Powering an Affiliate Program

When Amazon launched its Associates Program in July 1996, it was truly breaking new ground and pioneering a completely new category. Fast-forward to the present, and an entire industry has grown up to support would-be Amazons, looking to extend their branding to thousands of independent web sites. Marketers wanting to launch their own affiliate program can turn to shareware scripts, shrink-wrap packages or completely customized, turnkey solutions. There’s something for every budget.


Many readers are no doubt familiar with some of the players in the affiliate marketing game. Surprisingly, one of the oldest networks is perhaps the most forgotten: ClickTrade. Started in 1997, ClickTrade was first acquired by LinkExchange, which was itself acquired by Microsoft. Unfortunately, ClickTrade’s only recent buzz has come from the collective wince of hundreds of sites forced to find an alternative cost-per-click (CPC) provider. For some reason, ClickTrade decided to pull the plug on the cost-per-click model.

What remains is a robust stable of cost-per-action, cost-per-lead and commission-based offers – along with a base of more than 120,000 affiliate sites. In September, Microsoft began an effort to repackage and re-brand many of the former LinkExchange services. As a result, ClickTrade can now be found at bCentral.

There are no set-up fees for ClickTrade, and the standard commission fee is 30 percent of affiliate earnings.


If nothing else, ClickTrade’s sudden exit from the cost-per-click business has created a boom for relative upstart clickXchange.com. While clickXchange.com advertises more than just CPC programs, a recent message on its home page was very telling. It seems the huge exodus of CPC advertisers from Microsoft was stretching clickXchange’s capacity. About 1,300 web sites run programs via clickXchange.

In a further nod to ClickTrade, clickXchange charges no set-up fees and a commission of 30 percent.


Another affiliate marketer is BeFree. In fact, as the only public affiliate marketer (yet), BeFree’s impressive $1.6 billion market capitalization is perhaps a testament to the promise of affiliate marketing. Revenue totaled a scant $2.7 million for the nine months ended 9/30/99, during which time BeFree bled $13.8 million.

Started in 1996 by brothers Sam and Tom Gerace, the company now has over 100 employees. Somewhat suspiciously, its merchants are reported to collectively have more than 2.7 million affiliates across their sales channels. It’s not clear, but that sure sounds like PR speak for counting the same affiliate every time it joins another merchant. In fact, with 190 merchants, each affiliate could be counted up to 190 times.

While not published at the BeFree site, set-up fees ran $5,000 at last check, along with two to three percent of gross sales and a variety of affiliate recruitment and management charges starting at $1 to $2 per affiliate per month.


On its web site, LinkShare dubs itself the “first company to pioneer and launch an affiliate network.” If not the first, it has certainly become a significant player. With over 400 merchant partners, it has one of the largest product selections of any affiliate network.

Sign-up fees run $5,000 and commission charges are two to three percent of gross revenues. It also charges a $1,000 annual renewal fee.

Commission Junction

Positioned somewhere between outfits like ClickTrade and LinkShare-type organizations are Commission Junction and Dynamic Trade. Commission Junction – or CJ as it dubs itself – now has over 440 merchant partners. It was only in November 1999 that CJ announced its 250th merchant. A relative late entrant, CJ was started in November 1998, and has quickly grown to 60 employees and over 75,000 affiliates.

Start-up fees run $795 with commissions at 20 percent of affiliate earnings.

Dynamic Trade

Dynamic Trade is another recent player. This Chicagoland start-up now has nearly three dozen merchants and a network of some 35,000 affiliates.

Start-up fees are $1,000, while commissions are 25 percent.

Shareware and Other Scripts

For marketers looking for a bit more adventure there’s always shareware. A great place to start is the Affiliate Programs at The CGI Resource Index. Over two dozen scripts are listed. Many are free or under $200. Others are a few hundred dollars or more.

As with all scripts at The CGI Resource Index, each choice is neatly ranked and rated based on the opinions of fellow webmasters. A recent top pick was YourShop Software, version 2.0. With an 8.26 rating on a ten-point scale, highlights include easy installation and “powerful features.” Perhaps best of all it will set you back only $39.

While no round-up of solutions ever seems to be truly complete, there are enough options here to satisfy even the most Amazonian of cravings. Of course, as with any emerging industry, there are always bumps along the road. If you have an affiliate marketing story to tell – especially about the vendor selection process – please write joel@irant.com.

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