The concept of revenue sharing, paying commission for referred business, predates that of affiliate marketing and the Internet. The translation of the revenue share principles to mainstream ecommerce happened almost four years after the World Wide Web was born in November 1994, when CDNow launched its BuyWeb program. With its BuyWeb program, CDNow was the first non-adult site to introduce the concept of an affiliate or associate program with its idea of click-through purchasing.
CDNow.com 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 because of conversations with music publisher Geffen Records in the fall of 1994. The management at Geffen wanted to sell its artists’ CDs directly from its site but did not 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.
Affiliate marketing was used on the internet by the adult industry before CDNow launched their BuyWeb program. The consensus of marketers and adult industry insiders is that Cybererotica was either the first or among the early innovators in affiliate marketing with a cost-per-click program.
Amazon.com launched its associate program in July 1996. 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. Amazon.com was not the first merchant to offer an affiliate program, but its program was the first to become widely known and served as a model for subsequent programs.
In February 2000, Amazon.com announced that it had been granted a patent (6,029,141) on all the essential components of an affiliate program. The patent application was submitted in June 1997, which was before most affiliate programs but not before PC Flowers & Gifts.com (October 1994), AutoWeb.com (October 1995), Kbkids.com/BrainPlay.com (January 1996), EPage(April 1996), and a handful of others.
Affiliate marketing has grown quickly since its inception. The e-commerce website, viewed as a marketing toy in the early days of the web, became an integrated part of the overall business plan and in some cases grew to a bigger business than the existing offline business. According to one report, total sales generated through affiliate networks in 2006 was £2.16 billion in the UK alone. The estimates were £1.35 billion in sales in 2005. MarketingSherpa's research team estimated that, in 2006, affiliates worldwide earned $6.5 billion in bounty and commissions from a variety of sources in retail, personal finance, gaming and gambling, travel, telecom, education, publishing and forms of lead generation other than contextual ad networks such as Google AdSense.
Currently the most active sectors for affiliate marketing are the adult, gambling and retail sectors. The three sectors expected to experience the greatest growth are the mobile phone, finance and travel sectors. Hot on the heels of these are the entertainment (particularly gaming) and internet-related services (particularly broadband) sectors. Also several of the affiliate solution providers expect to see increased interest from B2B marketers and advertisers in using affiliate marketing as part of their mix. Of course, this is constantly subject to change.
Web 2.0The rise of blogging, interactive online communities and other new technologies, web sites and services based on the concepts that are now called Web 2.0 have impacted the affiliate marketing world as well. The new media allowed merchants to get closer to their affiliates and improved communication between each other. New developments have made it harder for unscrupulous affiliates to make money. Emerging black sheep are detected and made known to the affiliate marketing community with much greater speed and efficiency.