Dan Bricklin's Web Site: www.bricklin.com
The Affiliates Ethical Dilemma
Who gets the money when you pass on a recommendation?
The growing popularity of Internet commerce affiliate relationships is bringing up some new ethical dilemmas. Here is one I ran into:

I recommend books on this web site (in the Resources section). I include links to Amazon.com so my readers can get more information and perhaps buy the book right then and there. (I recommend books because I like them and think you should read them, too.) Amazon, and other companies such as Barnes and Noble, SendWine.com, and ProFlowers.com, encourage people with web sites to link into their catalogs and pay a commission on purchases made by people following the links. (Some people, including me on this web site, disclose this information, and even say "help support us by buying your books here".) This relationship is called an affiliate or associates program. It's great for the companies like Amazon (they can have thousands of web sites selling instead of just their own, each with custom reviews and organization), and great for the affiliates like me because we can make some money while providing a service to our readers. To become an affiliate, all you need to do is fill out a form on the company's web site, and get a special code that you add to your links to their pages.

My dilemma came about when I was looking at the book list on my friend David Reed's web site, listed in the Resource section. I noticed a book I liked, the Innovators Dilemma, that I had forgotten to recommend. It is also one that I read only because of the persistent and strong recommendations from David, and my friend Bob Frankston. So my dilemma: David also is an Amazon affiliate, signaling he wants to make money from his recommendations, too. When I recommend the book, I put my code in the link so I'll get your money. But I'm only recommending it because David and Bob got me to read it. Shouldn't I give them a piece? Should I send people to their links? Can we do a split code?

I decided to solve this problem by letting my readers know where I found out about a book, and let them decide through whom to purchase.

This may sound rather trivial, and I'm overly sensitive here since David is a friend. A rabbi friend of mine pointed out that if the sums involved are small many ethical authorities wouldn't even call it a problem. (I told him I hoped the sums would get to the size where it would matter...) However, the situation did point out to me the beginning of a whole new class of etiquette and ethical questions that will arise as everything we do, including recommending books and movies to friends, will have monetary impact in the new world of eCommerce, so I decided it was worth sharing with you, my readers.

Thinking about this further, here are other situations:

You can imagine what happens on web sites shared by extended families -- how should the money be split? Paying for a reunion only some attend?
Will schools encourage students to buy free-reading material and gifts through links on the school web site, just as some schools now encourage people to save receipts from local stores that give the school a percentage?

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