Amazon announced on February 2000 that it had been granted a patent on all the essential components of an affiliate program, as the patent application was submitted in June 1997. There’s a myth about the establishment of the first ever affiliate program and it goes like this… Jeff Bezos, CEO and founder of Amazon.com had a nice chat with a woman about how she intends to sell her new divorce book on her website and then he came up with the idea – the woman will link her site to Amazon and receive a commission on the sales, making this model what we call today an “affiliate program”. The initial launch of “Amazon Associates Program” took place on July 1996, however digging up a little deeper we find that there might be more to it.
Experts in the field say that Amazon did popularize the idea of affiliate marketing but they were actually a bit late to be officially announced as affiliate program pioneers. Websites like PC Flowers & Gifts.com (October 1994), AutoWeb.com (October 1995), Epage (April 1996) and others took the first steps in the affiliate market a little before Amazon. In addition, experienced folks on the web mention the adult industry as the first or among the early innovators in affiliate marketing.
While Amazon claims to be the first ever affiliate program, we believe that the answer is not that clear, so it depends on who’s answering.