So Amazon has closed some of our affiliate accounts. But what's the significance? What's an affiliate account anyway? The Amazon affiliate program is for bloggers and website owners to monetize their sites. They place links to Amazon, and receive up to 10% in commission for every purchase in return.
I've been an Amazon affiliates for more than 18 years. I started off earning just a few cents each month. I've always played by the rules. And as the sites' popularity increased, so did the earnings, up to the point that for the past year I've been able to do this full-time. The point is: I'm not a noob. I've followed the discussions on Amazon's affiliates forum for almost two decades, have seen the reasons why people get banned, know the rules very well, and know that it's absolutely important to follow them.
Here is a screenshot of my Amazon.ca affiliate dashboard, showing earnings between 22 June and 2 August 2017.
As it can be seen, someone has purchased a crazy amount of text books on 22 June 2018, and some smaller amounts, albeit still significant ones, on 4 July, on 13 July, and on 18 July.
At the time, I wasn’t thinking anything about it, and the worst imaginable scenario to me was Amazon removing these earnings from my account again. Little did I suspect that they would ban me for someone else's violations.
I'm being completely transparent here, and will not withhold any essential information from my readers. Several months later, after the demand for arbitration had long been submitted, the person, who had likely caused these orders, got in touch with me multiple times, requesting help with more violations of Amazon's terms and conditions. I rejected every single one of his requests, always pointing to Amazon's rules.
I don't blame that man. He is responsible for his own actions only, and it is not his fault that Amazon punishes someone else for his violations.
Amazon's initial warning
The first inquiry from Amazon with respect to these sales of text books arrived on 12 July 2017, on the same day we were relocating from Phnom Penh (Cambodia) back to Europe, during the stopover at Qatar Airport:
Hello from the Amazon Associates Program,
While reviewing your account, we have been unable to verify that the means through which you are referring customers to the Amazon Site are in compliance with the terms of the Associates Program Operating Agreement. Therefore, we request that you provide us with a detailed description of the methods you are using to refer customers to the Amazon Site in accordance with the Operating Agreement, which states: You must provide us with any information that we request to verify your compliance with this Operating Agreement.
The description you send should include, for example, identification of the websites on which your banner ads are posted, advertising services you are using, screenshots of your Site’s analytics tools that show your Site traffic and its sources, the keywords you are using to drive referrals, any plugins or browser add-ons you use, live links to your Sites, a sequence of links that allows us to duplicate the clicks the majority of your customers make to get to the Amazon Site via your special links, and any other information that would be relevant to confirming the your compliance with the Operating Agreement, which can be found here: https://affiliate-program.amazon.com/gp/associates/agreement.
Please send the requested information to us within 5 business days by using the Contact Us form available here:
If we do not hear from you regarding the above, or, based on your response, we will be unable to verify that your methods are compliant with the Operating Agreement, we will close your Associates Account and may withhold fees.
We appreciate your understanding and hope to hear from you soon.
Since I had done nothing wrong, I still didn't think about it too much. I knew I had work to do to prove my compliance with the terms, which I did the day afterwards.
Again, I'm being fully transparent, and provide the compliance report to Amazon.ca for anyone who might be interested in it for download. I sent this report back to Amazon on 14 July 2017, and even gave them a call to make absolutely sure that they received it.
Amazon.ca affiliate account closure
The next time I heard from them was on 2 August 2017 with the dreaded message:
We are writing to notify you that we are terminating the Amazon Associates Program Operating Agreement with you with immediate effect. Your Associates Program account will be closed and you will not receive further payment of advertising fees. We have taken this step because you are not in compliance with the Operating Agreement that governs your participation in the Associates Program.
You are not in compliance with Participation Requirement Number 29 because purchases resulting from Special Links on your site have been for personal use, resale, or commercial use.
You can find the complete terms of the Operating Agreement and its Schedules via this link:
We insist that you immediately stop this activity and remove all Amazon content, including Special Links, from your site(s). Any other accounts you have or may open in the future may be closed and you will not receive any advertising fees. We reserve all other rights and claims we may have.
As an interesting side note, Participation Requirement Number 29 doesn't even exist. The closest equivalent would have been Participation Requirement Number 8 (u) which doesn’t allow me to offer products for commercial use. Please note how they twist their words to make it look as if I had violated this rule.
Amazon.com affiliate account closure
On 21 August, one week before I started going full-time with HeiDoc.net, the follow-up message from Amazon.com arrived:
Hello from the Associates Program,
We are writing to tell you that effective as of today’s date, Amazon is terminating your Associates account. Under the terms of the Operating Agreement, we may terminate your account at any time, with or without cause. This decision is final and not subject to appeal.
It is important that you immediately remove all Amazon Content from your Site(s). Please be aware that any other accounts you have, or may open in the future, may be closed without payment of any fees. Amazon reserves all other rights and claims.
Because you are not in compliance with the Operating Agreement, Amazon will not pay you any outstanding advertising fees related to your account. Amazon exercises its right under the Operating Agreement to withhold fees based on violations, which include the following:
-A separate account belonging to you (or a person or entity connected or affiliated with you) has been closed for violations of the Operating Agreement or one of the other Associates Programs operated by our affiliates.
Thank you for your participation in the Amazon Associates Program.
The next day, I was on the phone with an attorney to discuss suing Amazon.com at an arbitration tribunal. The journey that followed lasted almost a year, and was even a lot crazier than this humble beginning. Stay tuned for the next part.
To my fellow bloggers, website owners, and all other entrepreneurs working with Amazon.com, the two most important points to learn from this are:
- Do not build your existence on the Amazon affiliate program. (Or for the Star Wars fans: "On the Amazon affiliate program, your existence do not build".)
- If you do any other freelance work with or for Amazon.com (selling stuff; writing e-books; app development; TV production for Prime Video; delivery driving; or whatever else imaginable), don't assume that they have any amount of love toward you that's even close to the love they have for their money and profit, even if you keep their terms to the letter. (Or for the Star Trek fans: "Once you have their money, you never give it back." Ferengi Rule of Acquisition #1.)
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This blog post is part of a series on our legal dispute with Amazon.com. This is what's been released so far:
- The History of a Legal Dispute
- HeiDoc Smiles back at Amazon.com
- Closure of the Affiliate Accounts
- Playing the Waiting Game
- Conspiracy and Fraud
- More Allegations against us
- Breaking the Kindle Monopoly
- The Verdict
- How to sue Amazon.com