A Brief History of Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing is simply a way of earning a few bucks online—you get paid if someone clicks on a link that you own. The concept of affiliate marketing can also apply to real-world scenarios when, say, a mechanic gives you a discount for referring them to another potential customer.

Compared to this, online affiliate marketing is more traceable. You could ask your customers about who referred them to you, but it’s really not that simple to keep track of it.

Although affiliate marketing dates back to before the internet existed, it gained true momentum after the internet became more mainstream.

Let us take a look at the history of affiliate marketing:

The Patent

In 1989, the affiliate marketing patent was granted to William J. Tobin. His first ever business was of lawn mowing, after which he joined the army. Later, he got a degree in business from Adelphi University and created several startup companies thereafter.

He eventually started his business, PC Flowers & Gifts Company, for which he created the first ever affiliate marketing program. Mr. Tobin is responsible for developing the original framework of affiliate marketing and although some changes have been made over time, the basic concept hasn’t changed.


The first company to use a program of affiliate marketing was Amazon—this was the first time the program was accessible to the general public. In 1996, the company developed a system called the Associates Program, in which people could sign up and share links on their own website.

In exchange for sharing links to Amazon’s products, the users were paid a certain amount. The model used by Amazon became the basis for future affiliate marketing programs used by other companies.

Cookies Invention!

Cookies, invented by the programmer Lou Montulli, are small files that are stored on the visitor’s browser that allows affiliate marketers to track sales when a user clicks on their link. Cookies have made affiliate marketing even more useful and simple by giving marketers a way to see what works and what doesn’t.

The First Affiliate Networks

Commission Junction and Clickbank were the first affiliate marketing networks and continue to be the most popular affiliate networks to date. Launched in 1998, these networks gave small businesses, that weren’t part of Amazon’s program, the chance to become part of the affiliate game. All these merchants had to do was pay a small fee to become a member of the network and then the affiliate network would pay them for using the links. This created a simple win-win situation, in which small businesses were able to expand and those helping with the expansion got paid in return.

Affiliate marketing follows the same basic concepts of when it was first introduced, but it is heavily dependent on the internet. As the internet changes and grows, so does the affiliate model.

If you’re looking for top affiliate marketing software, sign up with LeadDyno. We’ll set you up with your own affiliate website right away and help you gain initial traction by featuring your program in our network. Learn more about our affiliate software or contact us online.

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