Earning Money as an Amazon Affiliate

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I published an article that I've meant to publish for a long time. I'm usually lazy to not bother writing many articles, however this time I also thought about doing an experiment - you see I'm (1) on a tight budget and (2) a cheap bastard - so what if I could get enough money to pay for my monthly hosting on Linode, while satisfying my urge to write from time to time?

As such I included Amazon Affiliate links in that post to see what happens.

UPDATE (2019-12-18): this is an old article, listing resources that may be obsolete and content that may not reflect my current views.

Moral Considerations Against Amazon's Associates

The discussion on Hacker News took an interesting turn. A couple of comments are a little unbalanced, however there's a comment that I like and with which I am in agreement:

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.

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: www.onthemedia.org/2011/nov/11/web-links...

This comment is striking, as when I started fantasizing about where should I go from here, the one thing that crossed my mind was that I could write a review for the Kindle (I own one) - and oops, unfortunately in that instance my actual opinion would have been unfaithful - @esd nailed it.

Also, a reply puts the above in balance:

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.

(the quality of Hacker News still amazes me)

In my oppinion, putting affiliate links is not bad or evil per se - for instance you could say that customers of Apple or Google have an inherent bias because they feel the need to protect their monetary and/or emotional investment. And we aren't professional journalists, trained to watch out for such things - but a mistake is a mistake. So from now on, no more Amazon-related reviews coming from me (maybe I'll try clearly delimited boxes or something).

Some Facts and Stats

The article I'm talking about:

4 Books for Learning to Design, the Hard Way

I published this article on the 25th, The Black Friday - so it had perfect timing. Then I pushed this link to Hacker News and Reddit. I hope you will forgive me, since this was a little self-promotion and I don't deny it, however I hope you found the content therein to be worth it, as it was published with my best intentions.

The resulting traffic and the fee that Amazon gives for the orders generated took me by surprise. Here's how my traffic looks like (unique visitors):

  • Nov 24: 45
  • Nov 25: 10,263
  • Nov 26: 6,939
  • Nov 27: 1,713
  • Nov 28: 1,299

Wow. I never generated this much traffic with my blog. Also, here's the Amazon stats (updated for Nov 28th):

  • Ordered items: 333
  • Clicks: 6,259
  • Conversion: 5.32%
  • Total items shipped: 294
  • Total earnings: $367.10

So considering that not all items have been shipped and this ain't over yet (I'm still getting traffic), we're looking at: a half-an-hour effort for a single article, earning $400, in 4 days, on a very low-traffic personal blog.

My goal was achieved too - I now have enough money for ~20 months of hosting on Linode. Thank you dear readers, I am in your debt.

Amazon Associates versus Google AdSense

Google AdSense rewards are per-click and is the first option of many webmasters, because it does generate more money. However I feel that the overall user experience suffers a lot - the links served may be context-dependent, but the quality is poor.

Amazon Associates rewards are instead per-action. When the user buys something, you get a referral fee. This can work very well because the items displayed are hand-picked by you and the links add value to your content - whenever I search for reviews of individuals (which I trust more than those of experts), my first stop is on Amazon.

Why A Single Flower Doesn't Bring Spring

So whenever anybody does this successfully, the appetite only grows bigger. After all, this kind of revenue has the potential of being passive. However don't get your hopes up:

  • in this instance, the timing was perfect and so the circumstances can't be reproduced every month
  • to have constant conversions you need a big and loyal following that trusts your recommendations
  • to have a big and loyal following, you also need lots of traffic driven by search engines
  • to score well in search engines, you need lots of articles with lots of keywords and good ranking
  • to have loyal readers and a good ranking on Google, those articles must be high-quality
  • it takes lots and lots of work for the above, probably 1 or 2 years, considering you have the talent of writing content already, or the money to hire people to do it
  • if you can't recommend anything else other than books, then you're screwed, as you don't have the time to read so many
  • if the products getting recommended are not relevant to your audience, then they won't convert

So there you have it. My experiment with Amazon's Associates, while probably a short one, has brought joy in my heart :)

Thank you,

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