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by Brad DeLong
Draft 2.6; October 9, 1998
Published in Rewired, October 12, 1998
Every Monday it arrives in my e-mail box, from <firstname.lastname@example.org>: a report of how many people have clicked-through from my website to Amazon using links that I have provided, how many books (and what kind of books) they have bought--and what my "referral fee" is.
For a long time one of my back burners had held a plan to put up a page of interesting books that I had read and wished to recommend. I had always found suggestions to guide my reading to be extremely valuable. It seemed to me that people who liked to look at my web page might like to see what I was reading--and liked.
The plan moved to a front burner when I realized that Amazon was providing a way for me to make it incredibly easy for anyone curious enough about what I was reading to get the books. One click from my website to the book-description and book-order page at Amazon for anyone curious about Carl Shapiro and Hal Varian's Information Rules: A Strategic Guide to the Network Economy; a second click and (provided their credit card balance allows) the book is on the way to their address.
I thought: This is exactly what the web is for--to greatly speed and ease the flow of information. And I thought: I very much want Jeff Bezos and company to succeed, and this is something I can do to help them.
So that evening I dropped into Adobe Pagemill, and the next day my interesting books page was up on my website.
0691003955 0 Game Theory for Applied Economics 0 1 1.25 sold at 0% off list price of 24.95 1565844092 0 Living Wage : What It Is and Why W 0 1 0.90 sold at 20% off list price of 22.50 ---------- ------ ----- ----- ------- ----------------------------------- Totals: 280 5 8 $ 18.16 ISBN/ASIN home page search other --------------------- ----------- --------- --------- --------- --------- Number of Visitors on 06-Sep-1998 10 1 0 0 Number of Visitors on 07-Sep-1998 22 1 0 0 Number of Visitors on 08-Sep-1998 27 1 0 0 Number of Visitors on 09-Sep-1998 31 0 0 0 Number of Visitors on 10-Sep-1998 28 1 0 0 Number of Visitors on 11-Sep-1998 27 1 0 0 Number of Visitors on 12-Sep-1998 10 0 0 0 --------------------- ----------- --------- --------- --------- --------- Total Visitors this week 155 5 0 0
And the e-mails from <email@example.com> began to arrive, one a week, each week with a bottom line: 160 clicks-through from my website to Amazon, 280 books examined, 13 books purchased, $18.16 credited to my finder's fee account.
I thought: Hmmm... $20 a week. An initial time investment of an hour making the interesting books page, and maybe ten minutes a month maintaining and adding to the page. Amortize the initial investment over two and a half years, and find that... $90 for 12 minutes a month of work... $450 an hour. $450 an hour? Wow!
Yes? Who are you?
You didn't earn that $450 an hour...
Yes I did. I'm a highly skilled information professional. In fact, perhaps Jeff Bezos should be paying me more. Why, just down the hall there are people who when they consult make...
Former Deputy Assistant Attorneys General for Antitrust have highly specific and detailed knowledge of antitrust policy that is of immense value to large corporations seeking to evade trouble. Economic historians do not. If you ever change your field to Industrial Organization, become a former Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Antitrust, and if Jeff Bezos is ever the book-selling monopoly king of America, then maybe--but I think not...
I wrote those URLs. <http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ISBN=087584863X/braddelong00A/>. See? You think that was easy? That's real work!
Especially adding that "braddelong00A" part.
You are being paid that $450 an hour because you are selling Jeff Bezos and company something that you don't own: you are selling them the attention of people who come to your website...
But this is the "attention economy," after all. They are paying me attention. They are paying me attention because they think that I have something to say: I've worked hard to gain their attention. Why can't I--while they're paying me attention--use that attention to go and tell them to pay attention to Jeff Bezos at Amazon?
They're paying you attention because they think that your website will inform, entertain, and perhaps amuse them. But they want your words that you put on your website because you thought they were true--not words and links that you put on your website because someone is paying you to do so. They think that they are engaging in some sort of near-ideal speech situation with you. They think you are attempting to inform them, not to manipulate them into actions that will earn you money. That's why there's this idea that "advertising" should be separated from "editorial"...
But the links are not on my website because of the fees from Amazon! They're on my website because I liked the books! It's not like I'm twisting what I say: there is a strict separation between advertising and editorial in here. The direct link is just a convenience. I'd recommend these books in this way even if Amazon wasn't promising to send me a check every three months.
You would? You would have put a big link right smack in the middle of your home page?
