Erik Sherman's WriterBiz

A spot about the business of writing as seen by a freelance writer. That includes marketing, sales, contracts, copyright, planning, research - in short, the business end of writing.

Name: Erik Sherman
Location: Massachusetts, United States

I'm an independent writer and photographer who covers business, food, technology, books, media, general features, and pretty much anything appealing that results in a signed check. My work has appeared in such places as the New York Times Magazine, Newsweek, Newsweek Japan, Fortune, Inc, Fortune Small Business, the Financial Times, Advertising Age, Saveur, US News & World Report, and Continental

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Analyze the Web Site Before Paying the Ad Money

PageOneLit.com will say that it's:
  • # 1 Literary Newsletters Website out of 1,770,000 (GOOGLE)

  • # 3 Newsletter Website search out of 90,200,000 (GOOGLE)

  • # 9 Author Interview Search out of 4,000,000 (GOOGLE)
Owner (I think) John Weaver will tell you that in a letter that his site was listed on the 2009 Writers Digest best 101 web sites (which it was, but more on that in a moment). At least that's a letter that he's been known to send to people who have forthcoming books. And then he notes that for a mere $250, he will offer:
A full personal interview page at Pageonelit.com PageoneLit.com and AuthorsPressReleases.com with your photo, bio, book summary, short book review, etc...This is a one time fee for long range promotional goals. Note: Your interview page will stay up forever. Note: Your interview page will stay up forever. This is your interview page to market your book as you like. Plus AuthorsPressReleases.com & Books-and-Authors.net
The claims seem to be accurate, and lord knows book authors want sales. But you're in business to get exposure and results, not to waste money, so let's get beyond the surface for a moment. Here's how Writers Digest described the site:
Page ONE is a one-stop shop for author interviews, contest news, inspirational quotes and writing resources.
That's significantly different from endorsing it as a way of getting people to buy your book.

Google rankings are fine, if the particular search term someone uses is what they might use to look for the book you are offering because, after all, search marketing is something that depends on specific intent of the audience, not a general nosing about. If your title would be of immediate interest to someone searching for a literary newsletter, then you're set. If not, then the search results aren't necessarily going to do you a spit of good.

And Google rankings aside, if you are appearing somewhere, then you want traffic flowing in, because only a small percentage of the people are going to be interested enough and motivated enough to buy the book. So what are the traffic rankings of PageOneLit? Not so hot. According to Compete.com, which samples large panels of Internet consumers for their surfing habits, since January 2009, the average monthly number of unique visitors has been around 1,000. That's a pretty damned small number. To put it into perspective, even my domain gets more traffic, and given that you either have to be looking for me or, more likely, something I wrote about freelance writing, that is a sad state of affairs.

Granted, the sample size for both is low, as noted by Compete.com, which measures U.S. traffic to web sites. But that, in its own way, is a clear statement as well. To triangulate, I also checked Alexa.com, whose "percentage of Internet users" going to a site depends on knowing how many users they think there are, but sill gives a potential comparison. That site suggests that my domain has been receiving almost three times as much traffic over the last three months, and, I cannot stress enough, that number is nothing to brag about, as Internet stats go.

To put it differently, PageOneLit.com gets hardly any traffic. If you've traditionally published and are making, say, $1 in royalties per copy, then you need to sell more than 250 companies in addition to what you would have sold to talk about the investment in "exposure" as offering a return on your investment. So the interview is up, maybe gets the majority of its notice in a month and then drops off radically in effectiveness, because that's how traffic works on the web. As in anything else, you get the biggest boost while you're top of mind. So let's be generous and say that the primary sales pull-through lasts for two months. That would mean you'd need to see 250 sales out of 2,000 visitors, meaning a conversion rate of 12.5 percent. In my experience in direct marketing, that is a total pipe dream.

Before you believe the come-ons of people preying on the desire of writers to be read, check the numbers. There are better ways to spend your time and money.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Google Fast Flip as the New News Stand

Google has released into beta a new service called Fast Flip, which provides an intriguing approach to making news media work on the web. I'll point you to my post on BNET Technology, which also has links to the service itself.

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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Writing for a New Media

I had a post today on BNET called How the Media Can Save Itself. And I'm convinced that the Internet doesn't mean the end of journalism or story telling or a place for those who can do them. And even with the plethora of outlets for people who want to approach the topics as amateurs, and I mean nothing derogatory in using the term, that's not going to replace professionals any more than the mass of people who have learned to play instruments and sing has ever replaced professional musicians. Even King Henry VIII was an amateur musician and composer, but that hardly meant that he banned those who made their living creating music.

But it does mean that there's going to be a premium on ability, quality, and learning to use and mix new combinations of media in ways that no one ever considered. Text will have to call out to video to integrate it into the point someone is making. Video will need links to background and amplification that can't happen in that medium. Audio can provide an intimate narration as something looks as images and graphical devices that neither video nor text can provide. All of them will be glued together in new ways. Look at the links I mention in the BNET piece, or listen to NPR's Planet Money experiments in presenting financial information or how OpenSecrets.org illuminates campaign finance information. Not all the tries will work, but some will. Those who want a spot in the future must become part of the attempts to forge a new approach to what they've done in the past. Those new to the endeavor have one big advantage of not having the same number of fixed associations. But those with experience, if they can break free of even some of the assumptions, can add immense depth.

Maybe your efforts will involve merging analysis, opinion, reporting, and commentary in what I'm finding to be an exciting and liberating format in blogs. Or you might find yourself reaching for a video camera, or dusting off pens and drawing paper. Don't assume what technology you need to use or what the results might be. We all have time to ourselves, so invest some of it to try something different. As my drawing improves, I'm hoping to start incorporating it in various ways in my work. If you're a musician, consider composing something that supports the emotional mood of a report and running it in the background. Or create a photo essay loaded with linking hotspots that offer context for the image that someone is seeing. Maybe the old media won't be willing to shake loose, but it's the glory of working for yourself. Try something different. Who knows? You might end up creating a new genre.

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Monday, August 24, 2009

(Not) Making It at Gawker

Earlier this month, a Washington Post staff writer just covered something from his own experience: having Gawker "excerpt" his exclusive story to such an extent that it probably eliminated the need for anyone to go to the original version. You can read about the controversy about the potential of blogs to essentially rewrite articles as their own posts. Read the original in the Post and then read the Gawker piece and decide whether it's theft.

I'm actually inclined to think that it wasn't theft. Yes, Gawker should have properly credited the post in addition to giving the link, but there is a difference between the two pieces. The Post had the reporting; Gawker had a critical take on how silly the entire thing sounded -- something the Post wouldn't let its writers say, even if it should be necessary.

But I'm not actually interested in this issue so much as another. In Ian Shapira's piece, The Death of Journalism (Gawker Edition), he mentions that the Gawker writer, Hamilton Nolan, who freely used his work is actually a freelancer paid $4,000 a month by Gawker. That's $48,000 a year. Freelance. Without benefits. Before taxes.

Pathetic if you consider, as I've always heard, that the work load to do a blog at Gawker is punishing -- long, long hours for the flat fee and whatever passes for page view bonuses these days.

There are better online opportunities, I've found, and ones that don't effectively require you to plan your entire career around the convenience of a single client.

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Friday, July 31, 2009

Bankrate.com Financial Info [UPDATE]

I came across the latest Bankrate.com financial announcement, as it is a publicly-held company, and so freelancers can get a pretty good idea of how the business is doing. Here's the short view:
  • This was for the second quarter of 2009.

  • Overall revenue was down 23 percent, from $40.2 million to $31.0 million. Online revenue was down 23 percent to $29.0 million, which also shows that the bulk of its money -- 93.5 percent -- comes from online.

  • Net income was down even more sharply, from $4.1 million to $1.9 million, or roughly 53.7 percent.

  • Company CEO Thomas Evans blamed it on "macroeconomic conditions." Translated, it means that financial advertising, particularly in the banking, mortgage, and credit card channels, is still way off of normal. The question is whether this is the new normal.

  • There is cash or cash equivalents of over $55 million and quarterly expenses run around $15 million. Normally you'd want to see a much bigger amount of money tucked away so the company could ride out longer than, say, a year, but there is still plenty of cash to pay people, so seeing delays in payment wouldn't be reasonable. (And to be clear, I'm not suggesting that anyone is reporting delayed payment. But it's good information to keep in your back pocket in any negotiation.)
One other big piece of news: the company is going to be acquired by Apax Partners, a private equity group. Given how most private equity firms work, you can probably expect in the near future a big downward push on rates and terms.

