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my message to people with affiliate programs (iow: why scubbly is so good)  RSS feed

 
paul wheaton
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I need to start this rant by pointing out my website coderanch.com. I started that in 1998. It was about 2002 that I officially became sick of all affiliate programs and "advertising opportunities" except amazon. I just racked up way too many negative experiences. And as much as amazon has become crappier over the years, they have always been an especially transparent crappy. And the transparency factor makes it so you can always verify numbers.

I have had so many bad experiences - in so many different ways that for the last ten years I have turned down hundreds of "opportunities" in favor of a simpler peace of mind. Ahhhhhh ....

At the same time, I seriously enjoy "good business". Crisp, clean, honest and mutually beneficial.

You would think that between 2002 and 2014, affiliate stuff would now be rock solid. But it has gotten remarkably worse. And to compound problems, people seem to be very interested in my help when their business is floundering - but once I've brought them lots of business, they seem to be really keen on screwing with things to violate our agreement. It usually comes in the form of "we had to change our affiliate software. You must now go change all of your old links. And we have lost all of the data from before - so we've decided to keep all that money and give you zero. It can't be helped."

I feel like I have given this advice so many times, I need to start a thread to have all of my thoughts in one place. And I want to give lots of people the opportunity to share their thoughts on affiliate programs. If nothing else, this lends itself well to people earning a livelihood while living out in the sticks. And, possibly, residual income streams. And I want to cover stuff from the perspective of being the affiliate (which I have 16 years of experience) and offering an affiliate program (I now have one year of experience). I want both permaculture content providers and permaculture affiliates to have a great experience.

Here are things that are good:

12) a disinterested third party manages the affiliate stuff. And the third party pays me automatically. This is the most important component. With this, I am the guy that worked hard and brought you lots of business. Without this, I am a bill that must be calculated and processed. Further, the payor might get ideas on how to save a few bucks, which just leads to me feeling mistreated.

13) email notifications of each transaction. If I get 27 emails and the online reports say there were 27 transactions, then everything lines up. I build confidence. I try to think of more things I can do to leverage the system. This also makes it so that if somebody says "I just bought this through your link!" and I get the email and see it in the reports, I know things are working accurately. I build more confidence.

14) an affiliate program that is 100% accurate. More than half the time, the affiliate program that somebody uses is broken. There is something that it does not track. If it isn't working, then how do I know that it isn't losing all sorts of data. If I follow the link and then the software says "total clicks = 0" then I cannot have faith in the affiliate software. More than one affiliate program said "we've sold 42 items and you get $1 for each item for a total of $8." What? Shouldn't that be $42?


...



42) For a while, ernie and erica had their stuff set up on a service that would, once a month, send a report to them that said something like "you owe paul $122". So once a month I became this big bill instead of being this super awesome guy that got them lots of sales. We switched to scubbly and scubbly automatically took care of the affiliate stuff. I was paid directly from scubbly. I was never a bill to ernie and erica.

43) This actually happened twice: the affiliate software was changed three times. So there was a total of four different ways to manage the affiliate stuff. We would start off with software that seemed to work, and then, in the end, I would get paid only by the most recent software. I would ask "what about all the affiliate revenue that was generated with the previous stuff?" No answer.



(gotta run - will add more later)

Staff note (r ranson):

From Burra's post below: "The demise of Scubbly prompted Paul to set up his own version - the new digital market complete with a digital market forum "Here's a link to a thread about how it works and how to set up a thread to sell your own stuff - how to set up a thread in the digital market "

 
Dan Boone
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OMG Paul I have made the bulk of my living (sometimes good, many times not so good) since about 2004 as an affiliate marketer of other people's web stuff, and I have been burned *so* many times in the manner you describe. My favorite (meaning LEAST favorite) trick is when they magically decide they don't have to pay the affiliate percentage on a big stream of recurring billings built up painfully over many years. It's gotten to the point where I regard with deepest suspicion even the people who have been paying me reliably for a decade, and I don't like being in that mental place.

I found this thread because I've got a food forest thing that I want to sell for cheap as a digital download (a 100-year old USDA fruit-growing pamphlet that I've elbow-greased up into a modern ebook) and I was thinking I might email you to ask if you were happy with Scubbly for doing that sort of business. But I think this thread answers that question. However you've shared five of at least 43 things you like about Scubbly here and indicated an intent to share more. I sure wouldn't mind if you decided to come back to this thread with more, though I imagine you have 10,000 more pressing things to do. Anyway, thanks for posting as much as you have!
 
paul wheaton
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Scubbly is awesome. I keep making suggestions and they keep implementing the suggestions.

