Facebook seems determined to render itself less relevant to marketers, and as this deeply revealing video suggests, the social media network’s own paid “Like” acquisition service seems besieged by fraud:
There was a time when my small local clients generated decent results from their organically derived Facebook fans.
But as Facebook reduced the reach of client posts — forcing my clients to spend in an attempt to reach the same audience (many did spend, but still lost ground) — one thing became clear.
It’s never been your page, or your content, or your fan base.
It’s Facebook’s. And as time passes, the cost of accessing that supposedly engaged fan base will continue climbing.
Keep marketing (intelligently), Tom Chandler.
(Hat tip to the Ad Contrarian for the video.)
I’m slipping into harness on another annual report gig, which means I’m firing up my old skool pencils and sketch pads.
When it comes to themes, concepts and even the odd good idea, I still think better on paper than on a screen. (And yes, I want all of you off my lawn.)
I’ve heard rumors of a man who sharpened pencils for money, and while I wondered about the profitability of that particular business model, I admit I was intrigued by the Man Behind the Sharpener.
Happily, you can meet him here (hat tip to Steve Rosenberg):
The physical act of writing is an odd mix of thought and physical dexterity. You’re getting the words down via keyboard while you’re simultaneously crafting the next phrase. I’m amazed we do it as well as we do.
But work at the concept level isn’t always expressed well in letters (in fact, if you’re not thinking on symbolic and visual levels, you’re probably doing it wrong).
Which is why a decidedly analog, wholly tactile, sharp pencil is still needed.
And if something sharp is needed, somebody is going to make a video about the act of sharpening it.
(And then destroying it.)
Keep writing (with whatever), Tom Chandler.
(More xkcd goodness here. And the correct answer is “one.”)
Like many writers, I’m spending a lot of my waking hours rooting around in WordPress. Which is nice. In its own, kinda limited, way.
You write a post. You add a picture or graphic. Embed a video. And then press “Publish.”
The results are instant and SEO-friendly. And often dull.
What about page-spanning graphics? Audio and video files which auto-play when exposed? Layering? Special effects?
Over a couple beers with my web developer, we realized the advantages of being the first to offer big storytelling capabilities to our clients (even if they didn’t bite). The work would be fun, and the product would differentiate us from competitors.
So we started looking.
If you’re committed to WordPress, the Aesop Story Engine is a set of WordPress tools that offer an “open-sourced suite of tools that empowers developers to build feature-rich, interactive, long-form storytelling themes for WordPress.”
Essentially, you start with an empty, full-width page, then add one of 12 different components from the story editor (Audio, Video, Content, Character, Galleries, Locations, Image, Parallax, Quote, Timeline and Document).
Here’s their intriguing video.
(My favorite component is Parallax, a “fullwidth image component with caption and lightbox. As you scroll, the image moves slightly to provide a parallax effect.”)
Aesop is still in beta, but it’s free, and offers a much larger canvas than your average WordPress site. I’m tracking it.
Creatavist lets you build one free story, then charges $10/month to publish as many projects as you want (a branded app is $250/month).
Interestingly, they repeatedly highlight your ability to export your story as an ebook, which can be uploaded and viewed on readers. Hmmm.
For the in-depth pitch, visit their FAQ.
First, a warning.
Combining video, audio files, still photography, words, graphics and other relevant bits is not easy.
Obviously, you need someone to shoot all that video and still photography, write the story, extract the telling quotes, create the graphics, write and record (or find) the music, assemble the narrative and create a cohesive whole.
And that’s the short list.
A few screenwriting or directing skills wouldn’t be out of place. And it’s probably not going to happen quickly (the now-famous New York Times Snow Fall avalanche story site reportedly took 12 staffers nearly six months to create).
I find this kind of amplified storytelling interesting. But I also sat down with a pen and paper and sketched the costs of creating even a basic Big Story for a client.
Not cheap. Not even close.
Still, we’re seeing glimmers of a way forward — a larger online canvas for writers, artists, journalists and marketers.
Bookmark Aesop and Creatavist now. Then use them to impress your clients later.