The acquisition also shows the value of intellectual property (IP) like copyright and why companies push so hard to own it. The IP because a major asset that is worth money. In this case, the Bankrate.com shareholders are going to get $28.50 a share in cash, or $571 million it total. Companies know damned well what they're asking for when they want articles under a WMFH basis. They're taking the value out of your pocket so they can put it in theirs. Don't forget that when you're negotiating price.

[Update: Check the comments on this post. One reader pointed out that according to the SEC documents about the deal, much of the cash on hand will go to fees incurred to conduct the deal. That would have some predictable ramifications for the time it will take to get paid.]

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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Questions to Ask Helium to Avoid Hot Air

Michelle Rafter's blog had a couple of guest posts about content aggregator Helium. Tim Beyers warned writers off writing for Helium and Helium new member outreach manager Barbara Whitlock said that writers should.

Being the sometimes practical and often cranky man that I am, I just want to know about the money. Helium announced that it had paid writers more than $1 million since its inception, and half of that in the last six months. That may sound attractive, but the real question is something I like to remember by the clumsy acronym HMWEM, or How Much Will Erik Make?

You see, when it comes to connecting writing and making money, I'm not interested in a good story. I want to see numbers on the page. Looking a bit further into Helium's press release on its million dollar mark, we see the following:
  • Since 2006, writers have posted 1.25 million articles on 125,000 topics.

  • Over 1,000 writers have earned more than $100 from their work for Helium.

  • "Top earners" have made more then $5,000 "in a matter of months."
Let's do the math:
  1. The average story will make 80 cents.

  2. There's no indication I can find about how many "top earners" they have. But according to one mention on helium, there was one person who made $5,000 in six months. He averaged an hour a day, according to the release. That's 30 hours a month for six months, or 180 hours. So, he managed $27.78 an hour in revenue. But apparently there is no other big earner mentioned. Could he be the only one? Also, how many articles did he have to write?
  3. On a "bulk sale" of content, some writers got $5. When you read this in context, it makes it sound like $5 was the high end.

  4. According to the site's press page, there are more than 100,000 writers on the site. So, at the tops mathematically, it's an average of $10 per person.
I understand that Ms. Whitlock wrote, "Helium isn’t a substitute for a full-time job, but it can be combined with other freelance gigs to provide additional revenue. Plus, the freedom to also write what you want is appealing for many." But when put to the HMWEM test, the answer still sounds like nowhere near enough to justify the effort.

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Monday, June 8, 2009

Aftermarket Journalism

I posted something on BNET that I thought readers of this blog might find interesting:
I’ve heard many people insist that the future of traditional news media is to work with aggregators like Google, because they represent a new model of delivering the news. Recently, I noticed a blog post by Jeff Jarvis, which was about the auto industry. Although it may seem off-topic on first thought, it actually isn’t, and the flaws in his argument about cars explain the underlying problem with the “embrace Google” argument.
Rest of the article

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Are Print Ads More Valuable Than Online? It Depends

Given the number of "studies" I've seen that claim to show the "superiority" of print over online, I've gotten a sense of desperation on the part of publishers. (And given their financial results and dropping ad revenue, no wonder.) The latest has some interesting data:

Among Web users, nearly two-thirds (63%) of banner ads were not seen. Respondents' eyes "passed over" 37% of the Internet ads and "stopped" on slightly less than a third, McPheters & Co. found.

In contrast to online ads, TV and magazine ads generated a strong propensity to be seen and recalled. Full-page, four-color magazine ads were determined to have 83% of the value of a 30-second television commercial, while a typical Internet banner ad has 16% of the value.

Here are the major findings from the press release issued by the market research firm that undertook the study:

  • Within a half hour, magazines effectively delivered more than twice the number of ad impressions as TV and more than 6 times those delivered online.
  • Though TV doesn't deliver as many ads per half hour as do magazines, net recall of TV ads was almost twice that of magazine ads; magazines in turn had ad recall almost three times that of Internet banner ads.

  • 85% of Internet ads served appeared on-screen and could be identified by brand.

  • Among web users, 63% of banner ads were not seen. Respondents' eyes passed over 37% of the Internet ads and stopped on slightly less than a third.

  • For Internet ads, almost all net recall could be attributed to ads that were seen.

  • Internet video ads appeared much less frequently than banner ads, and their exposure skewed heavily towards young men. When they did appear they were twice as likely to be seen as banner ads.
In my experience I definitely avoid looking at banner ads. But there are some enormous suppositions and biases here:

  • The report does mention online vehicles other than banner ads, but only mentions video ads as appearing less frequently than banner ads and skewing heavily toward young men. But that is one of the most desired demographics for marketers. And, apparently, it didn't seem to measure text ads, which are surely the most prevelant form of online marketing today.

  • Recalling an ad is not necessarily the same as ad effectiveness. Consider the famous example of the hilarious Alka Seltzer ad series from the sixties. They had huge recall, but the company dropped them because no one remembered the product, just the humor. Also, if you find an ad irritating, is there any transference of that feeling toward the manufacturer?

  • Although it may be in the study, I don't see any mention of the intent of the ad. Was it meant to sell product? Recall doesn't show whether people buy, or even if they become more inclined to favor the mentioned brand.

  • Where is the audience spending its time? Even if magazine and television ads are more effective in a more extensive way than recall, is that the medium that consumers prefer to consume? If they read news and watch video online, then placing ads in print and on television starts reaching a smaller audience.

  • That last point has another implication: cost. Print and television ads cost more to run than online ads. So how much does it cost to acquire and maintain a customer? That must be part of the equation, particularly when budgets are constrained.
And now for the really big point, in my opinion. Conde Nast and CBS Vision (described by CBS as a new research initiative to explore changes and opportunities in the media marketplace) sponsored the study. I've generally found that sponsored studies almost always mean that the results are only released when they support the underlying goals of the corporate sponsors. For example, can you imagine a drug company backing a study showing that a cheap alternative to an expensive prescription medicine was superior?

But publishers and broadcasters all claim to be interested in online as a medium. (Disclosure: I cover high tech for BNET, which is owned by CBS Interactive.) But this clearly delivers the impression that the sponsors are interested in having older media -- which deliver more ad revenue and profit -- shown to be superior to online. In other words, it's the old dog at the media companies trying to kill off the upstart medium, with the Internet still a business toddler compared to print and broadcast. How are the media companies ever going to make the transition they say is coming if they do everything in their power to defeat it? This is why tech companies like Google and Amazon, which are big in online advertising and media, are likely to be the real winners in the media wars. They aren't spending significant resources and time trying to debunk the very businesses they say they are anxious to establish.

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Monday, April 20, 2009

Using Twitter for Non-Hype Reasons

If you're a working writer and not already using Twitter, you should really consider trying it - not for the ooooh-I'm-gonna-get-famous reaction that many seem to have, but for some solid reasons:
  • You can have useful conversations with peers. I just tried the weekly Twitter gathering called #editorchat and found it interesting, and noticed that Wall Street Journal senior technology editor Julia Angwin will be a guest host this coming week, 4/22, from 8:30pm to 10pm eastern. (Learn more about it at the Editorchat blog.) There is also a chat called #journ2journ for journalists and an occasional one called #queryday, during which book agents and editors (one of my favorite book editors, Michele Wells at McGraw-Hill, was active in the last one) will offer tips and answer general questions about what makes pitches and proposals successful. A little investment in time can deliver valuable information not easily garnered any other way. For example, do you know how comparisons between a proposed book and existing titles differ from how new/previous comparisons of scripts and concepts comparisons are used in the movie industry? I do, now.
  • Promoting a Twitter presence seems to be much easier than promoting other types of online activity, like a blog, if you're interested in building an audience. For example, I find myself with 345 followers since mid-December -- not a remarkable number, but given that I haven't lifted a finger to gain attention other than putting my Twitter link (@ErikSherman) in a Twitter journalist directory and on my BNET profile, it's also not bad. Consider how long it might take for you to get 345 subscribers to a blog for perspective.
  • Twitter does not have to be the time sink that many assume it automatically is. I spend a few minutes a day posting links to stories that I've written and that I think will have some wide interest, pointing to interesting tweets from people I follow, or simply posting some strange thought that comes to me, and occasionally check what others are posting. That isn't a reason to use it so much as an explanation that what may seem a barrier doesn't have to be.
  • This becomes an easy way to keep in periodic touch with a number of colleagues and gain some of the interactivity you might have if working in a newsroom and tossing remarks over the walls.
  • You can learn of things that otherwise might not have come to your attention. (Here's one that I had retweeted, meaning a link passed on from someone else: the financial reality of being a New York Times top 20 bestselling author.
  • This I pass on from having heard it from other journalists, though I haven't used it myself: you can find sources by looking for people with particular backgrounds or in specific situations.
  • Depending on who you follow, Twitter can be, as they say in my neck of the woods, wicked amusing. If you avoid the people overly intent on promoting themselves and focuses on those who let some of their personality and humor through, you can get see some great insights and get a few laughs in the process.
It's definitely worth trying, and free to boot. During this week I'll be posting a Twitter tip or two that I've learned -- and if you have any yourself, please email me, and I can put unique ones together into a separate post.

