Second Captains and what is the value of a fiver?

I have been delighted to see the response to Second Captains decision to move away from the sponsorship/advertising model, to content that’s paid for by the people who consume it.

Whether that was their plan all along is another question. Quite why the Irish Times didn’t want to continue with what was clearly the most best and most popular ‘Irish’ podcast begs questions of their digital strategy, but that’s really beside the point.

Full disclosure at this point: I know the Second Captains chaps some, I’ve appeared on the podcast, I enjoy what they do, and they’re all sound blokes.

As someone who started podcasting on arseblog.com in 2006, and who only really started making any money from it in the last 12-18 months, it’s great to see that fans of shows are willing to support that show financially.

Not simply because it allows Second Captains to continue and add to their already excellent work, but because it shows that the line between the money you have in your pocket and the money you spend online is closing.

€5 a month is not very much at all, but the Internet as most of us have known it has been based on an everything for free model. We have become so accustomed to getting everything for nothing that being asked to pay for anything becomes anathema.

In recent years that has changed somewhat. The success of iTunes came at the expense of the free download Napster etc model which many had grown used to. Apple made it simple and easy to buy music, so people did.

Movies and TV shows are still downloaded via Torrents and file-sharing sites, but the advent of Netflix and other streaming services mean that the average person will choose the convenience of that over downloads, RAR files, and all the rest.

When it comes to written content, and podcasts through, we’re still not quite there. Having run Arseblog for 15 years, it’d be fair to say that by any normal standards our business model is pretty rubbish. We make content seven days a week then give it away for free – although it is, of course, ad supported.

That means writing a 1000 word blog seven days a week, 365 days a year (that’s about four novels worth of writing each year from the blog alone). That’s match previews, match reports, stats, player ratings, news, transfer gossip, focus on the youth and ladies teams, columnists, opinion, tactics, analysis, interviews, and everything else distributed via our website, social media or our apps. All free, all the time.

And if we decided tomorrow to go behind a paywall, a lot of our audience would probably not come with us. Not because they don’t like us, but because there’s still so much other free stuff out there to fill the gap. Yet, with the increase in ad-blocking technology – in part fueled by advertisers who resort to more and more nefarious methods to counter ads that are already being blocked – we may have no choice in the future.

We have strict guidelines about the kind of advertising we run on the site, to ensure that readers are not inconvenienced or annoyed. These include:

  • No pop-ups
  • No pop-unders
  • No auto-play videos
  • No interstitials
  • No ads that obscure content in anyway
  • No full site takeovers
  • No native advertising/branded content

That really just leaves us with basic display advertising*, and we do urge readers who use an ad-blocker to whitelist us if they can, but we’re aware that for many the only good ad is an ad you can’t see.

My prediction is that blocking will become more and more commonplace, and ultimately the only way forward will be some kind of subscription based model. That’s why it’s encouraging see to Second Captains get the support their content merits. The challenge for other small/niche publishers, is to ensure that readers/listeners etc can see the value in that support.

I recently gave a talk in DIT about web publishing etc, and when I asked for a show of hands from people who had a favourite website/blog/podcast, it included pretty much everybody in the lecture. When I asked how many people would be willing to pay a monthly subscription of €5 for the same content, I’d estimate there were 15-20% of the hands left in the air.

I then asked how many people had bought a coffee that day. 80% of the hands went up. How many would buy a coffee tomorrow? 70%. How many bought a coffee every day? 50-60%.

So I did some maths for them – let’s say a coffee is €2.50, you’re spending €12.5o a week on that, maybe €30-50 a month in total. You don’t notice that money going out of your pocket on a daily basis because you’re spending small increments, so in that context a fiver for a website you love isn’t outrageous by any means.

Quite a few said they’d never thought about it like that. Spending €5 in the ‘real’ world is easy, but people seem to consider that a lot of online money, even if it’s going towards something they consume every day.

€5

It’s less than a pint of beer. It’s half the price of a packet of cigarettes (for those of you still on 20 a day you’re spending €300+ a month on that, what’s €5 in the grand scheme of things?!). A burrito is more expensive. You can barely get a sandwich. Some bottles of craft beer in the supermarket are almost a fiver. A bus journey in and out of town. A cinema ticket for two hours entertainment costs €10+, so what’s half that for seven days a week of well produced content about a thing you love?

There are countless things that you spend more on every week without even thinking about it, so if more people applied to same standards to what they’re willing to spend online it would change the landscape considerably.

Two final points.

1 -* We do events, publish books etc, so advertising is not the only income source, but it is the primary one.

2 – The most obvious consequence of the Second Captains move to Patreon for me isn’t simply that people are willing to pay, it’s that it has enabled them to produce more interesting and varied content than they did previously. So people are getting value for their money and also enabling talented people to give them more for it.

AM15.03.2017

ps – I know the coffee thing is a bit worn now, but it really is a great example of something people spend money on every day without much consideration.

Some predictions for 2016

As I had some time relatively free, I thought I’d try some soothsaying. My predictions for the world in 2016.

1 – Podcasting will continue to grow as a medium. I predict there will be an as-yet unseen technological advancement which will propel podcasts further into the mainstream.

