Musing about an Indie Developer Referral Marketing Coop

Occasionally we send out referrals for other software from fellow Indie Mac developers in our monthly mailings. As a way of helping our users/friends to find out about cool software, and also as a favor for our developer friends, we will include a blurb about the other developer's product(s) in our mailing. Often we'll arrange with the developer for a coupon code we can mention, so that our readers get a special deal by buying the application using our referral.

Sometimes this is a one-way thing, where we just mention the application because we like it so much, for the good karma of doing so. Other times, we have made agreements with the other developer that they will put in a reciprocal mention of our product in their mailing, so that we scratch each other's back.

Of course it's quite possible to set up a commission kind of deal for this kind of thing, though we have only done this once or twice. As long as it's still a genuine recommendation, I don't have any ethical problems about doing that; we all have to make a living and doing so is a way to bring in another stream of income.

It occurred to me that there are probably not many indie developers participating in this kind of activity, either as referrers or … uh … referees. So far we've only set up a deal when somebody happens to contact us, asking us if we want to trade referrals, or if we contact somebody, offering to mention them (and perhaps asking for a referral back.)

What if we had an informal (or formal?) "co-op" of indie developers who are interested in giving, and getting, referrals via email newsletters? The idea would be to have a pool of developers who have a periodic newsletter (and hopefully several thousand people on their list), are willing to mention other cool applications in it, and are interested in having their software mentioned in other newsletters.

Would something like this work without having to build a complex infrastructure of checks and balances?  If you are an indie developer with a product and a mailing list, would you be interested in participating?  Would something like this work on just a good-karma "pay it forward" kind of approach, or would it end up getting unfair — e.g. favoring only really popular, already-successful software?  Would some people end up feeling taken advantage of (say, if they sent out referrals every month but nobody referred them?)

I think it would be useful to set something like this up, as a community of friends helping each other out, but I don't have the time nor the inclination to create a whole application to police it. I'd like to hear your thoughts in the comments here.

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