Right now I am hoping that scubbly can become the go to place for eco stuff. I am encouraging folks to do as I have done: set up a 40% affiliate fee. People that are experts in marketing then have a huge reason to travel this path.

 
paul wheaton
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49) Rather than providing URLs like "http://affiliate.juice.com/affiliate?affiliate_id=permies" try to set up something like "http://juice.com/a12" where "12" would be the affiliate ID.

There are two things gained here.

One is the idea to have a url that is super short so that people could type it in if they had to. Or published in print for typing or read over a phone.

The second thing is "affiliate_id=permies" tips off a lot of folks that this could be an affiliate program. Normally fine. But about one time out of four it could get posted somewhere and somebody has to say "HEY! That's a money grubbing affiliate link. You're just posting advertising!" followed by a hysterical lecture on capitalism, the third ethic, gift economy and twenty other off topic things. It usually ends up not getting the effect you were looking for.

We are usually pretty good about saying "we get a kickback" but sometimes we don't have the opportunity or choose to not say that. And sometimes somebody else copies the link and they suddenly find themselves under attack.
 
Julia Winter
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I would like to hear more about this.

I like the idea of scubbly as the go-to source for eco info: e-books, video, audio, etc.
 
Ian Ring
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Thanks for the kind words!

My name is Ian Ring. I'm the founder of Scubbly.com, I run the service as an administrator and I do (almost) all of the software development as well. If you have any questions about how to use Scubbly to do what Paul is doing, just ask by email: admin[at]scubbly[dot]com. Don't be shy - I really will answer your questions, as promptly as I can.

There's an ecosystem growing at scubbly.com of products related to homesteading, permaculture, gardening, sustainable living, and topics such as those; I call it an ecosystem because there is a symbiotic cluster of sellers who are all doing affiliate sales of each others' products. Paul's permies podcasts are very much at the center of that hub. In the past couple of years, many of the improvements to the Scubbly platform have come from Paul's ongoing needs and suggestions.

I am signed up to participate at this forum but I don't frequent the threads in any regular way, so email is the best way to contact me. Don't hesitate!

Cheers,
Ian
Administrator
Scubbly.com
 
Erica Wisner
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I second everything Paul has said about Scubbly, and I can vouch for what Ian has said, and I want to add more Scubbly fan praise.

Not only is the affiliate thing super-easy at Scubbly - they automatically pay all my affiliate fees on time, at the same time as I get paid, so I can never make the mistake of spending money that I should have paid my affiliates.
But also they automatically handle a lot of the other financial stuff that can be a hassle for someone running small or moonlighting businesses, or with low per-sales profit (which is a lot of digital sales).

For example they have set the payments up on a slightly delayed schedule, so that a seller is not vulnerable to after-the-fact chargebacks (which is a real problem with digital content sales because PayPal doesn't want to spend any time verifying delivery, they just accept the chargeback, seller is SOL). Waiting for my money was a little off-putting when I first considered it, but now I love it. Not only do I never have to worry about unexpectedly needing to give some money back after I've gotten it, but I also have some advance information so I know approximately how much I'll be getting paid for the next couple months. I feel more secure as a seller, being able to see my paycheck coming down the pipes, and it also helps offset seasonal variations in our work/sales.
I wonder if this setup is part of why Scubbly attracts more eco- and permie- sellers than other sites: many of us do have seasonal interests. Many of us are used to budgeting for the fat times to cover the lean; or to balancing different seasonal income streams so it comes out sufficient year-round. Maybe we have a little more of a big-picture view, on preferring a high-integrity process to a get-rich-quick scheme?
Of course, the fact that Paul loves it, and Paul routinely makes waves in the permaculture communications scene, doesn't hurt either.

I love getting one lump-sum payment each month, it makes for super-simple bookkeeping, and it also means I know when to expect my "paycheck."

