In this episode of the Digital Publishing Podcast (which you can find a full transcript of below), I cover 10 different topics from a newsletter business model to the year in review and my plans and goals for 2013.
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You can also listen to the episode online by clicking the play button on the player right below this. (If you don’t see the player, click here.) It’s about 23 minutes long.
DPP008: A Newsletter Business Model, Recurring Micro Revenue, 2012 in Review, and 7 More Ideas
Welcome to episode 8 of the Digital Publishing Podcast, which you can find online at digitalpublishingpodcast.com. I’m Tristan Higbee, recording today in warm and sunny Cancun, Mexico.
[Note: Be sure to scroll down to the end here to see a photo I took in Cancun on Christmas.]
This show is all about things I see and would like to see in the world of digital publishing, from blogging to ebooks to membership sites and more. Also covered are things related to internet business and online marketing. Stick around till the end of the podcast and I’ll mention my picks for featured podcast and featured digital publishing tool of the week.
I’d like to give huge thanks to the people that have gone into iTunes and left reviews and rated the show, and since the podcast is so new, I’d REALLY appreciate it if you would do the same .
Ok! I’ve got 10 topics to talk about today, so let’s get started.
Topic #1: Inventing new phrases
My degree is in linguistics. I chose that as my major because it was the thing that I hated least at school, but it was at least somewhat interesting. I remember reading in school about one study by a man named William Labov, who pioneered the field of sociolinguistics, or the way that societal factors affect language. The study I’m talking about was done on the island of Martha’s Vineyard (which is off of the Massachusetts coast) in the 60s. Labov found that the local fishermen there subconsciously exaggerated certain unique characteristics of their speech. They did this to distinguish themselves from the vacationers that came to visit in the summer. These fishermen were proud that they were locals and not just tourists, and so they made their speech even more different to accentuate that.
So in other words, they changed the way they spoke in order to disassociate themselves from another group of people. I’ve noticed a similar trend recently in people online.
In a recent Foolish Adventure episode, the guy behind the blog Postmasculine kept using the phrase “self development” instead of self help or personal development. Michael Stelzner used to talk about his Social Media Marketing Podcast as “on-demand talk radio.” I’ve heard a bunch of people use “online magazine” instead of blog. Pat Flynn calls his podcast episodes sessions instead of episodes.
And I do it, too. I consciously chose to use “online marketing” in my little intro spiel because I don’t like the negative association many people have with the phrase “internet marketing.”
Part of me thinks this is stupid. I mean come on, online marketing and internet marketing are the same thing, right? And why bother saying session instead of episode, when everyone else uses and is familiar with the term episode? But another part of me thinks this is smart. You hear session instead of episode and you remember it because it sticks out to you. You hear online marketing instead of internet marketing and you hopefully don’t have flashbacks of the times you were scammed on the Warrior Forum.
I don’t think there’s a right and a wrong way here. I think that being different just for the sake of being different can be self-defeating (and I especially dislike it when people try too hard to be different or cutesy or clever), but saying things differently can also be a good way to differentiate and disassociate yourself.
I guess the point here is that you really do need to choose your words carefully, and also that the words and phrases you use can make people roll their eyes if you try to be different just for the sake of being different.
Topic #2: The good extremes and the bad middle
I’m starting to think that there are two sweet spots as far as content creation goes. On the one hand you have link blogs like Daring Fireball or The Loop. These are curated link blogs, and the value to the reader is in the good tastes of the blog owners. The blogger is the filter that ensures that only the good stuff gets through, and the brief commentary the blogger provides is also something that the readers look for. For people who don’t have the time to subscribe to and read 50 different blogs, these link blogs that are run by trusted people are really valuable.
That’s at one end of the spectrum. Those blogs are heavy on curation and brief with their commentary. At the other end of the spectrum are blogs that are heavy on editorial and opinion articles. These are relatively in-depth and there is real thought and analysis put into the article. These types of articles are hard to write, and the result is that these types of websites are relatively rare. I mentioned PandoDaily in the last episode of the Digital Publishing Podcast, and I think it’s a great example of this kind of blog.
Between these two extremes is the gushy and unsatisfying middle ground. These are the news websites that just rewrite what others have written but don’t add anything else, no insight or anything. These are the how-to blogs that have information that isn’t bad, but isn’t really all that great either. The content is no different from a bunch of other sites in that niche.
