The Easiest Way for Wikipedia to Make Money

“Nonprofits that create a transformational societal impact like Wikipedia often go deeper into the negative direction of economic impact the bigger they get, because it takes more donation dollars to support their growth.”          Max Marmer (via HBR)

Wikipedia should start putting affiliate book links in the Bibliography/External Links portion of many of their information pages. On the Ruby on Rails page, there are links to 7 different programming books in the Bibliography. All links go to some catalogue or other listing of the book – how much more valuable would a link to an Amazon page be? If I’m looking at the Wikipedia page, it would seem that I am interested enough in the topic that I may consider buying a book about Ruby on Rails. Putting an affiliate link in the bibliography doesn’t detract from my experience with Wikipedia in any way, and would lead me to a page where I can see reviews from others who have gone through the book.

Sure, this could lead to complications and gaming the system, though I believe those could easily be combatted by only allowing certain users to post affiliate links. Or, list all books on the topic with at least a 4 star rating and 20 reviews on Amazon – something along those lines. Either way, the potential for revenue is enormous. Wikipedia requires $10m a year to operate (source). With Amazon affiliate fees ranging between 4-8.5% based on sales volume, Wikipedia could fund and grow their operations just by implementing this relatively simple program. Here’s the math (with very conservative assumptions) on their potential revenue:

With 340 million visitors each month, assuming 15% of those page views are on topics that would work well with this, that’s 51 million visitors reading a topical page each month. Say only 20% of those individuals are interested in learning more about a topic, and the other 80% are just brushing up on their knowledge – 10,200,000 engaged and interested visitors each month. Of that, if only 5% were interested in buying a book, we have 510,000 potential purchasers. At an 8% affiliate commission – and assuming an average price of $15 per book – Wikipedia is looking at $612,000 in monthly revenue from something that is none too difficult to implement. That covers more than 60% of their annual operating costs!

I commend other organizations like DonorsChoose.org who are working on ways to become self-sustaining. Charles Best, the founder of DonorsChoose, has made sustainability his mission by implementing an affiliate program for others who drive donations to their site, and by asking for an (optional) percentage of each donation to towards covering operational costs. We need organizations like Wikipedia and DonorsChoose. The more self-sustaining they are, the better they can fulfill their mission.

What do you think? Would this make sense for them to do? How else could they make money without negatively impacting the user experience?

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  • Guest

    Why can’t Wikipedia just add advertising?

    • Guest

      Great link by the way

    • Read http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Advertisements and become more informed on the many arguments against.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Nihiltres. In addition to those reasons, I think it would hamper the user’s experience. With using affiliate links for books, I think the user would only benefit and Wikipedia would make some money. They already list books as references, just don’t have them pointing to sites where you can buy the book.

  • Well, what would this sort of introduction of affiliate links entail? I get the impression that the suggestion would involve linking each reference to some particular seller of the book, with an affiliate link—and that would probably get shot down by the Wikipedia community as advertising for that particular bookseller.
    There is a book sources page (try clicking on an ISBN somewhere on Wikipedia) that includes links to libraries and booksellers but doesn’t seem to include any affiliate codes—perhaps those links ought to, since the embarrassment of riches in options available mean any one source receives negligible promotion.

    • Anonymous

      I think it could easily be community moderated, where the top 3 books are referenced. Companies (Amazon, Barnes and Noble) could bid on the Wikipedia contract, or even offer different affiliate cuts for different book categories. 

      In a way it could be thought of as advertising, though they could also arrange deals with publishing houses (ex: all links to O’Reilly media result in a commission) to remove doubts about which bookseller to use. I used Amazon as an example because they are the most popular and have a well-known affiliate program.