I also had some bad experiences (not as many as Paul) with other digital-sales sites, for example one of them played "hide the login" with a tiny little "login" link in the corner of the screen, and their main page was a huge ad to sign up as a seller, free 30-day trial. Meaning that if you accidentally clicked anywhere except the login, it was really easy to sign up multiple times and get billed multiple times for multiple accounts. That's an ugly marketing practice, making your site inconvenient for existing clients in hopes of hooking some new ones (or just creating billing nightmares). But it also made it hard for people to sign up for the "free" affiliate program without accidentally being signed up as a seller, with a per-month fee that would start 30 days after you thought you had sorted everything out. No affiliates makes it harder to sell content, no matter how good the content may be.
On top of that, we had to manually process affiliate payments, the system for doing so was clunky and complicated, and if we were on the road or our email was down, affiliates were SOL. Scubbly, as mentioned, handles affiliate payments and other fees (their own, currency conversions, and coupons, etc) automatically.

Scubbly's main landing page is balanced and accurate. It doesn't look that different whether I'm logged in or not - I just get a few more buttons when I'm logged in.
The login is a large button at the top-left. There is a prominent "search" box nearby for folks looking for something specific, like a particular product or seller. There's also some good general exploratory content for folks who might be just browsing. The "popular products" list makes it kinda like a newsletter for both sellers and customers (always nice to see if you're trending, or what's selling well this month). Technical help, contact info, etc. is right where you'd expect it, at the bottom of the page. They do reserve some space for a small testimonial with a person's picture saying how much they like Scubbly, but certainly I don't mind seeing a human face in the middle of a long day at the computer. Actually, some of the testimonials seem watered-down, and I want to write a more emphatic one.

But all that is just smart design, and someone else could copy it if they recognized it for what it's worth.
The thing that takes Scubbly over the top, in my opinion, is Ian.

Nobody else who has handled my money online has responded to requests with succinct, direct emails.
Most places say "We'll get back to you within 24 hours" and what they really mean is "You will get a form letter from our server within 24 hours, after which you will get a form letter from our customer support team overseas, after which you will be asked to try a bunch of links you have already tried without success, and if you are prompt and persistent you may be able to keep us from flagging your question as "resolved" and we might actually have to forward it to someone who knows our software." It's much more common to get a flunkey who can only explain buttons to you, and help you do the work yourself; it's rare to get a technical person who can actually pull your account data accurately and adjust something as needed.
I've known places that were more personal and dedicated, but the customer support guy still had no leverage to convince the software engineers to do anything, and could only pass requests along.

When I have a request for Scubbly, I get a prompt, personal response from Ian. Usually it's a single sentence, giving me the exact resolution to my problem.
When my customers contact him, he will either handle their request with the same instant courtesy (even if it's something I could have done - if he knows my preferences, he will just do it instead of passing it along). Or he will pass the question on to me for a decision, such as a controversial refund request, with a succinct sentence covering any relevant details - again, I almost never need to look something up in my sales records if Ian has already done so.

I'm not surprised that Ian takes Paul's suggestions (they both do web software design, after all), but it's extremely flattering when he took one of mine as well. I suggested a particular type of lookup function, and he said, "That's a great idea, we can put that in the next software update." And I'm pleased but not expecting much - some web-service companies don't do more than one or two updates per year, and they don't always put every suggestion into action.
And then I am looking at the site again a few days later, and my search button is already there, and works great.

So what I've seen is an ongoing process of intelligent and creative improvements: the site was already good, but it slowly and discreetly gets ever-easier for me as a seller to handle my own problems without taking up Ian's time. And he continues to respond extremely promptly, personally, and professionally when there's a question that doesn't fit in the box. Or even if it does - Ian is ridiculously cheerful about feeding me data that I could have looked up myself, if it saves time.

I would say Scubbly consistently takes about 10% of the time I would expect, and saves me 90% of the hassles that I had come to expect from other service providers.

Our store has been hosted there for several years now, and I probably still thank Paul every few months for referring us to Scubbly.

-Erica W
 
Ian Ring
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Erica, your endorsement of Scubbly is incredible and humbling. It's rewarding to know that the small effort it takes to care about decent customer service is appreciated, and I'm deeply grateful that you took the time to write such a comprehensive and thoughtful review.
As you know, I manage the service, but I'm also a seller myself. Scubbly was built in order to be the service I longed to exist, and it continues to evolve based on the simple axiom that buying things online shouldn't suck. I care about the satisfaction of your customers as much as I care about my own!

When Scubbly launched in 2009, it was truly (in my biased opinion) best-of-class in its niche. And even until a year or two ago, I believe it was superior to the rest in both feature offerings and competitive pricing. I won't lie to you - that situation has changed. Now there are predatory competitors coming on the scene running a VC-funded loss-leader model, squashing the competition with low rates (Gumroad, Shopify, DPD...). In the other corner are competitors who are still clinging to a profitable model with higher cost, but who are extremely vertically-focused, so they're inevitably going to dominate very particular markets (Bandcamp, Ravelry...).

