Amazon.com has an Amazon Affiliate Marketing service. You sign up, Amazon gives you a link to a book (or any product at Amazon), you put the link on your website (or send it out in your newsletters, blog, tweets, etc.), and if people click the link and buy something at Amazon, you get part of the sale. Amazon gives you money.

That’s the theory. What’s the reality?

I’ve had Amazon links in my website since January 2009 to now (Oct. 2014). That’s five years, 10 months.

I get about 10-15,000 monthly visitors to my website, so in that time, at least 700,000 people have visited my site.

How much have I earned? Here’s the data from my Amazon Affiliate account:

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My earnings as an Amazon Affiliate. In nearly five years, my links produced $111.57 in sales for Amazon, and I got $4.47.

Because of my links, ten items have been sold at Amazon. Amazon made $111.57 in sales. My share was $4.47.

I’ve earned $4.47 from Amazon in nearly six years and 700,000 visitors. About $0.08 per month. Or $0.64 for each 100,000 visitors. It wouldn’t even feed my cat for a month.

(Really. My cat eats a six-pound bag ($12) of Professional Adult Cat Complete Formula cat food each month. $4.47 won’t even cover two weeks of cat food.)

Why Does Amazon Affiliate Pay So Little?

This is the nature of Amazon, Google, Facebook, Youtube, and the “web sharing economy”. A small handful of companies get overwhelming market share. Tens of millions of websites (and blogs, social pages, etc.) show their ads or sell their products (there are +175m registered domain names). The central sites get a penny here, a penny there, which adds up to billions for them, but the payout is divided among tens of millions of sites, so each site gets pennies. Very few can survive (or even pay the monthly server fees).

It’s the Walmart Effect. A small town of 20-30,000 people exists because it’s an economic ecosystem: the small shop owners pay sales tax which maintains the schools, police, etc. and there are doctors, dentists, teachers, and so on.When Walmart enters the community, the low prices kill every small business within 25 miles. The community turns into a Walmart town. Corporate franchises pay such low wages that workers need food stamps to survive. The workers earn too little to contribute to the community’s economic ecosystem. The few upper-income taxpayers subsidize the corporate franchises.

It sounds great that Uber and AirBnB are disrupting the over-regulated and expensive taxi and  hotel industry. We’ll pay less. But in the end, the drivers and apartment owners will earn trivial money. Hundreds of thousands of people are letting Uber and AirBnB use their cars and apartments. As these sites grow, more people will sign up. But the size of the market is fixed: there is only a certain number of people who need taxi rides or rent apartments. So fees will drop among the drivers and apartment owners.

This economic system is destructive. Big sites rely on little sites; big sites destroy little sites.

Yes, Amazon will tell you that people are earning thousands of dollars monthly. Yes, some people gloat about the money they make.

But my data shows reality. 700,000 visitors over nearly six years produced $4.47.

If you have different numbers, let me know. Send a screenshot and I’ll add it to this page.

What about Music?

It’s not only Amazon. Taylor Swift quit Spotify over their absurdly low music royalties. She called it “nano-pennies” and that’s a good name for it: music bands earn $0.0084  per song, or just under a penny.

Most music bands earn perhaps $38 per month in royalties while Spotify had revenues of $210m in 2013.

Aloe Blacc writes in Wired, “It takes roughly one million spins on Pandora for a songwriter to earn just $90. Avicii’s “Wake Me Up!” was the most streamed song in Spotify history and the 13th most played song on Pandora since its release in 2013, with more than 168 million plays in the US. Pandora paid $12,359 in domestic royalties ($7.36 for every million plays, or $0.000,007,3 per play) to be split among three songwriters and the publishers. Pandora had $240m in revenues for 2014.