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AFFILIATE PROGRAMS: THEY’RE HOT, THEY’RE HAPPENING, BUT ARE THEY HYPE?

Most Americans with a passing knowledge of the Internet are aware of
Amazon.com, the first major Web-based bookstore. They have relationships
with (i.e. they’ve bought real estate on) such major portals as Excite!,
AOL, Alta Vista and Netscape. Barnes & Noble has also spent a lot
of money launching a Web site and buying up property on HotBot & Lycos
among others. There are also a handful of upstarts such as Books.com and Bookserve. All of these companies have affiliate programs.

What are affiliate programs? I’m glad you asked. (And if you
didn’t ask, let’s show a little enthusiasm here, people.) Affiliate
programs reward you for sending buyers to these companies’ Web
sites. The details vary, but basically you do some work on your
end, create the links and the money just starts rolling in. (Well,
that’s the way they describe it happening.) Sites that have a
certain focus, such as sci-fi, gardening or erotica could point
visitors towards appropriate reading at these online bookstores
and get a commission on books sold.

I figured a good guinea pig…er, test case would be my father.
He currently has books and tapes available through his Web site,
but only for people paying by check or money order, not online,
secure ordering. Also, he has to send out the books and tapes
by hand. I figured I could save him a little work and make it
easier for visitors to buy his book since they wouldn’t have
to get out their checkbook, mail or fax in an order, etc.

I started my research by reading the archived articles in one
of my favorite online listservs, LinkExchange Digest. Website
designers post questions and answers on marketing a Web site,
selling online and “Geek Tips”. You can receive it
via email or go to http://www.le-digest.com/archive.html.

Maybe these people are just big whiners, or maybe they’re on
to something. Many complain of sending several hundred visitors
to Amazon.com or BarnesandNoble.com, but get very little or no
compensation. Others counter that this first group didn’t do
enough to get the visitors excited, (i.e. reviews, recommendations,
etc.) to make a purchase once they arrived at an affiliate site.

Another possible downside is the loss of traffic; any time you
send someone to another site, you risk losing that person for
ever. In general, the people who had the best experiences did
indepth reviews of books in a certain category, and consistently
updated the list of books to get people coming back to their
site.

Mark Welch, a frequent contributor to that listserv has a Web
site dedicated to ranking different affiliate programs, and it
can be found at http://www.markwelch.com. He had a number of
affiliate programs ranked above Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble,
but for one reason or another they didn’t meet my criteria. Some
were too specialized, others didn’t offer any tracking, etc.

Despite this general negative view, I proceeded to go forward.
First, I felt the affiliate program would benefit a site like
my father’s: one that wasn’t trying to make wads of money, but
rather was interested in making it easier for the visitors to
purchase the book while online. Second, I really needed a topic
for this issue. I chose Amazon because they carried not only
my dad’s newest book, “The Self-Esteem Teacher”, but
also “So That’s How I Was Born!”, dedicated “To
Richard and Douglas, who taught me the questions children really
ask about the facts of life.” I figured if I was his best
source of material, it was time to turn the tables.

And so began my journey…

I went to Amazon.com, scrolled down the page and found the “Associates” link.
Following it, I read the “Terms and Agreements”; first
time in my life I’ve read a “Terms and Agreements”.
(I did it for you, people.) Besides the general “everything
we do is o.k. and subject to change, everything you do better
be o.k. with us,” I did find a couple of things a little
hard to swallow. Commission is paid on a quarterly basis, 30
days after the quarter is finished. Having come from a background
in sales, I know that a quarter is a looooong time. Also, they
won’t pay you until your commission reaches the magic $100 mark.
Otherwise they hold onto it until the next quarter. Figuring
that my dad’s book currently goes for $12.95, and he would get
15% for directly linking to it, he would only have to sell just
over 51 copies to get a check after the first quarter. Good thing
we’re not in it for the money.

After I clicked “agree” I quickly received an email
from Amazon outlining the three options I had for being an associate:
1. Link to their home page. As far as I can see, no real benefit
except to Amazon. 2. Put one of their Amazon search boxes on
our site. Perhaps it would be a benefit for another site, but
our purpose is solely to make it easier for visitors to purchase
Dr. Brooks’ books while online. 3. Link to individual products.
Ah-ha!

The email spells out how to put the link in, all you need to
do is replace their special page number (which shows a current
best-seller) with the page you are interested in by searching
for the product in question. I also decided to “frame” the
Amazon site so there would always be a visible link back to my
father’s page. To see how this is all laid out please visit http://www.drrobertbrooks.com/books.shtml
and click on either of the Amazon.com logos.

The entire process took me a little over an hour to complete,
not too bad in terms of time. The question still remains if this
will prove to be a benefit for the visitors to his site. I’ll
keep you posted.

–Rich Brooks

President, flyte new media

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