Perceived Authenticity is Key to Profitable Niche Publishing Business Models

Via TC, I discovered IBM released a report on how the they think the $550 billion global ad market might change in the coming years. The predictions look bleak for most ad agencies and traditional media gatekeepers, but good for niche publishers who have a solid stream of attention:

The "voice" delivering a message, along with its perceived authenticity, will become as powerful perhaps as the message or offer.

As media gets more saturated, we get better at filtering out garbage. Jakob Nielson's article about writing articles instead of blog posts does a great job of explaining why writing fewer and more in depth articles is effective for gaining and keeping attention in a competitive marketplace.

On a related note, Frank just noticed a TV show skipping the TV and starting out on the web. There is no easier way to increased perceived authenticity than having a direct and open relationship with the audience.

IBM also offered research on the attention economy in a paper titled Vying for attention: the future of competing in media and entertainment. Rich Shefren recently created a mindmap of what he calls the Attention Age Doctrine, which shows why people are willing to pay larger premiums for great advice and nothing for decent advice.
attention age

How to Create & Unlock $100 of Value Per Word

Seth Godin referenced a Steven Berlin Johnson post analyzing the word usage of various authors. Writers using short words and short sentences tend to sell more.

It is easy to think that if you just do more and add more value that you will make more money, but sometimes doing more just means simplifying and clarifying your words, or publishing in a more friendly format. If you want people to take action, to believe they can afford it, making them feel confident and comfortable works. More does not always mean better.

Some of the posts I write about the macroeconomic trends of online publishing and the search economy take 5 hours to write, get few or no comments, get few or no citations, and probably scare off potential customers. Those posts do not cater to people looking to buy SEO information. The short SEO videos I recently made are easier to create and easy to consume. Daily sales are near my all time high.

But is Free Content Actually Free?

Oct 17th

Brian Clark just wrote a great free 22 page report about...

  • why you should ignore the trap of free content + ads as a business model
  • how creating and marketing free content and promotes information pollution
  • how to package and sell information
  • how you are not like a typical web user
  • why you need to take advantage of new trends and ignore trends of old
  • what brands actually sell
  • how primitive the web is

Many of the points he hits on are similar to my post titled Death of the Book: Publishers Will Become Interactive Media Artists with the exception that Brian is more eloquent and used much better formatting. If you only read one thing this week, make sure Brian's Teaching Sells report is on that short list.

The Beauty of Editorial Review Sites

Oct 15th

Once you have a trusted brand you can create low value white label brands that are given a free pass by search engine editors based on the trust of your core brand. These can feed back profits to your main site in many ways, including allowing you to:

  • filter link juice to your mother brand site, which is especially useful for temporal news or in categories where link building is tough
  • create additional ad inventory that sells at the premium CPM rate of your core brand (see also: Extending the Reach / Circulation of a Web Based Content Site & Ad Network)
  • extend to new markets without requiring you to risk tarnishing your main brand

There are many ways to extend, including

What tips to do you have for extending your reach while protecting your brand?

Radiohead Joins Google in Destroying Traditional Publishing & Media Companies

Radiohead announced that you can pay whatever you like for In Rainbows, the latest album from the best band in the world. A TIME article states:

Thom Yorke told TIME, "I like the people at our record company, but the time is at hand when you have to ask why anyone needs one. And, yes, it probably would give us some perverse pleasure to say 'F___ you' to this decaying business model."

And the record executives realize what is going on

"This feels like yet another death knell," emailed an A&R executive at a major European label. "If the best band in the world doesn't want a part of us, I'm not sure what's left for this business."

Artists will have to become publishers, and publishers will have to become artists. You don't need to sign a contract or jump on a plane to find customers. Anyone who has a blog with a following has no need for a publisher, outside of vanity.

Comcast Fined for Syndicating Fraudulent News

Sep 24th

Any time a big media company writes about publishing ethics, just remember how much fraud is baked into their business models. Comcast was fined by the FCC for displaying fake news about a sleeping pills. Direct to consumer drug marketing wrapped as fake news. Can a company get any sleezier?

New Seo Book Homepage: Need Your Feedback Please

In a recent post I stated that one of the biggest flaws from a conversion perspective with this site was that the homepage was a blog. I just made a new homepage that features more of the site's content. I think it is a bit text heavy still, but I wanted to get your feedback on what you think of the new homepage.

Death of the Book: Publishers Will Become Interactive Media Artists

Books Are Losing Relevancy

Google and Amazon are both pushing to sell ebooks directly aggressively. An article in the NYT mentions a new device Amazon will offer for reading ebooks, but I don't think the problem with books and ebooks is that they need a better reader.