In a post on the Writer Beware blog, Michael Capobianco voices his concerns about Scribd’s new “All you can read” $8.95/month subscription service — and the deals negotiated by publishers with a company long known for doing little to combat piracy:
Just for the moment, let’s assume it is an okay deal for many authors. It’s tremendously better than the deal offered to musicians by music subscription services like Pandora and Spotify. Even so, this paradigm switch should be scrutinized with great care. It’s another instance of rich corporations expanding what can be done with authors’ works without consulting them, defining terms in such a way that no one really understands how it affects authors’ copyrights, and doing so based on language in contracts that never anticipated an e-book subscription service. Authors need to sit up and take notice, and protest if they think their rights are being abrogated. If it’s not a great deal–which, let’s face it, is likely, given the insistence of the major publishers on paying at most a 25% net royalty rate on e-books–all the more reason for concern.
Capobianco then asks some pointed questions about Scribd’s ongoing piracy problems, especially given their apparent willingness to monetize that piracy:
As you can see, this unauthorized copy of the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Vol. 1, was illegally uploaded by Vladimir George Anghell, and Scribd is using it as bait for a 7-day free trial of their subscription service, that will, of course, transition automatically to a paid subscription if I do not cancel.
Think about it. All across the Scribd website, there are illegally uploaded, copyrighted files that you can only read in their entirety if you start paying Scribd, which doesn’t pay authors anything for those uploads. Almost as bad are the advertisements displayed next to pirated works.
In a Publisher’s Weekly interview, Scribd’s VP of Content Acquisition admitted the piracy problem.
Unfortunately, my 27 years in marketing have made me cycnical, so I wasn’t comforted by the way he qualified his “we’re fixing it” statement with enough weasel phrases to stock a petting zoo (favorites include repeated uses of “…a while” and “We’ve done a lot of work…”).
Ultimately, it’s clear Scribd’s real “defense” against piracy is to simply offload the burden of enforcement on authors:
Weinstein readily acknowledged the problem while outlining the extent and, difficulty of preventing, illegal uploads. Weinstein was also emphatic that “it’s not true” that Scribd was out to “incentivize” the uploading of illegal content. “There is unauthorized content on Scribd,” he said, “the problem dates back a while and I’ve been working with publishers on this for a while.” Weinstein said that while Scribd has not talked publicly about it—“we’ve tried to deal with it on an individual basis with take-down notices and in our new agreements with publishers”—he said, “we’ve done a lot of work on developing a technological solution to this and a process to deal with bad content on Scribd.”
Most note that while Scribd typically removes pirated work after the copyright holder locates it and files the appropriate takedown notice, they rarely punish pirates or remove other uploads coming from the same account.
Pirated books also reappear on the service as fast as they’re removed (so much for Scribd’s “fingerprinting” technology), and many writers — citing the never-ending time suck of searching online services and filing takedown notices — have simply given up policing Scribd.
Many of the writers in those comments simply shrug off piracy issues as intractable, but the truth is that Scribd could do a lot more to prevent piracy.
But why would Scribd invest in costly anti-piracy measures (hire staff to review book-length uploads for obvious piracy, implement a working fingerprint system, yadda yadda) when they can simply externalize the costs of intellectual property enforcement by switching the burden to writers? Isn’t externalizing costs the goal of every corporation?
Why are publishers so accepting of a company whose business model encourages piracy — and even profits from it?
It seems the creative class — musicians, photographers, writers — have developed something of an inferiority complex, at least in the face of technology companies.
As Capobianco notes:
I am amazed that they [ED: Scribd] do this so boldly, and that the legitimate publishers who are offering books through their subscription service apparently don’t care. I hope Scribd re-evaluates its policies and removes all unauthorized versions of copyrighted works from its subscriber service.
We’re told that opposing these companies is to get steamrolled by Inevitable Market Forces (Manifest Destiny lives!), as if these technologies — and the companies that profit from them — sprang fully formed from the earth.
The Internet is a human construct; we build it, and more importantly, we create the expectations and legal framework surrounding it. Right now, the expectation is that tech companies will hide the extent of the data they gather about you and profit from the content generated by others, and there won’t be much in the way of outcry.
Like musician David Lowery, I’d suggest the creative class is meekly accepting situations which — years from now — will cause us to look back and wonder what the hell we were thinking.
Keep writing, Tom Chandler.
(Note: Oyster offers a monthly book subscription service similar to Scribd’s, yet without the piracy issues.)
For 27 years I've worked as a copywriter. Despite that, I retain a youthful appearance and remain mostly sane.
I'm a copywriter, but the Underground isn't focused solely on copywriting; it's a reflection of one writer's interest in other writers (and writer's tools, text editors, creativity - and everything else that bubbles up).