Evolve or Die? Amazon.com Chooses To Die

July 7, 2009
By Lisa Barone in Affiliate Marketing

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.

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