laws, and if your links are still active, Amazon is still making a sale but no longer paying the affiliate fee. What’s wrong with this picture?

    I live in Rhode Island and my account was cancelled before the law even took effect. Other states to follow. Is Amazon going to stop using affiliates altogether or are they going to accept what is probably inevitable? In the meantime they are alienating marketers who probably won’t come back.


  • Joshua Odmark on said:

    I was contacted directly by Amazon to discuss the issue of my original article.

    I will be posting a follow up article that will provide a conclusion to this issue.


  • Alex Newman on said:

    You can’t just use a redirect through a page on your own site? Posting that kind of link looks prettier on social media – but I don’t know if Amazon TOS allows it.

    Seems to me that really big companies in general don’t care a damn about small affiliates and independent marketers, and consider them a waste of their time (can anyone say Google? ;) ). They are playing in a different ballpark. Most of AMZ’s affiliate traffic probably comes direct from other really big sites and their owners. Most super affiliates are already hugely successful with their own sites and products, and it’s rare that someone becomes a big affiliate without this strong foundation in the first place.

    Also – I don’t think Amazon is dying. With a +16% on the last 3 months in Alexa and holding firm for the last couple of years, I’d say they are doing just fine. Their stock’s looking pretty healthy too.


  • Cata on said:

    Amazon doesn’t even have that high of an EPC, so I think they should do everything it takes in order to protect their affiliates.


  • FromThisSeat.com on said:

    I will tell you that I haven’t had much success with Amazon’s affiliate program. But posting a link somewhere and asking someone to click on it and buy something? No. Amazon shouldn’t be entitled to those payouts. That just goes to show you that the webmaster doesn’t have good content and a steady stream of targeted traffic. More traffic = more sales and no reason to paste links in hopes of getting conversions.


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