Affiliate links are not advertising

Advertising materially affects the user’s experience of content. Banner advertising has long been the standard model for monetizing a web site. Banner ads create visual distraction and often cause longer load times and other problems with page rendering. A site that features banner advertising is almost unilaterally a worse experience than one that does not feature advertising.

Affiliate links are the Internet’s version of a finder’s fee. They’re a way of compensating someone for presenting you with an opportunity: in this case, to buy a book you may not have found otherwise. And, here’s the kicker: affiliate links do not cost the user of a site anything. The price for a given book doesn’t increase because you came from a referral link. A site that features affiliate links offers a virtually indistinguishable experience from a site that does not.

Affiliate links are literally a victimless crime. The user gets to find things they ordinarily wouldn’t. The “currator” gets to make a living. If there’s anyone who should be crying foul in this situation, it’s Amazon, but it’s their policy in the first place.

Describing a site as “ad-free” and funding your site via affiliate links is not a contradiction.

To argue that users are being “tricked” by some vague duplicity here is preposterous. It’s not as if clicking a link with some extra characters at the end of it gives the link magical powers, forcing you to buy things you ordinarily wouldn’t.

Are we this naïve, this vacant of perception that we feel duped by this practice? Tell me what harm was visited upon you by clicking on an affiliate link on a site that self-identifies as “ad-free.” Go ahead. I’m waiting.

So you don’t like the fact that a blogger is passing the hat in addition to using affiliate links? Don’t support her. Simple as that. Your experience of the site will still be exactly the same. Or, don’t visit the site at all and go find your own books to buy. That’s the great thing about the Internet: the choice is yours.