How Digital Publishers Generate Revenue Through Amazon

Have you seen the headlines? Top media publishers, like the New York Times and Buzzfeed, are being encouraged by Amazon to launch consumer-oriented shopping websites overseas in exchange for a greater share of upfront revenue. Back in the U.S., digital publishers generate revenue through Amazon every day, usually without drawing any attention to their monetization strategies.

As Amazon embarks on its next chapter—one as a technology company that pays publishers in advance to create certain types of content, à la Facebook and Google—let’s take a look at some of the strategy that digital publishers are already using to generate revenue through Amazon.

How Publishers Use Amazon Affiliate Links

Local news publishers, international publishers, and even fashion bloggers are all using the same strategy to generate revenue through Amazon. That strategy revolves around affiliate links. Affiliate links have become a powerful tool as publishers search for new ways to make up the ad revenue they’re losing as they compete against Facebook and Google.

Buzzfeed is one of the most well known publishers to generate revenue through Amazon. At Buzzfeed, a team of writers has been hired to create “shopping-friendly content” that includes ample links to Amazon and other online retailers. The New York Times and New York Magazine generate revenue through Amazon, as well, with separate shopping sections on their websites that include informative reviews and plenty of product recommendations written by authoritative sources like editors and journalists.

Affiliate links are also common among Instagram influencers. A number of technology companies have popped up in an effort to capitalize on the revenue that can be generated through affiliate links, including LikeToKnowIt and ShopStyle. Both of these companies help publishers link to the products they showcase in their social media feeds and earn a commission from the items their followers buy.

What Are Affiliate Links?

Affiliate links are embedded links that take people from a publisher’s website to a product on Amazon, or another retailer’s website. If a local news publisher mentions a book in a book review, for example, then the title of the book might include a link to the product on Amazon’s website. When readers click on the link, they’re sent to Amazon. If they buy something during that virtual shopping trip—the book or another item—the publisher makes a small percentage of that sale.

Most people think that publishers only earn a commission on the products they link to, but that’s not entirely true. If a shopper arrives at Amazon through an affiliate link on the publisher’s website, then the publisher is entitled to a percentage of all the items the customer purchases during that shopping trip. That can add up to major revenue for publishers.

E-commerce websites are notoriously tight-lipped about the commissions they offer to publishers who use affiliate links, although we know that the percentages vary depending on the publication’s size and influence. On Amazon, the average rate is around 10% per transaction for publishers that generate volume. So, if a large publisher includes an affiliate link to a flat screen television, that publisher would earn a 10% commission each time a reader clicks on the link and purchases the television directly through Amazon.

The downside here is that affiliate links can be tricky, and some publishers are unsure of how to navigate this new world of online content monetization. For example, while it’s relatively easy for an editor to add a link to Amazon in a book review or a feature article about a new product, the ethics get tricky when affiliate links are being added to serious news stories.

How Does Amazon Benefit From Affiliate Links?

Yes, Amazon is an e-commerce giant. In fact, it’s easily the largest online retailer in the world. But Amazon, and other online retailers, still need help getting shoppers to their websites. Affiliate links, like the kind news publishers and bloggers post on their websites, drive consumers to shop for items they might not know exist, or items they didn’t know they could buy on Amazon. Amazon is willing to share a small percentage of these purchases, as a “thank you” to the publishers who send shoppers their way.

Does your publication use affiliate links to generate revenue through Amazon? We’d love to hear what your experiences have been, and whether this has been a profitable strategy.