Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics

Posts Tagged ‘advertising’

Idea – Small Business everyday – not just once a year on Saturday

Posted by shannonclark on November 19, 2012

This Saturday is the return of the American Express sponsored alternative to Black Friday, Small Business Saturday which is indeed a great event where American Express is using their marketing clout to promote shopping at local, small businesses. if you are an American Express cardholder you definitely should register before Nov 24th via the above link and qualify to get $25 credit if you spend more than $25 (on a single transaction) at a registered small business – either per the website above or a Square merchant.

No complaints about that emphasis from me but it did spark an idea and a question.

Why restrict this movement to one Saturday a year? Why not create a way to promote shopping from innovative businesses every day? 

Clearly there are a lot of complicated reasons to focus on a single day – for one it is a great way for American Express to leverage marketing dollars to make a single push and to emphasize the value of accepting American Express to small business merchants (i.e. since it costs more for the merchants anything like this day that adds value to that transaction via stretching marketing dollars is a win for small businesses) but I think there is a lot of great opportunities for networks of smart businesses to work together to create value for all participating merchants.

First however a few definitions and restrictions I would put on any such project were I to pursue it.

  1. The value for consumers in shopping at a small, local business should be the service they get and what they can get there that can’t easily be found elsewhere. In many cases this means businesses that offer unique items, often locally made and/or that support and service older items no longer available elsewhere. Used bookstores versus an only new bookstore for example.
  2. If I were running things I would emphasize the value of curation and editing over comprehensiveness. Small businesses win against the Amazon.coms and Walmarts not by competing on price or selection but by offering better service – which includes editing what is available to only sell great products. This in turn also allows for value to buyers even if the absolute price of a given good is the same (or even higher) than that good might be at a big box store or massive online site. Busy shoppers value service – and help in identifying the great versus the not-so-great is, for many, worth spending slightly more (avoiding the costs and time of returning items or replacing things that wear out quickly)
  3. Small businesses don’t necessarily mean tiny one-woman shops. Relative to the $100B+ massive big box chains like Walmart nearly every other retailer is “small” – small in this context primarily means in ethos and focus – though I think I would start with businesses primarily in the <$100M/year range (mostly in the <$10M range with many in the <$1M). These could be mid-sized businesses like San Francisco’s Rickshaw Bagworks or even smaller businesses like my wife’s design business.
  4. Here in SF we have an example of the type of thing I’m thinking about – SF Made is a network of 100’s of local to San Francisco makers – companies that aren’t just based in SF but in most cases manufacture what they sell here in San Francisco. SF Made is close to what I’m envisioning though I think it should be a national movement not just a local citywide one.

I don’t mind in thinking about this idea if it excludes many types of small businesses. The idea isn’t to promote shopping locally or at small businesses just because they are small or local – ignoring whether they offer great products at fair prices – rather the idea is to find a network of likeminded, related businesses that through pooling together can better market and promote the unique products and service they offer. Any such organization has to be about the value to buyers as much (perhaps even more so) than it is about the value to the local businesses. If it is this could be a highly sustainable movement – if the value isn’t there however or if it is too skewed towards one party over the other then this isn’t a sustainable, long term movement.

Groupon’s approach isn’t, I think, the right on – it emphasizes price over quality and service. What I’m thinking about would be a service that is not open to any business to join – but which rather is possibly a co-op where very business has to be approved in some manner (perhaps not by each other – this should be open even to “rivals” as long as they all meet the core criteria and philosophy). Once a member and once pooling marketing and promotional budgets the idea would be that this organization could do things that no single small business could reasonable take on – sustained online marketing campaigns, long running offline advertising and promotional campaigns etc. Possibly this organization would also serve as a negotiator on behalf of these smaller businesses for a wide variety of products and services (health insurance for example but also negotiating with payment processing firms like Square, American Express etc.

Advertisements

Posted in advertising, customer service, Entrepreneurship | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The business opportunities I see for 2012 and beyond

Posted by shannonclark on June 26, 2012

I see 1000’s of opportunities all around me for new businesses. A few are being pursued by my friends (and even family in a few cases) but most are not being pursued or well funded. Before I list a few of the opportunities which I see let me start with a few disclaimers.

