Associates and Adsense

Who is John Galt?
(And would he be
okay if I resold
this book?)

I’ve been in the Amazon Associates program for several years. It’s a no-brainer: sign up, and if someone buys books you happen to mention, you get a small credit towards a future purchase. Linking books and other products has always been about showing people cool and weird stuff with the wealth of information Amazon.com has (reviews, similar products, bibliographical data). So, truth in blogging: since January 1, 2000, I’ve earned less than $75 from the program. (Typically, I see about $4/quarter, which they credit towards a gift certificate that randomly offsets one of my many orders.) It’s really not about the money, but I’ll take the discount anyway.

Last year, I became interested in Amazon’s web services. AWS provides access to Amazon’s catalog, reviews and prices. It’s neat stuff, but to make any money, you’ll also need Associates. I spent a week building a simple, but butt-ugly web store.

My conclusion: their web services are very cool as a concept, but suffer from three pretty huge problems:

  1. The development time is cost effective only if you’ve got a lot of traffic to your site. I had a basic store working, but it’s not worth my time to continue refining it because I’m well past ever breaking even. Alan Taylor has had more success with his Amazon Light, earning about $10k in the two years since his site’s been online. He’s put much more effort into his site, and is deservedly seeing some benefit.
  2. Amazon’s catalog has a lot of crap in it. Here’s an example using my web services hook into the biography books section. The first 50+ entries have publication dates well out into the future. For example, the third book says 2030, which seems to be a typo. My code has its own issues, but this is just reporting their data. For comparison, here’s one of the items as shown on Amazon directly.
  3. Not all of the product lines are accessible via web services. And even then, I wouldn’t get paid if I directed someone to a pair of jeans at Lands’ End. I love to cook and had hoped to call out specific foodstuffs, but at the time, they didn’t support it the gourmet food store. It may work now, but I’ve kind of lost interest.

Associates’ coopetition is Google’s AdSense. For the last five weeks or so, I’ve had a small ad in the top right corner. I was curious what kind of things it would recommend based on my site’s unique, uh, content. Adding the box was easy – just modify one template. Best of all, there’s no maintenance since it keys off of things I write.

When Adsense can’t find a matching ad, such is the case for several of my pages, it serves up a message for a non-profit like the March of Dimes, The Carter Center or UNICEF.

Thank you whomever has been clicking on the ads! It’s generating enough to buy me one tall double espresso mocha a month. Perfect for the aspiring writer when NaNoWriMo month rolls around in November. In the meantime, I will no doubt blow this on books at Amazon.

8 thoughts on “Associates and Adsense”

  1. I hate amazon web services because of search results pollution. If I’m shopping for something, for instance, that Amazon has recently discontinued or is out of stock, I’ll find hundreds if not thousands of useless links on other people’s AWS websites.

  2. Search is a tricky beast with all the availability information, especially as most Web Services implementations cache data. (Web services imposes some limits on the number of queries per time period – I assume this is to avoid someone banging on it really hard either because they write bad code or because they’re being malevolent.

    Minor clarification: The cutoff for gift certificate credit (Associates) is $10; balances otherwise carry over. It may have been this previously, but they had always just credited the certificate anyway. My YTD total: $4.98. I think balances are paid out at the end of the year (for accounting reasons).

    Google’s cutoff is $100. Any balances are paid out at the end of the year.

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