Google now allows you to embed book pasages directly in web pages.

The big problem is that the web is quickly becoming more interactive and diverse and useful, making books irrelevant for all but true enthusiasts, desperate people seeking a manifesto for life change, or those who read as an escape.

Personal Relevancy

The larger a book becomes, the less likely it is to be relevant to any individual, and the less value each word has. People who may disagree with some concepts in your book may agree with pieces that they would be willing to cite if they could only find it. But they will never cite your information unless they can find it.

No matter what people believe, in almost every case someone has already shared the same belief. Format it in small sharable chunks with good findability and people will cite it.

A while ago I wrote a post about making information easy to consume. Recently Thomas Crampton interviewed Cory Doctorow about how to build blog readership, and that 6 minute interview is far more useful than my article was. See for yourself:

Attention Deficit Disorder

Most people with significant social and/or economic influence have (an equivalent of) attention deficit disorder, caused by an interruption-driven life cluttered with too much content and too little time.

People may want to consume relevant bits. Cognitive dissidents. Summaries that let us dive deeper if we want to. Little chunks of information that change how we perceive the world around us.

Rarely is something that is fully polished, comprehensive, and dated what we need. More likely it is easier to learn by stepping into a process and learning one piece at a time, starting with your interests, then expanding as we run into additional problems. Even with blog posts, people justifiably complain about my writing blog posts in spurts, and using links that are not descriptive enough to merit a click-through.

Leveraging the Web

Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy. Writers should use the web for what it is worth. Break books into pieces, read and write daily, cite sources, go back and polish the best pieces and package them, but try to keep each idea as sharp as possible.

Knowing how to create a useful information product is not enough to maximize profits. A big flaw with my ebook is that it has soooo much information in it, but it is hard to show the value of it because it is a single item. You can't tell how much stuff was waded through to write it, that it is mentally and emotionally draining to revise, and it doesn't help that most Internet marketing ebooks are lead generation devices or affiliate marketing tools. Someone could sell much less and look like they were selling more, just by using better packaging.

The Inevitable Death of No & Low Value Networks

Just like chunks of content are getting broken down into smaller bits, so will content creation companies. Choice and technology are disintermediating most of the gatekeepers. You and I don't need publishers for distribution, and the fear associated with that is the real reason why the US DoJ recently whored itself out to telecom companies. Many people in positions of power abuse copyright and are afraid of open markets. From the Fake Steve blog:

[TV] was a wonderful system. For you [TV Networks] anyway. Except that it had one huge flaw. Which is that for you guys, the middlemen, to get rich, you needed to fuck over the people at both ends of the value chain -- the consumers who had no choice in what they watched and spent years being fed mountains of dog shit, and the producers of content who were at your mercy and had to negotiate with this tiny number of networks who operated, let's be honest here, as a kind of cartel.

Artists Become Publishers

If I target an idea to a market and people tell me it is garbage then so much for that idea. If early feedback looks promising then it is time to dig deeper, do more research, read more, and write more. Invest where your interests align with the interest of others.

John Andrews recently made another brilliant post talking about how artists need to become publishers:

You “artists” out there generating content will have to learn to publish if you want to participate in the Internet economy. Maybe that’s why Google spends so much trying to help the Internet advance… because it helps Google disintermediate the middlemen. When will Google bring us fast quantities of ISP-free, wireless bandwidth?

One day there will be no more middlemen. And then, Google will squeeze you for more profits. After all, growth needs to come from somewhere, right? When all the middlemen are gone, what’s left? You are. For every producer there are hundreds of consumers hungry for more. Will Google offer rewards for you to procreate? Of course it will. It has to. It’s Google’s destiny to manage the creative class.

Everyone is Selling

Bob Massa recently shot short videos of a thousand year old marketplace, showing locals in India trying to sell him a donkey

Contrary to popular belief, selling is not about tricking people into buying what they don't want. Yes, there are liars and thieves but that is not selling. That is lying and stealing.

Selling is about getting people to trust you enough to tell you their needs or desires and you satisfying those needs or desires. It is not always easy but it’s certainly not complicated.

The Key is to Not Look Like You are Selling

If markets keep getting more competitive and artists become publishers then I think publishers need to start becoming artists. Almost anything you want to consume has free samples available online. Some are copyright violations, others are free marketing, and some are both.

Here is Dane Cook on why it is so hard to win an argument against a woman:

Humor is one of the easiest ways to build links and recommendations.

