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Seth Godin

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1. Ideas don’t come from watching television

2. Ideas sometimes come from listening to a lecture

3. Ideas often come while reading a book

4. Good ideas come from bad ideas, but only if there are enough of them

5. Ideas hate conference rooms, particularly conference rooms where there is a history of criticism, personal attacks or boredom

6. Ideas occur when dissimilar universes collide

7. Ideas often strive to meet expectations. If people expect them to appear, they do

8. Ideas fear experts, but they adore beginner’s mind. A little awareness is a good thing

9. Ideas come in spurts, until you get frightened. Willie Nelson wrote three of his biggest hits in one week

10. Ideas come from trouble

11. Ideas come from our ego, and they do their best when they’re generous and selfless

12. Ideas come from nature

13. Sometimes ideas come from fear (usually in movies) but often they come from confidence

14. Useful ideas come from being awake, alert enough to actually notice

15. Though sometimes ideas sneak in when we’re asleep and too numb to be afraid

16. Ideas come out of the corner of the eye, or in the shower, when we’re not trying

17. Mediocre ideas enjoy copying what happens to be working right this minute

18. Bigger ideas leapfrog the mediocre ones

19. Ideas don’t need a passport, and often cross borders (of all kinds) with impunity

20. An idea must come from somewhere, because if it merely stays where it is and doesn’t join us here, it’s hidden. And hidden ideas don’t ship, have no influence, no intersection with the market. They die, alone.

What an awesome list, much of which are about the best conditions for creativity. Occasionally some of the points are a ramble, but fun all the same. Enjoy!

Shamelessly stolen from Seth Godin’s blog.

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If I had to make a list of the top 10 things I've done in my life that I regret, "writing a book" would definitely be on it. I took on the book project mostly because it was an opportunity to work with a few friends whose company I enjoy. I had no illusions going in about the rapidly diminishing value of technical books in an era of pervasive high speed Internet access, and the book writing process only reinforced those feelings.

In short, do not write a book. You'll put in mountains of effort for precious little reward, tangible or intangible. In the end, all you will have to show for it is an out-of-print dead tree tombstone. The only people who will be impressed by that are the clueless and the irrelevant.

As I see it, for the kind of technical content we're talking about, the online world of bits completely trumps the offline world of atoms:

  • It's forever searchable.
  • You, not your publisher, will own it.
  • It's instantly available to anyone, anywhere in the world.
  • It can be cut and pasted; it can be downloaded; it can even be interactive.
  • It can potentially generate ad revenue for you in perpetuity.

And here's the best part: you can always opt to create a print version of your online content, and instantly get the best of both worlds. But it only makes sense in that order. Writing a book may seem like a worthy goal, but your time will be better spent channeling the massive effort of a book into creating content online. Every weakness I listed above completely melts away if you redirect your effort away from dead trees and spend it on growing a living, breathing website presence online.

A few weeks ago, Hyperink approached me with a concept of packaging the more popular entries on Coding Horror, its "greatest hits" if you will, into an eBook. They seemed to have a good track record doing this with other established bloggers, and I figured it was time to finally practice what I've been preaching all these years. So you can now download Effective Programming: More Than Writing Code for an introductory price of $2.99. It's available in Kindle, iPad, Nook, and PDF formats.

 More Than Writing Code (Jeff Atwood)

I've written about the ongoing tension between bits and atoms recently, and I want to be clear: I am a fan of books. I'm just not necessarily a fan of writing them. I remain deeply cynical about current book publishing models, which feel fundamentally broken to me. No matter the price of the book, outside of J.K. Rowling, you're basically buying the author a drink.

As the author, you can expect to make about a dollar on every copy that sells. The publisher makes several times that, so they make a nice profit with as few as, say, five thousand copies sold. Books that sell ten or fifteen thousand are rare, and considered strong sellers. So let's say you strike gold. After working on your book for a year or more, are you going to be happy with a payday of ten to fifteen grand?

Incidentally, don't expect your royalty check right away. The publisher gets paid first, by the bookstores, and the publisher may then hold on to your money for several months before they part with any of it. Yes, this is legal: it's in the publisher's contract. Not getting paid may be a bummer for you, but it's a great deal for the publisher, since they make interest on the float (all the money they owe to their authors) - which is another profit stream. They'll claim one reason for the delay is the sheer administrative challenge of cutting a check within three months (so many authors to keep track of! so many payments!)... a less ridiculous reason is that they have to wait to see whether bookstores are going to return unsold copies of your book for a full refund.

Here's one real world example. John Resig sold 4,128 copies of Pro Javascript, for which he earned a grand total of $1.87 per book once you factor in his advance. This is a book which still sells for $29.54 on Amazon new.

Resig-book-check

Tellingly, John's second book seems permanently unfinished. It's been listed as "in progress" since 2008. Can't say I blame him. (Update: John explains.)