It’s like how a lot of us feel about Google+ or App.net. There’s nothing wrong with those services, but I just don’t want to have to deal with another freaking social media site. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a your standard old how-to blog, but there are so many out there that I think the market (for lack of a better word) is saturated. Of course this varies from niche to niche, but I think that the overall trend holds true. People want to read things that are different, things that they can’t get in other places. Curation blogs and analysis blogs ARE different.
I’ve started probably more than a hundred blogs in the last 9 years of blogging, but I don’t know if I’ll ever again create a blog that isn’t a link blog or an analysis blog. It’s just too hard to get traction with sites in the middle ground there.
Of course there are other successful content models out there, plus blogs that have a wide variety of content and articles. But those two, curated link blogs and analysis blogs, are the ones I’d start if I were you or if I were to start up a new blog. Those are the ones that people will make time and room for in their RSS readers.
Topic #3: A few dollars a month
Recently I’ve been noticing more and more blogs, podcasts, and other forms of digital media that offer their fans an opportunity to donate on a recurring basis for a few dollars a month. I think that this is one of the more intriguing ways of making money with a digital property these days. $3 a month isn’t a lot. If you have a computer, you can afford to pay $3 a month. It’s a price that any fan can afford to pay and get the satisfaction of supporting a content creator. And if the content creator has a large audience, enough people paying $3 a month will add up.
The best example I can think of is one that I mentioned earlier in the podcast, and that’s The Loop. It’s a link blog that you can find at LoopInsight.com. It’s a blog mostly about Apple and related technologies, and it gets more than 1.5 million monthly pageviews. The site has a membership program. You pay $3 a month on a recurring basis and get the site’s full RSS feed instead of the truncated RSS feed. In other words, the regular public RSS feed has only a summary of each post on the site, and you have to click through to the site to read the whole thing. The member’s feed has the full content from each post.
Another example is Shawn Blanc’s blog at shawnblanc.net. He has a membership program that’s also $3 a month. He offers an occasional members-only newsletter, plus a members-only podcast called Shawn Today, which he describes as “my near-daily, behind-the-scenes podcast of ideas, thoughts on technology and design, and what coffee I’m brewing that morning.”
I think that $3 a month is kind of a sweet spot. I would be a lot more hesitant to pay even $5 a month for something. And I feel that $3 a month is a low enough price that people can pay and not really need anything additional in return. If it were $29 a month, you’d expect to get something else back for money. But you can donate $3 just to say thanks and not feel like you’re being gouged.
I don’t think that this would work for every niche. If someone is already selling products, I wouldn’t be very inclined to donate on a monthly basis. I also wouldn’t donate to a business. But if it’s just one guy putting out really good stuff in blog or podcast form, I could see myself donating to keep it going. We’ve seen PayPal donate buttons on people’s websites for years and years, but this few-dollars-a-month thing is something that I think we’ll see more of in the years to come.
Topic #4: Making people happy
There is one email newsletter I subscribe to that I read every single email of. I’ve mentioned it somewhere in the past, but I don’t remember where or when. It’s the newsletter of horror fiction authors Sean Platt and David Wright. They email their list when they come out with new books and when they offer their existing books for free. On Christmas Eve (so just a couple days ago as of when I’m recording this), they sent out a short story just for their newsletter readers. The Kindle book file was attached right there to the email. They said that they might include it in a collection of short stories in the future, but I thought it was awesome that they sent it to their list for free. That’s the kind of thing that makes me not only happy, but also makes me open up every single email they send me and continue to buy from them in the future.
I’m horrible when it comes to managing newsletters, and that’s something I’ll talk a bit more about later on in the podcast, but everyone loves getting free stuff. Offering free stuff to your list without any ulterior motive is a really great way to endear yourself to you list.
Topic #5: A great Chrome extension
I’ve made roughly a million Twitter accounts over the years. Some I post to daily, some I post to once a week, and some I only very occasionally log into. But there are about 7 or 8 that I tweet from or log into on a somewhat regular basis. I found a great Chrome extension recently that makes it really easy to log in and out of different Twitter accounts. It’s called QuickTweet (and that’s one word). Once you’ve installed it, you go into the options and enter in the login info for your various Twitter accounts. Then when you click on the extension’s icon in your browser, a dropdown list appears and it lists your various accounts. Click on the one you want to access and you’re taken to the Twitter site, automatically logged out of the account were logged into, and then automatically logged in to the account that you clicked on. It’s really great. You can fully switch between all of your accounts right there on the Twitter.com website by just clicking the account you want from the icon’s dropdown menu.
