Last year, a small group of publishers was studying the exciting — and risky — possibility of increasing their commercial revenue by publishing product guides and recommendations directly within Amazon, through an Amazon affiliate program called Onsite Associates.
After one year, many regret the effort they put into it.
After a number of tests that participants said Amazon did not explain enough, Onsite Associates revenue for many participants fell sharply, in some cases by more than 90%, according to sources at nine different publishers involved in the program.
Some of these sources, which said they were generating more than $100,000 per month through the program earlier this year, have had to scale back production or formatting of content for it. Several publishers who have hired employees specifically to manage and grow Onsite Associates’ revenue have had to find different roles for these people, and sources at two participating publishers said they are now considering whether to lay off those people.
A source from one of the participating publishers, which has seen Onsite Associates revenue drop more than 70% this year, said it will abandon the program unless it faces a significant increase in revenue in the fourth quarter.
This source said: “She has completely fallen off a cliff and hasn’t come back to ‘virtually zero’ in the past three months.
“It was very frustrating,” added that source. “Amazon has not provided any real insight into why this is happening, or what we can do to fix it.”
Onsite Associates is a genuine version of the affiliate program platform developed by many publishers over the past several years. If an Amazon visitor finds a product in the directory of a participating publisher, adds it to their cart and purchases it, the publisher gets a portion of the sale; The amount of commission varies by product category.
For some, the revenue collapse appears at odds with the apparent validity of the programme, sources said. Since launching just two years ago, Onsite Associates has expanded from 30 US publishers to around 200, and has recently launched in various markets, including the UK. Amazon users rate everything from espresso machines to hair dryers to running shoes.
Not every publisher has seen such dramatic slides. Two sources contacted for this story said they now earn more from Onsite Associates than they initially earned. Another company, which saw its revenue drop by 30% after significantly expanding the types of content it produces, has simply cut back.
But revenue from the program is so erratic that some publishers now say they can no longer predict it. One source said they’re having trouble including Onsite Associates in their budget forecasts because revenue is unpredictable.
“We have to look at it week by week,” a third source said.
In each case, participants say the changes — such as the cuts Amazon made to its flagship affiliate program, Amazon Associates, earlier this spring — are just another reminder that partnerships with Amazon should be approached with caution.
“From day one, we’ve known: We can’t make this an essential ingredient [of our business]A source at one of the publishers, which now counts Onsite Associates for roughly 20% of trade revenue, said.
“They’ve always lowered their rates,” added that source, who said Onsite Associates’ revenue has fallen nearly 30% over the past four months. “So, in the long run, I expect the same from OSP. I just don’t know if it’s six months or three years from now.”
Amazon, which was reached for comment, said it has not commented on its business relationships.
The level of frustration with the publishers appears to reflect the amount of time and energy they have invested in Onsite Associates. While many have started in the program by simply reformatting or modifying existing commerce content, others have begun developing content specifically for Onsite Associates.
Just like the short videos that video publishers produced – and failed to monetize – especially for Facebook, Onsite Associates participants who designed content specifically for the program were frustrated to discover that content created for the platform didn’t make money and couldn’t monetize it with software and other commercial content arrangements, two sources said.
“What has a high search volume on OSP may not have a large search volume on Google,” said one of the sources.
These publishers also had to deal with what they described as a vague and confusing content approval process. Every evidence that appears on Associates must be approved, and the approval process for each evidence can often take weeks. Those sources said that evidence that is not approved is often rejected for reasons that are not clear.
Approved content, in turn, is subject to repeated tests that Amazon runs on the software. As Onsite Associates grows, sources said Amazon has begun putting it through many different tests in an effort to maximize its effectiveness, not just on its own but in relation to other Amazon products, such as its ad units or Amazon’s Choice tools.
These tests, which Amazon doesn’t warn publishers are coming, often cause a huge drop in revenue. In January, Amazon ran a test where it took Onsite Associates content from mobile search results, a move that immediately caused problems. “You notice when your clicks go down by 70%,” one participant said.
But the sources said perhaps the biggest sticking point was a familiar one for any publisher who has worked with Amazon: the lack of communication.
All nine sources contacted for this story described feeling frustrated with the lack of information Amazon would provide on a number of topics, from how to improve conversion rates to lower revenue, not just from reps but from dashboards that provide analytics about content within Onsite Associates. An Amazon spokesperson said it was planning to improve the insights it gave participants on performance and content eligibility, but did not provide details or a timeline.
And while they wait for those improvements, some sources at publishers who have seen a gap in their revenue said they feel more like it’s been used. “Amazon is not a partner,” one source said. “They will play well if you have something they want.
“We are filling the void for them now,” added that source. “Once we finish filling that gap for 2020 – they will spin around and leave us behind.”