When I buy books, I want most of that money to go to the author, not the publishing middlemen. I'd like to see a world where books are distributed electronically for very little cost, and almost all the profits go directly to the author. I'm not optimistic this will happen any time soon.

I admire people willing to write books, but I honestly think you have to be a little bit crazy to sit down and pound out an entire book these days. I believe smaller units of work are more realistic for most folks. I had an epic email discussion with Scott Meyers about the merits of technical book publishing versus blogging in 2008, and I don't think either of us budged from our initial positions. But he did launch a blog to document some of his thoughts on the matter, which ended with this post:

My longer-term goal was to engage in a dialogue with people interested in the production of fast software systems such that I could do a better job with the content of [my upcoming book]. Doing that, however, requires that I write up reasonable initial blog posts to spur discussion, and I've found that this is not something I enjoy. To be honest, I view it as overhead. Given a choice between doing background research to learn more about a topic (typically reading something, but possibly also viewing a technical presentation, listening to a technical podcast, or exchanging email with a technical expert) or writing up a blog entry to open discussion, I find myself almost invariably doing the research. One reason for this is that I feel obliged to have done some research before I post, anyway, and I typically find that once I'm done with the research, writing something up as a standalone blog entry is an enterprise that consumes more time than I'm willing to give it. It's typically easier to write the result up in the form of a technical presentation, then give the presentation and get feedback that way.

Overhead? I find this attitude perplexing; the research step is indeed critical, but no less important than writing up your results as a coherent blog entry. If you can't explain the results of your research to others, in writing, in a way they can understand, you don't understand it. And if you aren't willing to publish your research in the form of a simple web page that anyone in the world can visit and potentially learn from, why did you bother doing that research in the first place? Are you really maximizing the value of your keystrokes? More selfishly, you should always finish by writing up your results purely for your own self-improvement, if nothing else. As Steve Yegge once said: "I have many of my best ideas and insights while blogging." Then you can take all that published writing, fold in feedback and comments from the community, add some editorial embellishment on top, and voilà – you have a great book.

Of course, there's no getting around the fact that writing is just plain hard. Seth Godin's advice for authors still stands:

Lower your expectations. The happiest authors are the ones that don't expect much.

Which, I think, is also good life advice in general. Maybe the easiest way to lower your expectations as an author is by attempting to write one or two blog entries a week, keep going as long as you can, and see where that takes you.

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Max Headroom

Editor’s note: Contributor Ashkan Karbasfrooshan is the founder and CEO of WatchMojo, he hosts a show on business and has published books on success.  Follow him @ashkan.

“I thought the analysis of content vs other video companies very convincing. But I’m curious: the content game hasn’t worked out so well for AOL and Yahoo. Audiences are fickle. Are you predicting a rosier future?” – reader comment in Is Tech a Zero-Sum Game?.

Infrastructure, Platforms & Content

Today, the Web’s infrastructure is built, and we’re filling the pipes with content — mainly free, ad-supported content.

It might seem like the real opportunities are in user-generated content and aggregation, but anyone who’s worked in those fields recognize their limitations: Simply put, marketers want to advertise alongside professional content. Tim Armstrong left Google (the mother of all aggregators) and joined AOL to remake it into the Time of the 21st century.  He didn’t double down on Bebo.

Content is marketing; Marketing as content

Content – video in particular – may be promotional or commercial, in either case it’s a means to an end.

Traditional Media Companies (TMCs) need to make their content commercial; new media producers are leveraging their content as promotional, sometimes giving it away to build value.

However, when it comes to making money directly from commercial content, the genie is out of the bottle, according to Seth Godin: “Who said you have a right to cash money from writing? Poets don’t get paid (often), but there’s no poetry shortage. The future is going to be filled with amateurs, and the truly talented and persistent will make a great living. But the days of journeyman writers who make a good living by the word — over.”

TL;DR

Content isn’t only increasingly free, it’s also short. Godin clarifies: “Shorter, though, doesn’t mean less responsibility, less insight or less power. It means less fluff and less hiding.”

With 60 hours of content uploaded every 60 seconds on YouTube, producers face three challenges:

-          25% of views come in the first 4 days;
-          Viewers only watch the first 30-60 seconds;
-          The average video generates 500 views throughout its lifetime.

It’s no longer enough to be a good storyteller; you have to cut through the clutter and make the numbers work.

The Economics of Content

“Network television costs $50,000 – 100,000 per minute to produce. Reality shows can be cheaper, with the lowest-end costing $6,000 – 8,000 per minute”, according to GRP venture capitalist (and occasional TechCrunch contributor) Mark Suster. New media producers leverage deflationary economics to produce shows for $500 – $1,000 per minute, on average.

My company does it for $100/minute. Once you cut costs down, the real challenge is revenue.

Fred Wilson’s piece on The Future of Media suggested that the right approach is to:

1 – Microchunk it - Reduce the content to its simplest form.
2 – Free it - Put it out there without walls around it or strings on it.
3 – Syndicate it – Let anyone take it and run with it.
4 – Monetize it - Put the monetization and tracking systems into the microchunk.

