When I was a child, my school would have fundraisers that involved us going door-to-door to sell magazine subscriptions (magazines were glossy, soft-cover publications that would be mailed to a subscriber’s house on a weekly or monthly basis). I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was right in the middle of an affiliate marketing scheme. The magazine companies had products they wanted to sell. Schools had the ability to sell these products. And for every subscription sold, the magazine companies gave a slice of the proceeds to the school. (In this example, there’s actually a secondary later of affiliate marketing; the schools effectively outsource the actual selling to the students, in exchange for prizes that come with meeting certain sales figures.)
Websites and services based on Web 2.0 concepts—blogging and interactive online communities, for example—have impacted the affiliate marketing world as well. These platforms allow improved communication between merchants and affiliates. Web 2.0 platforms have also opened affiliate marketing channels to personal bloggers, writers, and independent website owners. Contextual ads allow publishers with lower levels of web traffic to place affiliate ads on websites.
In 1994, Tobin launched a beta version of PC Flowers & Gifts on the Internet in cooperation with IBM, who owned half of Prodigy. By 1995 PC Flowers & Gifts had launched a commercial version of the website and had 2,600 affiliate marketing partners on the World Wide Web. Tobin applied for a patent on tracking and affiliate marketing on January 22, 1996, and was issued U.S. Patent number 6,141,666 on Oct 31, 2000. Tobin also received Japanese Patent number 4021941 on Oct 5, 2007, and U.S. Patent number 7,505,913 on Mar 17, 2009, for affiliate marketing and tracking. In July 1998 PC Flowers and Gifts merged with Fingerhut and Federated Department Stores.