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Are Associates Programs Associated with Profits?

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Are Associates Programs Associated with Profits?

by Linda Carlson

Want someone else to sell books for you? Want a commission when your recommendations turn into sales?

That’s the concept behind associates and affiliates programs.

The big question, however, is whether these programs work for those doing the selling, or those making the recommendations.

Does It Pay for Publishers?

Yes, say some

“It pays nicely,” says MaryAnn Kohl of northwestern Washington’s Bright Ring Publishing, who uses Amazon Associates to handle sales from her Web site.

“Not a way to get rich, but it works,” agrees Don Noel, of Hartford, CT, who published a memoir through AuthorHouse almost two years ago, and found Amazon Associates the easiest program to set up.

Yes . . . but not through Amazon.com, reports Susan Daffron of Logical Expressions in Sandpoint, ID, who says Amazon “has one of the worst payouts of any affiliate program I’ve ever been involved in. One of our sites gets more than a million visitors a year, yet apparently no one buys books.” Daffron notes that her company’s commissions from Amazon in the last seven or eight years have totaled about $20.

Her statistics highlight an issue with big e-tailer associates programs. For the publisher (or anyone else making a recommendation) to be compensated, the customer must click directly from a site using the provided link and make an immediate purchase. If customers want to look at other books or return at a different time to purchase the books that originally drew them in, the referring site receives no commission.

That’s not the case with Powell’s, the Oregon bookseller famous for selling used and new books side by side. Powell’s promotes its program as different from those that pay commissions only on “directly-linked purchases.” Because its system uses cookies to track visitors from referring sites, you’ll get a commission regardless of what else the visitor looks at, as long as he or she stayed logged in at Powell’s. “Want to link directly to specific titles? We can do that,” Powell’s Web site enthuses. “Would you prefer linking to sections, instead? No problem! We’ll even supply you with a search engine for your page so users can immediately find exactly what they’re looking for—it’s by far the most effective tool available to guarantee sales!”

Determining credit for sales generated by recommendations is also not a problem for those who design “associates” programs like that offered by BioMed Publishing in South Lake Tahoe, CA, where Bryan Rosner has created a workaround. He sells his books via several Web sites and in several publications, each of which offers free shipping with a unique coupon code. That means he can tell which site or publication is responsible for a sale, regardless of when the order was placed. His ”affiliates” are satisfied, and so is Rosner. “The program has expanded my market considerably,” he says, “and being paid by me on a per-sale basis gives the sites I link to an incentive to place the link for my book high on the page.”

A very competitive program designed by Auntie’s, a Spokane bookseller, gives participants credit for every customer sent via a link to the store’s Web site—forever. You get 10 percent of the total purchase a customer makes, exclusive of shipping, the Auntie’s site explains; that’s for whatever is purchased as a result of the link and for any additional purchases with that order.

“Plus, you will get credit for all future purchases they make,” Auntie’s promises. “While other programs offer 5 to 7 percent only on that sale, we will give you 10 percent of the initial sale plus any future sales from that customer.”

Haven’t tried it, say others

Overall, few PMA members appear to be using associates/affiliates programs.

Why? Larger members have their own shopping carts, accept credit cards—and want to sell books direct.

Other reasons include, “Haven’t had time to try any” and “Don’t like the concept.” Some publishers think of associates and affiliates programs only in terms of Amazon.com and seem unaware of the programs noted above and of the associates program designed by the American Booksellers Association for its members.

What the Benefits Might Be

Generating revenue is usually the primary reason for working with associates programs—but not always.

As Steve Mettee at Quill Driver Books explains, these programs can also work well when you’re still receiving requests for a book you no longer publish. “Through Amazon.com, we offer a book we used to publish—Dr. Gott’s No Flour, No Sugar Diet—which we sold for a princely fortune to Warner Books,” Mettee says. “People still come to our site for it, but Warner didn’t want us to simply buy books from it and resell them, because we don’t report to the New York Times bestseller list.”