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Thursday, April 9, 2009

Don't Bet on Those Online Royalties

I've argued in the past that riding the long tail to success would likely be a myth because the numbers don't add up. Now it seems that riding a massively popular online wave doesn't mean you're going to get any further. A British song writer with many hits and a reputed £47 million to his name had co-written a song that became part of a YouTube craze. After 154 million viewings, his take was less than stellar:
At a press conference to mark the launch of a website campaigning for a fairer deal for songwriters whose work is featured on YouTube - which is owned by Google - Waterman said local radio was more profitable for him than the internet.

"There was I sitting at Christmas thinking, 'I must have made a few bob this year with the old Rickrolling'," he said.

"I rang my publisher and they said 'You'll be all right', until I saw the royalty statement. £11.

"If 154 million plays means £11, I get more from Radio Stoke playing Never Gonna Give You Up than I do from YouTube."
Yup, 154 million plays, and about $20 or so to one of the writers. Those who are still letting dreaming of the big online killing had better realize whose head can end up on the chopping block. Now, maybe his royalty agreement was bad. Maybe there were no ads tied to the viewing. But this seems wrong in a big way, particularly since you can be sure that someone was making money on this.

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Thursday, April 2, 2009

Old Media Companies Try to Sabotage New Media Efforts

I had posted something on my BizBlast blog that I thought might be of interest to freelance writers. Although it nominally addresses a recent study of the effectiveness of different advertising media (online, print, television), it's really about the resistance that so-called old media companies have to the new formats, suggesting that many of the attempts to convert print properties to Web will fail because the publishers actually want them to fail -- subconsciously, perhaps, but still that's what they seem to desire if you look at what they do.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Online Literary Magazines

Looking for potential markets for fiction, but given up on the usual suspects? Esquire has a piece on great online literary magazines. Who knows? Maybe there's a market waiting for one of those short stories or poems you've not been sending out.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Sree Sreenivasan podcast of Twitter for journalists online discussion

For those who don't know about him, Sree Sreenivasan teaches at the Columbia School of Journalism and is highly regarded as someone who gets how to use technology well in the pursuit of journalism. He does occasional webcasts now - I just got an email about one on LinkedIn for journalists today at 3:30 to 4:30 pm Eastern (at the link and available afterward). But right now I'm listening to the archived version of the webcast on Twitter for journalists. It's got an interesting set of speakers, and it's free. One reason to catch the webcasts as they happen, though, is that you can dial in (instead of coming in over the web) and ask questions. In today's economy, who can't use a good deal?

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Book Review: The Ultimate HTML Reference

If you've ventured at all into web sites, blogging, and social media, you find yourself running into HTML. Visual editor tools are fine for getting the effects you want into writing, but that is slow and limited. For the greatest flexibility in formatting text, creating tables and lists, inserting pictures, and many other tasks, a knowledge of HTML is handy. The Ultimate HTML Reference by Ian Lloyd is a reference book that should be close by a dictionary, thesaurus, or volume on English usage.

I've found myself frequently reaching for it when trying to remember how to control a table layout in a blog entry or double-checking how to get a link to open in a new window. The material is complete so far as I can tell, and the organization, including TOC and index, is strong and lets me easily find what I need. At $45 it isn't a cheap volume, but could easily save you its cost in time efficiency in your first time or two of using it.

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Is HuffPo Stealing Content?

According to Whet Moser on Chicago Reader, Huffington Post is lifting entire concert previews from online media covering the Chicago arts scene. According to Moser, this isn't an isolated case or two, but an ongoing series:
If you go to their Chicago Concerts page, there's a whole list of concert previews from us, Time Out Chicago, Centerstage, and the Onion's Decider--and they're just taking entire pieces.
Moser goes on to provide side-by-side examples that are just a click away. HuffPo does give credit to the source and writer, but according to Moser's post, fails to ask anyone at the publications if it's OK. Presumably none of that $25 million influx of money is going to the outlets that actually do the work, though maybe the editor who writes new headlines for each is getting paid something.

This is disgraceful. Either Huffington and her business, not social undertaking, is willing to play by the legal, ethical, and moral rules, or they are indulging in complete hypocrisy every time they skewer conservatives for supposedly not doing enough for those with too little. Or is this just an example of faux do-gooders deciding that their "missions" excuse them from the niceties that bind the rest of us? As far as I'm concerned, if you take something without permission and without payment, it's theft. And HuffPo does get something out of this, as my BNET colleague David Weir points out:
Note to Arianna: This is not kosher! Of coure, it’s doubtful that Huffington herself is even aware of this practice, but somebody in her organization knows what they are doing. This would appear to be an attempt to bolster the amount of content, which on the web correlates directly with increased traffic, and boosting SEO, which yields highly-valued organic (free) search engine traffic.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Boondoggle in Google Rights Win? (Warning, Rant)

Google has finally settled a two-year-old law suit filed by the Authors Guild and five publishers. The topic? Infringed rights, of course, coming out of the company's scanning millions of library books and making them available for search. The plaintiff argument was that this was a new use of entire copyrighted works without permission.

Google is paying $125 million (making the settlement over unregistered magazine works seem like petty cash). Someone or other is supposed to establish a books rights registry, allowing people to view books in whole or in part and then enabling payment, whether from Google or the readers is unclear to me at the moment, to the rights holders. However, I'm a bit suspicious because $30 million of this settlement is going to setting up this registry.

I thought that there were at least two existing registries, one set up by the NWU and another by some combination of the Authors Guild, ASJA, and possibly others. And even if there weren't, $30 million to set this up? You could fairly comfortably fund a start-up high tech company for that period of time and get it running. This is very serious money. What the hell is it being spent on? This isn't someone else's money, folks. It's probably partly your money, if you write books. What transparency will there be in this new registry? Where is all the money going? Is Google doing all the tech work? (In which case, the $30 million becomes normal cost of doing business and hardly a win for anyone other than Google.)

By the way, this was also clearly a strategic win ... for Google. Going forward, people will buy books they want online and libraries will pay for access. Who gets 37 percent of the revenue? Google. Plus, there's advertising revenue and Google gets the same percentage of that. So for $125 million, it's probably nailed down many, many times more future revenue. This will turn out to be a pretty cheap business acquisition for them. That means the publishers and the AG have, through this negotiation, validated in a practical sense the business model of taking intellectual property of writers, making money off it, and then, if enough writers and publishers scream loudly enough, giving in just enough to keep what you established. Why should a company go this route? Because the publishers and writers are so determined to keep anyone from prying rights out of their hands that they aren't actively considering and pushing for new business models. In that view, this "victory" is completely Pyrrhic.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Getting "Real" Success Online

There's a profile of Michael Wolff on the LA Times entertainment blog I'd strongly recommend reading. You can get some good insights into making things work on the web. Wolff has been in the media business, has tried to be a media mover-and-shaker entrepreneur (is doing so again with Newser.com), and has learned some things along the way. One is that people want news more than ever, and yet journalists often are too self-involved to give that to people. That doesn't mean you can't add something beyond a vanilla recitation of facts.

For example, I've been writing my BNET blogging for a few months now. Site management asked people to consider doing news round-ups after some focus group or other. I started adding one on weekdays, only different from how many others do them. Instead of one or two sentences and then a link, I actually do a summary, having some fun in the writing. I might even use a couple of different sources to get some perspective in this short form. As a result, there have already been some days when one of these roundups has been one of the more popular items on the site for that period. The reason I do a full summary is that I've done enough work on the web, and monitored my own sites enough, to realize that very few people will actually click on a link. The links help with search engine optimization and generally raising awareness of the site, which is a marketing function, but only a small portion of people, on the order of ten percent, will look farther. I realize I'm working from a limited sample, but I suspect that the data is not entirely unusual.

