There are several types of affiliate programs. Most will pay you a flat rate or percentage of the sale you make (pay-per-sale). Another common type is when you're paid per action or lead. For example, if you refer someone who signs up for businesses free trial, the business pays you for the sign-up. Although not seen as often anymore, some will pay you per click (this is seen most in contextual ad programs such as Google Adsense) or per impression (each time the ad is loaded on your website).
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The concept of affiliate marketing on the Internet was conceived of, put into practice and patented by William J. Tobin, the founder of PC Flowers & Gifts. Launched on the Prodigy Network in 1989, PC Flowers & Gifts remained on the service until 1996. By 1993, PC Flowers & Gifts generated sales in excess of $6 million per year on the Prodigy service. In 1998, PC Flowers and Gifts developed the business model of paying a commission on sales to the Prodigy Network.