Brief History of Affiliate Programs
The beginnings of the affiliate marketing program were humble to say the least. Big business for the first time in history, were competing for search engine rankings with the ma and pop websites all over the world. Seeing that outranking the entire world was going to be difficult, big business decided to do the smart thing. They started advertising products on these sites at first through banner ads, and later with full line databases. It didn't take long for these businesses to see that if they put out bigger and better product lines, small website owners would start selling more products. If the affiliate program made enough money, then everyone would want in!
As the story goes, affiliate marketing all started at a cocktail party. Jeff Bezos, CEO and founder of Amazon.com (www.amazon.com), was chatting with a party guest who wanted to sell books on her web site.
This got Bezos thinking. Why not have the woman link her site to Amazon's and receive a commission on the books that she sold? Soon after, Amazon introduced the "Amazon Associates Program". It was a simple idea. Amazon associates would place banner or text links on their site for individual books or link directly to the Amazon's home page.
When visitors clicked from the associate's site through to Amazon.com and purchased a book, the associate received a commission. With that thought, Bezos created Amazon.com's affiliate program in July 1996.
But Amazon wasn't the first company to initiate an affiliate program. According to Brad Waller, VP of affiliate and business development for EPage (www.epage.com), the affiliate program for EPage started in April 1996. As documented in "The CDNow Story: Rags to Riches on the Internet," CDNow's affiliate program predates Amazon's by more than a year.
CDNow had the idea that music-oriented web sites could review or list albums on their pages that their visitors might be interested in purchasing and offer a link that would take the visitor directly to CDNow to purchase them. The idea for this remote purchasing originally arose as a result of conversations with a music publisher called Geffen Records (www.geffen.com) in the fall of 1994. The management at Geffen Records wanted to sell its artists' CDs directly from its site but didn't want to do it itself. Geffen Records asked CDNow if it could design a program where CDNow would do the fulfillment.
Geffen Records realized that CDNow could link directly from the artist on its Web site to Geffen's web site, bypassing the CDNow home page and going directly to an artist's music page. By linking Geffen Records to CDNow, the affiliate marketing format was born.