Affiliate Marketing: Another Ethical Dilemma?

If you publish an e-zine like I do (my Direct Response Letter), and your subscriber list is fairly large (mine is 55,000), you will be inundated with e-mail correspondence from e-book publishers — and other online marketers — asking you to promote their product to your list on an ?affiliate basis.?

In the affiliate arrangement, you ? the e-zine owner — get a commission on every sale generated by the promotion to your list, typically ranging from 25% to 50% of the product price.

The product can be promoted in a solo e-mail marketing message to the e-zine subscriber list or an online ad in the e-zine itself ? or both.

My question is this: is the e-zine publisher obligated to disclose to the reader that he is an affiliate for the product and will receive a cut of the sale? (I should mention that the overwhelming majority of affiliate promotions I receive as a consumer make no mention of this.)


137 thoughts on “Affiliate Marketing: Another Ethical Dilemma?

  • Among my many professions, I design and manufacture fine jewelry. I’ve been in the retail business for over 40 years and it always amazes me when people, while pricing one of my pieces, says, “So, where did you get this?” or, “So, how much did this cost you?”
    You may call me old-fashioned, but I believe it’s none of their g–damn business. No one should question how much you are making on an item.
    The art of selling goes back thousands of years. Many cultures bicker back and forth over price. Many times the arena where the item is being traded influences negotiation (a flee market, for example). With an e-zine, there is no chance for negotiation. If you like the item and you believe it to be a fair price, you buy it-that’s it. How much the seller made, or in this case, how much commission he receives, is private and should not figure into the negotiation, or be a factor in whether you buy the item, or not.
    We live in a litigious era where everything is out in the open – everyone’s wash is on the line. Big brother is watching and you’d better fess up. Tell us what you’re making. Tell us where you got it. Sorry, not me. That’s between me, my maker and my tax man. That’s it. I am a firm believer that what goes on in my house is private, and my business is MY business.
    Gerard Bianco

  • If you wish to suggest a product that you really like, without being asked, I don’t think that telling that you might get money for a sale is needed. However, if you are solicited to advertise, I’d create an ad thingie within the email so that everyone knows that it’s an ad and that you are getting something for it.


  • Bob,
    After reading your books, newsletters and articles, I can’t believe I’m giving YOU advice. The Internet’s a wonderful thing. My philosophy will be the following when I launch my own sites. I will only recommend products that I’ve purchased myself, have used and can wholeheartedly recommend. On that basis, I agree with Gerard, “it’s none of their g–damn business.” Dale

  • It’s all about credibility. Over time if you consistently provide valuable information, readers trust you and look forward to your recommendations. I don’t think most of them really care if you receive a commission and some will be glad you do. For example, Larry Chase recommended this blog. I don’t know Larry from Adam–on a personal level, that is–but I’ve come to trust his advice because he separates the wheat from the chaff better than any other ezine/newsletter publisher I’ve read. If he recommends a product for which he is an affiliate, I want to click on his affiliate link in order to thank him for all the free advice he has given.

  • A year ago, I was subscribed to about 40 ezines. I kept getting the exact same prewritten promo’s every time a guru released the latest “killer” product and got so sick of it I began unsubscribing.

    I only get about half a dozen now, from people who say they’ve at least read an ebook or reviewed a product before promoting it.

    The publishers usually disclost their affiliation, meaning they’ll make money off every sale resulting from their ezine. I respect them for that and think it builds trust and character.

    *How much* they make per sale is none of my business.

  • I believe it’s possible to provide an honest recommendation of a product, despite the presence of an affiliate link. But some people don’t see it that way. They smell bias and, to them, it stinks.

    Traditional direct marketing has a somewhat similar issue. Some people hate “junk mail” and trash it. So DMers don’t even try to sell to these scorners. They focus, instead, on reaching those who DO respond to direct mail offers. (Or, at least, are likely to.)

    The same can be said for ezine and website owners who have signed up for affiliate programs. They’re not trying to convert the skeptics. Why bother? Their target market are those who already trust their recommendations and have no problem clicking on a link to learn more.

  • I agree. Disclosing affiliate revenue isn’t necessary. The odds are, if people are coming to your site, they trust your recommendations. You are providing them with a service (the recommendation) for free, so the affiliate money can be seen as a donation for your services!

  • No, you don’t need to disclose it’s an affiliate link. Your reader either 1.) doesn’t have a clue what an affiliate link is or 2.) notices that it is one and is happy to give you the revenue share because of the value of your blog or ezine. Just my two cents…

  • When I read an Ezine or Blog the I do not care if the writer is an affiliate and makes a commission as long as he has provided me goiod advice in the past. Credability is more important to me.

  • When Paul Harvey starts telling me how much he enjoys his Welch’s grape juice, I believe him. But I’m under no illusion he is giving Welch’s a free promotion. I think such arrangements are generally understood. In fact it seems so common, when recommendations are made without compensation, the phrase, “. . . and I’m not getting paid to say this . . . ” adds extra punch.

  • If Joe blow is recommending a product to me, do I want to know if he’s making a commission? Yes, because I have no basis for trusting him about the quality of the product, and I want to know there’s a bias.

    If Bob Bly, trusted author and teacher, recommends a product to me, I trust he likes it and thinks it’s worth the price, and I’m thankful for that recommendation–in that case I WANT Bob to make a “referral fee” for pointing me to a valuable product.

    And since it’s usually obvious anyway that there is a joint venture in place, why not admit it? Candor makes for great credibility.

    In contrast it is a huge credibility buster when the message is written as if it comes directly from the ezine personality and seems to be a heartfelt recommendation “in their own words” and which I then get from 18 other ezine owners.

    Bottomline, honesty is the best policy.

  • There is nothing wrong with affiliate marketing. It promotes competitive business bringing lower prices to consumers.

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