A Scorecard of Affiliate Provider Networks

Be Free, the only affiliate service provider to achieve an IPO (not to mention a follow-on offering) opened the doors to the barnesandnoble.com program in the summer of 1997. While Be Free has shed a good number of dot-bomb clients since the start of the downturn (as has the competition), it replaced these with big name companies like America Online, the Gap, Gateway, and Hewlett-Packard.

LinkShare lays claim to one of the longest running networks, and generates a whopping level of traffic and sales. The company was founded in 1996 and quickly jumped to the forefront of the affiliate service provider market with its consolidated reporting functions. LinkShare clients include AT&T, 1800Flowers.com, OfficeMax, JCPenney, and Priceline.

Commission Junction sprang to life in 1998, with a distinctly mom-and-pop client base. Over the years, the company has expanded rapidly, acquiring sizeable clients in both the online and offline space. Commission Junction clients now include eBay, Yahoo, USA Today, and The New York Times. This firm scores points with both affiliates and merchants for its innovative features?such as consolidated payment and open reporting of metrics. The company has recently drawn heat, however, for raising rates and eliminating all CPC programs.

Performics strode quietly onto the scene in 1998 as Dynamic Trade, targeting a distinctly non-dot-com clientele (with the exception of notables like online grocer Peapod and florist Proflowers.com). Performics clients are largely well-known catalog and direct marketers, which include Bose, Eddie Bauer, Hammacher Schlemmer, JC Whitney, Orvis, and Spiegel. Performics runs tightly managed programs on a purely performance basis and offers a unique, full-service account management component that?s included in the standard performance fee.

Performics provides all of the affiliate management services in-house, removing the burden from the merchant. The company selects and manages each affiliate. While affiliates can initiate contact, Performics is very choosy. Recruitment typically happens at the request of the client, and Performics often scouts out potential affiliates, as well.

Fastclick, an up and coming ad serving network, feeds banner and pop-under advertising to 4500 hand-approved sites. The company lets advertisers create blended campaigns, basing payments against sliding scales that use both CPM and CPC rates. The potential for click-through fraud is avoided through careful selection.

Fastclick started small, and has run largely under the radar. Its revenue stream is largely performance-based. Clearly, with just eight employees, the start-small logic has paid off.

A few more affiliate services that are worth investigating are: AffiliateShop (www.affiliateshop.com), ClickBank (www.clickbank.com), ClickXchange (www.clickxchange.com), My Affiliate Program (www.myaffiliateprogram.com), PlugInGo (www.plugingo.com), and QuinStreet (www.quinstreet.com).