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Amazon affiliate pay changes are making websites nervous

It could lead to a pay cut for sites that depend on store links.
German via Getty Images

If you've been around the web for long enough, you've probably noticed that some sites depend heavily on Amazon affiliate links to make money. Engadget uses them for product page "buy now" buttons, but there are some sites where they absolutely dominate -- think The Wirecutter and others where store links are front and center. And today, Amazon made a change that's bound to make some of those site owners anxious. In a mirror of changes made abroad, Amazon's US division has switched to a system that gives an affiliate sales cut based on the category of product, rather than increasing the cut based on the volume of referrals. It's not necessarily a disaster, but it could result in a loss of revenue for certain websites.

The main issue: the percentages vary wildly. You'll take a hefty 10 percent cut from video game downloads and luxury beauty products, for example, but you'll make just 1 percent from physical video games and 2 percent from TVs. There's no longer a cap on income from PC products, though, so someone who buys a high-end laptop could make you more money even with the lower 2.5 percent cut. Naturally, the system gives you healthy cuts for Amazon hardware like Fire tablets and Echo speakers.

Amazon says this is to "simplify" its link system, and that its link partners will ultimately be better off. It may not cause that much pain in practice, for that matter. Affiliate management company GeniusLink tells The Verge that the European switch caused "some pain," but that no one was jilted enough to stop doing business. Sites that sell either a wide variety of products or specialize in the most lucrative products aren't likely to notice.

The issue, as you might guess, is that this could hurt bloggers, YouTube vloggers and others whose focus is on products that no longer bring in as much cash every time someone makes a purchase. Many will simply have to bite the bullet and take a loss, but others may be tempted to change their coverage to recover their profits. The move could dictate what newcomers decide to cover, too. This is ultimately a hard lesson about the risks of leaning heavily on one company for income, but that won't be much comfort if your favorite blogger has to shift focus (or deliver a stronger sales pitch) to stick around.

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