September 25, 2012 at 5:34 pm

Twitter’s New Revenue Plan: Piggybacking on Affiliate Links?

People have been wondering how Twitter plans to make money. We may have just discovered one part of its revenue strategy, which might seem trifling at first, but which could add up quite a bit considering the sheer volume of links exchanged over Twitter.

(Update: We proved that the same thing happens with links to the U.S. version of iTunes, and not only with music, but apps too. However, it is not happening with Amazon links. This is pretty interesting too.)

(Another update: confirmed.)

Let’s start at the beginning. If you tweet a link to a song or album on iTunes, anyone who sees that tweet on the web version of Twitter (and, possibly later, third-party Twitter clients) sees a nifty dropdown menu, like so, for previewing songs and maybe proceeding to iTunes to buy them:

twitter itunes affiliate

In this case, the top link — the one in the above-pictured tweet — includes an affiliate link. (Updated: Bombay Bicycle Club’s manager responded to Evolver.fm that the band itself is actually not an iTunes affiliate; nonetheless, its link to Lucy Rose’s album, which the band copied from her tweet, has an affiliate ID attached to it, so it works just fine for the purposes of this article.) Whenever someone clicks through on the Lucy Rose album this band is recommending its fans buy, whoever owns that affiliate link will make $0.05 from the iTunes affiliate program.

Here’s the link in question, with the original suffix (affId=1277383):

http://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/like-i-used-to-deluxe-edition/id536220761?affId=1277383

However, if you click on any of the iTunes preview links that Twitter includes below that original tweet, you’ll get a different suffix (wdId=32800):

http://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/watch-over/id536220761?i=536221366&wdId=32800

According to Apple, “wdID” is short for web developer identifier. Those are meant to be used not by regular affiliates, such as a band, but by web developers, such as Twitter, which would want to implement iTunes affiliate links on a global scale.

Granted, we are not experts on the iTunes affiliate program. We have questions in to multiple people at Twitter, including the official press account, and have yet to hear back one way or the other about what is going on here.

Why does the band’s affiliate link appears to get replaced by a web developer ID in the new iTunes window? From the looks of things, Twitter appears to be replacing user’s own affiliate links with its own web developer identifier — a controversial strategy that Pinterest has already been employing.

In the case of the tweet above, this would earn Twitter five cents every time a follower of that band buys a song by Lucy Rose. Multiplied by every single iTunes link tweeted by anyone, including links to not only music but apps, movies, television shows, books, and so on, that figure would add up considerably. And if this is indeed happening, and Twitter intends to extend it to other retailers with affiliate programs, such as Amazon, it would add up even faster.

Does Twitter plan to make money by grabbing a piece of the action every time someone recommends a product to their followers? Based on the above, we are convinced that it does, but we are awaiting confirmation that “wdId=32800″ really is Twitter.

Update: Evolver.fm has confirmed that the same thing is also happening with links to the U.S. version of iTunes, not only for albums but for apps, too. In addition, the same thing is not happening with Amazon affiliate links.

  • iOSMusician.com

    does this effect linkshare?

  • Derek Richards

    If this is for real, surely it amounts to theft?