NFTs as Affiliate Links

I love spending my time trying to generate ideas.

Luckily, my day job is well suited for this passion. That I work in crypto means I have a first-hand view into how changing the underlying economics of our infrastructure might influence the way we consume products and services. That I work in venture capital allows me to spend much of my day thinking about how ideas become companies. The combination of these two often leads to taking familiar concepts and asking “if we changed this one thing, would it change everything?” The following is an extension of a thread I initially published on Twitter, applying this question to the topic of affiliate links. I welcome feedback, both here and/or in the replies to the original thread.


NFTs could make a lot of sense as affiliate links.

Affiliate links are unique digital items. Each link generates a stream of (variable) future cash flows: creators often get a commission each time a consumer uses their link. In other words, there’s direct, verifiable attribution that a creator led to a consumer purchasing an item.

To me, that combo sounds like a great place for NFTs to shine. Here’s how it might work:

Each link could be an NFT, and those NFTs could in turn be fractionalized (in order to increase the number of people that can participate). Because they’re NFTs (read: unique digital assets), one could easily program a distribution of commission cash flows to go directly to the holders of that NFT. While the NFT would represent a claim on the future cash flows, the price of the NFT might reflect predictions not only about those cash flows, but also if someone thinks a particular creator and/or brand will increase in prominence (e.g. a 1+1 = 3 type scenario, where the creator-brand partnership drives outsized success for both).

The key question, though, is why this would be better for creators/influencers. After all, it would mean they have to share a portion of their revenues.

The answer? User (audience) ownership helps their networks (businesses) grow bigger, faster. An example might help illustrate this concept.

Say I’m an Emma Chamberlain fan and she has a Revolve affiliate link. Well, so might three other influencers whose videos I watch. If I owned a share of Emma’s expected commissions (e.g. through buying a fractionalized NFT), that ownership would incentivize me to choose her link over the others’. Furthermore, maybe I then take the link and share it with my friends who also shop at Revolve (who otherwise may not have used an affiliate link at all). It’s a win-win-win: I’m incentivized to share the link because it benefits the asset I own, my friends benefit from a discount that they may have otherwise been unaware of, and the creator benefits from more people using their link.

Another way of framing this concept is that allowing the audience to buy a share of ownership might result in low “margins” but much higher volume — in total, making the pie much larger and actually resulting in a more profitable outcome for the creator.

Interestingly, the NFT could be viewed as representing a claim on multiple things. For holders, it’s a claim on expected future commission cash flows. But more subtly, for creators, it’s also an extended “claim” on an audience’s attention. And in a world where there’s an abundance of content and items vying for attention, shared ownership reinforces fan-creator ties.

The reason I find this idea so interesting is that it takes a familiar concept — affiliate links — and explores what happens when the underlying economics are modified. It highlights the potential for how ownership can create new behaviors for consumer loyalty, and how changing one thing might change everything. For what it’s worth, I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say making affiliate links NFTs changes “everything.” But it does change enough to be interesting, and to me that makes it worth paying attention to.

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