I am not (currently at least) an investor – I don’t work for a Venture Fund or other investors and my personal net worth, such as it is, is tied up in my own company and family. I will mention here many companies and ideas being pursued by friends, invested in by friends and in some cases have family involvement – I’m completely not an unbiased observer of the tech world and do not claim to be one. That said I try to offer constructive criticism to my friends (and family) when asked.

Many of the opportunities I see and the ones I’m most passionate about are likely not the ones that you “should” focus on if you want to have the easiest path to getting funding in the current environment. I will be focusing on sustainable businesses (sustainable in the sense that they can keep going based on pulling in more resources than they expend on a regular basis – in a few cases also sustainable from an environmental perspective) I’m not focusing on what is “hot” or “trendy” or “sought after by investors at the moment”.

I can offer few guarantees other than that a) I will miss at least one billion+ opportunity and b) many of the opportunities I propose will upon being pursued lead to failed companies in many cases.

So disclaimers done here are some of the 1000’s of opportunities I see all around me. I think that many of these ideas could be pursued anywhere in the world – many of them are not limited to a specific geography or a culture (but some are) and these are not just for the “1%” though again a few of them are at least initially targeted at a luxury market. My goal is not to suggest the “best” businesses for the world – or to solve every problem across the globe.

That said I do also fundamentally believe that the best businesses are based on strong values and consistency (and honesty with all stakeholders). Businesses built upon fooling someone (regulators, investors, customers, suppliers, bloggers or other partners) will inevitably come crashing down – leaving destruction in their wake. Absolutely these can be businesses that give the impression of success (and in fact often generate outsized returns for someone – see many firms on Wall Street in recent decades or the stories behind many past booms and busts) but in the long run if your business is built upon fooling someone once that deception is revealed your business (and personal reputation) will likely suffer.

Businesses which are built upon a basis of offering great value to every party involved in the business (including the communities where the business operates) are businesses which are designed for long term success.

So where do I see opportunity?

  1. Streamlined and carefully curated local businesses.
    Far too many small businesses try to please every potential customer – they try to stock something for everyone, try to have a dish on their menu (if a restaurant) for every taste and occasion. In their efforts to please everyone more often than not small businesses (and for that matter big businesses) all too often please no one and furthermore invest too much in aspects of their business which will not pay them back (i.e. in inventory which will go unsold). Instead the successful new retail businesses which I see are most often those businesses which have very carefully curated what they sell – and thus who they sell to. Businesses that may offer only a very small selection of items – but which know those items exceptionally well, offer very high degrees of service and high quality products and experiences. Frequently as well these are businesses that do not try to be the lowest priced offering in their market, instead they have the confidence in their products to offer them at a fair but often high price.

    These opportunities are both for restaurants, cafes and retail businesses of all types. Look around your community and see what is missing. Most of these businesses are unlikely to be venture capital investments – but a few could be – see The Melt for example. Consider as well that most fast food businesses were very streamlined when they started (at least) offering just a handful of items and a consistant quality. While this has changed as many businesses have expanded around the globe it is a lesson worth revisiting.

  2. Curated eccomerce combined with a pre-order and limited edition philosophy.
    Online it is relatively easy to think about businesses that have seemingly infinite inventories – think Ebay,  Zappos, Amazon.com or indeed most of the eccommerce businesses started in the 1990’s. This model is indeed powerful but for long term profits it requires vast numbers of customers (to attract eventually a buyer for everything in your warehouses) and it requires fairly significant investments into warehouses and inventory (or in Ebay’s case a network of sellers that handle these issues).

    But there is an opportunity that I think too many investors are reluctant to invest in but which is a brilliant and long-term game changing model to consider – sell only a handful of items almost all of which you have pre-sold and which you limit the number of to command higher margins and minimize inventory complications. Think the model built upon many Kickstarter projects where 1000’s of customers have paid, in advance, for the products they desire. Now imagine a business that, mostly, only sells things that customers have not just said they are interested in but have taken the bigger commitment of actually ordering and paying for in advance. This business does require a lot of care to get the timing right – you have to know how long it will take you to make the goods you sell and you have to know what your prices will be in the worst case to ensure that you haven’t just sold your entire inventory of something new for less than it will cost you to make. But if you can get that right this model is incredibly powerful (and highly bootstrapable). It also is a model that can be highly sustainable especially if you are selling a product to customers who will likely come back to buy another product from you in the future.