Noise Trader Risk (.pdf)
Links to them at Amazon.com:
Rules for Tomorrow's Economy
You would have chosen those particular books? Don't I remember you thinking that you shouldn't link to The Sinews of Power: War, Money, and the English State because it wasn't the kind of book people who shopped at Amazon would buy?...
But I did link to it! I did!
From your home page? You certainly loved the book more than many that have shown up there on your home page...
Well, no... But I can fix it. I can add value. I can add some reviews. I can review a book-of-the-month. I can choose it because it is genuinely interesting, not because I think that people who shop at Amazon are likely to buy it.
And if you spend three hours a month wrting up a review of your book-of-the-month, that pushes your rewards down from $450 an hour to $30 an hour, about what Jeff Bezos pays his senior programmers...
From: firstname.lastname@example.org Date: Fri, 1 May 1998 10:00:31 -0700 (PDT) X-Authentication-Warning: anaconda.amazon.com: tom set sender to email@example.com using -f To: delong@econ.Berkeley.EDU Subject: Amazon.com Associates: new features and higher payments Status:
$30 an hour is not bad at all, as long as you like the work. Remember: I'm not into the world wide web for the money. I'm in it because I want Amazon to succeed, and I want to make the people who visit my web page happy. I can (a) give people who pay attention to my interesting books page some of my attention (b) in exchange for their attention that (c) I am giving to Amazon. See? It's a gift-exchange attention economy: I give them my attention, they give me their attention, I give their attention to Jeff Bezos, and Jeff Bezos gives me... money.
Yes, money. About that money. It isn't your money. Those are Berkeley's electrons that are being served out over the net...
What do you mean? I wrote the interesting books page on my own, personal, laptop.
And then uploaded it to a server in the berkeley.edu domain. Those are Berkeley's electrons that Jeff Bezos is paying for. The money should go to the University of California at Berkeley. Somewhere there is an Assistant to the Deputy Vice Chancellor and Associate Senior Dean who is writing a formal, official, University of California policy about the misuse of U.C. internet resources for "commercial" purposes...
But professors earn outside money all the time! Book review fees! Honoraria! Yes, these are honoraria. They aren't really "commercial purposes." When you give a lecture and they give you an honorarium, the honorarium isn't payment for giving the lecture, it's a gift in appreciation of your intellectual excellence.
Or, better yet, they are like frequent-flyer miles. Yes. Frequent-flyer miles. If you fly on Berkeley's dime to a conference, you don't have to give the frequent-flyer miles back to the University of California...
You don't have to give the frequent-flyer miles back because the airlines played a very clever political game in the way they established frequent flyer programs. By making it next to impossible for those who paid for tickets to figure out who got how many frequent-flyer miles, they managed to make them the traveller's property. But frequent-flyer miles are still a kickback: still an incentive for the traveller to waste his employer's money by flying on one particular airline. You are making your moral case weaker by bringing up frequent-flyer miles...
But I spend my money on things Berkeley should pay for all the time! Support is lousy, lousy! We haven't had a reliable working xerox machine in the Economics Department for eight months! Last week I bought lunch for nine graduate students!
No University of California at Berkeley electrons were used in the creation of this piece (although some may have been used in its transmission). Excerpts from e-mails from firstname.lastname@example.org are genuine, although amazon.com has not yet figured out a way to make your computer sound like a cash register when you open an e-mail from email@example.com.
The author, however, denies that the thoughts expressed in the piece above are an accurate record of his thoughts, the thoughts of any sub-component of his brain, or the thoughts of any other brain or sub-component. The possibly fictitious thoughts expressed above are intended merely to amuse, entertain, and--maybe--inform.
Anyone who after reading this is overcome by the desire to join the Amazon Associates program should click on <http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/subst/partners/associates/associates.html>.
Note, however, that the general feeling is that Amazon's attttude toward intellectual property means that it is no longer an asset to the net, and that its influence needs to be reduced.
By the way, if you were amused, entertained, or informed by the piece above, would you please do me a favor? It won't cost you anything, I promise. The next time you want to buy a book, go to http://www.amazon.com/, and at the point when you get to the individual book page look up at the top of your browser. In the URL box you will see something like:
You see the ten-digit number after "ASIN"? Just remove everything after that ten-digit number, and replace it with "/braddelong00" so that the URL reads:
Then press return and, after the page reloads, order the book.
See how easy that was? Thanks.
Feedback is always very welcome...
Professor of Economics
J. Bradford DeLong, 601 Evans
University of California at Berkeley; Berkeley, CA 94720-3880
(510) 643-4027 phone (510) 642-6615 fax
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