The Importance of Being Affiliated

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Booksellers caught up in the myriad details of running both a bricks-and-mortar and virtual bookstore may give little thought to the importance of affiliate programs, but as anyone who has spent time surfing the Web knows, affiliate links are as commonplace on websites as billboards are on highways. And just as a billboard can lead a hungry driver to a restaurant or a fatigued traveler to a motel, an affiliate link on an author's website can be very effective at driving consumers to a bookseller's site. And while, for every sale made via an affiliate link, the e-commerce site pays the affiliate sponsor a percentage of sales, for many, that's a small price to pay for increasing sales and generating greater brand awareness.

As such, stressed Director Len Vlahos, it's important that independent booksellers make sure that when consumers decide to click on an affiliate link they have the choice to purchase a book at a local, independent bookstore. "A number of independent booksellers are extremely good at contacting authors or book-related websites to let them know about our affiliate program. This kind of communication is crucial in helping convince potential affiliates that linking to only large, corporate retailers, is not in their customers' best interest." he said.

One such independent bookseller and participant is Maryelizabeth Hart of Mysterious Galaxy Bookshop in San Diego, California, who, on her own initiative, became very proactive at contacting those authors or book-related websites that do not offer an affiliate link to independent bookstores. "I guess it's just the product of my general grassroots mentality," Hart told BTW via e-mail. "In a world where Amazon has more or less succeeded in making itself the 'Kleenex' ... of online book retail, I think authors, bloggers, book review sites, and publishers need all the reinforcement that booksellers can provide to remind them to also link to the indie organizations."

Hart explained that her "hot button" issue concerns those websites that exclusively provide affiliate links to non-independent booksellers' websites. When she comes across an offending website, she will send a short and very simple e-mail notifying the web author that they can provide consumers with a direct link to to buy their book. To make things easy for the author or company, she includes a link to the respective title on and a link to the affiliate program at

Hart noted that the responses from the companies and authors she contacts are "usually positive. They vary from the immediate, 'I'll get my webmaster on that right now,' to 'I think I need more information on how this works,' to the 'um, why is this a good idea again?'"

Then again, sometimes Hart does not receive any response, "like from Michael Moore's webmaster," she said, "which I find very sad, as [Moore's] books were among the bestselling Book Sense titles for a long time. And once in a while the response is negative. I'll generally engage in a brief civilized discussion of the pros with someone who is resistant, but sometimes persuading them is beyond my abilities."

However, Hart noted that most times the reason that a company or author doesn't provide a link to independents is simply a lack of knowledge. "But I think it's largely a matter of information," she explained. "In part, I don't know how many individual authors do their own websites, but I suspect people who are professional website designers but not authors or readers may not have information about the number of affiliate choices."

Of course, the key reason it's important to independent booksellers that authors and book-related companies understand there is a choice in the affiliate links they provide their users is because affiliate programs can drive traffic to a bookstore's website and, hopefully, increase sales. Just as important, one efficiently run affiliate program can lead to more.

At Inkwood Books in Tampa, Florida, Carla Jimenez said her affiliate program with retired General Tommy Franks, where visitors to Franks' website are directed to Inkwood if they wish to purchase a signed copy of his bestselling book, American Soldier (Regan), has been so successful that she is getting "ready to approach a number of authors" regarding similar affiliate relationships, she told BTW.

The affiliate relationship came about after Franks, a Tampa area resident, "mentioned to his banker that he hoped to have a local bookstore ... handle the sale of signed copies through his website," Jimenez said. "And the banker was a customer of ours" so Franks tapped Inkwood to handle all the orders for signed copies of the book.

Jimenez stressed, "If we didn't have, we couldn't have done it." But as it was, the store was able to handle the affiliate relationship with "military precision. We're a tiny store and this was a big job for us, and I doubt that we would have been able to impress his office," she said, adding, "Every store has this ability."

Jimenez reported that Inkwood sold 123 signed books directly via the affiliate link click-through on Franks' website. However, she noted that the grand total of copies sold was 1,400, most of which were purchased by consumers due to Inkwood's affiliate relationship with Franks. For instance, because Franks was impressed with how well the bookstore handled the initial affiliate relationship, at his request, Inkwood is shipping 300 copies of American Soldier to Las Vegas, where Franks has a speaking engagement and book signing. As a result of all the business, "we cleared enough to pay for for the next two-and-a-half years," said Jimenez.

While Jimenez acknowledged that her affiliate relationship with Franks is unique in that his "celebrity status ... made this big," she stressed that "relationships are important.... And the fact that we can do this smoothly, proficiently, and efficiently through" means that Inkwood has been able to parlay the initial relationship into new business -- and every affiliate relationship has the potential for that.

To help booksellers who would like to become more proactive in contacting authors and organizations about the possibility of adding an independent bookselling link on their websites, has created a template letter, which is available on BookWeb.

For more information on affiliate programs, contact Vlahos via e-mail at [email protected]. --David Grogan