Twitter Replaces Direct Links to iTunes by Its Own Affiliate Links?

Posted on3 CommentsCategoriesGeneral Discussion‘s Eliot Van Buskirk has first suggested this on Tuesday of this week. The following tweet by Bombay Bicycle Club band was used as an example:

The band’s manager confirmed to that “the band itself is actually not an iTunes affiliate” yet the above-quoted link indeed shows a mysterious affId appended to the end of it (when viewed through a browser’s address bar):

While it’s hard to imagine that affId could stand for anything else but an “affiliate ID”, “quietly generating revenue by modifying user submitted” content is a risky business. Yesterday night, however, in a article entitled “Yes, Twitter Is an Apple iTunes Affiliate” we read the following:

A source familiar with the situation told that Twitter has been adding its own affiliate ID to links tweeted by users since it first launched that early integration with iTunes Ping, and that it continues to do so today.

…”When you click on a Tweet that’s sent via Ping or that contains an iTunes link,” reads the original announcement about Twitter/iTunes integration, “you’ll see the song or album in Twitter’s details pane, with the ability to listen to song previews from iTunes, making the experience even richer.”

It makes Twitter richer too, assuming people click through to buy — though not enough for it to forsake its main strategy of including advertising in favor of becoming primarily an affiliate marketer, from what we hear.Apple, Twitter, and Linkshare, which administers Apple’s iTunes affiliate program in the United States, would not comment on the record.

All of this is very interesting (especially, keeping in mind that the Twitter-Ping integration happened nearly two years ago). One thing, however, doesn’t work out for me. Using Tamper Data I’ve analyzed what happens upon the click on the link in the originally-quoted Bombay Bicycle Club’s tweet, and I don’t see (which is always how iTunes US affiliate clicks start) anywhere in the stream.

On top of the above-quoted, another interesting claim was made by’s Van Buskirk in the course of the week: while Twitter won’t replace another affiliate’s iTunes link in a tweet, the “preview” which appears under Tweets containing iTunes links will not have the “affiliate link” and is likely to land money in Twitter’s pocket. In this case, we’re told:

…all the affiliate marketers who count on Twitter and iTunes for making money just saw some of their monthly paychecks fly out the window.

This example (with a made-up “affiliate link”) is being quoted to support the hypothesis.

I asked my affiliate friends to send me a link, and here’s how a real one would look:

So with the “previews” experiment the problem is that  (a) iTunes affiliate links never start with (unless, of course, in addition to the affiliate program mentioned on their website, they also have a proprietary one of which I’m not aware), and (b) when a real affiliate link (which does go through Linkshare) is tweeted, no “preview” (“the window” through which affiliate paychecks may, as suggested, “fly out”) is being generated.

Do my two experiments (one – with Tamper Data, and another one – with Todd Martini’s affiliate link) mean that Twitter is not monetizing through an affiliate marketing relationship with Apple iTunes. They don’t. But, unless iTunes is simultaneously running an in-house affiliate program, they do point to flaws in the original argumentation.

I am, however, still very much intrigued by that affId parameter, and the reference to the “source familiar with the situation.”

3 thoughts on “Twitter Replaces Direct Links to iTunes by Its Own Affiliate Links?

  1. Maybe I’m jaded Geno, but the fact that Linkshare, Twitter and Apple all said “No comment” leads me to believe if it smells like doo-doo… it’s probably doo doo!

    1. For the most part, I share your sentiment, Billy. However, as mentioned in the post, that “affId” parameter, and their reference to the “source familiar with the situation” as one confirming “that Twitter has been adding its own affiliate ID to links tweeted by users since it first launched that early integration with iTunes Ping” are both interesting.

      Having said this, I haven’t seen write anything on the subject in the past 9 days (i.e. since Sept 26). Maybe there really is nothing (of substance) to report.

  2. I was planning on doing something similar a few years ago, and got to almost the point of launch. I wrote a simple link shortener that would add affiliate IDs to links that didn’t have them, mostly to Amazon and eBay. I purchased (“Ka-Pows!”), and put together a snazzy admin interface that allowed in-depth analytics that I thought marketers would want. All I had left to do was hire a designer to help build a brand.

    Then, Google launched I had always considered link shortening services to be a medium-term business at best, since the whole niche depended on the created scarcity of Twitter’s 140-character limit. Google entering the field told me that the niche had gone way mainstream, and that it would either be dominated by established companies or would disappear as Twitter saw potential revenue going to Google.

    I sat the project aside an never got back to it.

    It’s interesting to see that Twitter implemented the concept, though. I hope it works for them; they built the platform the enables this type of communication, and they deserve to be compensated for it.

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