    This model is seen today in a handful of mostly design driven businesses – Threadless, 20×200 but I think the opportunity is actually a lot greater and bigger especially as manufacturing networks shrink and capabilities increase globally for collaboration and production to happen faster and in smaller batches.

  3. Co-operative partnerships to create strong brands and great businesses as well as create compelling content.
    I don’t know of current examples of this idea but here it is.

    Historically great content was supported by a handful of brands that sold goods and services that had a wide market but limited differentiation (think soap companies that started the genre of “soap operas” via their support of early radio dramas). In the modern era however brand advertising on a national scale has become limited to only a handful of mostly very large businesses (still some soap companies, a few banks and insurance firms, car companies, soft drinks and beer companies, drug companies and only a handful of other industries). But at the same time content creation has dropped in cost in many places (other than non-reality show television series) with the proliferation of YouTube channels and other forms of online content across all mediums.

    I think there is an opportunity for a group of new companies to pool their resources and support great content that has a logical association with their businesses, targets a specific niche and which has a long term plan both for content creation and distribution – a plan that will support the business goals of every party involved. This is high risk to be sure as most content sounds better in theory than in practice and building an ongoing audience is never easy – nor is tying that audience back to each of the supporting advertisers/sponsors a trivial issue and this has to happen over a long timeframe and at a level that grows the businesses of every party involved. That said, I think that the opportunity here is massive – something has to replace the 30 second tv spot and the historical model of advertising based content (newspapers, magazines, radio and tv). The costs here also don’t have to be high – this could start with a YouTube channel type of model and indeed we are starting to see this to a degree with some of the current crop of YouTube channels – except that the content and the sponsorship/advertising support for the channels are not tightly connected to each other in the least (and in most cases seem highly random).

  4. Businesses that are not built on offering the lowest price but on offering incredible quality and exceptional experiences. 
    Yes, WalMart will not be failing anytime soon and sure everyone everywhere loves a great deal. But increasingly there is also a recognition that many “great deals” aren’t as good as they at first appear. Cheap clothes that you have to replace every few months quickly cost you more than clothes that will last for years. Food in large bulk containers that end up being tossed away unused and rotting and which contribute to higher health care costs are also not a “good deal” however cheap they appear to be at first. Instead I think there are lots of opportunities in building businesses that charge for the value they provide and use that to grow lasting business. This is a shift back towards quality and craft alongside the customization available at lower volumes. Companies such as San Francisco’s Rickshaw Bagworks illustrate this model.
  5. Businesses that build tools and services that enable other businesses to prosper.
    Okay this is an old fashioned business, it is the modern variation on the don’t be a gold miner be the guy selling shovels and pickaxes. But more fundamentally it is about recognizing that there are in essence only two core types of businesses – those businesses that provide a core element for another business’ success (suppliers broadly speaking) or businesses that sell discretionary purchases that compete to some degree with all other optional purchases (whether optional purchases by corporations or individuals). The first category restricts your pricing to low enough that your customers can still leverage your offerings to in turn make more money from their customers. The second category allows for literally unlimited pricing (or more specifically “as high as the market will bear” but means your customers are likely fickle, more costly to engage with and your competition will continually emerge from new areas you can not anticipate.

    Amazon.com is an example of company that is trying to do both types of business – both be a supplier to 1000’s of other businesses – via both their Amazon Web Services technology offerings and via their Amazon Fulfillment services offering as well as other ecommerce services to 100’s of other businesses and of course as both a large scale consumer eccommerce company and as a publisher and consumer electronics company Amazon sells discretionary purchases directly to consumers.

What other opportunities do you see in the market today (globally or locally)?

Posted in Entrepreneurship, geeks, internet | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

If I were the Yahoo! CEO (for a day…)

Posted by shannonclark on May 10, 2012

So many people around the tech world have been writing about the current  Yahoo CEO’s problems with honesty.

Which got me to thinking – what would I do as the Yahoo! CEO (even if just for a day – though really it will take years to revitalize Yahoo! if it is even possible to do so)?

