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I'd love to know the percentages of Firefox downloads that came from Google referral buttons. I suspect it's significant. And as far as I know, Google still payed Mozilla for the google search in the browser. If Google stops paying for referrals, Mozilla loses a revenue stream. Mozilla may be smart to replace that revenue stream by creating a (better) affiliate program on their end.
Assuming for sake of argument, Mozilla makes $ 1 per download over the lifespan of a browsers, and you send 100,000 downloads their way. Some of those people might find a download another way -- I don't know your business model, so I can't speculate exactly, but say 50,000 a month are downloading because of your site(s) and wouldn't otherwise.
That's $50,0000 X 12 months -- $600,000 -- nothing to sneeze at. If they lose those downloads, they've LOST a revenue stream.
Now, if they pay $.50 a download they're still making $300,000 a year from your downloads. PLUS, once people are converted to Firefox I'm inclined to speculate that they'll stay Firefox users out of habit. So, if Firefox is around for another ten years and they make $1 a year on advertising to that user, their $.50 investement leads to $9.50 in profit.
These numbers are obviously all "for example" but you can see why they might see it as a good investmemt.
And yes, people say that webmasters will promote Firefox because it's a great program and deserves to be promoted, and to some extent that's true. However, I will tell you right now, on D-day, when Firefox referrals go away, I DO plan to have a spreadfirefox button on my site (as well as a big thank-you to Google and Firefox) but ... the premium advertising slots on my site are going to someone else. I'm cheerfully motivated by money and if they're not going to pay, they don't get the best spot, simple as that.
That said, essentially affiliate/referral payments are a form of advertising just like any other -- and a rather effective one, at that. And all companies with a product have to advertise or die -- viral marketing works, but only so far. Paid advertising goes a lot farther.
That's why Pepsi and Coca-Cola advertise. And why, I'm willing to bet, that you could tell me what mail-order DVD rental company has a big red mailbox on all their ads, or what a Zwinky (gag me) is, even if you've never clicked on ads for either. Mozilla's no different -- they HAVE to advertise if they want to keep growing and avoid shrinking.
And they know this. I keep abreast of what Mozilla's bigwigs say and everything I've seen them say (up to and including publishing results of advertising tests where they play with adwords and stuff) tells me they're really aware of the need for advertising.
The downside to affiliate ads, of course, is it attracts scammers and a less-than-savory crowd who play unethical games to get downloads less than honestly. Mozilla's a very ethical company, with interesting moral standards among its leadership.
Wouldn't surprise me if they go to a "white list" format of affiliate sales. You have to be approved to play. But that's pure speculation on my part, again. I don't know nothing beyond speculation.
It'd be great if they came up with something - my sites had a fair amount of Picasa downloads, although it went down some when it became the entire Google Pack instead of just Picasa - but I am not holding my breath.