Jimmy Guterman's blog

media, technology, management, and the rest of it

Archive for the ‘wordpress’ Category

What I learned from making The Sandinista Project free for a day

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When I’m not working or blogging or trying to live my life, I steal some time to work on my fiction. I use a fine program called WriteRoom that makes a computer writing environment much less distracting than the Microsoft Word norm.

The developer of WriteRoom has written an iPhone version of the program. I don’t use it as much, but it has been the subject of an fascinating price experiment. I bought WriteRoom.iPhone soon after it came out, for $4.99, but since then the developer has been testing different price points, with conclusive results:

08/20/2009 9 @ $4.99
08/21/2009 4280 @ Free
08/22/2009 7166 @ Free
08/23/2009 4901 @ Free
08/24/2009 88 @ $0.99
08/25/2009 56 @ $0.99
08/26/2009 119 @ $0.99

Looks like strong evidence for Chris Anderson’s contention that there is an enormous difference between almost free and free, even as Joshua Benton has noted that anyone who can afford an iPhone or an iPod Touch likely can risk 99 cents on an app without falling into a lower tax bracket.

I’ve got my own story to tell about free. As regular readers of this space know, last week I made The Sandinista Project available for free for roughly one day. The record went up at 12.01am on Friday and came down around 9am on Saturday. Here are the stats:

Total number of views of the page with the download link: 17,664 (13,834 Friday, 3,830 Saturday)
Total number of completed album downloads: 7,577 (6,772 Friday, 805 Saturday)

This is not what traffic is usually like on my blog, as this traffic report from WordPress makes embarrasingly clear:


The day of making The Sandinista Project free flattened my traffic for every other day this month. (Thanks to boing boing and others for pointing to it, by the way.) Indeed, the 7,577 free album downloads exceeded the number of physical albums we sold in the two years since the record came out. I’m not sure how many legit digital albums we sold via iTunes, Amazon, etc., but much of that business is in single tracks so I suspect the digital full-album sales were negligible. It’s hard to figure out how many unauthorized copies are out on the Net, but the week before the download experiment, I checked the numbers on Pirate Bay and two other prominent torrent sites and extrapolated at the very least 6,000 torrented copies. So, between the free authorized download last week and the free unauthorized downloads of the previous 28 months, most of the copies of The Sandinista Project that people are listening to weren’t paid for.

Yet people are listening to it. In the week since the free download, more than 300 of them wrote me to either thank me or complement the work. The trolls came out, too, but we all know what to do about them. So … there is some audience of people who want this music. They just don’t want to pay for it. For this project, that was not a big problem. We weren’t expecting to get paid, and what little we did make we intended to give away. It was, I guess, an art project. We weren’t doing it to make a living. We were doing it to get heard. Mission accomplished.

But what if The Sandinista Project was intended as a money-maker? The success of the free download suggests that there is an audience interested in the work. A popular policy nowadays is to give away something of value in the hope that it will serve as persuasive marketing for something that is for sale. A free download of this record could have been a come-on for a concert, associated merch, or some high-end physical version of the same product. Not sure how well that would work. Let’s use the WriteRoom.iphone example: when the price rose from zero to 99 cents, downloads all but stopped: the worst day at the free price was 4,280 downloads, the best day at the cheap price was 119 downloads, and let’s not forget that a typical day at the original price of $4.99 was 9 downloads. There is no substantial business there.

Thanks to the lethal combination of breakthrough technology, changes in consumer expectations, and industry-wide incompetence so overwhelming that a business school could build an entire degree program around it, I suspect the existing music industry is too far gone to build a business out of a we’ll-give-you-something-for-free-and-then-sell-something-else-to-you model. The attitude at traditional entertainment companies, that we’re the geniuses and the tastemakers and you’ll buy what we tell you is good, is nearly the opposite of the Net’s relatively bottom-up approach to popularity. There will still be some very popular performers who can sell more than a million copies of a traditional album in physical or virtual form, and there will be many, many indie performers who can garner a devoted audience on the Net while covering some subset of their expenses. But for those in the middle, neither superstars or hobbyists, people who want to make a living as musicians, the current model offers little. Giving something away and hoping someone will pay for something else somewhere down the road looks more and more like a business model that’s both cynical and hopeless. The fat, spent music industry needs a punk rock of business models the same way it needed punk rock in the mid-1970s. And, as with punk, none of the incumbent powers will be the ones who figure it out.

Written by guterman

August 28, 2009 at 2:57 pm

Posted in music, publishing, wordpress

Sometimes the algorithm is wrong

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I own the domain guterman.com. You’re visiting this blog at blog.guterman.com. But that’s not enough for WordPress. Every time I log in, it suggests URLs I should buy. F’rinstance:

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I am very happy to have moved this blog from Blogger to WordPress. But, Web 2.0 fans, it’s worth pointing out that sometimes the algorithm is flat-out wrong.

Written by guterman

September 8, 2008 at 2:59 pm

Posted in web 2.0, wordpress

Questions for the proprietor

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Where you been?
Canada, mostly. The five of us and a friend of Eli’s packed into the van: half a week in Montreal (good, and I was not responsible for this), half a week in Ottawa (great), and a one-night stopover in Burlington, Vt., on the way back. As of Tuesday, I’m three-quarters of the way to Inbox Zero. I need to learn French for the next trip to the Great White North.

