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Affiliate programs are important to membership sites for a number of good reasons. An affiliate program isn't really a program. It's a business arrangement.
Affiliate programs are also known as associate programs, associates programs, referral programs and even bounty programs. Most affiliate programs are free to join. Affiliate programs are a way to earn money without producing your own product.  

Affiliate programs allow a membership website to generate additional (other than the membership subscription) income by advertising products that are relevant to the site’s theme. For example, let’s say you own a membership website whose theme is golf. You would recommend products that you like yourself like golf books, magazines, videos and golfing gear. When you have an affiliate agreement with the merchants selling those products, they provide you with affiliate links which you paste into your site. Then when members click on those links and buy those products, you earn a commission. Affiliates programs can earn commissions in three ways: per click, per sale and per lead.

The members on a membership website are helped by the affiliate programs as well. They are given easy access to products that they would otherwise have to search the internet to find.

On the other side of the aisle, you can let other companies post your ad on their sites and pay commissions for sales of your product or memberships. Sure, you may give away 10 percent of your profit to an affiliate; but 90 percent of something is better than 100 percent of nothing. You’ll make up in sales quantity what you may lose in percentage of your own net. It’s quite worthwhile in the long run.

Use your e-zine to advertise your affiliate program. Always encourage your newsletter subscribers to forward the newsletter to a friend.

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