Skimlinks Downplays Pinterest’s Affiliate Link Practice

pinterest-logoPinterest is quietly earning affiliate commission off of some images that its users “pin” on the site and, while some users are getting vocal about the practice, the company whose technology makes it possible says it’s not a big deal.

That company is Skimlinks, and in a blog post today, co-founder Alicia Navarro calls what Pinterest is doing “a very popular, mainstream, and valuable approach to content monetization.”

Online communities need ways to generate revenue to support their operations, and the preference is always to earn this revenue without disrupting their users or detracting from their UI with flashy advertisements. Creating a beautiful, user-friendly site, as Pinterest has done, mandates a non-intrusive way to make money.

That non-intrusive way basically works like this: If a user submits content to Pinterest that links back to a website with an affiliate program, Pinterest (via Skimlinks’ technology) will change the link so that it includes Pinterest’s affiliate code. Pinterest then makes money if other users click the link and make a purchase.

Josh Davis wrote about this yesterday and the story picked up a lot of steam, with online coverage from the New York Times, CBS News and others. But the story has been percolating in the affiliate industry since last month — see articles by Scott Jangro and Joel Garcia, for example.

One of the primary things that’s upsetting some isn’t the fact that Pinterest is tweaking links to include its own affiliate code (heck, submit a deal or coupon you found to your favorite deals site and they’ll put their own affiliate link in it, too), but that Pinterest has been completely mum on the practice.

Navarro addresses that issue in her Skimlinks post, saying that Pinterest isn’t legally bound to disclose the affiliate links because it’s not endorsing the products that its users post on the site.

By providing a platform where people can post things they like, Pinterest isn’t endorsing particular products for the sake of financial gain, just providing a valuable forum for products to be browsed by their community. So it is understandable that they didn’t want to make a big deal of this, especially as so many other content sites also use Skimlinks and affiliate marketing technology to help fund their operations.

We’ve reached out to Pinterest for more information, as have others, but the company has not replied at this point. If they do, we’ll update the post. But they’ve been quiet since the issue came up weeks ago, and it seems unlikely — to me, at least — that they’ll change that position soon.

Related Topics: Affiliate Marketing | Channel: Content Marketing | Pinterest | Pinterest: Business Issues | Social Media Marketing | Top News

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About The Author: is Editor-In-Chief of Marketing Land. His news career includes time spent in TV, radio, and print journalism. His web career continues to include a small number of SEO and social media consulting clients, as well as regular speaking engagements at marketing events around the U.S. He recently launched a site dedicated to Google Glass called Glass Almanac and also blogs at Small Business Search Marketing. Matt can be found on Twitter at @MattMcGee and/or on Google Plus. You can read Matt's disclosures on his personal blog.

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  • http://steveg.com/ SteveG

    I find it interesting that most of the people complaining were the ones trying to make a buck off of the traffic Pinterest has and can provide. My informal survey of actual users says it’s a non issue and they think it’s great that Pinterest can make money this way instead fo putting ads everywhere.

  • http://twitter.com/nathanlevi33 Nathan Levi

    I think we should be applauding Pinterest for coming up with such a great business model. 

  • http://twitter.com/AliciaNavarro Alicia Navarro

    Do you feel they are doing something wrong? They have done exactly what almost every site does: monetize their content using ads and affiliate links. The fact they haven’t emblazoned this fact across their beautiful interface is hardly an issue, is it? Does every site that uses affiliate marketing disclose as publicly and loudly as your article suggests they should? I think this is a case where most publishers could probably disclose more perfectly if they were as scrutinized as Pinterest. 

    Alicia, CEO – Skimlinks

  • http://twitter.com/themesarena Pierro

    Valid points you are sharing here. A blog is a very powerful platform you can use to build long-lasting relationships with your readers and keep them coming back for more.

    Thanks for sharing your insights.

  • Matt McGee

    Thanks for visiting and commenting, Alicia. I don’t think it’s my position to decide if Pinterest is doing something wrong or not, I’m just trying to report what’s going on. I also don’t think my article suggests anything about how “publicly and loudly” all sites that use affiliate marketing should disclose it — if you read it again, I even point out how deal/coupon sites do the exact same thing with user submitted tips.