Another thing to remember is that there's a difference between notoriety and a real business:
“‘Buzz’ doesn’t get you the kind of traffic that you want,” Wolff said. He’s comfortable, he said, with Newser’s incremental growth of traffic over the last year. “The businesses that make money are the ones you don’t hear all that much about. It costs too much money to get buzz.”

As he points out, a reader on the Web often doesn’t even notice the original source of what she’s reading.

Add that to the many challenges of a start-up Web operation: Establishing a name is fine, but without traffic to back it up, the money disappears.
His experience would tend to support my contention that people won't go farther than what is in front of them. In fact, the site's slogan is "Know More. Search Less."

It also suggests why round-ups can be so popular. I know I read them at various sites to quickly get a grasp on what is going on without necessarily having to wade in too deeply. People want some efficiency and yet they prefer it with some entertainment added. If you can start to generate that, then you stand a chance of building an audience that might indulge your interest in longer pieces, or in books and other media. But you have to first give them what they want, and that is going to mean hours a week in research and writing. That shouldn't be a surprise because whether a full-blown site like Newser.com or your own blog, we're talking about building a business. And if you don't have the funds to invest, you're back to sweat equity.

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Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Online Stories Can Come Back to Haunt

There's an important lesson for digital age writers in a mis-dated reposting of a business story by the Sun-Sentinel:
Shares of United Airlines' parent company UAL Corp. were hit hard and briefly halted Monday after a 6-year-old story on the company's bankruptcy filing was reportedly republished with a new date on the South Florida Sun-Sentinel newspaper's Web site.
The company's stock price dropped by over 75 percent in a few hours and trading had to be halted when a story about UAL emerging from bankruptcy hit the Sentinel's web site. The problem: the story was actually from 2002, but incorrectly redated.

It was only on one site, but when information gets sucked up by the Internet and automatically distributed, a single mistake in one state can spread internationally in a twinkling and have an overbearing influence. When you're working with online publishers and giving away rights, remember that if a story gets dragged up, possibly badly edited, your name might still be attached. Then, to some degree, many will perceive the mistake as yours, even if done so unreasonably.

To a big degree, I can't see how a writer might avoid this type of problem. There is only so often you can check the web (though, frankly, subscribing to the RSS feeds of publications to which you contribute might let you catch something like this). When you can't anticipate and head things off, you need to know how you'll deal with the aftermath. Maybe it's a blog post about the problem and using that mistake by the publisher as a reason to talk about the story's update and where things sit today. Or maybe you can directly post that as a comment to a story, showing that you, at least, know what's going on. But be ready in any case to take action and do what you can to protect your professional reputation. As a writer you have little else of value.

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Monday, August 25, 2008

Global State of Consumer Publishing

PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the big accounting firms, released a report on the state of global consumer publishing. When you look at the results, they may leave you wondering just how bad, or good, things are. For example, the total market has grown about 13 percent over the last five years. Good right? Well, not really, because you have to see these things in context, and in this case, context is how businesspeople and investors look at numbers:
  • The growth was about a 2.6 percent per year over the five years.

  • The real boost was advertising revenue, at a compound annual growth rate of 4 percent. But circulation revenue grew by only 1.9 percent.

  • PwC expects 18.6 percent growth in the industry over the next five years, with advertising representing most of that.

  • But online advertising is growing a lot faster: a compound annual growth rate of 38.1 percent from 2004 to 2008. As a comparison, print advertising was up 4.4 percent and newspaper advertising by 2.4 percent.
The problem this creates for publishers, at least those that are publicly-held, is that investors like high growth. That's because high growth businesses rapidly increase in value, creating the possibility of selling investment and getting a good return on the money they put it originally. It's not that consumer publishing is moribund, but that it can't grow fast enough to suit investors, and so managers feel pressure to "improve" performance. That's why you can expect to see more budget cutting in all areas, including personnel. My bet is that at a lot of publications, that will actually mean less staff and fewer freelance assignments. Management is happy to take staff, stretch them thinner, and then require more from them. That's one way to make more money from the investment, improving return to court investors.

Some other things to learn from the study:
  • Most consumers like print, but many are also interested in interactive digital content.

  • Younger consumers want all content online.

  • People will pay for digital content at most half of what printed content brings. Although publishers might want to call this a reason to drop freelance rates, there's a lot of cost to a printed pub that simply goes away. That's got me wondering whether online pubs, given more development of ads, might be more profitable than print.

  • North American and British publishers expect to derive a fifth of their revenue from digital publications within the next five years. Europe as a whole lags behind.

  • The most successful at making the switch are those that "leverage strong brands across multiple media platforms and generate revenues from online advertising, search-engine marketing and e-commerce." In other words, the publishers that have best shifted online are the publishers that have been most successful at it.

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Learning to Dig Digg

If you're writing online, then you need to understand services like Digg, in which readers vote for stories they like and the most highly rated get top placement, which can turn into thousands and thousands of people reading a piece - often enough to literally crash an unprepared site. The problem is that there's a game to all this and it's not obvious. Blogger Simon Owens, with whom I've exchanged notes over technology industry topics (I cover that at BNET), has an interesting piece on his blog called The Politics of Digg. If you want to start understanding how the online world actually works, I cannot suggest this post strongly enough.

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Friday, August 15, 2008

Navigating the New Terrain of Online Writing Compensation

Publishers are experimenting with new ways of compensating writers in the online world. Look at this article on a publisher of free dailies bringing on non-professionals to write online with compensation based on page views.
Clarity is looking to get hundreds of people (in 60 cities and 25 different categories) to write for them online, and these writers will get paid between $2.50 and $10.00 per 1,000 page views, Gawker reports.
This isn't an unusual arrangement, at least as a bonus, and Gawker itself uses it. But Gawker has been cranking down the figure because bloggers were too good at attracting traffic, and the company would have had to pay more than it had planned. And paying in such a manner without a ground level amount of compensation for doing the basic work is ridiculous, although I'm sure many writers will jump at the "opportunities."

Negotiation is going to get tougher, not easier, and you're going to need to pay attention and be careful that you don't agree to a harebrained scheme that some publisher declares to be "standard" on the web.

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Thursday, August 7, 2008

A Must Read for Book Authors

I literally just finished going through the Businessweek article, The Online Fan World of the Twilight Vampire Books, and cannot reccomend it strongly enough to anyone writing fiction or nonfiction books. This is a story of a woman who used online intelligently and imaginatively:
Meyers success isnt due simply to her vivid imagination for vampire romance. She also figured out before almost anyone in the book industry how to connect with readers over the Internet and inspire them to build on her work. Since Meyer published the first Twilight book in 2005, she has reached out to readers on social networking sites, such as MySpace (NWS), and participated in online discussion groups. Fired-up fans have championed her books on Amazon.com (AMZN) and set up their own sites, such as Twilight Lexicon and TwilightMOMS. That has helped propel sales of the series to 7.5 million books. "Other authors have pockets of fans online, but nothing to this extent," says Trevor Dayton, a vice-president at Indigo, Canada's leading bookseller. "Stephenie Meyers Twilight series is the first social networking best seller."
To be fair, her publisher, Little Brown, saw the possibilities and got behind her first novel, as it paid $750,000 for a three-book deal. But that could have flopped. And it's not as though she was a trained marketeer. Instead, Meyer started taking up opportunities that presented themselves. Will every book pushed online do this type of business? Absolutely not. Run quickly from any "silver bullet" solution to your marketing needs. However, the example shows how it is possible to go beyond what the publisher alone can or will do.

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Monday, August 4, 2008

Important Clause in Blogging Contracts

When I wrote about eight important principles in negotiating contracts, I mentioned a recent negotiation I undertook for some blogging work I'm doing. What I didn't mention is a clause that is of particular import in this line of work: traffic payment triggers. Many sites base their pay at least in part on traffic. Often, certain thresholds of page views result in a bonus. But accompanying bonuses can be an expectation of minimum traffic levels, below which a writer does not get paid.

I can understand trying to give writers incentives to pull in more traffic, and they can work to everyone's benefit, but there is a bottom line degree of marketing that the site owner must do. Yet, because many sites have implemented such a demand, there is some expectation of this being "reasonable." Obviously it isn't; asking writers to help create increased success is one thing, but expecting them to guarantee traffic unfairly shifts a responsibility of the business owner to the contractor.

