I was informed, back near the end of last year, of one of my (likely many) obligations under Federal law when writing on this website. It turns out that the Federal Trade Commission regulates, apparently off-and-on but currently on, the payment arrangements that accompany the providing of web links from one website to another. The motivation is that you, the readers of this or other websites, will feel cheated if you click on a link and, as a result, I make some money on that link. And justifiably so. Were I you, I wouldn’t want to be giving me money for no reason and especially I wouldn’t want to be giving me money for no reason and against my (your?) will.
So, I’ve tried to bring myself into compliance. It’s hard to be too enthusiastic about the process. The fact is, I’ve never actually received any money from the program – due to what I figure is a combination of reasons. First off, I never push any products. My links are almost always intended to be illustrative (providing details and a source of customer reviews for a book or film I’ve referenced) rather than recommendations. In fact, in some cases I’ve linked to an Amazon-listed product specifically to say its not worth the money that is charged for it.
A second point, somewhat related to the first, is that successfully getting money through Amazon’s affiliate program likely involves coordinating with their marketing pushes – linking to products which they ask to be featured. Whenever I’ve featured an Amazon link in one of my posts, its because it was something I happened to read, watch, or (occasionally) use. I’ve never tried to mesh that with Amazon’s incentives.
Third, something like a third of the traffic for this blog is from outside of the United States. As it stands, were I to actually receive any money, I would only be eligible for payment for purchases made from within the United States and maybe Canada. While there is a way to expand my affiliate program beyond the national borders, my enthusiasm to do so is tempered by the regulatory resistance I’m encountering so far. Ironically, were I to do so, the FTC regulations may no longer apply to the added regions.
If you’ve read this far (and I have a hard time understanding why you would), I’ll explain that, in order to comply with the law, I’ve used the programmatic configurations in WordPress to place the notification where needed. The advantage of this is that it is retroactive; links I’ve included over the years get swept up in my notifications. The down-side is that it isn’t perfect. Some links will still be out there, absent the requisite notification and others will not be sensibly located relative to the notice. Of course, this is all mitigated by the fact that I’ve never actually been paid through any of these links.
As I struggled with making this happen (and acknowledge the imperfections in my implementation), I realized that it would have been a lot easier to put the requirement entirely on the Amazon end. See, I don’t know whether anybody who clicks on the link will result in directing some money towards me. As I said, in the past, it hasn’t happened, but for any given article going forward, who can know? Actually (and this is my point, here) Amazon can know. They know whether the Amazon algorithms linked the click with the referral code and what the potential for giving a commission is. Remember, Amazon doesn’t pay for clicks, they pay for purchases. And Amazon definitely knows when they make the sale who is eligible for a portion of that money. So why not put the onus on Amazon? I could imagine something like the Humble Bundle model where the sharing of funds is explicit.
It would certainly make my life that much easier, but I can also understand why it wouldn’t work from a legal standpoint.
If nothing else, Amazon isn’t (yet) the whole world. While I can easily imagine how it could be accomplished through Amazon’s system, does that really expand to every conceivable model? In the big picture, it probably makes a more sense for the entity that is trying to earn money through the referral to take responsibility for making sure it is all on the up-and-up.
Besides that, if Amazon had any input into how the law was written (it is likely they did), they wouldn’t want to incur any liability for missing out on proper disclosure, even if that is unlikely. Worse, they wouldn’t want to risk not making a sale because of some intrusive, legalistic language. Under the current law, Amazon gets their money either way. If I’ve referred someone improperly to facilitate that sale, Amazon can use that to not pay me (thereby getting even more from the sale that’s taken place).
I probably shouldn’t complain – its just that complaining is probably three quarters of what I do on this website. As I said, the idea that it is only fair to tell you, the reader, what my financial interests are is a reasonable one. Does everything that is a good idea really need to be Federal Law?
Having got the hang of my self-created system, it seems to be working out well without a whole lot of effort on my part. So it’s not that compliance is all that hard, it’s that it is one more stressor that I’d would be better off without. I’m left with this worry that I didn’t do things just right and some kind of official reprimand is headed my way. Or maybe I’ll end up bankrupt and in Federal prison.
Maybe we all will, eventually.
Have a nice day.