Amazon's greatest secret strength is its affiliate program. It gives web publishers a financial incentive to push customers to shop at Amazon, and this in turn has lead to a whole cottage industry of sites which find and promote Kindle ebook deals.
Now Amazon's latest policy enforcement action is casting a shadow on the future of that industry.
Author Carmen Webster Buxton has tipped me a recent announcement from The Fussy Librarian, one of the many ebook newsletter services. Yesterday Fussy Librarian sent out an email to authors and publishers who had advertised in the newsletter, telling them that TFL was losing its affiliate account at Amazon:
It’s the email that no one in email marketing wants to receive:
“Your Associates account has come up for review in connection with our ongoing monitoring of the Amazon Associates Program. During our review, we have determined that you are not in compliance with the Operating Agreement that governs your participation in the Associates Program.”
Participation Requirement Number 6 prohibits the inclusion of Amazon Associate ID tags in any “offline manner,” including email. (In the URL, it's the part at the end that says "tag=thefuslib0e-20.") In other words, it’s okay to get a commission if someone clicks on a link on your website, but not okay if someone clicks on that link in an email. Yeah, I don’t get it either, but it’s Amazon’s program, and they get to make their own rules. It's been in the rules forever, too — just not enforced. Until now.
The email goes on to predict that this new enforcement will soon be applied to other email newsletters like BookBub and eReaderIQ.
I wouldn't be so sure about that.
Update: Nope. I was wrong. Amazon has since gone after eReaderIQ and Pixel of Ink. eReaderIQ has lost its affiliate account, and Pixels of Ink has shut down.
While I can confirm that the rules do forbid using affiliate links in emails, I wouldn't be so quick to jump to the conclusion that the sky is falling.
Yes, the news media is in the habit of responding to a single report by running around screaming like Chicken Little, but as we have seen in the past Amazon (for reasons we don't understand) sometimes enforces a policy against a single party while leaving others untouched.
For example, in 2011 Amazon cut off an ebook sharing site, Lendle, for some unknown ToS violation. And then in 2012 the note-taking service Findings stopped supporting Kindle notes and highlights, ostensibly following a complaint from a publisher.
The relevant details from those stories is that Amazon only took action against a single site. Sites like Techdirt jumped to the conclusion that publishers were evil, but the fact is Amazon did not engage in a sweeping enforcement of their policies. And that is the current situation with the Kindle email newsletters.
I have checked, and eReaderIQ is still using Amazon affiliate links in its emails. I have also reached out to BookBub and asked whether they have received a similar notice.
They have not responded, and between that and the lack of discussion on KBoards and Absolute Write I can only conclude that we don't have enough info to tell what is going on.
Stay tuned. I will post BookBub's response when I receive it.
image by Skley