People like something to complain about. Yesterday’s darling (Pinterest) has been coming under fire for (gasp) monetizing their website. While myself (and many other affiliates) had noticed Pinterest’s monetization model not long after the site started to become popular, I first saw the “buzz” going on about it outside of the affiliate marketing community when SEJ published “Pinterest: Covert Affiliate Link Scheme Exposed” earlier this month.

And that sensational title seems to be the general sentiment around the topic… “covert” and “scheme” (which is what affiliate programs are called in the UK, but the word has a negative connotation to American English speakers as being something shady).

“It should have been in the terms of service!” people cried! And that’s true. It should have been disclosed. But let me ask you to ask yourself an honest question:

Did you READ the Pinterest terms of service when you signed up?

 
My guess is that for almost all of you, the answer was no. The extreme majority of their users wouldn’t have known anyway even if it HAD been in their TOS.

Now, let’s pretend that the notification that they were using affiliate links to monetize products linked to from the site HAD been in the TOS you didn’t read.

Pinterest isn’t doing anything wrong. They’re SMART.

 
Pinterest has found a way to monetize their site without being obtrusive at ALL to its users.

No flashing banners. No interstitials you’ll click “skip” on anyway. No Adsense serving you up BS spam. They are simply behind the scenes monetizing products that its users are linking to and clicking on anyway.

Facebook aggregates your profile data and makes it available to its advertisers so they can target you based on the fact that you are 24, single, love action movies and live in Houston, TX. Then they serve you ads which are heavy on the spam and high on the stalker factor.

Twitter puts ads from random people in your stream, all up in your face, that you usually have no interest in.

But, yes, they also both disclose this in another TOS you didn’t read.

Not disclosing it was mistake on Pinterest’s part, and for all we all know, an honest one. That’s now fixed.

At least Pinterest WAS smart

 
About a week after the initial story broke, Search Engine Land reported that Pinterest had dropped their use of Skimlinks (the provider they were using to affiliate their likely hundreds of thousands of links) and was looking at selling typical site advertising.

DUMB.

A site like Pinterest will undoubtedly find that affiliate marketing is the best way they’re ever going to find to monetize the type of site they have. Even smarter would be a combination of affiliate and direct advertising options.

I’m not saying they should stay with Skimlinks. I’m saying they should let Skimlinks and Viglink vie for their business. Go direct to the bigger networks (updated to add: maybe they did). Maybe work out some direct affiliate relationships with the biggest and most frequently pinned merchants. Create their own internal affiliation system as time goes on.

Bottom line is that I’m very disappointed to see a social network I actually like cut their own bottom line because some assholes on the web feel like they should have say in how a company they don’t own and don’t put any money into monetizes its content.

My suggestion to Pinterest?

 
Create a paid account model that serves ZERO advertising. A few people will buy it. The people bitching the loudest won’t. And those who love your site will still use it. People shout much louder – and with much more reason to do so – at Facebook, and last I looked, they were still the most popular site on the web.

Rock on Pinterest.