Amazon Affiliates and Taxes

Last week I had my 15 seconds of almost fame. I’ve been an Amazon Affiliate for years. When I got mTweet!y email from Amazon that they were closing my account because of the sales tax law passed by California. For some reason my name got passed to a couple journalists as a spokesperson for the 10,000 or so affiliates who had their business shut down without recourse.

So while I was up on a ridge above Loleta watching my daughter rider her mustang I did a phone interview with a writer from SF Weekly. I tried to steer him to someone who had actually made some good money and so had more at stake, but I guess they couldn’t connect.

A couple days later I was interviewed by a reporter from the Eureka Times-Standard. Again, I tried to slough her off to someone else. But she was persistent so there I am again. I guess it shows how easy it is to get noticed using the right keywords in social media posts, especially if the topic is newsy.

Although I hadn’t made much money from my affiliate program, I know others who have made thousands and will now be forced to find alternatives. These folks generate income by adding value floating on top of the Amazon retail river. Since Amazon cut them off, the State of California will not gain any income from their sales tax. In fact, big players in this realm will simply move or move their “official” address to another state, thus reducing the revenue in income tax for the State as well. This is a fine example of unintended consequences of what seems like a sensible action. I understand the State needs revenue, and don’t mind paying sales tax. But this was clearly not the way to go about it.

This actually does hurt me more than I let on as I have been working on a number of personal web projects where the Amazon Affiliate program would have played a part in building sustainable revenue. I guess I will have to rethink that part of  my plan. I’ve also been looking longingly at property in the state of Washington.

If you have a story to share about your Amazon Affiliate program, I’d love to read it. Put it in the comments!

Is the Blog Dead?

blogWell, at times at least this one seems moribund. But as a form I think the blog is alive and thriving in spite of all the new forms of self-expression that have exploded recently. I asked this question as sort of a straw man to anchor my latest Tech Beat article which appears today in the Times-Standard.  In that article I gave some tips on how to make an effective blog. I also promised I would post a list of other  blogging resources for further learning here on Talking Tech. I’m a little late getting this together, but here is that list. It’s not intended to be comprehensive. It’s short on purpose, not to overwhelm. But there’s certainly plenty of good advice to be found in these resources. Please feel free to offer your own advice and/or resources in the comments.

Recent Blog Tip Articles

  1. Top 10 Business Blogs and Why They Are Successful
  2. 6 Ways to Constantly Produce Quality Blog Content
  3. 26 Ways to Enhance Your Blog Content
  4. 11 Ways to Create Great Blog Content
  5. How and Why I Use Evernote (I mention Evernote in the T-S article)
  6. 21 Ways to Increase Blog Traffic

Blogging Resources

  1. Problogger
  2. Chris Brogan on Blogging
  3. More Blogging Resources from Duct Tape Marketing

Social Media and Revolution

I am a big Frank Rich fan. I look forward to reading his essays at the New York Times every weekend. But this Sunday I think he went a bit off the rails,  criticizing  those who attribute social media services with having a role in advancing political change. Not only does he complain that people are giving too much attention and credit to Twitter and Facebook he also aligns himself with the curmudgeonly Malcolm Gladwell who continues his tortured arguments against social media cheering with another post on the New Yorker website.

I offer David Weinberger’s  blog post to provide a more thorough analysis and counter argument to Gladwell’s supercilious stance than I ever could. But I thought it strange that in the same New York Times edition as Rich’s column there is an article detailing how a Facebook page documented the brutal police beating death of a young Alexandria businessman that became a community of Egyptian dissidents. The page evolved into a forum for organizing the protests in Egypt. Maybe Frank should read more of his own publication instead of the New Yorker (I confess, that I am a subscriber myself).

What do you think? Is social media playing an important role in stirring political and social change?

Update: The Google marketing executive Wael Ghonin recently released from custody and widely attributed with having helped fuel the peaceful revolt in Egypt, thanks Facebook as a platform for organizing. But pundits like Gladwell and Rich know better from their distant perches.

Twitter Starter and Beyond

TwitterThis past week I had an article appear in the local paper trying to explain Twitter and why it’s a such a useful tool and how to get started using it. The premise was that I keep running in to resistance to Twitter even among technically adept and adventurous people. I do admit in the article that Twitter isn’t for everyone. But I find it far more useful in so many ways than Facebook, especially for staying on top of interesting news, meeting new people and discovering very cool resources.

