Pinterest 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.