If you’re a regular ProfHacker reader, there’s a good chance that you’re invested in one or more social networks for maintaining not only relationships with friends but also with your professional network. I’m going to guess that you find real value in social networks for how they help you better research, teach, or do service—otherwise you would allocate your time differently. Unfortunately this value can be hard to demonstrate to a tenure committee (although, as Nels wrote in a post in 2009, it is not impossible to talk about blogging in tenure and application documents). Indeed, some of the most interesting discussion at one of the panels I spoke on at the recent MLA centered around whether social networking is allowing universities to stop supporting and compensating the, as Matt Kirschenbaum put it, “professional networks required to do our jobs at a minimum competency.”
Since we cannot be sure that the school you’re applying to will recognize the value of your academic social networking, then, you may as well make some cold hard cash while sharing information with friends and colleagues. And one of the easiest ways that I’ve found to do this is with the Amazon Associates program. Essentially, this is a referral program: you create links to specific items on Amazon’s site, and when people click on your links and subsequently purchase something on that visit to Amazon, you earn a percentage of the sale. People don’t even have to purchase what you linked to for you to get credit. At first, Amazon Associates earn 4% of a sale, but that number can increase a bit if you regularly refer people.
Creating an Associates account is very simple if you’re already an Amazon user: it should take you only 5 minutes or so. When doing this, you will be given a Tracking ID, which Amazon uses to identify your referrals. Once you’re enrolled and are also signed in to Amazon, you will see the Site Stripe running along the top of your browser. The Stripe lets you create links for the page that you’re on, as well as adding the item to a widget (for your blog/website), sharing on Twitter, or adding to an aStore, which is an easy way to build an online storefront. But a downside of the Site Stripe is that unless you’re sharing on Twitter, it’s not really one-click access since you will be multiple given options to decide how to customize your referral. For example, if you choose to create a link, you must choose among text and image, just an image, or just text. You can then customize the link’s text. Finally, you copy the link’s HTML and paste it wherever you’d like it. If you look at the HTML, you will find that your Tracking ID is embedded in the HTML.
This method of creating links works just fine, but it’s a few more clicks than are really necessary. There are shorter ways to create links as an Amazon Associate. Dave Taylor of Ask Dave Taylor has a short tutorial for cutting out a few steps. My experience, however, shows that you can create a referral link to any item on Amazon by using two pieces of information: the item’s ASIN and your Tracking ID. The ASIN or Amazon Standard Identification Number identifies each item that Amazon sells, and you can find it under the “Product Details” heading.
The only exception to ASIN’s on Amazon is for books, where ISBNs are listed under Product Details. In that case, the ASIN is identical to the 10-digit ISBN. Once you’ve found the ASIN/ISBN of your item, you can quickly create a referral link by replacing portions of the following URL: http://www.amazon.com/dp/ASIN/TRACKING ID. So if I refer to the product in the image above and my Tracking ID is briacrox-20 (it is, feel free to use it!), the URL that I create would be http://www.amazon.com/dpB002BRZ9G0/briacrox-20.
So it’s super simple to join, and it’s almost as easy to create links to things that you want to share or write about in your social networking or on your blog. Now the real question: how does it pay off? I only began using an Amazon Associates account in the last quarter of 2010, and I am in no ways dogmatic about remembering to link to things with my Tracking ID nor do I blog so regularly about particular texts or products that I need a lot of links. But in that quarter, I was responsible for helping Amazon sell 11 items.
In total, Amazon sold $169.13 worth of merchandise, and I earned $7.84. Some of these items were in fact things that I tweeted about (those mp3 albums were a steal!), but for some of the others I have no clue which links of mine people clicked on and how they ended up purchasing what they eventually did. All I know is that the effort on my part was essentially nothing. And suddenly, I know exactly how much my intense use of social media is worth: $7.84…every three years.
So while you are unlikely to strike it rich while writing on your blog about the revisions of your monograph and occasionally linking to something on Amazon, it’s a relatively harmless way to pay for a coffee every now and again. Do you participate in the Amazon Associates program? If so, what has your experience been? Do you have other similar programs that you participate in? Please let us know in the comments.