Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Affiliate Programs Going Social

With all the books I’ve been exposed to on the social networks these days, I thought I’d check in with Amazon’s tail to see how it’s being wagging.

The last statistic I read on the revenue generated from books outside of the top 100,000 titles (long tail) was in the 25% range. I would not be surprised to hear an updated figure of much higher proportion.

Since the coining of the phrase in 2004, there has been an enormous growth in the development of Amazon’s affiliate program participation. It appears there’s been a migration pattern from larger media properties to small businesses to professionals and now with the emergence of social networks, to the individual.

Although anyone can participate in the Amazon affiliate program through their blogs or websites, some start-ups have harnessed the power of social networking to create a network of shared bookshelves. Social networking applications like iRead and Visual Bookshelf have enabled users to share their tastes, comment on each other’s books and generally keep track of what “friends” are reading.

Shelfari, one of the first social networking plays in this space was quick to see the value in connecting readers through Web 2.0. The site offers readers a place to share their books and get recommendations from other readers. Based in Seattle, the network quickly caught the attention of Amazon as a major stakeholder in its business and last summer, started its distribution outside of its network through a Facebook application.

Having employed the magic of widgetry and aggregation to create a healthy volume of book shelving, Shelfari now has over 1 million registered users that are actively sharing and recommending books within their network and Josh Hug, CEO of Shelfari confirmed that they are working closely with google & myspace on the "open social" initiative that will allow Shelfari to be embedded in all of the other popular social networking sites.

While Josh did not comment on any tools currently being developed for publishers (aggregated research etc.), the network does provide authors with a platform to reach out to their fans. “It provides a very personal way for Authors to promote their books and get direct feedback from their largest supporters” he said.

Positioned as a bookworm tool to flash conquered text, individuals are actually marketing on behalf of the social network. The alternative play for Amazon would have been to offer individuals with affiliate program tools but in this case, a middleman makes sense. The streamlined billing and social networking aspect makes it a very attractive partnership.

I guess the challenge will be to keep users engaged in the application and network.

This is only one example of how affiliate programs are taking off in the social networking scene. Aside from this model I can see a lot of potential for slick loyalty programs to surface.

Some Quick Stats from Facebook:

Shelfari - 421 + over 1 million users in its network
Visual Shelf - 28,826 solely operates as a mini application
Books iRead - 22,870 solely operates as a mini application


Adam Lovallo said...

Hi, Sonia,

I'm Adam Lovallo from Hungry Machine Inc, the developers behind the Visual Bookshelf application on Facebook.

As you discussed, the Amazon Affiliate program has been a great resource for our bookshelf application as well as some associated 'racks' apps that catalog movies, video games, and albums. I’m happy to report that the Visual Bookshelf is now just shy of the 1 million users mark.

Also, you are absolutely right about the challenge of user engagement, something we try to improve every day.

Thanks again for the mention,
Adam L
Hungry Machine Inc.

Sonia Carreno said...

Thanks for the updated stat Adam! I'm curious, do you find the application is getting adopted through a more efficient channel than the social networks?