15 Oct 2008 Fotolia Updates Affiliate Program but Sees No Need to Tell Affiliates
At some time last month Fotolia changed their affiliate program to no longer pay affiliate revenue for new referred photographers. I say “at some time” because nobody knows the actual date this changed occurred.
Why Doesn’t Anybody Know?
- Fotolia made no announcement to their affiliates or members by email
- Nor did they write a blog post about the change
- Nor did they start a forum topic about the change
- Nor did they officially respond to the forum topic created by concerned affiliates
- Subsequent forum threads asking for clarification have been deleted
Understandably, affiliates hearing the news from external forums and support responses weren’t impressed. Adding to the confusion, Fotolia didn’t update the details of their affiliate program on their website – both the public pages and affiliate member section – until October 9.
But Wait, it Gets Better!
Not only did Fotolia update their affiliate program and not tell their affiliates, they also deactivated a large portion of existing referrals which weren’t due to expire for 3 – 5 years. 20% of my referred photographers were deactivated from the affiliate program, four at exactly 09-25-2008 12:00:00am and the rest at 10-01-2008 12:00:00am. The simultaneous expiry time and the fact it was exactly midnight – as you can see in the partial screenshot below – implies it was an automated database update. A disproportionate quantity were my more lucrative referrals, so my affiliate revenue is down more than 50% on last month. Other Fotolia affiliates report losing a larger portion of their referrals.
So how did Fotolia explain this sudden deactivation of referrals? They say a bug in their system had assigned members as referrals incorrectly. These referrals had now be removed, but generously, Fotolia said it “will not require you to pay back the money you incorrectly earned”.
Doubts About the Explanation
Fotolia explained that they were able to tell which members had been incorrectly assigned as referrals by viewing the registration dates. Referrals with a registration date prior to that of the referring affiliate obviously couldn’t have actually referred that member and so were removed.
I registered at Fotolia in May 2006. I started using the affiliate codes when I started this blog in March 2007. The registration date of my first affiliate is March 22, 2007. All my referred members have a registration date almost a year after my own, so I can’t understand how Fotolia can claim my referrals registered before me.
Additionally I went through my list of referrals and only the third one I checked is also a referred photographer at Shutterstock. If that photographer is my affiliate at Shutterstock, what is the possibility that their assignment to me at Fotolia was the result of a bug? I provided evidence of this case to Fotolia last week but am yet to get a response.
Finally, my affiliate earnings at Fotolia prior to this ‘bug’ being uncovered were proportional to the terms of their affiliate program and their sales performance. They were much less than the generous affiliate program at Shutterstock and only slightly less that the affiliate program at Dreamstime.
Communication and Trust
Few affiliates have any issue with the fact that Fotolia changed their affiliate program. Their reputation alone attracts contributors, so there’s no need to buy them with an affiliate program. This is a business decision that is easily understood. What has upset contributors and affiliates (at least those that are aware of the change) is the absence of planning and management.
When most other microstock agencies make changes to their programs it’s planned, coordinated and communication is managed responsibly. That is, members are notified in advance and the relevant website information is updated at the time of the change.
However, in this instance, there was no notice that the change was coming and no formal communication at the time of the change. It also took Fotolia 14 days to update the relevant parts of their website. And now, 20 days after the first sign of the change (since my first batch of affiliates were deactivated) there has still been no formal communication to affiliates about either the change to the program or the deactivated affiliates.
Is it better to just wait until it all goes away or make an embarassing announcement about a change that happened 20 days earlier?