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I Got Swept Up in Amazon’s Crack Down on Ad Network Scofflaws

amazon frownAs the year draws to a close, many companies are balancing the books and clearing out the deadwood from their operations. That includes Amazon, who decided this week to crack down on websites which were abusing its ad network.

Amazon has been selling ad spots on third-party sites since August 2014, and this week they ran an inspection on all the partner sites. Everyone who did not meet Amazon’s standards or were found violating the rules are getting emails with the news that they are kicked out of the program.

amazon ad network

This story hasn’t made its way to the press, yet, but I’ve so far heard three different reports from sites which were dropped by Amazon.

That includes a friend’s site (who I won’t name), this blog, and a report I found through Twitter. And I’m sure more reports will be forthcoming.

Yes, I, your beloved blogger, was tapped by this program. Amazon hasn’t stated which rule I violated, but if I had to guess I would bet that Amazon is enforcing its rule against having more than three of its ad units on a single page.

Between the sidebar and the advert after the post, I had four Amazon ad units. That’s against the rules, but it was also a rule that Amazon never enforced until now.

Or at least that is what I am hoping is the only violation, because if Amazon objects to my content or site design then there’s little chance that I will be getting back in to the program.

I am in the process of appealing the ban, and I am hoping I can get it overturned. Amazon is one of the best ad networks, and if I can’t get back in then I am wither going to find a new revenue stream or I’ll have to shut down the blog (or possibly sell it) and find a day job.

To that end, I am going to end this post with a request for donations (via Paypal). Any help will be deeply appreciated.

P.S. Let this be a lesson to authors, and well, everyone. You should never count too much on a single source of income. You don’t know whether it will still be around tomorrow.

image by bennylin0724

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Frank December 10, 2015 um 12:40 pm

I am sorry to hear Amazon dropped your site from its ad network in a recent crackdown.

SAD December 10, 2015 um 1:53 pm

Nate, you might want to make the donation link a bit easier to find. Apart from the annoying pop-up that I automatically close every time I enter your site, I wasn’t able to find any information on donating anywhere I looked. There’s the link in this very post, but no general info page that I could locate.

Nate Hoffelder December 10, 2015 um 3:33 pm


I never felt comfortable asking for money while also displaying adverts. That’s why the link is not posted prominently.

Barry December 10, 2015 um 3:45 pm

I enjoy your site and I donated happily. I use an ad blocker and my preference would be that you kept asking for donations and dropped the ads. I’m not predicting you won’t starve if you do but you’re better qualified to assess that than I am. I’m just stating my preference.


Nate Hoffelder December 10, 2015 um 3:52 pm

Thanks for the support, Barry. I’d like to go ad-free as well, but I’m afraid of the risk.

Rimon Kade December 10, 2015 um 5:01 pm

I agree: hiding the only apparent donation link in the dropdown isn’t wise. I use an ad blocker; don’t you think I’ll have uBlock Origin set to also take out anti-blocker warnings as well as other stuff? This is what this site looks like for me:

No space wasted on a header I never use, no sidebar, no footer, no white background, no ads. Just basic content, writ large. Donated; make a Patreon link or something and I’ll subscribe.

Brian December 10, 2015 um 6:55 pm

The best write up I have seen on blog based advertising was here:

The article is a little dated (2007) so I am not sure how much applies anymore. You probably already have heard most if not all of it but I thought I would link it anyways on the off chance that its useful.

Nate Hoffelder December 10, 2015 um 9:42 pm

@ Brian

I hadn’t seen that, no. But in all honesty I am beginning to think the ad-supported model no longer works. I look at all the major sites doing native advertising, and that tells me they can’t make do with regular adverts any more.

And if they can’t, what are my chances?

Steve H December 10, 2015 um 7:21 pm

Nate-Sorry to hear this-hopefully they will reverse this decision-GOOD LUCK

Nate Hoffelder December 10, 2015 um 9:43 pm

@ Thanks, Steve!

Mackay Bell December 10, 2015 um 11:07 pm

Nate, hopefully they reverse this decision, but even if they do, I’m wondering if you shouldn’t try experimenting with some other revenue sources and one thing comes to my mind: there’s a huge problem in the self-publishing world with discoverability and indy writers are desperate to find ways to promote their books that offer some kind of cost/benefit. Everyone is spending a lot of money and not much works but Bookbub.

What if you tried targeting indies and offered paid plugs, sponsored reviews, paid graphic quotes, or something like that? (Obviously all transparent and upfront about it being a paid spot.)

For example, what if you sold open slots for every tenth post to be a sponsored indy book review? I don’t see how it would hurt the readability of your site (in my opinion) if every ten posts or so there was a paid sponsored book review. Or a paid graphic quote (the new hot thing with indy writers). Obviously, you don’t want your posts to be cluttered with paid ads, but indy book sponsors seem in keeping with the spirit of the site.

Another possibility would be to allow indy writers to sponsor Morning Coffee. At the bottom of your introduction, put something like “This morning coffee is sponsored by Sam Smith, author of the Amazing Zombie series, now available on Amazon.”

You could start out with fairly low prices and writers could see if there was some benefit (which I suspect there would be particularly for free book promotions) and then slowly raise the price if you started selling out all your slots.

Seems like this site appeals to exactly the right audience (digital readers!) for something like that to work. It also could function as win/win way for writers to support your site. Even if there isn’t a huge sales increase, they could know their ad money was going to a good cause. And I can’t see how it hurts your journalistic integrity, if it’s clear it’s a paid sponsorship.

I would think a lot of indy writers (including myself) would easily shell out $50 for a one line sponsor shout out on Morning Coffee. If people discovered it resulted in sales, that number would quickly go up. If slots rose in price and sold at $100 or $200, that could be pretty good additional income.

There are tons of writers paying $500 for Kirkus reviews, for godsakes, which do nothing for sales. It might be an experiment worth trying. It could be a win/win for everyone.

DaveZ December 11, 2015 um 8:56 am

I wasn’t dropped by Amazon, but know a few who were. It’s not clear which violation triggered it and I’m not sure any of us knew they even had any policies before this action – I don’t recall seeing any sort of agreement stepping through the expectations or requirements. Hopefully the team will clarify and let folks back in who are willing to make whatever change is required.

As far as revenue, I’ve tried some freelancing recently. But I really prefer speaking in my own unedited voice, even if the coverage suffers in some way. I’ve also been approached quite a bit over the years for sponsored posts and collaborations of that nature but have never moved forward. Might give that a try. In fact, this week I was invited to test drive a hybrid vehicle for a month, along with compensation, in exchange for coverage. Timing isn’t right, but that seems like fun. Wonder if readers would agree.

Nate Hoffelder December 11, 2015 um 2:28 pm

@ Dave

I knew they had the rules, but as I said they never enforced them.

Scott G. Lewis December 13, 2015 um 10:47 pm

Having rules is fine. Waiting a long time to enforce them is fine. Enforcing them always but checking for compliance infrequently is fine. Just cutting someone off who is clearly a legitimate site and not just a scam site trying to bag money from ads with click bait links and SEO nonsense just seems heavy handed. They could have sent you a letter, citing what you did wrong and offering you a chance to fix it.

Paul December 14, 2015 um 3:16 am

Nate – what is the other site (your friend’s) that got blocked?

Nate Hoffelder December 14, 2015 um 6:57 am

He asked me not to say.

Nate Hoffelder December 15, 2015 um 5:19 pm

I’ve heard back from Amazon. They’re not letting me back in to the ad network. I guess this means they were just culling under-performing sites, rather than punishing rule breakers.

My friend was also rejected.

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