I did find a negotiation strategy that worked. In the contract was also, as one might expect, a termination clause, giving either party the right to end the association with a certain amount of notice. I argued that as I am a professional writer, I must be paid if I'm producing the required work, but as the company could terminate the agreement without cause, it was free to do that should the traffic not meet its minimum expectations. Had they said no, I would have walked, even though there was an exemption for a number of months, as they realized that the site was still ramping up. Because I had already been doing some work during the negotiations, and they had seen a building of traffic, they were probably disinclined to have me leave. If they were happy to see me leave, then it was a relationship that wouldn't have lasted long anyway.

In contracts for online work, remember that practices are still developing, and writers overly anxious for exposure and an outlet have often encouraged ones that are simply untenable for a professional. Don't get outraged. Instead, Break apart the roles as laid out in the contract, contrast them to accepted basic business customs and look for other protections that the contract gives the publisher.

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Friday, August 1, 2008

Amazon Buys AbeBooks

Canadian online book reseller AbeBooks announced today that Amazon is acquiring the company
AbeBooks will continue to operate as a stand-alone business with all aspects of AbeBooks’ bookseller and customer experience remaining intact. AbeBooks’ headquarters will remain in Victoria, BC, Canada, and our European offices will remain in Dusseldorf, Germany. We will continue to support both our international marketplaces and our domestic marketplace here in Canada. I will continue to lead AbeBooks.

We expect this change to allow AbeBooks to expand its offerings and introduce new features and services to enhance the book buying and selling experience. Amazon is committed to further developing the AbeBooks brand and building upon the success of the past 12 years. This is not the first time AbeBooks has changed hands since being launched in 1996. Hubert Burda Media, a German media company, took a majority shareholding in 2003.
First, I find it very hard to believe that the "we want to keep you as you are" was either sincerely delivered or ever said. Large companies don't generally do acquisitions in closely aligned businesses to keep them running as standalone entities, and the AbeBooks referral model to third party resellers is exactly what Amazon does. Put the two together, and you have fewer markets for books, and more control in one set of hands.

As Amazon has shown with its push to force publishers using POD to get their service from the online giant, it wants to dominate the book industry, both as a reseller and as an industry vendor. They've been trying to lock up business on the Kindle, and I wouldn't be surprised at all if the company soon bought a book publishing outlet. They could print their own copies, they already have distribution and warehousing, and, with a smart acquisition, probably could do at least as well as Barnes & Noble.

Now you can expect Amazon to push on the used book presence it has let tiny third parties pioneer and develop on its site. I suspect it will be another major blow to the industry independent resellers, many of whom have found that the only way to make a living was to shift to online selling.

I have had nothing against Amazon on principle, even with creating a market for used books. But the company is trying to control too much, and that is clearly bad for the industry as a whole. It may be that they think they are "saving" the industry, though I'd bet that most of the managers' time there is simply spent on how to keep growing their own company.

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Why Have a Web Site?

If you've been debating whether to spend the time and energy on a web site, or you have a site and wonder what more you can do with it, here are some suggestions of business advantages you can get from your site:
  • Show a range of writing that you do or topic ares you understand.

  • List special training, talents, certifications, or expertise that might not be immediately clear from the writing.

  • Keep a page of links to recent work so editors don't have to track everything down or deal with attachments.

  • Offer a range of informative articles that provide value to clients and prospects while demonstrating your professional abilities.

  • Show a client list and a set of testimonials so it's not just you talking about you.- Set out the nature of your business and the types of work you tend to do.

  • Show speaking engagements that can communicate a more robust sense of your expertise.

  • Provide a frequently asked questions section that can offload the more rote and time-consuming questions that you get.

  • Convey the idea to prospects or even editorial sources that you are "real."

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

New Online Uses of Writing

I'm going to ask you to take a detour for a moment to another of my blogs where I mentioned the rumor of the New York Times opening its API, or application programming interface.

Have you ever thought about what electronic use of material could mean beyond posting an article on the Web or publishing it on DVD or CD collection? Opening the APIs is an example. The NYT can do this because it buys all rights, and so can make anything available to anyone it wants in any way it wishes. What if a company doesn't do this? In some cases, it may not matter:
  • Their contract could allow something like non-exclusive "electronic" rights, and that might cover giving the material away to others. There is no set definition of electronic rights that I've been able to find.

  • Some types of writing, like recipes, do not have copyright protection under law. Were I a publisher, I'd argue that even if the other material from writers was under their copyright protection, the recipes were not. It might stand up in court or not, but are you willing to spend the money to find out?

  • Information also does not enjoy copyright protection. If the publication can extract what a court might see as straight information from your article, it could make use of that information. You, of course, could claim that such a use would be a derivative work - that is, derived from your original, and so needing a license from you. But that means either having the contract tight enough up front or spending time in court.

  • What if another site simply links to select parts of your material in the form of an area clearly shown as the publisher to whom you licensed the piece? I don't think there is a clear answer.
The upshot to writers should be clear. If part of your business strategy is to re-license your work, and that work appears on the web, it may be that you find other sites taking it in bits and pieces, no longer needing an article in its entirety, or you, for that matter. And what happens when you marry this with the idea of Web 2.0, in which millions of users are capable of using programming hooks to include information on their own sites and social networking pages? It makes electronic databases look benign in response. At least in the case of the databases, you can point to a few names that create most of the problems.

If you'll notice an additional theme here, many potential uses of parts of an article fall into a grey area. Even if you thoroughly nail down a contract, the chances are that things are going to come up faster than you can possibly predict, and maybe faster than is possible to keep up. I know I was surprised when I read the NYT API story - and I have known of APIs and their uses literally for decades. Maybe the only business strategy will eventually be to keep moving so quickly, and being creative enough in the process, that your work retains its value to others. In other words:
  1. Make sure that you know the value you bring to writing, and "being a good writer" is simply not going to be enough.

  2. Have areas of deep knowledge that are difficult to duplicate.

  3. Move upscale as fast as possible. Those who work at the commodity levels of the markets - service pieces, for example - are going to be the most vulnerable to the cut and paste approaches.

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Book Promotion 2.0

Author Dennis Cass has a funny video on Youtube.com about an author hopelessly trying to get with internet promotion of his work. So smartly depressing that you can only laugh.

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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Newspapers Using Blogs Without Permission?

Generally you might think that bloggers often take copyrighted material and reproduce them without permission online. But a UK blogger found that the Sunday Mail reproduced one of his entries without even asking for permission. The author sent a letter to the paper:
Not having worked for the Mail on Sunday before, and a stated wordage figure proving elusive, I pluck a conservative amount out of the air and stick it on the bottom of an invoice, which goes off via the kind auspices of the G.P.O. To the Mail on Sunday’s credit, they pay me my two hundred quid quicker than most biggish companies would, and John Wellington sends me his (what I am sure are sincere) apologies.
Good for him - but one graph of the reply from the paper (outside of the check) was disturbing:
We generally take the view that blogs published on the internet have already been placed in the public domain by their authors and, in case of amateur writers, most people are happy to have their work recognised and displayed to a wider audience.
There is apparently some history of this happening in the UK, once again the Mail on Sunday. And in some cases, it appears that bloggers are finding writing or even graphics used by papers without permission but then thinking they were fortunate. This commentary in the Guardian Unlimited (online presence of the Guardian in the UK) is correct in stating that online work also is intellectual property.

But in the United States, that doesn't help you a bit unless you have registered your copyright. Registering after infringement lets you take legal action, but you can only go after the actual profits made off your work, and you cannot ask for legal fee reimbursement. No, the only practical way to go is to register either before the infringement, or within three months of the first publication (which, in the case of blogs, means when it first appears online). If you are not registering the copyright of your new blog entries every three months, you are running the risk of someone using them and being unable to do much of anything about it.

