Amazon Affiliate Use Is Scummy Because Amazon Wants It That Way

Affiliate Me Not is a Safari extension to remove affiliate codes from Amazon links.

I’ve thought about the ethics of affiliate links. I use them from time-to-time here. I try to use them in an ethical way.

There are two ways I’ve seen affiliate links used.

  1. Used to sincerely recommend a product.
  2. Used much like placing AdSense all over your pages in the hopes that a reader will CLICK SOMETHING, ANYTHING!

I don’t mind #1 so much, because I feel like if you sincerely recommend a product then you deserve a small kickback for pointing other people towards that product. But I can’t stand when sites do #2 because it feels like a money-grab.

Amazon affiliate links, and by extension nearly all affiliate links, are even worse than AdSense because they’re undercover. You often won’t know if you’ve clicked an affiliate link until after you’ve landed on the page. That’s why Affiliate Me Not exists. Amazon’s affiliate program exists to generate links to Amazon, regardless of whether a product deserves attention or not.

Links don’t generate organically when used this way. The point is to generate the affiliate payout, not to write about a product or how it’s improved one’s life. In fact I’ve seen it used the exact opposite way—to link to a product that NOBODY should buy. Boing-Boing contributors have done this and it’s obnoxious because it feels like a trick in the same way AdSense blocks disguised like navigation bars feel like a trick. In this example the writer used the huge Boing-Boing readership to generate clicks on his affiliate link for a product he was making fun of.

I think that’s unethical.

Perhaps that could be resolved if Amazon gave a commission only on the product that affiliates link to. What Amazon currently does is reward any sale after the click to the affiliate. Why does the affiliate deserve a commission on product they didn’t even link to?

I’ve gotten (small. I think I total around $5 or $6 during my affiliate history) kickbacks from product purchases I didn’t even write about. I’ve used Amazon affiliate links on music and books, but somebody bought ink cartridges and a text book after clicking an affiliate link. I’ve never written about ink cartridges. I don’t deserve a commission on them.

I think Amazon knows this, but it doesn’t matter to them because their interest is to make as many purchases as possible happen through, and to do that they need to have a generous affiliate program that incentivizes publishers to use it whenever they can, no matter how scummy it feels.