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Jakob Nielsen Cites Lower Usability as Reason for Reduced Affiliate Sales

Jakob Nielsen's latest Alertbox explains why Doc Searls, a popular figure in the Linux movement, is no longer able to generate any sell-through for books he recommends on his Weblog. The reason Jakob cites is the poor usability of Doc Searls' affiliate partner Wordsworth, relative to his previous partner, Amazon.com.

The main point of Jakob's analysis, a comparative deconstruction of Wordsworth, is excellent and worth reading just from an e-commerce UI design perspective.

Doc Searls has already responded on his Weblog, explaining that he thinks the problem is Wordsworth's pricing, which is generally higher than Amazon's. We, however, think that the root problem is the politics of the OpenSource movement.

You'd have to be asleep if you are a Web developer or a UNIX / Linux user not to know that many in these communities have a serious problem with Amazon.com's position on securing business method and technology patents. They have used these patents in the past to tie up some of their competitors in court, with the goal of increasing their competitor's costs through the collection of royalties on Amazon's patent library.

We may all regret the US Patent and Trademark Office's tendency to grant patents on basic Web development techniques that many sites use. It even makes sense to write Amazon and complain about their litigation strategy. But, leaving their affiliate program, if it is working for your site for such a philosophical reason is a mistake.

Big companies sue each other on one issue while partnering with each other on different issues. Why shouldn't smaller companies and individuals take the same approach? If you believe strongly that a company's business practices are wrong, it makes a lot more sense to engage them as a customer or a trading partner than it does to break off all relations and then criticize them in public.

Finally, it's obvious that Doc Searls has made the effort to change affiliate partners on the basis of avoiding doing business with Amazon. That does not make good business sense to us, regardless of how small the sales commissions flowing back to him were at the height of his site's referrals.

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