Opening the iTunes affiliate kimono

A couple of months ago, over on MacStories, John Voorhees wrote a detailed guide to the iTunes affiliate program. This is the service whereby you can get a commission on sales of music, movies, books, and apps that you recommend to others. It’s an excellent article, which isn’t surprising, as John is the developer of Blink, the popular iOS app for generating iTunes affiliate links. His is an objective look at the program, but I thought a subjective look might be useful. I can’t tell you what anyone else makes from the program, but I can tell you what I’ve made through affiliate links here and on Twitter.

Let me start by saying this is not an attempt to nudge others into disclosing their affiliate earnings. People and sites that work hard at linking and make a good income at it have every reason to keep their books closed. In fact, I’m showing you my earnings only because they mean very little to me—as you’ll see in a bit.

Thanks mainly to Greg Pierce, who released Interact, and James Thomson, who ran a sale on PCalc, this month has been unusually good for me. Here’s a timeline of the clicks on my affiliate links:1

PHG clicks in January 2016

This is a total of about 5,100 clicks. The first bump on the 14th was due to two Twitter links to Interact right after it was released. The second bump two days later was due to a post with a brief review of Interact. The third bump on the 20th came with one tweet linking to a sale on PCalc and Due and another linking to Copied (iOS and Mac).

How did those clicks turn into commissions? Like this:

PHG payout in January 2016

I guess it’s nice to see that my post on Interact, which took a lot longer to write than a couple of tweets, generated more sales per click than the tweets did. On the other hand, on a sales-per-word basis, the tweets were far better. The bump on the 20th is much lower than you might expect from the number of clicks; that’s almost certainly due to Copied for iOS being free. You guys are really a cheap bunch of bastards.

I have no idea why there’s a bump in payout on the 24th. I suspect someone with a big audience retweeted or linked to me.

Total payout for January: just over $125. Alert the Lamborghini dealership.

Actually, hold off on alerting the dealership. I won’t be getting payment on this for a few months. That’s the delay between sales and payment. In fact, even after three months, I’ll only be getting a part of the commission. The payout reported in that graph is worldwide, and commissions for each currency are counted separately. Payments aren’t made until a threshold of $30 is reached, and that threshold isn’t applied in the aggregate, it’s applied to each currency individually. So if we look at January sales by country,

PHG countries for January 2016

we see that this month’s commissions exceed the $30 threshold only for sales within the United States. Payments from sales made in other countries will be delayed further. Only after the combined commissions of many months add up to the equivalent of $30 in British pounds will I be able to collect my payout from UK sales. Similarly for sales in euros, rupees, Australian dollars, and so on.

At present, I have about $80 in commissions that are more than three months old and could be paid, but because they’re spread across 19 currencies, none are above the threshold.2 If the past is any guide, I’ll never build up enough sales to see a payment in yen, rubles, kroner, Swiss francs, or the other currencies with small affiliate sales. About $30 of that $80 will never be collected. I’ll have to stick to the base model Lamborghini.

I’ve been paid from sales made in Canadian dollars, Australian dollars, Euros, and British pounds, but only once from each over 2+ years. When your commissions are as small as mine, it takes a long time to get to the threshold in countries where your readership is relatively small.

Of course, not all months are as flush as January has been. Here’s the timeline for clicks since the beginning of 2014:

PHG clicks since January 2014

And here’s the timeline for payouts over that same period:

PHG payout since January 2014

Total clicks: just over 57,100. Total payout: just under $800. For those of you keeping score at home, that’s an average of $32 per month (you see why I said this was a good month). And the breakdown in sales by country over time is similar to this month’s:

PHG countries since January 2014

About ⅔ of my commissions have come from US sales. Since these are the only commissions I can trust to pay in a timely manner, my average payment is really more like $24 per month.

I’m not complaining.3 I don’t do this for money (obviously), I do it for fun. And the small income from affiliate links pay for my hosting at Digital Ocean (yes, that’s an affiliate link for them), my FastMail account (ditto), and a few apps here and there. But I won’t be quitting my day job.

  1. The affiliate graphs and data come from the Performance Horizon Group (PHG), which has been running the program for Apple since August of 2013. 

  2. It would be 20 currencies, but earlier this month I got my first payment from sales in Australia. 

  3. OK, I am complaining a little about having a payment threshold for every currency. And the threshold itself is kind of high—Amazon’s payment threshold for its affiliate program is only $10.