I got some good responses from the article, mostly from people already on Twitter. And it’s clear when I crawl out from behind my computer and venture in to RL that people are reading the article. But I’m not sure it’s made much impact. I met one gentleman on the way to a play last night who mentioned he reads my articles and enjoyed the one on Twitter. But when I asked him if he uses Twitter he said, “What? No. God, no!” And we all laughed as if that was an imminently reasonable stance. But I didn’t have a chance to ask him “Why not?”

I was slow to catch on, myself. Like so many new toys, I was fast to sign up as soon as I heard about it way back in 2007. But it was over a year before I really started to explore it. And as the service has added features and the third party tools have improved the user experience, I have come to rely on it for so many things. I can go days without looking at or posting to Facebook. But Twitter has become a regular habit. Maybe I’m just a twit (comments welcome).HootSuite

One aspect of Twitter I haven’t explored yet are chats. I’ve known about them for quite a while, but haven’t had much opportunity to participate. But I found this Google doc spreadsheet that lists over 150 chats on all kinds of topics. Something for everyone?

Finally, if you’re getting in to Twitter I highly advise using a third-party tool for discovering people, managing Twitter streams and getting the most out of the service. My favorite tool d’jour is HootSuite. It’s a rich application that  can be run in a web browser, on your desktop, IPhone, Android and soon Blackberry. You can manage lists, searches, and multiple social media accounts all within one user friendly interface. And it’s free! (There is a pro IPhone version).

Review: Crush It! by Gary Vaynerchuck

In my most recent Tech Beat article I included a  reference to Gary Vaynerchuck’s Crush It! It was sort of a mini-review within a longer article. I thought I’d give the book  more thorough treatment here where word count is not an issue.

If you are looking for a blueprint for building a successful online business, you should consider reading this small (148 pp) book. It’s both inspiring and cautionary. If you can absorb both of those feelings and take them to heart you can also follow Vaynerchuck’s recommendations on how to build a personal brand and thereby create a variety of income streams both on and off line.

Vaynerchuck begins the book with his “secret to success”: “Love your family, work superhard, live your passion.” Then he proceeds to tell his personal story to illustrate how he as followed those 3 rules to build a $60 million business.

The inspiration

Briefly, he began working in his father’s local liquor store in New Jersey. He started out as a stock boy and cashier, but he eventually found a niche by reinventing how wine is reviewed and sold. Eschewing the enigmatic language with how wine was described and marketed he decided he wanted to make wine accessible to the average buyer. This helped him greatly expand the liquor store sales. But it was when he went online with his unique approach that things really exploded.

And here is where his story will be of most interest to the online entrepreneur. Vaynerchuck lays out a set of steps if you want to follow his model for building a personal brand. If you watch his videos on or elsewhere on the web you may not think you can or want to turn yourself into another GaryVee. He is well aware that his story and personality may not be a fit for everyone. And he provides some alternative paths. He also throws out some quick examples of people in other professions who are following their passions and even offers ideas for other businesses you could pursue.

But be warned, it ain’t easy!

But the cautionary thoughts are also woven throughout the book: Don’t attempt this if you do not have a real passion for the product, service or concept you want to market because while the online tools are free or relatively cheap, the true cost is the investment of time you will need to make in order to succeed. You have to truly “live your passion” because outside of your family it will become your life. You can’t approach this casually. But if you believe in what you are doing, the work should be fun. Follow the steps outlined in the book. Do many of them over and over again. In fact, you don’t even have to buy the book. Just find a copy and memorize Appendix A where he lists 21 steps. To quote a few:

  • Post your content.
  • Start creating community by leaving comments on other people’s blogs and forums and replying to comments to your own comment.
  • Search to find as many people as possible talking about your topic, and communicate with them.
  • Use to find more blogs that are relevant to your subject.
  • Join as many active Facebook fan pages and groups relating to your blog topic as possible.
  • Repeat steps 12 through 16 over and over and over and over and over.
  • Do it again.
  • Do it again.

Not a complete how to

This is a book to read to get you to turn off the TV and get busy. However, if you’re looking for specific instructions on how to use the various social media tools such as Facebook or Twitter you will need to look elsewhere. I plan to review other books and resources on social media and other topics here in the future. So check back.

Apparently there is also a Vook (video book version), too.