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Friday, April 25, 2008

Michelle Vranizan Rafter's Best Blogs for Writers

Michelle Rafter ran a list of best blogs for writers on her blog, WordCount. Ignoring for a moment her inclusion of my blog, there's a great list of resources, from the mechanics of writing and editing to the freelance business and corporate writing. It's worth putting on your list.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Contract Review: Custom Solutions From SmartMoney

This contract is from the custom publishing arm of SmartMoney. I'm not a lawyer, this isn't legal advice, and make sure you negotiate, because there are some terms in here that I'm betting you'd want to change. I'll review the clauses that I think might be of interest. Warning - every now and then I find a contract that seems so odious that I indulge in sarcasm and ranting. This is one of those cases:
  • Clause 1 This would seem like standard "You're going to do this and the assignment schedules become part of this agreement" wording, but there's a killer sentence at the end: "However, should Consultant receive an offer to work on other projects that may be competitive to SmartMoney’s business, then Consultant must get approval from SmartMoney before accepting such assignment." Huh? Since SmartMoney is technically in the custom publishing business, you have to get flipping approval to do something that would be competitive, otherwise known as writing for any other custom publisher? No where in the agreement does it specify what SmartMoney considers its business to be. Could that include writing an article directly for a company that SM (notice the intentional allusion to pain games) might want as a client? Check their site and notice some of the work they do: magazines, newsletters, annual reports, booklets, bulletins, and web sites. To me, that's a "that goes or I go" statement, as they're trying to control your income and business without any promise of future work.

  • Clause 2 It gets better and better, or not. You must perform all the work demanded "in an acceptable manner" to get paid. Also, "In the event the Materials are not accepted, SmartMoney will pay Consultant a reasonable kill fee, the amount of which shall be determined by SmartMoney in its sole discretion." That's right, it's totally up to them, even though they could deem it unacceptable because you delivered it on a Tuesday. There's no definition of the acceptance process or how long they can delay it.

  • Clause 3 a) They want WMFH, which isn't surprising because, after all, they want to own your custom publishing time and prospects. They can do anything they want with what they accept. You have to wave moral rights.

    b) They also want "the sublicensable worldwide right to use Consultant’s name, biography and likeness in connection with the publication, use, advertising and promotion of the Materials, SmartMoney, its Custom Solutions division or its clients’ use of the Materials, and to make such other promotional use as SmartMoney, its licensees, successors or assigns may determine." In other words, your name, background, and image become a commodity that they can use again and again to promote themselves and anyone they sell the rights to, even if you would not want to be associated with said organization, product, or cause. You cannot ask to have your name withheld if they butcher your writing, yet they don't have to give you credit at all.

    c)You have to warrant that "SmartMoney’s exploitation thereof [of your writing] will not violate or infringe the copyright, patent, trademark, right of privacy or any other right of any person or party or be false or libelous or defamatory." That isn't just saying that your writing won't infringe copyright or be defamatory, but that their use won't be. There have been cases where people successfully sued for libel because of the way materials were used, even though the materials themselves were fine. You can't determine context, but the way I read this, you are warranting their use, which includes the context in which they use your work. Now for the indemnification: "Consultant hereby agrees to indemnify, defend and hold SmartMoney, its partners, affiliates, trustees, directors, officers, employees and agents harmless from and against any and all claims, demands, damages, costs and expenses (including reasonable attorneys’ fees and expenses) arising out of or related to a breach of Consultant’s representations, warranties and obligations hereunder or in any way to any of Consultant’s services provided hereunder..." Notice that you're not just indemnifying for a breach of the warranties, but for anything that would arise out of the services you provide, which means if they get sued and someone cites your article, you could find yourself indemnifying them. This is really bad.

  • Clause 4 This is one of those idiotic confidentiality clauses so strictly constructed that technically you could not tell a source the subject matter of the article you are writing. When you stop working for them, all materials that they own, you must return. As you've done WMFH, I think that means every copy of any article you've written for them. If there is "a violation or attempted or threatened violation of this provision, SMARTMONEY may apply for and obtain, without any requirement to post a bond or other security, an injunction to restrain such violation or attempted or threatened violation..." Boom, an injunction because they think you might reveal confidential information. It doesn't matter whether it's likely that they'd do this or not, because you're bound by it should someone in the company decide to make use of the clause.

  • Clause 5 You can't try to get any employee or client to leave. If you do, or if there's a threat that you might, they can again get an injunction to stop you.

  • Clause 6 If the non-disclosure isn't enough, here's a gag clause (first time I remember seeing this in a publishing contract): "Effective with the signing of this Agreement, Consultant agrees to make no statements relating to SmartMoney, its affiliates or the project Consultant is working on orally or in writings which impair or disparage the reputation of SmartMoney or its clients." In other words, your opinions are now censored.

  • Clause 9 I think this contract was adopted from one meant for more general services: "Consultant will comply with all federal, state and local laws regarding business permits and licenses that may be required to carry out the work to be performed hereunder." You'd need something like that if someone was doing building or renovation. But not for writing, so it doesn't apply. And, contractually, they cannot make you attend staff meetings. At least something in the contract is appealing.

  • Clause 10 The contract is construed under New York State law, which is good in terms of the interpretation of libel, et. al. But if there's a contractual dispute, you have to go to New York courts.

  • Clause 11 This is the entire agreement, so nothing that an editor says or writes to the contrary of any clause has any force. Similarly, don't expect any term that you include on your invoice to have force - and that means how quickly they have to pay.

  • Clause 12 You cannot tell anyone that this agreement even exists and you cannot tell anyone about the services you are providing to them. "Without limitation, Consultant agrees that Consultant will not issue any press release or other information concerning Consultant’s services." Sounds like that means you cannot mention them as a client in your marketing.

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Monday, March 31, 2008

Newspaper Ad Revenue Takes a Tumble

If you like newspapers as a market, this is grim. The Newspaper Association of America reported that total print advertising was down 9.4 percent from 2006 to 2007, according to this report in Editor & Publisher. If you include online revenue the drop was 7.9 percent. That is not good, because the newspaper business is clearly related to that of magazines, so think of this as an early warning. And while online ads went from 5.7 percent to 7.5 percent of total newspaper revenue, growth is slowing:
There are signs that online revenue is beginning to slow as well. Internet ad revenue in 2007 grew 18.8% to $3.2 billion compared to 2006. In 2006, online ad revenue had soared 31.4% to $2.6 billion. In 2005, it jumped 31.4% to $2 billion.

As newspaper Web sites generate more advertising revenue, the growth rate naturally slows.
It is true that growth rates will, eventually, slow as the pot gets bigger. However, when online advertising is jumping by 20 percent according to Jupiter Media, you really don't want to see newspapers lagging behind.

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Cry Me A River: Musician Billy Bragg on the Internet Underwriting Creatives Provide

A reader, catching up on her reading, forwarded a link to a New York Times piece called The Royalty Scam. In it, English songwriter and author Billy Bragg eloquently wrote about the inherent problem occurring on the Internet. In mentioning a conversation with the founder of Bebo.com - a social networking site that just sold to AOL for $850 million - he wrote the following:
In our discussions, we largely ignored the elephant in the room: the issue of whether he ought to consider paying some kind of royalties to the artists. After all, wasn’t he using their music to draw members — and advertising — to his business? Social-networking sites like Bebo argue that they have no money to distribute — their value is their membership. Well, last week Michael Birch realized the value of his membership. I’m sure he’ll be rewarding those technicians and accountants who helped him achieve this success. Perhaps he should also consider the contribution of his artists.
I agree with Mr. Bragg that there is a significant problem for creatives of all stripes. Also, anyone who's been reading my posts for any period of time knows that I'm not a fan of giving work away, whether for "exposure" or not. (Bragg points out that he gets exposure from radio stations; the difference is that they pay for the use of his music.)

However, the Internet issue is also a thorny one because of "monetization." Companies that own sites must find ways to make money not just from their sales, but from their operations. This is a situation that has many CEOs biting their nails late into the night. On one hand, they pay a whopping amount to acquire the social media sites because they're sure that if they don't, their companies will be left behind. But on the other hand, they can't figure out how to make money online.

I don't mean to point this out by way of excusing the system, but rather as a form of explanation. Many of the now hot Internet sites depended on investors for enough money to operate. When they sell, the investors get the money, and there are still those jobs that were created. But the real elephant in the room is that making money is far more difficult than any of the Internet cheerleaders want to admit.

So, do you give a cut to the musicians, particularly "the fledgling songwriters and musicians posting original material onto the Web tonight" whose "first legal agreement that they enter into as artists will occur when they click to accept the terms and conditions of the site that will host their music"? It would seem fair, but how do you calculate it? What is the value compared to, say, the amalgamation of posts and profiles that draw people to sites?

I don't have an easy answer. If I did, I'd be making a whole lot of money from knowing it. The one thing that is clear is that the start-ups, even as they get big, don't have the cash resources to pay everyone, and the corporations that buy them do so assuming that the business model of free content is going to remain. Otherwise, they would need to see enough cash to pay people.