Scubbly is a small company sitting dangerously in the middle of that rumble. It continues to be an entry-level e-commerce service, being neither the cheapest (it used to be, but not any more) nor the most fully-featured (which is never was, deliberately), but I feel that Scubbly hits a spot that satisfies exactly the kind of sellers that are already enjoying it today. Your summary of what Scubbly does well today sums up the things that I am committed to making sure Scubbly continues to do in the future. By continuing to experiment with new feature ideas, personal attention to customer satisfaction, and extremely agile delivery, I believe Scubbly can compete with the other excellent services that exist - acknowledging that Scubbly won't be the best or most profitable solution for every business.

Cheers
Ian Ring
Administrator,
Scubbly.com
 
Erica Wisner
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I recognize that it's a competitive market - but the trouble-free aspect of Scubbly trumps cost in my book.

If I could go elsewhere and make a slightly higher percentage on sales, but I would also have to handle 100% of my customer complaints or risk someone starting a black-mouth vendetta, then as a small-scale merchant there's a point of diminishing returns. Not all my customers are tech-savvy, and they have problems like losing their download link into a bulk mail folder, or recovering documents after a hard drive crash. Realistically, those will never go away. I will always need to handle more interesting requests from prospective customers, like recommending which product to buy for their needs.
But if I had to troubleshoot technical delivery issues on a site with sketchy customer care, I could quickly burn up that margin with my own time and struggle.

I am not yet in a position to hire someone competent to handle complaints. Even if I was, I would be paying to train them and there is a demand on my time to manage that person as I grow the business.
So the fact that Scubbly comes with excellent customer service, and it's already figured into the percentage they charge, is seriously worth it.

I don't know that I would want to bet on a loss-leader site - they are either going to change their terms eventually, or sell to another company, or go bust. All of those sound like service interruptions that I don't want to deal with. Maybe if I was a get-rich-quick schemer myself, I would not mind making a quick buck and then re-doing all my setup and agreements and links, or whatever part of that got screwed up accidentally, when the company changed over to new management.

But I am throwback feral educator, who likes the face-to-face part of my work best. The digital sales are "just" a way to support that.

I deeply appreciate my sales platform being as trouble-free and stable as possible, and that's been my experience with Scubbly for a number of years now.

Ian, if there's any part of these posts you would like to add to your testimonials, you are welcome to quote me, and I'm attaching a small picture for your use in that context.

Yours,
Erica W
DSC_0097_ernieandErica_cropped-90px.JPG
[Thumbnail for DSC_0097_ernieandErica_cropped-90px.JPG]
 
Banu Khalil
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As a quick update this is no longer available:

Thank You

As of April 1, 2017, Scubbly has ceased operations.

Some parts of the website will remain functional until August 1:

----

Dear Scubbly Member,

With much deliberation, we have decided that 2017 will be the final year of operation for Scubbly.com.

When Scubbly was launched in 2009, it really was the “best of class” app of its kind, optimized for simplicity and maximum profit for sellers and affiliates. That is, unfortunately, no longer so.

While Scubbly has attempted to find “economies of scale” to keep delivering maximum benefit to member partners, we have found that the increasing costs of operation are outpacing revenue. The economics are no longer feasible. Given that Scubbly is already charging more than many of the competitors, we decided that rather than price ourselves out of the league, it’s time to shut Scubbly down, as gracefully as possible.

Note the word “gracefully”. We really mean it - we don’t want to just shut everything down immediately to the chagrin of all our users. So we have planned a gradual shutdown timeline that should give all our sellers and affiliates and customers enough of a “runway” to transition their e-commerce to another platform. We will also host redirection of all your Scubbly pages to another URL, while the Scubbly service is in transition.

TLR - All Scubbly sales will end April 1; you have until then to move to a different e-commerce platform, and the final payout will be in July.
 
Burra Maluca
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Banu Khalil wrote:As of April 1, 2017, Scubbly has ceased operations.


The demise of Scubbly prompted Paul to set up his own version - the new digital market complete with a digital market forum

Here's a link to a thread about how it works and how to set up a thread to sell your own stuff - how to set up a thread in the digital market

 
If you try to please everybody, your progress is limited by the noisiest fool. And this tiny ad:
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