Mac Musings

Good-Bye MacMall, Good-Bye MacZone

Dan Knight - 2002.12.13 - Tip Jar

I sometimes wonder if there's a special place in hell for self-important, small-minded people bent on destroying things they don't like, understand, or approve.

Business

No matter how you slice it, almost any moderately successful website becomes a business, either small or large. We invest time, we pay hosting fees, we need to cover our expenses, and we wouldn't mind actually making some money from what we do.

There are several ways to bring in money. Banner ads are the biggie, but ad rates keep declining. In fact, they decline faster than most websites can grow their traffic, leading to an income death spiral.

Donations are nice, but undependable. Several sites have experimented with subscription systems (including us - we hope to have ours restored early next year) that provide something extra for subscribers, such as access to premium content, site archives, or the ability to visit the site without seeing ads.

Affiliates

A fourth source of income is affiliate programs. Amazon.com became as well known as they are in good part due to a great affiliate program. It's hard to find a website that doesn't have an Amazon.com affiliate link.

Unlike regular ads, which are usually billed per thousand impressions, affiliate programs only pay when someone makes a purchase. The risk to advertisers is gone, but websites risk displaying unproductive ads. Some programs are much more successful than others, and Commission Junction, which manages hundreds of affiliate programs, has tools to help online publishers pick the most promising programs and track their success.

In an average month, affiliate fees bring in several hundred dollars. It's not a make-or-break amount, but it helps keep us from falling even further behind on our budget. We're grateful to organizations such as CoolVCD, MacResQ, eBay, Crucial Memory, Club Mac, 123Inkjets.com, and others that work with Low End Mac to our mutual benefit.

Buh-Bye

One of the drawbacks of affiliate programs is that they sometimes disappear. We used to work closely with Outpost.com, but some years back they dropped their affiliate program. Links removed. Income lost.

Others don't fulfill their contractual obligations, and Commission Junction is really good about letting sites know when an affiliate program has been suspended or discontinued.

And sometimes a business drops an affiliate, which has happened to us twice since Rick Bauer launched his hatemail campaign against Low End Mac. He has since been joined by Russ Arcuri (and possibly others) in trying to get advertisers and affiliates to pull their support from our website.

Some businesses have apparently ignored the rabble rousers. A couple (Other World Computing and Crucial Memory) had the integrity to ask us for our side of the story. OWC is still running ads on our site, and we are still a Crucial Memory affiliate. Kudos to both.

Two others have apparently decided that Low End Mac is a pariah, so they must distance themselves from us.

We've had limited success with the MacZone affiliate program over the years; it's never been very profitable. We're disappointed that they dropped us (or possibly dropped their entire affiliate program - we've been unable to tell), but it was a simple matter to remove affiliate links and stop tracking MacZone prices in our daily price trackers for iMacs, eMac, 'Books, and Power Macs.

UPDATE, 3:00 p.m.: I have already been contacted by Chrisie Triquart at MacZone. The failure of our affiliate links was due to a changeover in their affiliate system that unfortunately coincided with MacMall terminating our affiliation. We overlooked the messages from Performics and completely missed the change. We applaud MacZone for their responsiveness and will be reposting affiliate links over the weekend and add them to our daily price trackers as they are updated next week.

Except for this boxed content and one comment below, we are leaving this article as originally posted. We will follow up on Monday with more details on the situation. dk

On the other hand, we've had very good success over several years of affiliation with MacMall. Over the past year, that affiliate program has resulted in over 16,000 visits to their site, over 100 purchases, and nearly $60,000 in sales volume. As MacMall has benefited, so have we, averaging almost $100 per month in affiliate fees.

No more. MacMall has kicked us out of their affiliate program "due to customer complaints of posted messages" (whatever that means - MacMall has not responded to our emails), and we're not at all happy about it. As with MacZone, we've removed all links to MacMall from all of our sites and no longer track their pricing on our daily price trackers. If they don't want to support us, we won't support them. If they want to punish us . . . well, I suspect $60,000 in annual sales means even more to them than $1,200 a year in affiliate fees to us, so it seems a matter of cutting off one's nose to spite one's face.