We can draw a lesson. Your work may be wanted on the Web, but you can't depend on others to make a living for you. You must do that yourself. If you're going to use a site to promote yourself, either be comfortable with the thought that you'll never see a dime, or start developing business models now that will let you make money. Perhaps you need a link to an online store. Maybe you need people to come to your own ad-supported site. But certainly you cannot depend on others to make your business work for you. That is your job.

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Monday, March 24, 2008

Adding a Domain Name to Your Blog

You might have done as I did and created a blog (or more than one) in your main domain. For example, when someone wanted to go to my Flash in the Pan blog, they'd have had to type:
www.eriksherman.com/the-pan
However, that looks pretty clumsy. But it turns out that there's something you can do. I went to GoDaddy and got the domain FlashInThePan.org. Then I forwarded
http://www.flashinthepan.org/
to my blog and used masking (a feature built into the forwarding system) to have "Flash in the Pan" pop up on a browser instead of the longer URL. Click on each link to see the difference. This approach gives you a way to add a domain after the fact and even expand a blog site so that you could actually sell the domain name in the future if you wished. Note that this feature is probably available at many domain registration and hosting companies.

Here's another thing to consider: if you want to keep multiple blogs, or even multiple sites, you can use this domain name redirection trick to have all the people who think they are going to different sites to actually end up at the same domain. Although I don't know for sure, I'm pretty sure this starts driving up statistics on your whole domain, and will help drive up search engine results for anything on any of the sites.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Content Strategists, Not Editors

The publishing world is changing faster than you might think. Well, you knew that, but here is one of the signs that ground under our feet is cracking. “We don’t hire editors anymore,” says Meredith publishing president Jack Griffin. “We hire content strategists.” Folio reported that remark and more about Meredith in this article.

But before getting into more of the article, again look at that quote. It indicates so much in perspective. The focus is on content, not writing. That means everything - words, images, sound, graphics - is part of the mix. The "strategists" part? These people are responsible for coming up with approaches to make money for the company. Once the strategy was pretty much taken for granted. Meredith, in this case, would find a demographic, devise an appropriate publication, put it together, and sell ads while trying to build the reader base. But the new concept acknowledges that a single direction, set by the top, won't work. Strategies that work for one group may not for another. The view also says goodbye to the concept of editor: someone who is focused mostly on getting articles from writers and getting them prepared for print.

Griffin was giving a talk at Folio's annual publishing conference. As part of this new role of content strategy comes a recognition that many of the assumptions that have ruled magazine writing for decades are going out the window:
Griffin, on crutches and hobbled by a recent emergency surgery to repair a broken leg, said the change American consumer demographics—specifically, the spike in Internet usage and the emerging “white minority”—forced the Des Moines-based publisher to evaluate all aspects of its publishing business.

Meredith, Griffin said, was “founded on the social construct of Dad at work, Mom at home, Chevy in the driveway.” For a company that publishes “white-bread” magazines, he said, “the change has been quite provocative.”
Meredith has spent about $600 million in the last six years in developing its online, interactive, and integrated marketing businesses. If you're longing for the days that you could make nice money writing for major consumer print publications, then you're in danger of becoming a dinosaur. Now's the time to move in new directions.

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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Giving Away E-Books to Drive Sales

Author Paolo Coelho has apparently been giving away electronic versions of his books to great marketing effect. There's a quote on a site called TorrentFreak:
In 2001, I sold 10,000 hard copies. And everyone was puzzled. We came from zero, from 1000, to 10,000. And then the next year we were over 100,000. […]

I thought that this is fantastic. You give to the reader the possibility of reading your books and choosing whether to buy it or not. […]

So, I went to BitTorrent and I got all my pirate editions… And I created a site called The Pirate Coelho.
And here's something from his official blog discussing a talk he gave about the phenomenon. I'm not saying that every author should immediately run off and give away copies, but the success that some have with this method does give one pause to think. With so many book purchases happening online, maybe this is the online equivalent of going to a book store, having a title catch your eye, flipping through it, and deciding to buy it. Or perhaps this will only work with a few authors and eventually the whole approach will fall apart. Interestingly, the people I've heard of who have had success - Coelho; journalist, science fiction author, and co-publisher of the popular web site BoingBoing.net; and M.J. Rose - have all been giving fiction away.

It makes me wonder whether there has been any success with giving away non-fiction - at least the non-literary type. (If you've heard of a case, please email me and let me know.) It could be that it's an approach that only works with more "literary" works. Or perhaps it's just that non-fiction authors generally have an easier time to get commercially published, and aren't quite desperate enough to take big chances that could result in success.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

When Were They Going to Tell?

Every now and then I find myself getting angry because for years publishers said, "We have to go cheap on the web because we're not making money yet. When we do, we can pay more. Hope you understand." But consider what many signs are telling you. Rupert Murdoch is someone disliked by many journalists, and he has his own agendas, but I've never heard anyone call him a stupid businessman. He's planning to make the Wall Street Journal free online. Why? Because he'll make more than the revenue from the estimated 1 million subscribers - which, given the subscription rates, has got to be at least $50 million a year.

Read that number again. And he expects to get far bigger audiences to make far more money.

When I wrote about questions I had on newspaper readership, it was clear from the numbers in the Newspaper Association of America-sponsored report I cited that newspapers are getting millions of visitors a month. I still think that in the long run they are not going to be monetarily valuable clients for freelancers, but how much are each of those people worth in annual advertising revenue?

And if you look at this Mediaweek article, Time Inc. apparently has been doing very well on the web:
John Squires, executive vp, Time Inc., said that while he’d like the company’s sites to “crawl up in terms of scale,” he’s happy with their rank in engagement and revenue per user. Speaking today at a Time Inc. Digital Showcase, he noted that according to Time Inc.’s own ranking, the company’s sites come in 15th among media companies in terms of time spent per visitor.
Happy with revenue per user? To me, that generally means that someone is making a good amount of money. Newspapers and magazines see pretty serious revenue from the web. So when were the publishers going to admit it to the writers?

Never. They don't want to pay more. They're very happy to have driven down the cost of content, because that means they have higher margins, which are the difference between what products and services sell for, and what they cost to produce or acquire. And I suspect they're not telling the editors, either. Why? Because right now the editors for online work are also making less than their print colleagues - which is also fine with the publishers, because that pushes margins up even higher.

That's what gets me angry - the con game. Just when were writers supposed to be able to redeem the promise of more pay for concessions made? Again, the answer is one word: never. I do understand the publishers, but don't like what I often hear, and I'm not going to buy the line anymore.

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Thursday, November 8, 2007

Newspaper Web Sites Reality Check

NOTE: Gary Kromer, director of research for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and president of the NAA Research Federation, pointed out that I had stupidly (he didn't say it, but I certainly can, because I've read enough financial statements that I should have noticed the "000" addition) misread the chart, which measures readership in the thousands. So the average monthly readership of the top 10 papers is something over 64 million a month, which, frankly, makes a lot more sense. However, the time spent on the sites is still frighteningly small, so I'm rewriting this post for clarity and to indicate the elimination of one problem - but the continued existence of another.

I still say that newspapers are cheap, no doubt about it. At first they were because their profit margins literaly made pharmaceutical companies pale by comparison. Now they are becaue their revenues and circulation keep dropping. However, they have been a traditional market for freelance writers, so it's important to know how they are doing in the new media of the Internet.

Check this set of visitor statistics for top newspaper sites. Nielsen/NetRatings is a standard supplier of traffic measure, although many people wonder how accurately they count traffic. So, apparently the top newspapers, at least, are getting a good amount of traffic.

But this is traffic that is going almost as quickly as it arrives. Look at the amount of time per visitor per month for each paper - and realize that includes all visits. Even at the New York Times, that means 5 minutes per person per visit, or a total of 20 minutes per person per month. That's close to the top end, and it goes down from there. That means hardly anyone, on the average, is spending enough time to do anything other than read a few headlines. They aren't digging into the content.

It jives with something I've seen, when one of my business blog pieces gets listed via Sphere (a content connection service) next to articles on the Wall Street Journal's site. When that happens, I'll get, oh, three or four visitors from there. According to this study, the WSJ is getting 9 million people a month, and they're staying for maybe 3 minutes a visit. Even if you have something featured next to a story, virtually no one - as in a tiny, tiny fraction of one percent - will pay attention.

