In February 2000, Amazon announced that it had been granted a patent on components of an affiliate program. The patent application was submitted in June 1997, which predates most affiliate programs, but not PC Flowers & Gifts.com (October 1994), AutoWeb.com (October 1995), Kbkids.com/BrainPlay.com (January 1996), EPage (April 1996), and several others.
ClickBank allows you to join for free, and the approval process is virtually automatic, so it’s a great choice for people entering the affiliated game for the first time. ClickBank has a ton of information, including FAQs, walk-throughs, and videos available, so the barrier to entry is quite low. There’s also a (paid) program called ClickBank University with courses and assistance from experienced marketers.
Affiliate marketing is commonly confused with referral marketing, as both forms of marketing use third parties to drive sales to the retailer. The two forms of marketing are differentiated, however, in how they drive sales, where affiliate marketing relies purely on financial motivations, while referral marketing relies more on trust and personal relationships.