UPDATE, Dec. 6, 2004: We received an email from MacMall last week inviting us back into their affiliate program. We've added links to them and Club Mac, their sister site. Welcome back! dk

Free Speech vs. Political Correctness

We don't know why MacZone dropped us over the past few months, but we suspect the letter writing campaign begun by Rick Bauer is behind it. We don't know, because we don't have email from these businesses explaining their decision. [See boxed comment above - MacZone has not dropped us.] And we only have a cryptic message from MacMall mentioning "customer complaints of posted messages" as their reason for dropping us from the program.

It could be that MacZone doesn't notify sites when they remove affiliate authorization. It could be that their messages were rejected as spam. It could be that they sent styled email, which my email client can't handle. (Plain text email is the lingua franca of the Internet.)

Both of these organizations chose to pull the plug on Low End Mac - and we're returning the favor.

Diversity and tolerance are the buzzwords of the politically correct crowd. It seems they want everyone to sit around the campfire singing Kumbaya. They claim to have room for everyone, but then they want to ban hate speech. And they're having a lot of luck passing such laws in Canada and Europe, on American college campuses, and elsewhere.

They want to draw a circle around free speech and only allow politically correct speech. It's not correct to claim that whites are superior or promote black power (you have to feel for the Supreme Court as they address Virginia's cross burning law in light of racism, history, free expression, and the KKK), regardless of the absurdity of such statements. You can't state that one religion is right and others are wrong. You can't speculate that there may be something in fundamentalist Islam that leads to terrorism.

Any speech that hurts other people is wrong by definition as far as the politically correct are concerned.

As Charles W. Moore has written, Speech Is Either Free or It Isn't. And that's what's at the heart of this situation.

Low End Mac has often published controversial content, whether it's a PC user explaining why he thinks Windows is superior or a black man speculating on Macs and racism. The opinions we publish are those of the author, not necessarily those of Low End Mac - and this is nowhere more evident than in Moore's regular mailbag columns, where writers who disagree with his political, social, and religious views often let him have it with both barrels.

That's diversity.

By allowing people with deeply held conviction to express their beliefs, we show ourselves tolerant. We don't pretend that diversity means we'll all somehow see eye-to-eye; we believe that diversity means being open about our differences of opinion, some of which are intractable. We honor diversity by allowing the expression of deeply held convictions, whether we share them or not.

Big BrotherIt is that freedom, that diversity, that right to publish that is being attacked by Bauer and others. It has become like 1984 in some parts of the Mac community.

Freedom and Rights

When MacZone and MacMall give in to the hatemail tactics of the thought Nazis, they ally themselves with the enemies of free speech, free religion, and a free press, rights that I recently discussed in Life, Liberty, and Property (not on Low End Mac - we are tired of fighting this battle every time we mention politics or religion on this site).

I'll never align myself with the thought police. I'm a firm believer in absolute rights - and absolute responsibility. If my speech is defamatory, I expect to be called on it. But if it's simply something you disagree with, that's a whole different story. Practice the tolerance you preach or you become the very kind of bigot you claim to despise.

Moving On

We have removed all the links to MacZone and MacMall from our site. If they no longer want to support Low End Mac (and our other sites), we will not support them. We will no longer purchase from either of these online retailers. We will ask them to take us off the mailing lists for their catalogs. And we will let our supporters, both on the mailing lists and on the website, know why we have done so.

We are not organizing a boycott of these businesses. We do recommend that you support businesses that support our site. If you choose not to do business with MacZone and MacMall because of this, it's your decision - and I hope you will let them know why you are making that choice.

Maybe they will reconsider the value of Low End Mac as an affiliate and reinstate us. Whether they do it because they support free expression or are simply looking at the bottom line is irrelevant to us. We would be more than happy to do business with either organization, but as long as they are unwilling to work with us, we think our readers should know what's going on.

As for that special place for those who spew hatred and attempt to destroy those they disagree with, I think it will be very well populated.

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Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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