2 – We will see the first Premier League footballer to come out. He will be hailed as a trailblazer, a brave man, and a hero. And the first time he takes a corner at an away ground dozens of grown men will make lewd gestures at him and call him a ‘faggot’.

3 – Ireland’s general election will be an absolute disaster with votes spread across all the parties and independents to the point where it will take a ridiculous hodge-podge coalition to form a government. That government won’t last 18 months.

4 – The annoying nature of web advertising will see more and more people adopt ad-blocking software, particularly on mobile. Revenues will plummet, forcing publishers into ever more desperate short-term options to try and make up for it. Their insistence on using more pop-ups and more auto-play videos will mean more people use ad-blocking software, particularly on mobile … lots of websites will be unable to

5 – Branded content and native advertising will begin to irritate people as it becomes more prevalent. It will cause issues with credibility and editorial voice.

6 – The idea of paying for content won’t be so abhorrent to people. Donations, subscriptions and services like Patreon will become increasingly important – especially for small/medium publishers whose advertising revenue has fallen off a cliff. Readers/fans will be more willing to support content they like.

7 – I will continue to never visit a website with the word ‘bible’ in its name.

8 – Facebook will change their algorithms again so that publishers and websites will have no choice but to pay if they want posts that refer back to them to have any meaningful reach. They will also launch a proprietary audio platform or functionality to get in on the podcast action.

9 – Attention spans will grow shorter, but clickbait headlines, especially via social media, will become less and less effective. The lines between what’s real and what’s not will blur, probably because of politics and the divisiveness of online discourse.

10 – Somebody will invent headphone cables that don’t get wrapped around the goddam wheels of my goddam chair.

How to make money online from death and tragedy

When something bad or sad happens, it’s now really important that websites provide us with social media round-ups so we can know how to feel about it.

Please note: we’re using sports merely as an example – these methods can be applied to politics, acting, arts, entertainment, music, or any other area in which famous people die.

The death of a sportsperson, or somebody related to sport in some vague way, is something the general public would not be able to understand or consider properly if it weren’t for a) celebrities Tweeting about it and b) websites handily rounding up these Tweets to put on web pages which are covered with ads. It teaches them how to deal with death, loss and grief properly because these are things that none of them will ever have experienced before in their own lives.

Accusations that such educational material is merely a way of generating cheap hits, page views, ad impressions and clicks are simply misguided.

If you are a website owner, you should maximise the potential of people’s deaths by utilising popular advertising formats such as: pop-ups, pop-unders, interstitials, auto-playing videos, and malware which will allow you to hijack people’s computers, appropriate their identity and drain their bank accounts.

This isn’t just some kind of snake oil though, see these amazing stats for proof. In Figure 1, we see how many people are looking at your website when somebody is alive:

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However, in figure 2, we can see the benefit to website owners of somebody’s death (or the death of many people at once):

Screen-Shot-2015-05-06-at-10.37.36

When collating these posts, simply wait for the tragic event to occur, then screenshot some Tweets from the usual suspects – along with a few randomers to make it seem like you’re down with the people, then just publish them on your advertising-laden webpage, like so:

tweet1

tweet2_new

tweet3

tweet5

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Note: When choosing which sportsperson to feature, analytics show that the end-user responds best to the one with the most exclamation marks. This may take you some time to count, but it’s almost certainly worth it.

tweet4

Don’t forget your gracious ‘randomer’!

tweet6

By presenting these Tweets, not only is the website in question helping the general public come to terms with their grief over a person 99.99999999% of them have never met, it allows them to tap into something much more fundamental than that.

A recent discovery in a science lab by some scientists identified Gene CD82b_alone – known as the Grief Junkie gene. It’s believed that mobile phone use has altered human DNA and it’s now hugely important to people that other people know how deeply empathic they are towards others, but only from the comfort of their own keyboard. Those who feel the most can be identified by their use of multiple hashtags.

There are those who would have you believe that using the death of others in order to generate revenue is somehow morally shady, but the reality is everyone else is doing it, and if everyone is doing something, it can’t be all bad. And now that quality broadsheet newspaper websites are in on the act, it provides even more legitimacy, so don’t let some people who think these kind of posts are cheap and exploitative put you off.

For those websites who operate on a larger scale, outside identifiable niches, these methods can be applied to world events like natural disasters, plagues, human suffering on a grand scale, wars and conflicts, fatal malfunctions, and crashes of all kinds.

SEXY

Remember, this is the new age of digital. Content is everywhere, and everything is content.

Dead kids = content. Reaction to dead kids = content. Outrage to the reaction to dead kids = content. Outrage to the outrage to the reaction of dead kids = content.

Then something else will happen, somebody else dies, and the cycle moves on providing other great opportunities to quickly slap together a few Tweets dressed up as a story.

As a website owner, you have to synergise your content strategy because big data is in the cloud now. Without the millenials on your phablet, how are your children going to become thought leaders in the Internet of things?

If people want standards, they should go live in the past where we also had things like TB, smallpox and slavery. Do you want your website to espouse the benefits of human trafficking?* Of course not, so make sure when you have a chance to produce content off the back of other people’s grief, heartache and misery, you don’t think twice.

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*unless the trafficked people die in the process, at which point they become content.

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