You don't need to leave your computer to go to a concert, so if you do go you are going for the energy and the experience.

Even purely online things can look much richer than plain text. Here is Dan Thies's example of how to implement dynamic linking. Notice it includes graphics, and how those graphics enhance the value of his post. Want free research on how personalization and universal search change how we interact with search results? If people are giving away that kind of value for free how do you compete?

Becoming an Artist

I think publishers have to stop being publishers and start becoming artists, marketing their product as art, hitting the same touchpoints art hit.

When breaking news from a friend (or a friend of a friend) is freely available in real time and virtually everything is a commodity people buy

  • the buying experience and sense of connection the buyer has with the artist, including any sense of community or empathy offered
  • recommendations from friends or other trusted sources
  • the story behind the product or service
  • your experience and expertise
  • the trust and goodwill you built up through sharing information, personal interaction, and the above points

Even when we are not buying we are still paying with attention. Familiarity and attention are early steps in sales. The WSJ wrote about how Disney kept a low-fi feel to Marié Digby's YouTube videos. She mixes in a few of her own original songs with old classics that have been viewed MILLIONS of times prior to dropping her first album. It is much easier to launch if you start off with a large fanbase.

Why it Helps to View Marketing as an Art

People are lazy and selfish. Especially anonymous people. If you try to replicate the links of an older competitor using the same techniques, many of the webmasters who linked at them will ignore you, even if your content is better than the stuff they are already linking at.

In all honesty, profit margins come more from perception than reality. If you are going to stay profitable you have to see the wave coming in and stay out in front of it, especially because as marketing techniques get abused they stop working. I am doing things today that I know I would not be profitable in a few years if I didn't go out of my way to lay the foundation to make them look and feel exceptionally legitimate today. The only differences between legitimacy and illegitimacy are trust, familiarity, and perception.

The Short Side of Web Publishing

This post is not to suggest that the web is a utopia that is better than all other sources of information, but more that it is cheaper, faster, easier, and provides something that is good enough to satisfy most demands for free.

The web has downsides to it, like promoting hyped up information pollution as a form of marketing. But the reality of it is that everyone is short on time. And few deeply understand the publishing dynamics of search, so when people get screwed by finding bad information on the web or make bad decisions because of ideas they discovered over the web they will likely blame themselves for it.

Comment Spammer Hold Up Link Requests

Werty just sent me this. Pretty ruthless, sad, and funny:

hello , my name is Richard and I know you get a lot of spammy comments,

I can help you with this problem. I know a lot of spammers and I will ask them not to post on your site. It will reduce the volume of spam by 30-50% .In return Id like to ask you to put a link to my site on the index page of your site. The link will be small and your visitors will hardly notice it , its just done for higher rankings in search engines. Contact me icq _________ or write me _______(at), i will give you my site url and you will give me yours if you are interested. thank you

The Immeasurable ROI of Improved Organization, Communication, & Usability

When you have scarcity you have price control. But the web makes most forms of scarcity a farce. That is why so many marketers place arbitrary limits on their offerings (like sales price ends today or we are only letting in x more customers), to make it seem as though their information is bound by some limits. Just about every idea worth selling is accessible for free if you spend enough time to sort through it all, and just about everything ends up bootlegged on eBay and Limewire.

If everything is available for free then how can we sell anything?

Is Anything Really Free?

The truth is nothing is free. The stuff that is pitched as free is usually an ad, or wrapped in ads. You don't know if someone is getting paid for their words, you don't know their qualifications or motives, and you don't know if they have philosophical interests setting their goals for how your opinions and worldviews should be shaped.

How Good Information Stays Hidden

Beyond that unknown ad / bias / other influence, the other problem with free information is that it is often hard to find the best parts.

  • Some sectors of the web are entirely invisible. A friend has published a great blog for months now, which has 0 traction because without marketing nobody can find her site or subscribe to it.

  • Sometimes garbage information is easily accessible because of high affiliate payout schemes, manipulative public relations budgets, authoritative websites cashing in publishing junk content, or because the self reinforcing nature of authority (especially on the web).
  • As forums grow in popularity they become a sea of noise. How do you rate the best threads? How do you keep them separate from the noise and make them easy to find?
  • Old blogs do the same as their information ages AND much of the information becomes inaccessible due to depth and breadth of information coupled with poor information architecture and comment systems that place great comments next to junk. It sometimes takes me a half hour to find stuff I posted, and I am a good searcher with a great memory.

