As part of the Amazon.com Associates program, independent Web sites select books of interest to their visitors and post reviews or referrals on their Web sites that link directly to the Amazon catalog and ordering form. Referrals earn a site 8 percent commission on each book sold, while Amazon handles ordering, billing, shipping, and customer service.
The idea, says Leslie Koch, vice president of marketing, is to create a "virtual franchise." The ambitious strategy is in line with the company's goal of becoming the biggest online book retailer on the market--hence its name, after the largest river.
The company reports that there are already 300 sites that link to its catalog. A cooking site, for example, can compile a list of recommended cookbooks pulled from Amazon's listings, or a computer site can recommend business or technology books.
Amazon is already the largest book supplier on the Web. The new initiative could cement that position by adding what amounts to hundreds of points of sale within individual Web sites.
"What the Web is best at is specialized content. Subject enthusiasts come to us but don't know what to choose," Koch says. By having various niche content providers that are experts in their field essentially do Amazon.com's marketing, Amazon.com gains sales and sites gain a source of revenue.
Amazon says there is little danger that the new marketing technique will end up as a kind of advertorial for the Web. Through the end of the calendar year Amazon.com is offering a commission on all book sales, but thereafter sites will earn only a sliding scale fee. Under this plan, a site that generates $6,000 in sales generated would earn only $302. Sites would have to sell a lot of books to generate a significant level of income.
"It's really a service for visitors to a site. For visitors, a book is another tangible piece of information. For instance, we have a site that promotes Montana tourism, and people can now order books on the subject," said Koch. "This is not really blurring the line between editorial content and advertising."