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Affiliate Programs

There is considerable debate concerning the true beginnings of Internet Affiliate Programs. Backers of the popular Affiliate Program have proudly proclaimed that they were the first website to successfully implement a functioning affiliate program.

As legend has it, Jeff Bezos, CEO and founder of, chatted with a woman at a cocktail party about how she wanted to sell books about divorce on her website. After that exchange, Bezos pondered the idea and thought about having the woman link her site to and receive a commission on the book sales. This was the impetus for creating the so-called "first on the Web" Associates Program which was launched in July 1996. In the Program, pays 15% on more than 400,000 titles and 5% on more than 1.1 million additional titles, CDs and other products.

But according to Daniel Gray in "The Complete Guide to Associate and Affiliate Programs on the Net," there were a number of sites that operated affiliate-type programs prior to July 1996. Many more mushroomed and flourished in the succeeding years. Among them were PC Flowers & (October 1994), (summer 1994), (October 1995), (January 1996), EPage (April 1996), and a handful of others. And that is just the mainstream side of it. There are also many adult sites that dabbled in the affiliate marketing concept before picked it up.

The early challenge that faced the first proponents of affiliate marketing was the building of an efficient and credible tracking system. This system is actually considered the nerve center of any Affiliate Program. Affiliate program pioneers first used spreadsheets, then full-blown tracking systems that enabled operators to efficiently trace and credit the referring websites.

It is common knowledge that adult sites came up with many of the best (and worst) marketing concepts that are now used on the mainstream web. Affiliate Programs, coercive-click conversion, community publishing, pay-for-view content and streaming video are some of the online marketing models that were spawned by the creativity and innovativeness of the adult industry.

Directory Assistance

Soon webmasters saw the earning opportunities presented by affiliate programs and they scrambled to join these programs which they would find by word of mouth and through search engines.

During this time, a few webmasters thought of a more efficient way to help people find the affiliate programs they wanted to join. With this, the Affiliate Directory site was born.

James Marciano founded in October 1997 because he could not find one central place to research affiliate programs to generate revenue for his site, He decided what was needed was a search engine for affiliate programs with ratings and details.

In January 1998, Allan Gardyne started up a one-page associate programs directory. He hunted in every major search engine for an affiliate program directory and could not find one, so he started his own. That one-page site became in February 1998. Other important players, such as 2-Tier, Associate-it,, and, launched later in 1998.

The landscape of affiliate program directories has become a bit overwhelming in the past years. An estimated 50 directories are trying to direct traffic in the affiliate space, but it all started with

Affiliate Networks

As directory sites continued to flourish in the late 1990s, a demand emerged for a more holistic and total affiliate program provider. Webmasters wanted a site that not only listed affiliate programs, but also matched them with "compatible" merchants.

Thus, the so-called affiliate solution providers came into being. Also called Affiliate Networks, or "affiliate brokers," they act as mediators between affiliates and merchant web sites. They track all activity, arrange all payment, and help affiliates set up the necessary links on their web site.

Affiliate networks came into being in 1996 with the launch of LinkShare and Be Free. Commission Junction (CJ) started up in 1998 and soon became a leader in Affiliate Network operations. Microsoft's BCentral also has a program that operates as an affiliate network and integrates this with various other online marketing and software services.

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What is an Affiliate Program
Types of Programs
Benefits of Joinning
What to Look for Before Joining

What is an Affiliate Program? | Types of Programs | Benefits of Joining
What to Look for Before Joining | History | Directory