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Is Amazon Purging eBook Promotion Newsletters?

A15743483265_c6458eaa49_hmazon’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

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carmen webster buxton May 10, 2016 um 4:56 pm

You know, assuming they’re not after BookBub, only smaller emailers, I wonder if the difference is that Fussy Librarian features mostly (or possibly even completely) self published books, while BookBub is the opposite. Traditional publishers and hybrid authors have discovered BookBub and us self-published folks have been pretty much forced out of that venue. I don’t see why Amazon would care, unless it relates to a higher percentage of free (as opposed to cheap) ebooks in self-published lists.

Russ May 10, 2016 um 4:58 pm

Simple solution, the link in the email points to the page on your website where the affiliate link to amazon lives.

Nate Hoffelder May 10, 2016 um 5:00 pm

Yep. But that would also reduce the click-through rate.

puzzled May 10, 2016 um 5:47 pm

You could set up a page to automatically redirect to the Amazon page.

puzzled May 10, 2016 um 5:48 pm

Or use a short URL (the affiliate tag is not in the email then).

Irish Imbas May 10, 2016 um 11:50 pm

I have noticed some hints of reshuffling at Amazon wrt promoters like Bookbub. Over the last year, Bookbub has been marketing more intensively for authors to work directly through them. They already have the contact details of readers and are, hence, probably muscling into Amazon’s direct control of that author-reader relationship (a kind of strategic war between competing gatekeepers). Amazon have already responded to that threat with one or two activities I’ve heard of so I suppose this isn’t really too much of a surprise. It will be interesting to see how it plays out

Ingo Lembcke May 11, 2016 um 4:37 am

Regarding BookBub, often I have to check other vendors, as the Amazon link does not work.
While I am in a grey zone (I live in Germany and shop most ebooks both at Amazon.De and Amazon.Com), some ebooks are not available at all, some are normal price at Amazon.Com, this happens often.

When an ebook has a reduced price at Amazon.Com, chances are, the price is also reduced at Amazon.De. Also, Amazon know I live in Germany, so they add sales tax to the Amazon.Com accordingly (19% currently for eBooks in Germany).

As I have to jump through VPN-hoops and have given them a fake US-Adress, I do not like to buy at Barnes & Nobles, but that is my last resort, if I the books is only reduced there and I really want it.

S. J. Pajonas May 12, 2016 um 10:03 am

Bookbub bounces the links through their own server, which is how they get around it. Amazon wants to know where it gets its traffic from and whether or not those sites are disclosing that they use affiliate links. It can’t track if they come from newsletters, which is why Bookbub bounces the links through their server. I’m actually surprised Fussy didn’t enable this from the beginning because this has been a known TOS violation for over two years.

Nate Hoffelder May 12, 2016 um 10:19 am

I for one would prefer to be able to distinguish between a service’s newsletter link click-throughs and traffic from that service’s website, so I’d like it the other way.

But yes, you’re probably right. It’s a silly rule to enforce given that the links are still in the newsletter, but this does make sense for why only a single service was punished.

S. J. Pajonas May 12, 2016 um 10:24 am

I bet a few others will be punished too, though not all. Bookbub, I’m sure, knows where their traffic comes from (newsletters or website) and Amazon just knows that Bookbub referred all that traffic. Because I’m a data geek, maybe like you, if I were Amazon, I’d want to know how the traffic got to my site, but that’s not something that’s easily accomplished for ANYONE unless you have a relationship with the company that is sending you traffic. *shrugs shoulders* I think the other newsletters can be proactive now and start working on a better solution, but I doubt they will. Bookbub has been doing this right for a few years, but I think they have a pretty savvy IT staff.

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The solution would seem to be to have your newsletter open up a webpage on your site. Then any clinks would be website clicks/links, and not email.

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