And yes, I know that there are tools like Hootsuite and TweetDeck and Buffer that help you manage multiple Twitter accounts, and I use those, but sometimes you really do need to login to change a profile pic or something in your Twitter bio. This extension makes it super easy to do that.
You can go download it for free in the Chrome web store. Just search for QuickTweet.
Topic #6: Keeping your comments
TechCrunch is a really big and well-known blog about startups. There’s a guy who used to comment on literally every single new post on the site. That’s saying something for a blog that is updated dozens of times every day. And he was usually the first one to comment, too.
I don’t remember how I found it, but one day I stumbled across a Tumblr blog he had. He’d post all (or at least a lot) of his comments to the blog. I thought it was a great way to get a bit more mileage out of content that you’re already creating.
And there’s another example. There’s a prolific commenter on Hacker News that turned his best comments into an ebook and sold it for a few dollars. Again, that’s a great way to get more out of content you’ve already spent the time creating. And as long as the comments you’re making are good ones, why not compile them into an ebook or save them on a blog?
Topic #7: An interesting newsletter model
With the recent launch of my China Narrator newsletter (you can find that at ChinaNarrator.com), I’ve been thinking a lot about newsletters. And as I was going through some old notes recently, I rediscovered a site and newsletter called Delancey Place (at delanceyplace.com). In its own words, it is “a brief daily email with an excerpt or quote we view as interesting or noteworthy, offered with commentary to provide context.”
I used to subscribe to the newsletter, and the passages actually ARE pretty interesting. But the more interesting thing, for our purposes here anyway, is how the newsletter makes money. At the end of each excerpt or quote is an Amazon affiliate link to the book that the excerpt was pulled from.
I love that. It’s so simple, but it’s also a really great idea! The affiliate link is unobtrusive and valuable if the recipients of the email want to read more from the author. And it’s a great way for the sender of the newsletter to make some money. It’s a win-win.
And you know how sometimes certain business models would work better in some niches than others? I think that this one would work great in most niches.
Topic #8: Subscribe to yourself
Well, the title to this one pretty much said it all. You should subscribe to yourself. Subscribe to your RSS feed. Subscribe to your newsletter. Subscribe to your own podcast. Subscribe to whatever it is that you’re putting out there.
Not only is it a good idea because it’s a way to review what you’ve done, but it’s a great way to figure out if something’s not right. Like maybe you find out that the videos you embed on your blog don’t show up in Google Reader, and you need to do something about it. Or you realized that you don’t really like the formatting of the emails you send out.
And just about every time you read your own blog post or listen to your own podcast, you’ll pick up on things you can do better next time. Because of that, the longer you subscribe to yourself, the better your stuff will become.
Topic #9: My 2012 in review
At the end of the podcast here and before the featured podcast and digital publishing tool, I want to look back at what I did in 2012.
2012 was an amazing year for me. I started fkb.me, my free Kindle book website, back in March. It now has almost 3000 likes on Facebook and the site gets nearly 100,000 pageviews a month.
I redesigned and essentially relaunched The Backlight, my main blog about digital publishing. I’d ignored it for several months. And then I started the Digital Publishing Podcast as part of The Backlight.
I created probably about 20 various Tumblr blogs and had a couple thousands subscribers, then lost them when Tumblr suspended my account because I had Amazon affiliate links on some of my sites.
I created the China Narrator, a daily newsletter about China. I relaunched my Infographic Academy product. I created and launched my 365 Blog Post Ideas newsletter (which is online at 365BlogPostIdeas.com). I sold Amazopia, which was my blog about Amazon.
I wrote and published 101 Blogging Tips, and that became my first Kindle book. I then wrote and published books about rock climbing, poetry, Google Chrome, and Spanish. All told, I actually ended up writing a total of 38 Kindle books this year!
At the end of August I sold my car and pretty much everything else I own and left the US. I’ve spent the last 4 months in Mexico, including two months in Mexico City, one month in San Miguel de Allende, and now one month here in Cancun.