The link graph solves part of this problem by making it easy to locate what is popular, but popularity and quality are not one and the same. Popularity is more aligned with brand strength, marketing budget, who came to market early, and who is controversial than it is with information quality.

Onsite vs Offsite Marketing Spend Mismatch

Given that many people are selling the same ideas and similar products, packaging and formatting are key to maintaining profit margins.

How much does Google make? We spend a near endless sum of money bring people to our sites, but how much do we spend on ensuring our sites are easy to use and convert well? Usually there is a big miss-match between onsite and offsite spending. If we optimize the on site experience we have a higher visitor value and can afford to pay more for advertising, thus gaining a larger marketshare or allowing us to raise our rates to filter out the low end of the market.

Optimizing On Site User Experience

Imagine if someone recommends my site to a friend. That friend comes to the homepage and immediately jumps into the latest post. Is that an optimal experience for people new to my brand? Most likely not. It was a good idea for building the authority and mindshare of this blog in 2003, but I have done that about as well as I can with this format, and most likely there is a better way to introduce people to this site.

For over a year my tools page was worthless from a usability perspective. It was imposing, unorganized, and cluttered. Pathetic on just about every level possible. Compare the old to the new. Which looks more appealing to you? Which is more intuitive to use? Which do you trust more?

The old version put everything on one page and used headers to separate topics, whereas the new version uses category pages to separate topics. The new version also offers a brief intro at the top of each category, and many of the tool category pages also have embedded videos that further explain why the topic is important and/or offer free tips about the topic.

I still need to place breadcrumb navigation on the individual tool pages, consolidate some of the tools, and clean up some of their formatting issues, but just fixing the top level is a start. It makes it easier to access everything else.

Why is is so Important to Make Your Site Easily Usable to New People?

I recently had a search engineer tell me that they bound my book up and made it required reading for their team (which felt cool to hear), but for every person like that (who has been in the industry for many years) there are 1,000+ people just entering the field who need much more guidance.

Navigation is a form of guidance. It can scare people away or help them convert. If my site's navigation assumes everyone else knows what I know or thinks about the web the ways I do, then what could I be justified selling them, and how can I justify selling them anything?

Profitability is at the Edges of the Customer Curve

Not only is there that 1,000 to 1 ratio mentioned in the above section, but new people are also more likely to spend money than people who already feel they know everything.

Who is more likely to buy my book? A person who has been doing SEO twice as long as I have, or a person using my keyword density analyzer? Many brand managers would like consumers to believe the former, but in most cases the latter is more likely. Most of the money for information products comes from people new to the field, with some amount coming on the backend if you sell high end services.

Content Selection vs Community Growth & User Participation

Not only are new people more likely to buy, but they are also far more likely to participate in a community. Many of my friends read this blog daily, but most of them rarely leave comments. Back when I was more naive about search my topic selection naturally drew many newer readers who felt more empathy with what I was writing about, and were more likely to comment, which made my site look much larger than it was. Now that I blog about many more abstract or higher level topics I get far fewer comments, in spite of increasing site traffic month over month and year over year.

Eventually the growing traffic trend will turn the other way unless I focus more on the beginner portion of the market, and help create more brand evangelists participating on and promoting this site.

Content Targeting & Conversion

It doesn't matter how much value you create or offer if the format is bad, or fails to display the value of the product. If the communication sucks so does the product. Then if you are unwilling to change you may get bitter as you watch inferior products outsell your product without realizing that you forgot to talk to your customers using their language.

A friend of mine showed me a listing service of his that focused the homepage on sellers with little to no communication for prospective consumers. What kind of seller is going to think that site is a legitimate listing service? Google has advertising programs in the footer of their homepage in a small text link. Both of those are extremes, but you have to figure out who your customers are and gather enough attention to be able to monetize it.

Information Format & Perceived Value

Others have resold the information in my ebook in other formats for over 5 times the price (some even asked for my latest copy before their launch, telling me about it). Good on them for formatting information in a way that allows them to deliver value. It does not matter who creates the most value. What matters is who is best at formatting it and sharing it in a way that makes people happy when they consume it. People are likely to gravitate toward channels that are positive because the market for something to believe in is infinite.

For most business owners how you structure your website and communicate with prospects day in and day out to gain their trust and attention is more important than your salesletter or product quality.

The one scarcity that will continue to grow scarcer as markets saturate is attention. If you have the attention of people at the beginning of the sales cycle likely you will have it at the other end as well, but you have to keep marketing to keep people talking about you and help your business grow.


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