Was everything the same when you returned?
Mostly. Manny is gone, and so is Scrabulous, but it looks as if the latter has returned in not-too-diminished form. I missed a particularly weird Carl Icahn hissy fit, and I’ll have to check in with Paczkowski for guidance on how to interpret that.

What did you learn about your newspaper-reading habits while you were gone?
As I’ve noted previously, I’m done with print newspapers. For the first half of the vacation, I did a reasonably good job of staying off the laptop (and we were in another country, so I didn’t want to turn on the iPhone unless absolutely necessary). If I wanted to know what was going on in the world I had to read the print versions of the Times and Journal, both of which were available in hotel gift shops at imminent-apocalypse prices. I imagined that reading newspapers this way would feel like a luxury. Instead, compared to their younger online siblings, they felt out of date and, well, short. Aside from the immediacy you get from following news via the net, chances are you see that news as part of a larger river of information. It’s always coming at you. In comparison, reading the news in a newspaper feels limited, finite. It ends. News on the net never ends (for better or worse).

Is there anything better than watching your girls swim in a hotel pool?
Not much.

Also worth looking at was the National Gallery in Ottawa. We spent two hours there. I bet we could have gone at least two days without running out of surprises. I was particularly taken by William Kurelek’s “Arriving on the Manitoba Farm,” which looks dark and formless in this image, but reveals more and more layers of detail and meaning when you have the pleasure of standing in front of it.

When you stopped in Burlington, Vt., on the way back, did you see any newspaper headlines you’d expect to see only in Burlington, Vt.?

What did you read?
Parts of Francine Prose’s Read Like a Writer (mostly zzz, but it did introduce me to this guy) and Hawthorne’s The Blithedale Romance, and (several times) my favorite Chekhov story, “The Lady with the Dog.”

And you read them all on your…
Kindle, right. It’s a usability nightmare and the selection of Amazon-blessed-and-DRMed books is insufficient and random, but I found it convenient and comfortable under all but the most low-light situations.

Did you write?
Yes, especially early in the week when I was still keeping that off-the-net promise. It’s amazing how less depressed you can be about the quality of something if you’re actually working on it. And maybe I should consider a new business model.

What was Jane’s most memorable quote during the week?
There were so many candidates, but I’m going with “I’m trying to save the tattoo.”

How’s the new job going?
So far it seems like a very good fit. I’ll have a full report at the end of The First 90 Days.

Weren’t you going to tell us the point of this blog?
Comments from Doug, Owen, and Andrea — and a gift from Brian — showed me the limits of my thinking from a few posts ago. And Jane has suggested that I write about what I think about: namely, media and technology. So, unless you’re reading this via a newsreader, you’ll see that the blog now has a new tagline: “media, technology, and the rest of it.” I’ve got some ideas for making this more than a vanity blog; we’ll see if I can live up to them. Oh, and to warn you, I’m going to pay more attention to Twitter.

What’s next?
Gotta see how the WordPress app for the iPhone works.

Written by guterman

August 5, 2008 at 1:41 pm

On not raising your hand unless you have something to say (or, the opposite of blogging)

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One of the unexpected side effects of moving this blog to WordPress was easy access to real-time statistics. I could tell, pretty quickly, whether a particular post or type of post was getting picked up or ignored. It’s seductive stuff — as anyone who has followed his or her book- or record-selling stats on Amazon knows so well. The bad part, aside from the time-wasting, is that the easy access to stats makes a blogger think too much about audience before posting. Blogs, I believe, are supposed to be about unvetted expression, capturing a moment, embracing the amateur and enthusiast in you even if you’re a professional writer in your real life. I intended to title one of my previous blogs “Quality over Quantity,” to celebrate that, but as old-timers know, I committed a typo and wound up titling that blog “Quantity over Quantity,” an unintentional joke too amusing to fix.

Now I’m not so sure. It’s 2008 and almost everyone has a blog (or has at least tried):

Is blogging getting old? Over the past two years, Twitter and Facebook status messages have emerged as media for distributing thoughts deemed too evanescent for a blog post. And now there are so many such services that aggregators such as FriendFeed and Ping.fm have emerged. More are coming. Nothing is so mundane that it can’t be shared immediately via many media. As Philip Greenspun’s blog puts it in its tagline: “A posting every day; an interesting idea every three month.”

I am a bit too enamored with my own ideas, as are many of us. As Jane said to me once and probably thought many more times, “Tell it to your blog.” The blogosphere is a wonderful place, but it’s one by definition full of noise. Although I value that noise and revel in it sometimes, I think too many of my posts are mostly noise, little signal.

Sometimes statistics reveal a truth. The two posts here that received, respectively, the most traffic and the most pointers in recent weeks were Barack Obama, Rolling Stone, and the secret of one great magazine cover and Neil Young and Crazy Horse: Twin “Hurricane”s in Rio. They’re two of the more substantive posts here from the past month. Neither post will change the world and both of ’em featured pointers to more interesting content elsewhere. But they both sought to do a bit more than point to something and say, “Cool.” So, as this blog trudges forward, I’ll stop posting just to post. If I have something interesting to offer, I’ll try to communicate it in a substantial and entertaining way. If I don’t, I’ll try to shut up.

Written by guterman

July 21, 2008 at 3:25 pm

Looking for a great WordPress developer

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I need one — not for this little blog, but for my job. Help us!

Written by guterman

July 2, 2008 at 12:19 pm

Posted in blogging, wordpress, work