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Hi, I’m Brad Feld, a managing director at the Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. I invest in software and Internet companies around the US, run marathons and read a lot.

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Amazon Fires Its Affiliates in Colorado (Including Me) Because of Colorado HB 10-1193

Comments (347)

I’ve been an Amazon Associate (Amazon’s affiliate program) for many years.  Today I got the following notice in my Amazon Associates account.

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and I woke up to the following email.

Dear Colorado-based Amazon Associate:

We are writing from the Amazon Associates Program to inform you that the Colorado government recently enacted a law to impose sales tax regulations on online retailers. The regulations are burdensome and no other state has similar rules. The new regulations do not require online retailers to collect sales tax. Instead, they are clearly intended to increase the compliance burden to a point where online retailers will be induced to “voluntarily” collect Colorado sales tax — a course we won’t take.

We and many others strongly opposed this legislation, known as HB 10-1193, but it was enacted anyway. Regrettably, as a result of the new law, we have decided to stop advertising through Associates based in Colorado. We plan to continue to sell to Colorado residents, however, and will advertise through other channels, including through Associates based in other states.

There is a right way for Colorado to pursue its revenue goals, but this new law is a wrong way. As we repeatedly communicated to Colorado legislators, including those who sponsored and supported the new law, we are not opposed to collecting sales tax within a constitutionally-permissible system applied even-handedly. The US Supreme Court has defined what would be constitutional, and if Colorado would repeal the current law or follow the constitutional approach to collection, we would welcome the opportunity to reinstate Colorado-based Associates.

You may express your views of Colorado’s new law to members of the General Assembly and to Governor Ritter, who signed the bill.

Your Associates account has been closed as of March 8, 2010, and we will no longer pay advertising fees for customers you refer to Amazon.com after that date. Please be assured that all qualifying advertising fees earned prior to March 8, 2010, will be processed and paid in accordance with our regular payment schedule. Based on your account closure date of March 8, any final payments will be paid by May 31, 2010.

We have enjoyed working with you and other Colorado-based participants in the Amazon Associates Program, and wish you all the best in your future.

I’ve been a supporter of Governor Ritter since his campaign for governor and have worked hard to positively impact Colorado’s software / Internet / technology / entrepreneurial ecosystem.  Over the past two months, I’ve privately expressed my outrage over HB10-1192 and HB10-1193 to several people in Ritter’s administration.  I watched as numerous people in the software / Internet community tried their hardest to help our legislators, the governor, and their staffs understand why this is such a huge step backwards for Colorado.  I was told several times “don’t worry – we’ll take care off all the silly stuff.”  There seemed to be enough folks showing up to discuss this that I thought rational minds would prevail.

I made a huge mistake.  I should have come out very publicly about this when I first heard about it, made sure everyone that I supported during the elections that supported these bills (including one of the co-sponsors) knew my opinion and understood why they had the potential to be so detrimental to the software / Internet / entrepreneurial climate in Colorado.  Shame on me for not being more aggressive, although there are some days I definitely feel like there are only so many fronts I can deal with outside my very full time day job.

I’m not at all surprised by this action on Amazon’s part.  I expect the Internet Affiliate business in Colorado will completely die within the next thirty days (every company that has an affiliate business will turn off all of their Colorado-based affiliates.)

I then received the following email from Colorado Governor Ritter

Gov. Bill Ritter issued the following statement today criticizing Amazon.com’s decision to abruptly end its financial relationship with Amazon Associate businesses in Colorado:

“Amazon has taken a disappointing – and completely unjustified – step of ending its relationship with associates. While Amazon is blaming a new state law for its action, the fact is that Amazon is simply trying to avoid compliance with Colorado law and is unfairly punishing Colorado businesses in the process.

“My office worked closely with Amazon’s affiliates and associates to modify House Bill 1193 to specifically protect small businesses, avoid job losses and provide a fair, level playing field for on-line retailers and Main Street, brick-and-mortar retail shops alike.

“Amazon’s position is unfortunate, and Coloradans certainly deserve better.”

I’m especially disappointed in the Governor’s statement – it’s completely tone deaf to the actual issue and what Amazon is clearly stating.  I’ve heard several people saying “Amazon is the problem” or “well – this is good – now people will buy locally.”  Neither of these statements is valid – Amazon behaved like a rational company in the face of government regulation that had no upside for them and substantial downside.  Also, this has zero impact on consumer purchasing activity as this doesn’t impact the end customer of Amazon products in any way.

Rather, the many small businesses and solo entrepreneurs who make money off of Amazon’s affiliate program just lost a revenue stream (which, by the way, is used to employ people and pay state taxes.)  Colorado just got a big black eye in their historical effort to be a place that is friendly to business, especially high growth technology companies.  And our state government likely now has lost more tax revenue than it was going to gain through the bill in the first place while simultaneously damaging the revenue streams for many small Colorado businesses.

The only logical solution in my book is what Amazon says in paragraph 3.

There is a right way for Colorado to pursue its revenue goals, but this new law is a wrong way. As we repeatedly communicated to Colorado legislators, including those who sponsored and supported the new law, we are not opposed to collecting sales tax within a constitutionally-permissible system applied even-handedly. The US Supreme Court has defined what would be constitutional, and if Colorado would repeal the current law or follow the constitutional approach to collection, we would welcome the opportunity to reinstate Colorado-based Associates.

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