It’s been a crazy year. Being in Mexico has been amazing. And overall, I’m happy. I was able to create a bunch of different things that I was really excited about. But there was a lot I wasn’t able to do and some important goals I didn’t meet. As a whole, though, I’m really happy with how my year went.
Topic #10: My plans for 2013
I want to write one Kindle ebook a month in 2013. These are all going to be about things not related in any way to digital publishing. I’m going to write a couple small travel guidebooks, some general travel books, a book about some tech stuff, and a couple books that have to deal with learning foreign languages. One or two of those I might actually publish in Apple’s iBookstore, since I’ve never done that before and want to see what it’s like. So that should be pretty interesting, and of course it’s something that I’ll talk about on the podcast or on the blog.
I wrote a blog post on The Backlight (which is the blog that the Digital Publishing Podcast is part of) a few months ago about writing a million words in a year, which translates into a bit less than 3,000 words a day. I don’t think I want to make it a goal to write 3,000 words words a day every day in 2013, but I AM going to measure my word output every day. For about 10 days after I wrote that blog post, I was writing at least 3,000 words a day and it was amazing how much I was getting done. So it’ll be nice to feel like that more often.
One of my biggest goals for 2013 is to make a membership site that’s related to digital publishing. I’m not going to say much more than that right now because I don’t really have much more to say. But I’m shooting for a mid-year launch, and I’ll talk about it more in the months ahead.
I’m also going to focus this year on the email list I’ve built through The Backlight. I’ve been horrible with it. I very rarely send out emails on it. The problem is that I haven’t known what to send. I don’t just want to put out more of the same stuff that my audience already gets from the blog and this podcast. About a month and a half ago I started a “magazine” and sent out the first issue to my list but I don’t know, I wasn’t satisfied with that. The plan for 2013 is to send out a weekly newsletter that mainly will consist of 2 things: 1) links to the best articles I read last week, and 2) what I’ve been working on over the past week. I want the newsletter to be much more helpful and personal and frequent than it’s been in the past.
So yeah, those are the main things. An ebook a month and the membership site. Of course I’ll also keep growing everything that I’m currently working on, including The Backlight, fkb.me, the China Narrator, my other products, and the Digital Publishing Podcast. I’m going to work on getting more traffic to The Backlight, which I have not done at all in 2012. I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do, but it will probably involve writing one guest post a week and commenting on a handful of blogs every day.
And now it’s time for this episode’s featured podcast and featured digital publishing tool. My pick for this episode’s featured podcast is Tech Stuff [iTunes link]. It’s a podcast by the fine folks over at HowStuffWorks.com. It’s a technology podcast, but it’s not a technology news podcast. To give you an idea of the types of stuff they talk about, here are the titles of the last 5 episodes:
- How motion capture works
- The Firefox story
- TechStuff investigates McAfee
- TechStuff looks at the next generation consoles
- TechStuff takes the Ingress
- The hosts of the podcast do a really great job. They’re fun to listen too and they do a great job of breaking down the topics they talk about.
My pick for this episode’s featured digital publishing tool is called Pocket. It’s one of those read-it-later apps. So let’s say you’re on your computer and find an article that looks really interesting but that you just don’t have the time to read right then. You click the Pocket extension in your browser. That sends it to your Pocket account, which is then synced across all of your iOS and Android devices. On top of that, Pocket strips out all extraneous page elements like ads and columns, so the reading experience is much more pleasant.
You can also use the service to save videos that you want to watch later. The service is 100% free and so are all of the apps for your mobile devices and the browser extension. It’s perfect for those longform articles that you don’t want to sit at your computer to read. You can learn more and download all the apps and extensions you need at GetPocket.com.
Well, that’s all for this episode of the Digital Publishing Podcast. Be sure to check out digitalpublishingpodcast.com for show notes and links and additional blog posts there at TheBacklight.com that go beyond what I talk about on the podcast. This week’s blog post on The Backlight was titled How to Make an Impartial List of the Top 100 Blogs or Websites in a Niche. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.digitalpublishingpodcast.com. That will redirect you to my Twitter account, since my name is a bit tricky to spell. Since this podcast is so new, I’d really appreciate it if you went into iTunes and rated and reviewed it. Thanks for listening.
As always, I’m on Twitter.