    That said, if I were working at Pinterest or consulting for them, my advice a couple weeks ago — and today — would be that THEY should be the ones making the public comments that you’re eloquently making. No one begrudges a business for needing to make money and pay the bills, and certainly this technique is about as non-intrusive as humanly possible. But their silence about the whole thing only serves to extend the conversation unnecessarily and make people wonder why they won’t just come forward and explain what you’ve explained. 

  • http://www.erikeric.com/ erikeric

    No disrespect, Matt, but it seems like you are saying that you’re not the arbiter of right and wrong here, and then in the next paragraph you give your opinion that they are doing something wrong. 

    This is way overblown. Who cares whether Pinterest is being vocal about this? I find it perfectly acceptable to hear from the affiliate company (Skimlinks via Alicia) about what is going on. Why do we absolutely have to hear it from Pinterest? As long as someone is being honest, who cares? 

    Especially since this isn’t a nefarious situation. I welcome this kind of monetization with open arms – Pinterest’s website is so nice and clean, yet they can still make money. Seems like a more progressive form of monetization for the web. I am a slickdeals.net addict and it took me a long time to realize how they were making money off of everyone voluntarily posting links. When I finally saw SD added their own affiliate codes to the links posted by users, I didn’t freak out. I said “huh, that makes sense. Good for them.”

  • Matt McGee

    Hey Erikeric – When I said I’m not the one to decide if it’s right or wrong, I’m referring to Pinterest inserting the affiliate links and to my text up in the article. I was saying to Alicia that my article isn’t passing any judgment.

    My statement about Pinterest needing to say something is down here in the comments in response to Alicia, and I do think they should say something — that’s just basic business. When customers have legitimate issues or questions with your product, it’s generally smart to reply, especially if the question/issues are based on misunderstandings. That’s pretty much Business 101 as far as I’m concerned.And FWIW, I agree with you that it’s overblown. Ergo my comment in the article about other sites doing the same thing with user submissions. And my tweet about it yesterday: http://twitter.com/#!/mattmcgee/status/167358103552135169

  • http://luisgalarza.blogspot.com/ Luis Galarza

    I completely agree with Steve… This type of content monetization is less intrusive than having ads all over the site. I just hope it becomes profitable enough so they don’t have to change their strategy to something like Adwords styles or display ads….

  • http://www.bellimbusto.info/ bellimbusto

    I think we should be applauding Pinterest for coming up with such a great business model.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Whoisb-Whoisbid/100002926000478 Whoisb Whoisbid

    I agree. Who decides what is right and wrong in advertising? It is no sin to make money on the web but some bigger powers have demonized legitimate ways to earn and made everyone become religious about what link is appropriate and what is not when the same companies have millions of their advertising links all over the internet. Everyone like me wants Pinterest to succeed and to grow in leaps and bounds and bring something new and unstoppable to the internet community. Well done Pinterest! More power to you. You probably have millions of supporters who want to see change.

  • http://twitter.com/sbhsbh Steve Hughes

    I’m not even a Pinterest fan, but this seems like a weak attempt to put a hole in the juggernaut that is Pinterest.  How dare a company or individual try to make money? Kudos to Pinterest.  There are always some that like to take down the king.  It’s going to take a lot more than this…

  • vive designs

    Sounds so interesting…Website Designers

  • http://twitter.com/JiveNationTO Nikki JivenationTO

    I think what Matt is saying is that it would have been far better for Pinterest to have talked about how they make money first. Then it would have been a non-issue avoiding them having to justify or go on the defensive. Something like “One of the ways we make money is that we insert affilliate links… etc). After all if they can mention how well-funded they are they can mention that too. It simply prevents speculation and shows everything is above-board. Not everyone understand how affiliate links work or why they might be there. Either they tell their story or others will… and then they have to defend themselves.The bigger issue (which I hope they will address) is that of them appearing to take irrevocable ownership rights over  content pinned.That is just waiting for a challenge.

  • John Vantine

    This is nothing new. I’ve heard of other companies doing the exact same thing. DuckDuckGo is the first one that comes to mind – check out their privacy page – “Similarly, we may add an affiliate code to some eCommerce sites (e.g. Amazon & eBay) that results in small commissions being paid back to DuckDuckGo when you make purchases at those sites.”

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