A Conversation About Books and Money

Nicole: Hm. How much do we actually make from Amazon Affiliates? Because I’ve gotten some nudges from readers (and there’s also this thing Emily Gould wrote) about the merits of linking to Goodreads instead (or a better option if it arises). I really love Amazon, and I find it very convenient, so this is just thinking out loud about possibilities … any thoughts?

Edith: This part in Emily’s piece stuck out to me:

A lot of literary sites always link to Amazon because by doing this they get some amount of money via the Amazon Affiliates program. I believe that these sites should reevaluate their business models.

She doesn’t specify why getting money means a site should reevaluate its business model (although I should probably just ask her!), but maybe that’s because it’s obvious, and I’m now embarrassing myself by being unable to see it. Unless it’s the idea that supporting Amazon and their deep discounting is putting indie publishers out of business, although (so many tiny turns) I don’t entirely see that as a problem, if only because there are too many books anyway.

What are other readers suggestions/criticism? Besides that it’s weird to be making money in a way that’s not immediately transparent, which I can understand. But I don’t see it that way. Yet? And we make between $140 (most recently) and $1,100 (May 2012) a month, but it usually hovers around $300.

Nicole: That is enough money to make it worthwhile, then, honestly. Which is hilarious that I feel that way, but kind of true? I like to be profitable. I guess I would feel more strongly if there was a Really Good Alternative, like some kind of website that would take your zip and tell you where you could buy books at independent places. And that entire business model may be broken, anyway? It may be dumb to suggest otherwise.

Complaints happen, generally, when I do a “Really Good Books” thing and there are a bunch of links at a time, and the complaints are usually in the comments “I wish you’d link to someplace other than Amazon,” blah.

I guess ultimately people may be more likely to actually buy the book when I link to Amazon, as opposed to clicking on Goodreads and then monkeying around and forgetting, and I’d rather they buy books.

Edith: Yeah. There is also Indiebound, which a lot of people really like.

Although if authors get the same amount of money regardless, I prefer linking to a place that saves the reader money. Honestly — and maybe this is the potentially shadiest part? — we get most of our Amazon Affiliates money from stuff that people buy after they click past the link to the book. Because they don’t always buy the books — they’re searching for, finding, buying tights, computers, random DVDs, etc. — but as long as they got to Amazon from the Hairpin’s link, we get 7% (or so — it varies) of whatever they buy. So, I guess it’s an implicit nudge toward consumerism, which isn’t always great. Speaking of kernels of moral objectionableness.

But, then again, it really IS all part of a conversation about books. And then we make a little extra money, too. Which we theoretically then use to make a better site, and hopefully a better experience for the reader.

I don’t know.

Nicole: See, what’s funny, is that I find that completely un-shady. I would love to have part of my random Amazon shopping sales go to a website I liked and appreciated the content of. Now I want to insert Amazon links into everything. And people do need to buy things. I guess there is also the issue of Amazon as an employer, but it seems like they’ve been working on cleaning things up on that front. I did find it interesting that we’re worried about Barnes & Noble, after a decade of trying to get people to buy at places other than Barnes & Noble. It’s always made perfect sense to me why people prefer Barnes & Noble to tiny bookstores (“You’ve Got Mail”-esque nostalgia notwithstanding). I really like to be left alone, honestly, and indie bookstores are often “here is a cat and a twenty-minute lecture about how the author you are looking for is not as good as this other author.”

Edith: Well, they probably aren’t. Nicole, I am very happy that we have completely resolved this issue. Want to go shopping?

(Part Two of our conversation is here, including a visit from Emily Gould.)