n. In a multilevel marketing business, the people that a person recruits into the business.
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The company hopes the phrase better represents what multilevel marketing — also called direct sales or network sales — in which company revenue comes from selling products to independent distributors. Distributors, in turn, are told they can earn anywhere from a few hundred dollars a month to fabulous riches through retail sales and commissions from building "downlines" of distributors beneath them.
—Tom Harvey, “Just a drop for most distributors at Utah juice companies,” The Salt Lake Tribune, December 12, 2011
[Mannix Li Man-kay's] success depends in large part on his ability to persuade others to sign up as his "downlines". This is the network of distributors under him who are either recruited by him or have been brought in by his recruits, their recruits and so on. So far, Mr Li has built a "business" of more than 200 downlines. Like other "uplines", he collects commissions on downline sales.
—Charmaine Chan, “Growing army of direct sellers,” The South China Morning Post, May 09, 1999
1986 (earliest)
Your "downline" return can continue to the fifth level, to a maximum of 32 percent commission of every $100 purchased through those levels….

In the interim, members who neglect to pay their $15 a quarter have their downlines and the future commissions they would earn revoked.
—David Streitfeld, “Buying and Selling by the Book,” The Washington Post, August 07, 1986
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