Ben Silbermann, the CEO of Pinterest, called me this morning after reading my story on copyright issues. While he didn’t want to go into detail about how they will continue to address that issue, he did provide me with his take on the affiliate link modification story.

Ben told me that it was never Pinterest’s intention to be deceptive. He indicated that the use of Skimlinks was a test, not a business plan, and that Pinterest had stopped using Skimlinks a week before I wrote the original story on the subject.

My Error

The image I provided with the original story actually showed a piece of code that didn’t relate to the Amazon’s affiliate program. At least one reader commented on my blog that the link I listed wasn’t an affiliate link, and several people emailed me indicating that they couldn’t replicate the link modifications when posting pins. This makes more sense now, as Pinterest had stopped using Skimlinks a week before I published the story.

Pinterest’s silence on the affiliate link story.

Despite the popularity and reach of the Pinterest, the compnay only has 16 employees and the vast majority of them are focused on development issues. Ben indicated that Pinterest is still figuring out how they best want to respond to issues as they come up.
A Google News search of the term “Pinterest” returns hundreds of stories and guides each day about the service. Ben indicated that Pinterest wants to be transparent, but as a startup trying to continue to develop a compelling product, their team doesn’t want to be constantly reacting to every new article or story about their business.

Pinterest has updated their site with a disclosure.

In order to provide transparency and clarification going forward, Pinterest added a new section on their help page to address any possible future questions around the monetization issue. The new section is called “How does Pinterest make money?”:

Right now, we are focused on growing Pinterest and making it more valuable. To fund these efforts, we have taken outside investment from entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. We’ve tested a few different approaches to making money such as affiliate links. We might also try adding advertisements, but we haven’t done this yet.

Even though making money isn’t our top priority right now, it is a long term goal. After all, we want Pinterest to be here to stay!

Skimlinks was not a monetization effort, but it was testing.

Ben stated to me, “Our focus right now is not on monetizing, but we have tried a few things out to better understand how people use the service. We want to be a profitable company, but we want to make sure whatever model we eventually use, works with customers. We haven’t decided on one way to do it.”

Ben indicated that Skimlinks was more about testing how people used Pinterest rather than a long-term plan for monetization. Using Skimlinks, Pinterest was able to test a number of things including whether users would make purchases when linked to from the Pinterest site.

In the end, most Pinterest users, who were aware of the link modifications, wanted some type of disclosure, and they got it. Whatever route Pinterest ends up taking to a sustainable business model, it seems they have taken the approach that users need to be aware of some of the behind the scenes testing that may go on in the process.

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7 Responses to Pinterest adds disclosure about how they (might) make money. Conversation with Pinterest CEO.

  1. [...] contacted Josh Davis of LL Social, the site that helped spread the news about Pinterest adding affiliate links (via [...]

  2. avatar buyer beware says:

    Quite a few sites have tried Skimlinks and then dropped it – Squidoo, moneysavingexpert and now Pinterest. Personally I doubt it creates sizeable revenue from social sites. People are on social sites because they are NOT an Avon party. They are there for relaxation, enjoyment, not shopping. They may be looking, but for pleasure not spending. It’s fool’s gold to think you can turn this social space into an Avon party.

    Imagine meeting up with friends in real life and then turning it into an Avon party. Non-disclosure makes people think this will work online. It won’t in my view. Problems I see 1. Once people find out you’re running an undisclosed Avon party they leave. 2. You can socialise offline without it being commercial so people will expect to meet online where everything is “free” without it being overly commercialised. 3. Sites like Pinterest and Etsy attract people interested in different stuff that isn’t mainstream but once you introduce affiliate links it changes the content to more links to corporates like Amazon or eBay. Amazon and eBay are a platform for small sellers, but sites like Pinterest and Etsy are about discovering independents direct not finding them on eBay or Amazon. 4. To what extent are so called social sites actually people hoping they will make money and spending hours and hours making virtually nothing? If in real life big money advertised a job offering no or minimal pay there would be an outcry but somehow people seem to think it’s ok when it happens online.

    Skimlinks has published some figures on links rewritten and sales processed so someone could probably divide the numbers to work out how much on average publishers are making.

  3. avatar Hard Candy Christmas says:

    FYI: You’re also wrong about Metafilter using the skimlinks service.

  4. avatar lara dunston says:

    Josh – I have really enjoyed all your Pinterest coverage. As you have Ben Silbermann’s number on your phone, can you call and ask if they intend to remove or adjust the clause where they say they retain the right to repurpose/sell (etc) Member Content in the future.

    I missed that one in the terms when I signed up and was having fun with Pinterest for a week or so until I was alerted to that one. I emailed Pinterest but got no response, so I deleted my account. I know other creatives who have done the same.

    I’m a pro-travel writer and my husband is a pro-photographer. We’ve been working in various creative fields – film, writing, music, design, photography, and multimedia – since the mid-80s. We have a handful of degrees between us so have invested a lot more into our creativity than the time it takes to write a story or take some images. We value the value of our work, so much so that we’ve given up lucrative projects where we haven’t been able to retain the rights to our work. I’m not about to give those rights away now for the sake of some fun.

    I also object to seeing work from renowned photographers and artists on there being shared without any credits. Pinterest needs to develop a protocol for crediting. It’s not enough to say ‘get permission’. People no longer seem to do that, for reasons beyond my comprehension.

  5. avatar Alex says:

    I find it sad and lonely to live in a world where a photographer wants to get paid or get credit for her every work, but still wants to share it for free on the world’s biggest “billboards”, just to “tease” people. By those standards, we would live in a world with no global reach, where money dominates every aspect of your daily life. If every world renowned artist would still be recognized for their contribution only after they’re dead, she could hope for nothing better. It’s quite the opposite, with people getting fame and fortune within their lifetime. So if I read an interesting book, which I bought, I would make sure to pass it on to as many of my friends as possible, free of charge. I would also pass on a piece of art, copying it, so they all could enjoy it. Nothing wrong with a beautiful copy of art, done by me. Only thing, I’m not talented enough to draw, or photograph, so I print HQ digital photos and hang them in my living room. It’s called social sharing, that’s what drives Pinterest, or FB or anything else. To imagine that every online company is pro-Bono is ridiculous and raising this ruckus about Pinterest’s non-intrusive ads is amazingly two-faced. We see ad-sense on every site, ads on FB, banners on every major source and even paid-per-view content in online newspapers. Why would we criticize Pinterest, if not only for the sake of publishing a story about the best form of advertising ever? If I see an item on (insert your idea here) Amazon, recommended by my friend with no intention of making a profit from it, why wouldn’t I want my favorite or my currently chosen, social platform, to earn from the sale to keep going ad-free?

    • avatar Michele says:

      And why shouldn’t a photographer want to be paid for her work, just like any other person in any other occupation? It’s not about fame and fortune, but rather about buying groceries, paying the rent, and keeping the electricity turned on — and that’s after paying the whopping self-employment taxes. Yes, artists have bills just like everyone else.

      Plus, if you’re the creator of any original work, why shouldn’t you have the right to decide how it’s used? Creative personalities don’t put their work up on Pinterest and other social media sites to “tease” people; they do it to provide samples of the type of work they are capable of producing.