Affiliate Program For Digging Into WordPress Closes

The other day, I received some bum news regarding the affiliate program for the book, Digging Into WordPress by Jeff Starr and Chris Coyier. Thanks to the abuse of their affiliate system with no concrete way to battle the abuse, they have decided to phase out the program for the time being. Here is the official email sent out to members:

The important details:

– We’re turning it off this Monday at Noon EST. You are of course free to remove all links as you wish.

– We don’t benefit in any way from links left up. (It’s not a ploy for us to benefit from lingering links)

– We’re sorry =( We thought long and hard about it and we think this is our best option.

Here’s the scoop:

We’ve had a ton of fraud go through the affiliate program. A bad guy can sign up for the program and buy a bunch of books from us with stolen credit cards, and earn money. It’s extremely difficult to catch, because the people with the fraudulent charge may not even notice, or not notice for months. Meanwhile we’ve already given the bad guy money. The negative effects of this being:

– We lose money
– Our PayPal account is at serious risk of closure
– We facilitate bad things happening to people

Unfortunately the software we use to handle the affiliate program just isn’t up to the task of fighting this. So to all: THANK YOU for being an affiliate. The book has been a success in no small part because of you. If we can figure out a better way to handle this, we’ll do that and open it back up. In the mean time, if you are looking for other affiliate programs to try out, check this one out:

-Chris Coyier & Jeff Starr
Digging Into WordPress

That sucks but I’ll still be keeping the link to the book on the WPTavern store because it’s a great resource that takes things a step further after WordPress For Beginners.


11 responses to “Affiliate Program For Digging Into WordPress Closes”

  1. That really sucks for genuine affiliate marketers. I know how famous it is. Just a few days, the print edition was sold out. Let’s wish them good luck. It’s nice of you to keep the link intact.

  2. @Jeffro – Seriously, you took that as a criticism of Jeff and Chris? Or of the book?

    I was joking that this experience – of having to deal with fraudsters – will make them such experts that they could right their next book about dealing with credit card fraud. Admittedly, a pretty weak joke but I presumed it would be obvious, nonetheless, that it was a joke. Apologies to anyone who was offended.

    Perhaps there is a cultural difference in our senses of humor. I’ll try to be more American. (um … that was also a joke).

  3. We did learn some interesting stuff through all of this. I just wrote someone an email about this so I figure I’ll publish it here too, with more detail on our problems and what things could make any affiliate system better.


    – With E-Junkie there is no approval system. All affiliates are automatically approved. So even if you find a bad guy and delete them, they can just sign up again in immediately and you’d never know. Being able to have some kind of approval system where you can have a quick back and forth with potential affiliates (hi, are you human? where are you going to put your affiliate links?) would be ideal in our case.

    – Delayed payments… It sucks as an affiliate to have to wait months and months to be paid, but that’s the safest way for the person running the program. If you pay at the end of every month, you can pay bad guys before the people with the stolen credit cards even get their statement and notice. The longer you wait to pay the affiliate, the better chance you have of people reporting fraud and canceling the would-be affiliate payment.

    – Synchronization… Even if we started waiting months to pay out, cross referencing the fraudulent transactions and making sure that affiliate gets deleted and not paid for that transaction is still a very manual process. If the second you refunded the PayPal transaction that was done automatically, that would be ideal.

  4. @Chris Coyier – Hmmm, I wonder – do you think some sort of “reverse affiliate” system might actually work better?

    Something along these lines: the website owner lists your digital product for sale and, if one of their users goes ahead and makes a purchase, the website owner / affiliate automatically pays you the wholesale price (say, maybe, 66% of the retail price, which would be $17.82 in your case) from their own PayPal account, but they get $27 from the buyer.

    If the purchase is legit, they’ve just made a profit of $9.18; if it turns out to be fraudulent they gain nothing although you could refund them the wholesale $17.82 (minus transaction fees) if you feel that they were not part of the fraud i.e. if the majority of their sales have been legit.

    At no point in that chain would there be any incentive for the affiliate to engage in fraud because you’re not actually paying them a commission, they would simply be reselling at a profit, like most other businesses in the world. If a stolen credit card is used to buy a pair of Levis in Macy’s, Levis doesn’t take the hit.

  5. Clever, but giving people the right to charge on your behalf is mega scary. For example, they could change the price if they felt like it. That might work for gas stations but I think I’d want tighter control over something as personal as a book.

  6. @Chris Coyier – I hadn’t thought about the price control angle but, I wonder, might that actually give a “free market” boost to sales, with some sites cutting into their own margin in order to move more volume?

    Or, would the variance in pricing blow the lid of the whole affiliate game, making regular people realize that all those “recommendations” have a dollar motive behind them?

    We had legally enforced pricing on books here in the UK, supposedly to protect small bookshops, but all it really did was keep books ridiculously expensive, forcing poorer families to rely upon libraries and second-hand bookshops.

    Minimum pricing was finally dropped in the early Nineties, allowing the Supermarkets to enter the business and massively reducing the price of books overall. If we hadn’t dropped enforced minimum pricing,, with its heavy discounting, would never have been able to operate effectively in the UK.

    The immediate problem for you, however, is that affiliate sales of digital products seem to be unworkable in it’s current form. The reselling approach I’m suggesting could be a fix and, I suppose, there is no reason why minimum pricing couldn’t also be enforced as part of the terms.

  7. I do think it’s a clever idea. For more things to think about though:

    – What about sellers who sell your book but just never pay you? Their customers are happy, they got what they paid for, but then you gotta go fight these non-paying sellers.

    – Is each seller in charge of their own digital delivery? (not trivially easy)

  8. You tokenize each sale, just as e-junkie does, and only email the unique download link to the customer once the affiliate has completed payment, to you, of the wholesale price.

    The automated chain would be:

    1. Customer pays $27 to the affiliate, including his email address.

    2. Upon receipt of the $27, the affiliate automatically pays $17.82 to you, including the buyer’s email address (the system should ensure that the seller cannot simply not perform this step – there can be no problem of insufficient funds because, of course, the sellers PayPal account has just received in excess of the amount he must now forward to you. HOWEVER, in theory, if the seller somehow circumvents the automated system, well, HE has defrauded the customer, it is not legally your problem any more that Guchi is responsible for the guys selling fake Gucci handbags in the backstreets of Palermo).

    3. Upon receipt of the $17.82, the system emails the unique download link to the customer.

    Any later dispute is then the responsibility of the affiliate, removing the incentive for him to make false purchases.

    I know that PayPal has been doing interesting things with their API but I have no idea how much of what I’m proposing might already be baked into their system. Either way, it would clearly remove a major pain point that has seriously disrupted (ended?) your business and, I’m guessing, affected everyone who sells digital products via affiliates (lots of people).

    It’s clearly an opportunity.


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