For those, like Bright Ring’s MaryAnn Kohl, who prefer to work on new titles rather than ship books, associates programs handle the job of sales, credit card processing, and fulfillment (at Bright Ring, they supplement the services of Kohl’s trade distributor, Gryphon Books). They are also an excellent solution for people like Don Noel, who published his memoir more as a hobby than a business.

Setting Up

Let’s say you want to explore selling through associates programs. If you’re not familiar with the ones at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, see “What Bookstores’ Associates Programs Provide,” in this issue.

How do you find other companies or organizations that will sell your books?

Because we’re talking about Internet retailing, the first stop could be the Web.

Ask a search engine about associates programs, and you’ll reach sites such as Affiliate Ranker Search and Directory (www.affiliateranker.com), which claims, “Thru our customized search engine and completely dynamic and extensive directory, you will easily find the best affiliate programs available online.”

You and I may define “best” differently than Affiliate Ranker. When I followed the directions and typed “history” into its “key word” search box to find affiliate programs appropriate for my most recent book, Affiliate Ranker told me there were 62 “matching” affiliate programs. However, the top three were Bingo Reward, Mia Casa Bella (Old World reproduction furniture), and a prostate massage site. Hard for me to imagine that visitors to any of those sites would be good prospects for a company-town history.

Associateprograms.com claimed there were 239 programs suitable for selling books, but many are foreign, narrowly focused, or self-publisher packaging sites.

If you Google “bookstore affiliate programs,” you’ll find lots of niche publishers offering to sell your books on such sites as Love Tripper (destination weddings) and the Motor Bookstore.

A better route: contact companies and organizations with which you already have business relationships.

Daffron of Logical Expressions endorses this strategy. She reports, “We have made affiliate sales mostly to people with whom we have joint ventures. For example, the National Association of Women Writers offers a discount on our IdeaWeaver writing software as one of its member benefits. The NAWW includes its affiliate link, so the member gets the discount, and NAWW itself gets an affiliate commission. We have a similar setup with our Web Business Success book and the Association of Web Entrepreneurs.” 

Logical Expressions offers a 20 percent discount to its affiliates. To associations that offer books to members at a discount, Logical Expressions pays a 20 percent commission on the net price.

Getting Paid

How do you know you’re getting credit for what you recommend? The major associates programs track book sales using ISBNs. Other sites may use third-party tracking programs such as those provided by Commission Junction (www.cj.com).

Among the commission issues to check is whether—and when—checks are issued. Some programs offer credit rather than cash; the major programs issue checks only monthly or quarterly, and then only if your commission exceeds a certain amount. In Barnes & Noble’s case, that’s $50.

Linda Carlson (www.lindacarlson.com) writes for the Independent from Seattle, where she used an associates program like BioMed’s in the 1990s to sell her How to Find a Good Job in Seattle.

What Bookstores’ Associates Programs Provide

In simple terms, participating in an associates program, sometimes called an affiliates program, means getting a commission from a company when you motivate someone to purchase a product from it, usually by linking from your site to the product as offered on its site.

The term was made famous by Amazon.com (see affiliate-program.amazon.com/join), which pays its “associates” for every customer who clicks straight from a referring Web site to purchase a specific item at Amazon.com. Posted commission rates range from 4 to 10 percent.

A similar program, called “affiliates,” is run by Barnes & Noble (www.barnesandnoble.com/affiliate/index.asp?linkid=6&z=y&cds2Pid=9481). The advertised commission rate for books is 5 percent, with a possible 3.5 percent bonus. Rates are lower for toys and other merchandise, including book tie-ins.

Borders Books & Music has run its online sales through Amazon.com, but it has plans for launching an online store of its own—and presumably its own associates program—sometime in 2008.

Booksamillion offers a 3 percent commission (unless you generate more than $750,000 in a year, in which case you receive 4 percent).

Many ABA members—including Cody’s, Vroman’s, Village Books, and Stacey’s—offer commissions on a program offered through Booksense. The commission is set by the bookseller and may start as low as 3 percent; like royalties, it rises as net proceeds increase.



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