Most authors and small publishers simply navigate to their book detail page on Amazon and copy the address from the browser. For this book, Aiming at Amazon, that might give you something like this:
What you should understand is that only part of that address is actually needed to get to the page. The entire last half is simply Amazon talking to itself about your visit. If you include everything you see, you only make it intimidating—and clicking on it in email may not even work if the address breaks between two lines.
Here’s the functional part of the address:
This is not really standard Web addressing, though, so I’ll tell you what it does: When your browser accesses Amazon, the site passes your request to a program referred to as “gp.” That program assembles and sends you a page on the “product” Aiming at Amazon, identified by the number “093849743X”—the book’s ISBN in its older, 10-digit version. To show another book, simply substitute a different 10-digit ISBN.
Technically, that 10-digit number is the ASIN—Amazon Standard Identification Number—but whenever an ISBN is available, Amazon uses the 10-digit version for the ASIN. Note that the newer, 13-digit ISBNs won’t work here—at least not at this writing. Will Amazon adjust its system to adopt them? We’ll have to wait and see! Meanwhile, you can change your 13-digit ISBNs to 10-digit with a converter like this one offered by the Library of Congress:
If you were putting the Amazon address directly in your browser, you could also leave off the “http://” prefix, which would be filled in by the browser itself. But never leave off that part in email, because it tells email programs that the address should be displayed as a link. If you omit the prefix, the reader of your email may not find the address clickable.
Here’s a sample of another, newer form of Web address you might collect from Amazon, again using the 10-digit ISBN.
This address accesses the “dp” program in place of “gp.” Again, the second half is just fleeting Amazon talk, but there’s something new here as well: The address includes keywords from the book’s title. These keywords aren’t really there for addressing at all—you could remove them or replace them with any words you like and still reach the page. They’re only there for the benefit of Google and other search engines, as a way to improve the position of Amazon links in search results. At least until Google catches on!
Stripping away the unneeded portions, you get a wonderfully compact address for your book. Again, for Aiming at Amazon:
What if you want to add your Amazon Associates ID for a commission on sales? It would look like this:
In this address, “simpleproduction” is my Associates ID, while “ref=nosim” is a switch that makes Amazon take you directly to the book’s detail page instead of to a “Similarities Page,” which shows similar titles as well. Like all other Web addresses, this one must be entered as a continuous string, with no spaces or line breaks. (In other words, don’t break any of these addresses into multiple lines as I show them here—I’ve done that only for presentation.)
Here’s an older form of address that does much the same thing by accessing the “obidos” program.
If you like, you can shorten this address a bit by abbreviating “exec/obidos” as “o.”
“Obidos” forms of address like this have been phased out of internal use by Amazon—but for external links, they’ll still be supported for the foreseeable future, and it’s good to have them as a backup. You never know when a newer form of address might stop working properly!
For email, any of the addresses shown above with Associates ID are long enough that some software could break them into two lines by the time they reach their recipient. If that happens, only the first line may be clickable. But the link should still go to your page—you’ll just lose your commission.
To avoid even that, you might try enclosing the address in angle brackets. Most email programs will then properly handle the address whether it falls on one line or many.
Alongside such addresses for specific, individual books, there are addresses for starting searches from offsite. Here’s one that displays all books by that illustrious author Aaron Shepard. (Remember not to include any spaces or line breaks in this.)
As you can see, this is another “gp” address, but one that requests a “search” instead of a “product.” In this case, the search is for “author,” but you can substitute “publisher,” “keywords,” “subject,” or “isbn.” (All of these terms, including “isbn,” must be entirely lower case.)
A “keywords” search can be especially useful to find multiple versions of a single book if Amazon hasn’t linked them together. To identify the book, it’s generally enough to include two or three words from the title plus the author’s last name.
The “isbn” search works with either 10-digit or 13-digit ISBNs. Either ISBN version can also be used in a “keywords” search—and in fact, that kind will sometimes locate a book when an “isbn” search won’t.
If you like, you can abbreviate “gp/search” in that address as “s.”
You can add your Associates ID here too. It would look like this:
There’s also an older, “obidos” form of search address that does much the same—though, again, it may or may not keep working for as long as the newer form.
You may be wondering at the odd punctuation in some of these addresses—question marks, equal signs, plus signs, and ampersands. The question mark tells the accessed program to look at the variables following it—text or values you’re telling the program to plug into its operation. (Sometimes you see a slash placed before the question mark, but that’s redundant and not really good form.)
The variables themselves, translated into plain English, each take the form “this is that”—“author is Aaron Shepard,” or “search index is books,” or “Associates ID is simpleproduction.” The equal sign is the is, while the plus sign stands in for a space between words, since you can’t include a space itself in the address. The ampersand (&) is just an and that separates the variables.
The order of the variables is completely optional. For example, in the first search address above, they could as easily have been reversed like this:
If you leave the most “variable” variable at the end, though, you’ll have an easier time if you ever have to modify numerous addresses by find-and-replace.
I’ve written the search addresses above as they’d appear in your browser or as they’d be placed in an email message. But when coding one into a standard HTML link on your Web site, the most reliable form is to replace each ampersand (&) with the ampersand entity (&). For example, in an HTML link, the first search address above would look something like this:
Aaron at Amazon</a>
To build addresses for Amazon sites in other countries, use any of the forms above and replace “www.amazon.com” with the site’s own domain name. If you’re including an Associates ID, remember that each country needs a different one. Also, for a non-English-language site, a search for English-language books requires a change of “index”—or “mode,” as it’s called in the “obidos” addresses. Here is the address for a “gp” search for my books on Amazon in Japan:
For the index name used in another country, replace the “jp” with that other country’s two-letter code. Or for any of these countries, use the older but still recognized mode name “books-us,” like so:
Note that the “us” in these index names is a nickname to signify all books in English, whether or not from the U.S.
Since Amazon’s preferred address forms do change over time, you might check my Web site occasionally for an updated version of this discussion. If you’re an Amazon Associate, you should also be able to get help in the Associates forums. Of course, you’ll want to test any form of address thoroughly before deploying it widely through your Web site or broadcasting it by email.
Though I take part in Amazon Associates, I don’t use the links and forms Amazon provides, because they play too many tricks and don’t land the visitor directly on my books’ detail pages. Instead, I construct my own links and buttons, even when it means earning a smaller commission. You can see more of my code by visiting my Web site and viewing the HTML source in your browser.
Amazon may not make it easy, but if you understand its address forms, you can usually get where you want to go!
Update—Apparently inspired by Twitter, Amazon in 2010 introduced its shortest address form of all. Here it is for Aiming at Amazon.
Again, you can leave off the “http://” in your browser, but not in email.
Update #2—Amazon no longer allows affiliate links in email.