Affiliate Programs for Writers and Publishers
Affiliate programs are different from pay-per-click advertising. When I started using affiliate links several years ago, I made a little money by pointing people to Amazon. Amazon drops a web cookie when someone clicks on the link. If that person bought anything while the cookie was active, a period of several days, I would get a percentage of the transaction. Over the years, Amazon and other affiliates have made the cookie more volatile and my affiliate revenue went down. I found that pay-per-click advertising made me more money so I mostly ignored affiliate links. Affiliate links are great for small sites, though. By pointing your readers to an affiliate link you can make a few dollars here and there without much effort.
There are a few scenarios where affiliate programs make money. The first is when your website is closely bound to a product on an affiliate’s website. An author, for instance, hawking his books on Amazon, will get 4% of the sale price of his own book on Amazon. A publisher who sells on Amazon will get 4% back by selling his own books in addition to any other profit that he makes by selling the book.
Another scenario where affiliate programs make sense is including affiliate links on your page that will appeal to the interests of the surfers who visit your page. If you are a Speculative Fiction author or webzine, you can put affiliate links to Speculative fiction magazines on your website. You can join affiliate programs to sell Analog, Asimov’s and other magazines from your website and get $3 for a $30 sale. Your web page reader gets a discount on Analog’s standard rate and you get a finders fee.
Another scenario is to open a store. Amazon and other affiliate programs let you select a whole class of products and create a virtual web store. The store will include a variety of products, not just ones that appeal to the readers of your web pages. They will have popular products, including music, tech toys and big ticket items. The problem with stores is that they look too slick and the surfer won’t feel like they are buying from you. As a web site owner, you have a trusting relationship with your surfers. They come to you and you give them you thoughts and stories so they feel comfortable clicking on a link that you suggest. The store, even if it is on your site, is too slick and commercial.
You can try unexpected connections. One of my favorite affiliates is eBay. If you are hosting a speculative fiction site, it might make sense to offer you readers an eBay search box that has back issues of vintage magazines or Science Fiction Convention memorabilia. It’s easy to add a panel showing autographs of Battle Star Galactica TV stars. If you are a little creative, eBay pays very well and seems to be much more attractive to readers than the traditional book stores.
Another way is to have affiliate links to services such as web hosting, PayPal, and links to the affiliate programs themselves. Surfers may want to buy these services, sign up for PayPal or join an affiliate program. These links pay your new customers.
My experience is that affiliate links vary quite a bit during the year. My strategy has been to make Gift lists and Christmas lists targeting my readers. Around the holidays, you can sometimes make money if a reader follows a link and then buys several other things. Readers always appreciate reviews. When I do reviews, I try to make an affiliate link to buy the book or product that I am reviewing and this seems to work very well.
I stopped using affiliate links when I started putting pay-per-click ads on my sites. The click ads pay much better than affiliates. I used to make a hundred dollars or so a year from low volume sites using Affiliate links. Since click ads work best on high volume sites, a modest site will make more money in the beginning by the creative use of affiliate ads. There is also the legend that Google will penalize you if your website has lots of affiliate links. I don’t know if this is true.
One other problem with affiliate links is that the Ad Blocker FireFox plug-in makes them invisible. As more and more people use FireFox, I have noticed that the affiliate reports show much lower volume of exposures than my web logs show. This is because the ads are masked, either by Ad Blocker or by the old trick of modifying the .hosts file.
It is also possible to run your own private affiliate program. If you publish a magazine, you can open an account on one of the big affiliate programs to sell your magazine. Then your writers and readers will be able to put links to their favorite magazine on their websites and make a little money when they send you a customer. You’d think that your loyal readers would be doing this anyway, but I bet you get quite a few of them signing up when they can make a dollar or two. I have not tried this, although I have thought about it. ShareASale.com encourages small sellers to create affiliate programs.
You evaluate affiliate programs based on how much they pay per sale, plus how much the average website makes per exposure. Some affiliates pay very well, but don’t be mislead. It has to be a link that someone wants to click and when your user gets to the store the product must be right and the price must be right. It doesn’t matter if an affiliate will pay a high commission if their products are way too expensive. Do a little research before you join an affiliate program. Look at the affiliate from the eyes of a potential customer.
Still, if you have a web page and you don’t monetize it with affiliate links or link ads, you are nuts. These things take little effort to set up and they pay while you sleep.
Here are some of the Affiliate programs that I have used. If you want to sign up for one of these (they are free), just follow the links below.
Amazon, one of the first and best of the affiliate programs. They sell almost everything so this might be the only affiliate program that you will ever have to sign up with.
Commission Junction has gobbled up BFree, Reporting.net and other big affiliate programs. They have literally thousands of websites selling millions of products. Look here for those odd sites selling cool stuff that you just can’t find on Amazon.
ShareASale Affiliate programs are for the rest of us. They have thousands of tiny shops selling one of kind items and they welcome new sellers. If you want to create your own affiliate program, this might be the place to start.
Cafe press is not a regular affiliate. They sell coffee cups and tee shirts with your picture or slogan on them. You can set the price and make a profit, if you want. I think that they make more money off of the website owners than they do off the surfers who come and visit. It might pay to have the cover of the latest issue of Martian Wave Magazine on a tee shirt or coffee cup or thong. It’s free to set up, but I am sure that you will buy a coffee cup with the cover of your latest book and take weeks or months to make it back in commissions.