In the affiliate marketing world, pay to play affiliate programs refer to a requirement, imposed by the vendor, that all affiliates must purchase the vendor’s product before they are allowed to market it.
First things first: this is not illegal. It’s also not a scam, as long as the vendors follow the usual laws and regulations about things such as making promises that they can’t keep.
That being said, here’s why I don’t like this practice.
Is it necessary?
First, it’s totally unnecessary. Think of the example from the web funnel design in our course, where I use an e-book for learning auto repair as an example. As I said in the course, I’m not a mechanic. All I have to know as a marketer is what the needs of the audience for the product are, and how the product can help them. Being a mechanic wouldn’t hurt in understanding these things, but it’s certainly not essential. Also, there’s one more major reason that pay to play is unnecessary: most vendors don’t do it. You are very likely to find competing products that are just as good and that don’t have a pay-to-play requirement.
What message does it send?
Second, it’s bad for business, both yours and the vendor’s. Never forget that your affiliate business is still a real business, with the same top-level goal as any other business: to maximize your profit. If the product that you’re required to buy does not move your financial needle in a net positive direction – then it’s a waste of your money, plain and simple. It absolutely must create more business for you than it costs. And how is it bad for the vendor? It sends out a loud message that “This product is so mediocre that we can’t make it profitable unless we force our affiliates to buy it!” If I were a direct vendor, there’s no way I would be willing to send this message to my affiliates, much less the buying public!
In the final analysis, you as a business operator need to carefully look at any offer before you decide whether it will bring in more customers for you. An offer that comes without strings attached tends to be better than an offer that has them.