Yesterday, we think we uncovered a revenue strategy from Twitter: piggybacking on top of the affiliate links people attach to iTunes links.
(Update: yes, we did.)
Today, having not heard back from Twitter’s press office nearly 24 hours after contacting them about this, I conducted a test — in part because the above-linked situation involved the UK version of iTunes. Would it work with the US version? And what about linking to an app instead of an album?
To find out, first, I inserted a link to my brother’s and cousin’s music on iTunes into a tweet. Sure enough, on the web version of Twitter, the original affiliate suffix was replaced by what we think is Twitter’s developer ID, in the nice iTunes dropdown menu that appears:
If our theory is correct, Twitter — and not the affiliate I originally pasted in — will now make five cents every time someone buys one of those songs from iTunes. This is because the web developer ID “wdId=32800″ is attached to those links, rather than the original affiliate ID.
The original affiliate ID remains in the body of the tweet, but if people click the nice “View Album” link that appears below the tweet, in part because this lets them preview the music right there on the page, they’ll likely click through using one of the “iTunes >” links. In that case, we’re pretty sure, Twitter is the affiliate making money from that.
Then, I tried another test — linking to an iOS app in a tweet, using a made-up iTunes affiliate ID, just to see if Twitter changed it to the same developer ID. That looks like this, using the neat-o iTunes app preview thingy that appears on the web version of Twitter — in this case so you can see a screenshot of the Turntable.fm iOS app:
Sure enough, our made-up affiliate ID (affId=1234567) was replaced by the same web developer affiliate ID (wdId=32800).
We think “wdId 32800″ is Twitter.com. In other words, the iTunes/Twitter integration reported by the Wall Street Journal in August appears to be taking the form of Twitter’s website adding iTunes affiliate links to iTunes links.
If this is correct, which we think it is, Twitter probably just became the biggest iTunes affiliate in the world.
In addition, all the affiliate marketers who count on Twitter and iTunes for making money just saw some of their monthly paychecks fly out the window. Also, bands who follow advice like this should now take it with a grain of salt.
Update: Evolver.fm has contacted Linkshare, which administers Apple’s iTunes affiliate program in the United States, as well as Apple itself, and hope to have official confirmation soon. We still haven’t heard from Twitter. Also, we have confirmed that this is not happening with Amazon affiliate links.
Another Update: The original title of this post was “Twitter Probably Just Became the Biggest iTunes Affiliate in the World.”