Are You Building Your Affiliate Marketing Income on Digitally Sharecropped Quicksand?

Recently, a freelance writer who’s had some success on one of the major job-hunting platforms reached out to me to ask about selling digital products. She’s trying to create income streams beyond writing for clients, and one of the things she’d created was an e-course that showed others how to duplicate her success as a freelance writer.

But here’s the catch -- the course was built around the platform of the job-hunting site. If this site changed the way it did business, her income was at risk. This is known as digital sharecropping. Ever heard of the term? I hadn’t either, until I ran across this article

I knew what it was. As the first link in this article demonstrates, I’ve been preaching about the concept for years. But I’d never heard that particular phrase. So, what is it exactly?

What Is Digital Sharecropping & Why You Should Care

This is when you, in effect, “build your business on someone else’s land.” In this case, the land could be Facebook, or Amazon, or eBay, or Google, etc. If your affiliate marketing income is totally dependent on what another company does, then you put your earnings in jeopardy. And too many affiliate marketers have made this mistake. Proof?

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository.

Just yesterday, I received a newsletter from an Amazon affiliate. He’s a book marketer. Amazon is cracking down on email marketers, which is where he gets a lot of commission-earning clicks. He explained it this way.

… it’s okay to get a commission if someone clicks on a link on your website, but not okay if someone clicks on that link in an email. It [Amazon] issued guidelines a while back that warned marketers they would lose their commission money if they caused too many free books to be downloaded from the company’s servers. I chose to remove the ID tags from free books and give up the commission money on sales made after someone downloaded the free book.
Some small lists don’t charge authors and survive solely on commission money; they’re either going to have to start charging a fee or they're going to fold. My guess is quite a few will go out of business. For me, the loss of commission money is tough. The amount is not insignificant. (emphasis mine)

Imagine slaving away for two, three or five years, and building your affiliate marketing income to $3,000, $5,000 or $10,000 per month – only to see 50, 60 or 70 percent of it disappear overnight. Sure you could rebuild, but how long would that take?

The best way to avoid this is to not be caught in a digital sharecropping arrangement to begin with. And exactly how do you accomplish that? Following is some insight.

5 Things You Can Do to Avoid Becoming a Digital Sharecropper

I. Create Several Income Streams: As a freelance writer, I have three income streams: (i) freelance writing for clients; (ii) writing and self-publishing ebooks and e-courses; and (iii) affiliate marketing. This has served me well because if something happens to one, then I have the other two to lean on. 

My Digital Sharecropping Experience​

In the summer of 2014, when Amazon introduced its Kindle Unlimited (KU) subscription program, my self-publishing income took a monstrous hit, as did many other self-published authors. I went from earning over $3,000 per month (mostly from my romance novellas), down to bringing in just a few hundred bucks per month within about a year’s time. I’m still recovering.

But as I publish fiction and non-fiction – and most of my non-fiction ebook sales come from my freelance writing website, NOT Amazon – I was able to weather the storm.

Also, I started publishing my fiction on more sites. Instead of just being on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, I now publish on All Romance Ebooks and use Draft2Digtial to distribute my novellas to half a dozen or so other sites. So even within a niche, I’m diversified (thank goodness!).

As an affiliate marketer, you should always be looking for other money trees can you plant. It could be anything from writing for clients (as you already blog); to selling ad space on your site; to creating products of your own to sell, which brings me to my next tip.

II. Create Your Own Products & Services: As an affiliate marketer, it’s nice to promote the products and services of other, but to diversify, create some of your own. This way, you have complete and total control.

III. Choose Evergreen Products: Some affiliate products are fad items; others sell for a lifetime, eg, web hosting. If you have a website or blog, you’re going to need web hosting.

When you choose an evergreen product or service to promote, be sure to select a reputable, long-standing provider, or you could be back in the same position digital sharecropping put you in, ie, putting your income in harm's way.

IV. Promote Products & Services You Actually Use: If your web hosting company went out of business today, you’d find another one, right? Same with your list management provider, or your domain name registration service. The point?

When you promote products and services you actually use, if something happens, it’s not like you’ll say, “Well, too bad.” No, you’ll actually do your research and find another to replace it. And, if they have an affiliate program, you’d likely sign up for it.

See how easy it can be to slide one product out and slide a new one in – all without interrupting your earnings – when you “own the land” on which you conduct business?

V. Brand Your Own Business: The product/service you’re promoting should fit into your brand, not the other way around.

So get off freebie sites (if you’re on one). Register a domain name, get it hosted on its own domain, create unique content for it and promote it regularly – just like you do with affiliate products you’re promoting.


The joy of being an affiliate marketer is that you can build a business to suit the life you want to lead. Ostensibly, that’s why you were drawn to this way of making a living to begin with, no? Don’t jeopardize it by building on digitally sharecropped quicksand. Build it on a firm foundation … the foundation of the brand that is you.

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Disclosure: In full disclosure, it is safe to assume that the site owner is benefiting financially or otherwise from everything you click on, read, or look at while on my website. This is not to say that is the case with all content, as all publications on the site are original and written to provide value and references to our audience.


  1. Siddaiah Thirupati May 13, 2016
  2. Yuwanda Black May 13, 2016