For example, 5Min borrowed a page from Google’s AdSense playbook, making it easy for publishers to syndicate the company’s video content, on its way to a $65 million exit to AOL.

“But content doesn’t scale!”

That’s the common critique of content companies from the tech industries. The truth is, bad content scales, good content doesn’t scale – the scale comes from distribution and monetization.  Demand Media’s “content farm” model scaled but it has since moved upstream to win over Madison Avenue, realizing that unless your clients are on Wall Street or Sand Hill Road, quality trumps quantity.

Profit is a Short-Term Move; Value is a Long-Term Focus

Content was an art. Today it’s a science as well. It will always be about Influence and Authority.

Bloomberg will lose $20 million on BusinessWeek, Washington Post sold Newsweek for $1 (plus the assumption of debt).  That doesn’t imply that there’s no money in content, it’s a reminder that disruptive innovation can come from new content creators who can be more disruptive to TMCs than any technology ever will. TechCrunch, for example, generated less revenue than BusinessWeek and Newsweek combined but sold for more.

Revenues come and go, after all. However, managers typically don’t care that much about long-term value creation because their compensation is tied to short-term profits.

Goodwill is the Driver of ROI

The best storytellers realize content is about Authority, Influence and building a brand. VCs who made their fortune on software and semiconductors can’t wrap their minds around content (“it’s a hits business”). But despite the 1% annualized return that VCs have generated, they will continue to invest in the latest mouse trap and shun content, despite what the experts say.

The Worst-Kept Secret in the Publishing Business

The Web doesn’t just shrink markets, it also kills sacred cows, in particular Warren Buffett’s argument that “the most important news in the newspaper are the ads”. Indeed, Google outsold U.S. newspapers $37.9 billion to $34 billion in 2011. I know, those are global Google revenues — give it a couple of years.

So yes, content may be king, but it’s the throne that retains the value, even if the throne was seized under dubious circumstances, according to an anonymous publisher: “Many of the big wins in digital content have gotten big by stealing other people’s content, and, once they get big enough, they build an original content layer (…) You can make money with quality content on digital. The challenge is it requires expertise in more than just content development.”

Of course, once you build your audience, you realize you don’t need to create content; licensing it is a more profitable short-term bet, but it creates less long-term value.  Similarly, ad networks have successfully intermediated between advertisers and publishers, but commoditized themselves in the process.

Why Content Has Stumbled

The TMCs actually get it: online remains small, and the faster they embrace it, they faster they die. The issue is how management has a short-term outlook to maximize profits, instead of being focused on long-term value creation.

The irony is that over time, technology plays come and go: One winner emerges from within a given category and largely kills off its competitors. The real threat to content creators may in fact be emerging content companies with no traditional business to defend. After all, journalism is stronger than ever while newspapers are dying.

But TMCs that have their own content catalogs, producers and brands may not see much value in emerging companies, which remain small until they become category killers, just adding to the tragic fate reserved for most.

While we live in a world of “good enough”, ultimately the company that can i) create the best content at ii) the lowest cost possible will create most value over time.

Disclaimers:

-          AOL is the owner of TechCrunch
-          I am not an employee of AOL
-          AOL acquired 5Min
-          My company WatchMojo has a distribution deal with AOL/5Min and YouTube.

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The web as we know and build it has primarily been accessed from the desktop. That is about to change. The ITU predicts that in the next 18–24 months, mobile devices will overtake PCs as the most popular way to access the web. If these predictions come true, very soon the web—and its users—will be mostly mobile. Even designers who embrace this change can find it confusing. One problem is that we still consider the mobile web a separate thing. Stephanie Rieger of futurefriend.ly and the W3C presents principles to understand and design for a new normal, in which users are channel agnostic, devices are plentiful, standards are fleeting, mobile use doesn’t necessarily mean “hide the desktop version,” and every byte counts.

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There is a battle royal brewing over the best way to market your indie game. Should you choose buzz marketing, metrics marketing or permission marketing? Nicholas Lovell of GAMESbrief makes his recommendations.

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PressPausePlay, subtitled “a film about fear, hope and digital culture", is a documentary by David Dworsky and Victor Köhler about the way in which the digital revolution has created unlimited creative opportunities and therefore unleashed the creativity and talent of people in an unprecented way. PressPausePlay contains interviews with some of the world's most influential creators of the digital era, like Moby, Hot Chip, Seth Godin and founder of the Hype Machine Anthony Volodkin. The interviewees give their opinion about the main question asked in the documentary: does democratized culture mean better art, film, music and literature or is true talent instead flooded and drowned in the vast digital ocean of mass culture?

PressPausePlay is now screening at some film festivals in the USA. The release date for Europe has not been set yet, but you can already take a look at the trailer below.

www.presspauseplay.com

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