As part of my “Affiliate Marketing Legends” interview series, I am excited to have interviewed one of the more well-known legends of the industry – co-founder of Affiliate Summit, author of one of the first books on affiliate marketing, Shawn Collins. Below you may find his brief profile (and the interview itself).
Name: Shawn Collins
Current Role: Co-Founder & Co-CEO
Company: Affiliate Summit
Place: Austin, TX, USA
Find him at
GP: When and how did you get into affiliate marketing?
SC: I was newly married and was looking to make ends meet when I came across the Amazon affiliate program back in 1997. My early experiences as an affiliate were pretty unsuccessful, but I happened to learn about affiliate marketing at just the right time.
I was working in magazine publishing (ironically at Ziff Davis way before they were involved in affiliate marketing) and didn’t like what I was doing.
I answered an ad in the New York Times help wanted section for a company called Medsite. They had a site called MedBookStore.com that was shipping medical books around the world and needed somebody to handle it. I went in to interview with zero background in marketing and a handful of buzzwords from the Amazon affiliate program and got the job.
GP: If there was no affiliate marketing, what would you likely focus your efforts on?
SC: I’ve always enjoyed writing, and I think I probably would have worked on the editorial side of a newspaper or magazine.
GP: You were both an affiliate and an affiliate manager. Which did you like more and why?
SC: I enjoyed the freedom and creativity as an affiliate, but I preferred the somewhat steady paychecks as an affiliate manager (working for myself). And I felt like they complimented each other well and made each job easier to do by understanding the other side more.
GP: How long did it take you to get your first real check as an affiliate?
SC: A couple of quarters – this was back in the dark ages of the Internet (the 90’s), and Amazon didn’t have online reporting. All an affiliate got was a quarterly email with stats and a check if you earned money. My first quarter I had no earnings, and the second quarter I made around $20.
GP: Is it residual or new payouts that constitute the larger chunk of your current affiliate income?
SC: I’d say they are about equal – I sure do love those residual payments, and I am always looking for ways to scale them.
GP: I’ve known you for many-many years and your speed of answering emails is one of the fastest I’ve ever witnessed. What other efficiency-related habits help your productivity the most?
SC: I love the book “Getting Things Done” and I like to apply that to all facets of my life. Online and offline I maintain a small inbox and try to handle things right away or schedule a time they can be taken care of.
GP: What are the top criteria that you use when evaluating affiliate programs, deciding whether to work with one or not?
SC: The company/brand is by far the top for me, because I promote products/services that I use. So solicitations to join affiliate programs rarely apply to me. Also, if an affiliate program is in more than one network I will check whether there are better terms in one or the other, and I have some preferences for networks if the terms are the same. Finally, the affiliate manager or OPM for a given program is a big consideration for me – if I know personally or have heard from a trusted colleague that somebody is on top of things and easy to deal with I am far more likely to work with them.
GP: What is the “number one” thing that you wish every brand with an affiliate program did or did better?
SC: They need to invest in their affiliate programs. So many companies drive me crazy with their sparse investments, which leads to frustration with outdated creative, lack of response when there are questions, and other issues.
GP: What 3 ingredients of affiliate marketing success can neither an affiliate, nor a brand succeed without?
- Patience and persistence – success isn’t easy or fast
- Integrity – work on something white-hat with a long-term goal
- Solve a problem – don’t create a site just because it seems like a good idea; identify a problem and solve it
- Dedicate money and resources into the program
- Ask affiliates what they want and need and give it to them (if possible)
- Attend trade shows and participate in online discussions to stay on top of issues in the industry
GP: What would you do differently had you had a chance start everything all over again?
SC: I would create a number of niche communities and monetize them along the lines of how Tim Storm and Rae Dolan got started.