All writers need to be looking at such information constantly. You are your own CEO. You are your own CFO. Only you will be the person to acquire the information and do the analysis to figure out how and where to steer your business. If newspapers cannot keep people for any length of time on their sites, then their advertising, other than, maybe, a major banner or display ad, will be doing little. Advertisers look at numbers like how much time people spend on a site. If they don't see decent stays, they're going to figure that the people won't be there long enough to see the ads, either.

Yes, Mr. Kromer is correct in saying that there are big numbers getting to the papers. However, there is still little reassuring about the results. It's not that "people don't want long stories on the internet...unless they have plenty of relevant information and perhaps in a different (table? bullet point?) format from standard newspaper fare" as he said, but that they won't be there long enough for advertisers to really get value, and that means the advertisers will be less keen on paying a general rate to appear, and not something based on click-through proof of effectiveness.

That problem obviously isn't unique to newspapers, but it's one that the publishing industry will have to address. In print, you claim that people read your publication and charge for ads that always remain on the page. Online, advertisers have the upper hand. What will it take to change things? I don't know. But I do know that at 5 minutes or less per person, advertisers will not be satisfied with the money they spend.

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Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Giving Writing Away

In this blog, I've been following the topic of giving away content - not that there is a single answer, but because we all need to understand the dynamics. And now there's another view at The Long Tail. Chris Anderson, who wrote the book about the concept of selling small amounts to target audiences, actually refers to a commentary from Dilbert cartoonist and author Scott Adams in last week's Wall Street Journal. (Atually, you should read the Adams piece itself, as it has insight from direct experience and is funny, to boot. If you don't have a WSJ subscription, try finding this at your local public library.) Here's a particularly important passage:
A few years ago I tried an experiment where I put the entire text of my book, "God's Debris," on the Internet for free, after sales of the hard copy and its sequel, "The Religion War" slowed. My hope was that the people who liked the free e-book would buy the sequel. According to my fan mail, people loved the free book. I know they loved it because they emailed to ask when the sequel would also be available for free. For readers of my non-Dilbert books, I inadvertently set the market value for my work at zero. Oops.
In other words, giving away free content doesn't always help a writer, photographer, cartoonist, graphic artist, or other creative, though sometimes it does. As Adams writes, "Free is more complicated than you think." Understanding the new market dynamics is going to take a lot of experimentation and consideration - and a lot of discussion among those of us in these industries. The minute I think I have the obvious and easy answer is the minute I should figure that I'm definitely not getting it.

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

Upcoming Marketing Class

I'm teaching one of my periodic marketing classes at FreelanceSuccess.com. Here's some info:

Selling and Marketing for Writers

When: Aug. 20-Sep. 28
Where: An online teaching forum
Cost: $179 ($159 for FreelanceSuccess members)

Most freelancers love to write but feel like ducks out of water when it comes time to market and sell. If you find yourself in that category, it's probably because you never learned how. In the Selling and Marketing for Writers class, that's exactly what Erik Sherman teaches you.

Understand such basic concepts as marketing, brand and platform, all of which are more subtle and intricate than you might think. Make your marketing organic, and know what you are to the client. Find clients that fit your business, create a profile of the ideal prospect, and know what the prospect is to you. Check your marketing materials - even the ones you don't realize that you have. Understand the sales process and take control of it. Do vital market research and develop profiles of real prospects and clients. Create a prospecting program and move toward your financial goals. Make use of the rule of numbers, even if you don't take to math. Effectively follow up to get more business.

Syllabus

Week 1: Learning basic marketing principles and unlearning some bad scuttlebut. What motivates customers. Selling to a client and a buyer at the same time. Learning the emotional triggers. Handling conflicts between clients and buyers. Who your marketing is about. Getting the right relationship to a client.

Week 2: Deciding on the “right” customers, profiling customers and prospects and their fit, discounting assignment payments, lifetime customer values, rate research, client financial stability, profiling prospect needs.

Week 3: How and when to talk about yourself, unique selling propositions, positioning, branding, platform, understanding how to really use these buzzwords and knowing what they aren’t.

Week 4: The need for good marketing materials – and what they are, your most important calling cards, the difference between marketing and tools, the two basic types of marketing, understanding the tools you really need, knowing when to use a given tool, learning the basic structure of any marketing piece, the time line of marketing.

Week 5: Difference between marketing and sales, what selling isn’t, stages of the buying/selling process, get the right emphasis when approaching prospects, matching the sale to the need, getting into a conversation with prospects, handling objections whether heard or silent, closing the deal.

Week 6: Need for numbers, determine your personal sales conversion rate, planning on enough marketing and selling, enjoying marketing and sales, the biggest single problem in getting business, the power of unimportance, being genuine, negotiation.

Testimonials

Here are some unsolicited comments that some students from the last session I taught posted on FreelanceSuccess when I mentioned that I'd be offering it again:
    "I just scored a new column this morning by putting to use what I learned in the class."

    "If you're stalled on your marketing, just getting started, looking at new revenue streams or just want to tweak your message, this is a great class."

    "I snagged a $4,000 project using techniques I learned in Erik's class."
I can't promise this sort of response, but if you do the work and apply it, you will start seeing positive results.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Finding Sources

Finding people can be time-consuming and frustrating. I've just added something called Finding Sources to the Resource section to the left with information on some tools and techniques for both online and real world looking.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Time for Online?

When trying to understand publishers and where they're going, it always makes sense to watch the usual business leaders - like Time Inc. It's not necessarily the most cutting-edge or experimental, but the organization is one of the most prestigious in the industry, and others look when it moves.

So it's interesting to see a couple of items about the company's commitment to online publishing. About a week ago, Gawker reported that Time Magazine was "shoving its reluctant writers online." As managing editor Rick Stengel wrote in a memo:
I suspect that some of you regard writing for TIME.com as an obligation, and not what you came to TIME to do. But times have changed, and we have to change with them. If you care about what you do - and I know you do - then you need to display your talent, your expertise, and your dedication online as well as in the magazine. That goes for editors as well as writers. Everyone should now have beats and areas of responsibility (Ratu has the list), and you should talk to Josh as well as your editors about what your contribution to TIME.com should be.
And now Advertising Age has an article about how 1.2 million subscribers to the company's publications are getting emails pointing them to People's first digi-mag - a 30 page magazine/website hybrid found only online with an animated cover. The print version of People (notice how we adjust our language almost unconsciously to address the changing circumstances) will also promote the site.

The online world is already business as usual, but emphasis will continuously shift there. Now is not the time to bemoan print magazines folding or how the world is changing. Yes, it is - and it always does. Now is the time to position yourself to become an expert at online work. If you asked most writers now, I'd wager that they'd say it's just a matter of writing.

That will change. You'll see a growing push for additional skills that make the lives of the publishers easier. At least some degree of HTML coding. Knowledge of popular web software. These and others will become what business calls barriers to entry. Then there will be the additional skills - multimedia, use of specialty programming languages, comfort with databases - that will be the additional value making some people worth paying more than others.

So how are your skills?

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Friday, June 15, 2007

Searching the Web's Past

One problem in searching the web is that it’s constantly changing, and something that may have appeared on a page might not longer be there. For example, a company might have posted something that was incriminating in some way, shape, or form, and then, realizing this, taken it down.

In such a case, it’s time to call Mr. Peabody and hit the Wayback Machine. It’s a reference to the old cartoon episodes when a genius dog and his boy, Sherman (no relation), would travel into historic periods for amusement. And on the Internet, there is The Wayback Machine Internet Archive.

You provide the URL and this site goes through 85 billion pages archived since 1996 and shows you up-dates for each year. It doesn’t capture every change on the web; for example, I used it on my own site and found no changes in 2007 and only one in 2006, though I’ve made incremental changes in my home page. But, I did find older versions. It’s worth a check. Also, there is archived video, audio, text, and even legally down-loadable computer pro-grams and you can search through these as well.

If you only need to go back a few months, there are other options. Google.com, Live.com, Yahoo.com, Ask.com, and Gigablast.com all keep cached searches going back anywhere from three months to a year, depending on the search engine.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Free BBC Online Courses

If you've ever thought that doing some radio or TV might be interesting, here's a great resource: BBC online courses. From handling microphones and cameras to editing, production, and how to interview for the radio, there's a ton (or should that be tonne?) of solid information from people who are acknowledged experts. There are also other resources, including interviews with BBC reporters, BBC news style guides, and articles on improving your production skills. And if you're using the online materials and not looking for face-to-face courses, it's free.

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