Amazon Links From Library Web Sites

Amazon links form library Web siteI noticed recently that the Perth College Library Webspots blog published a a post back in April which included links to Amazon for further information about books held at the library.

I think this is a useful service – the books are mentioned in context, and the Amazon link enables further information about the book to be obtained. And if the user wishes to buy the book, they can do so – and any income which the institution gains from this referral link will be useful, although this is no likely to be substantial.

But I have heard that some libraries would not allow such services to be deployed. Some of the reservations which libraries may have over deployment of various Web 2.0 services are described in the Web 2.0: Addressing the Barriers to Implementation in a Library Context QA Focus briefing document. This document includes the comment:

However, information professionals may feel uneasy about appearing to be promoting the use of Amazon as a commercial service to their users. This might potentially damage relationships with on-campus bookshops, or leave the Library service open to criticism from users that the Library is encouraging students to purchase essential materials rather than ensuring sufficient copies are provided.

Is this a legitimate concern? Are libraries which include Amazon referral links likely to causing such problems? Or is this very much horses-for-courses, with different libraries making a variety of decisions, based on various local factors.


  1. When I was at university there was brief controvosy when one of the lecturers published Amazon Affiliate links along side the reading list for his modules. The affiliate account was his and so he stood to profit from it, which led to suspicion that unnecessary books would be promoted and fears of the affect on the campus book shop. Ironically, very few people used the campus bookshop, instead choosing to shop with Amazon because they were substantially cheaper!

  2. err.. what is the difference between ‘promoting’ Amazon and ‘promoting’ the on-campus bookshop? That ‘relationship’ is effectively a monopoly.
    Why not simply offer hyperlinks to a number of online retailers?

  3. Hi Mike
    I can remember back in 2000 I was involved in a study which looked in whether advertising, affiliate links, etc. was/should be permitted on JANET (see an article on Advertising on JANET I wrote for Vine and the talk give by Diane McDonald – who led this work – on Advertising On Web Sites).
    The conclusion was that this should not be banned. During the course of the study I came across various instances of affiliate links, with one lecturer explaining that any profits made were used to subsidise the costs of use of the departmental laser printer, used by his students. My feeling was that if affiliate links are used, the provider of the service should be open as to how any profits should be used – and that this should be used to benefit the institution and members of the institution, rather than the individual.

  4. I can understand why institutions might not want to be accused of profiteering from their students, but your point about the service offered is well made. The solution is therefore for the library to pay any profits into a suitable charity, e.g. the institution’s student hardship fund.

    OH WAIT – the reason why they don’t do this is because Amazon prices outcompete university bookshops!

  5. Hi AJ – Agreed, an institution’s student hardship fund would be an appropriate recipient of such profits.
    Note, though, (and in response to Ian’s comment) there may be complications related to formal contracts and/or goodwill with existing providers of services. There may be contracts which state that (in this case) a bookshop has an exclusive deal with the institution to sell books on campus, or a bookshop may feel that it works closely with the institution and such mutual benefits would be undermined by competition from preferred online suppliers.

  6. We’ve had this discussion on and off several times in the library at my institution. Although we haven’t done this (yet?) I think we are now generally agreed that we (the library) have no particular issue with promoting a service and making income (to be reinvested in the service of course). This wasn’t the case a few years ago, and I think some staff might still feel uncomfortable with it.

    My personal feeling is that there is absolutely no reason not to use the affiliate scheme, but that we do have a duty to ensure we are getting best value (so which affiliate scheme(s) give best value), with income reinvested. It may be that the ‘campus bookshop’ represents ‘best value’ to the institution of course, since this may also produce an income, so this needs to be considered.

    Interestingly recent discussions about a ‘campus bookshop’ following the closure of our on-site Waterstones lead to a new bookshop supplier being found – with a feeling that a college bookshop was ‘essential’ for our institution (this seemed to mainly come from the academic community). However, when it was suggested we could promote Amazon in place of a bookshop one issue raised was a concern that our post room would be unable to cope with the demand.

    A final point, we have just taken out a subscriptions with ‘Syndetics’ from Bowker, which provides a covershot and further details about the book (table of contents, reviews, summaries, awards won) which can be linked/displayed on web pages or in the library catalogue. This allows the display of some of the same information, without being obliged to link to Amazon or similar. There has also been some discussion on the NGC4LIB mailing list about a ‘coverthing’ service from the makers of ‘librarything’ which would provide a cover-shot service. However these options don’t then offer the chance to buy – which of course is a completely valid option a library user might want to take.

  7. I came across this site in the US
    It’s a price comparison site, so any author (or university or whoever) will not be seen of promoting one retailer over another. The customer can choose the retailer which retailer gets the business.

  8. And get’s the commission cheque! If we’re going to screw Amazon out of 5% then at least give it to a worthy cause – there’s quite a few charities who use it as a fund-raiser.

  9. Brian,
    Bit late noticing this post, came across it via Technorati.
    The potential income from these links were not an issue. The associate account was set up purely to sidestep copyright issues, and allow students to click straight into Amazon for further information, not necessarily to buy.
    I haven’t received any negative comments about commercial aspects, which are irrelevant in this case; we don’t encourage, or intend for, students to purchase from Amazon. Comments I have receive suggest they find the Amazon information useful in most cases.

    Donald Maclean
    Perth College Librarian

  10. Hi Donald
    Thanks for the response. It’s useful to hear that the motivation wasn’t income generation, but the provision of additional useful information.


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