First the full disclosures

1.  My resume is messy. I don’t have a college degree (I entered the University of Chicago in 1991 as part of the class of 1995, but in 1994 I took a year off  – I was 19, on track to graduate at the age of 20 and had just had a very rough year emotionally as my then girlfriend left me for another woman, that year off during which I wrote a play and parts of two novels, turned into many more years as I was able to first start a business selling collectibles that paid extremely well and then started a series of computer consulting jobs that just kept paying more and more, in 1998 and 1999 I returned to school while also working full time, wasn’t able to negotiate a leave of absence to finish my degree so quit but instead of finishing completely took a better job offer – after seeing my clients through the Y2K transition and after not getting paid commissions on the nearly $2M in renewals and new sales I had negotiated I left in early 2000 to start my own company. Since 2000 I’ve worn many different hats at various times – as an entrepreneur, consultant, conference organizer, writer/blogger, advisor to startups and more – none of my various startup ideas have resulted in big successes and at times have overlapped – so yes, my resume is “messy”).

2. At present I’m not a direct Yahoo! shareholder (though mutual funds my wife and I own likely hold some Yahoo! stock) but I have all kinds of personal conflicts of interest. Lots of friends who were at one time employees (and even senior leaders) at Yahoo!, plenty of friends across Silicon Valley (and indeed the world) who are investors in competitors to Yahoo! in one form or another, have sold companies in the past to Yahoo!, are building companies that compete with Yahoo! or who work at competitors to Yahoo! including Facebook. I also have a number of consulting clients, including some in whom I have small equity stakes that may compete with some division of Yahoo! now or in the future. For that matter I’ve personally tried ventures that would have competed with some part of Yahoo!.

But all that aside here is what I would if I were offered the chance to help Yahoo! turn around.

Step 1. Immediately halt the patent trolling lawsuits & apologize to the tech community for the lawsuits (including to former employees whose works were used as part of these lawsuit.

The lawsuits even if there is a chance of “winning” via a large settlement (or judgement if the case makes it to trial) of money from the flush with cash post-IPO Facebook would be at best a Pyrrhic victory – the cost in future trust, in diminished ability to hire the best and brightest or to retain those who remain at the company would be immense – making any future hope of innovating out of the current mess difficult to achieve (at best).

Step 2. Repair relationships with Alibaba and SoftBank. 

See this article from February to see what I’m referring to if you aren’t familiar. According to a more recent report a new deal without SoftBank may be in the works. Clearly this is one of the best remaining assets that Yahoo! has which could be divested to generate cash to fund reinvigoration efforts for the rest of Yahoo! However while taxes matter, Yahoo! also needs to repair the underlying relationships with two major Internet giants (Alibaba and SoftBank) if Yahoo! wants to remain a powerful and viable global Internet company. I don’t know what it would take to repair these relationships – but if I were CEO doing so would be a very high priority.

Step 3. Clean house with the Yahoo! board.

Somehow the Yahoo! board has presided over the long, painful to observe from the outside, decline of what was once one of the most innovative online companies to one that is while still important decreasingly relevant. The board has dickered, fought founders and shareholders alike and generally underperformed in a huge way. Of course, if I were appointed CEO (for that matter this is true of nearly any new CEO) I would likely “owe” the board for that appointment – but this is in part one of the problems. As the founders have departed there seems to be a big leadership and vision gap at Yahoo! Perhaps a smaller and newer board, refreshed by a mix of outsiders, former insiders and even a critic or two would be able to help guide the company into a new direction.

See http://specials.yahoo.com/forward/ for what the current board and revitalization effort looks like. Given the current scandal I don’t think it is working as intended.

Step 4. Define a clear vision for Yahoo!

Go read the new CEO’s Strategic Vision for Yahoo!. Don’t worry I’ll wait – though I do recommend you have a large shot of espresso first…

Can you summarize his vision? Not sure that I could.

And I think that’s the problem. Yahoo! sees itself as being so many different businesses (and has grown so large that it really is) that it no longer has a clear vision about what Yahoo! does (or should do) or what value Yahoo! offers to others. Is Yahoo! a technology company? A media property? An advertising platform? A search engine? A portfolio of Internet services and properties? Something else?

Yahoo! needs a clear, concise, simple vision that dictates everything that Yahoo! does – something that every employee, partner, client, customer or site visitor would get immediately and understand. This is HARD.

I can’t claim to have it fully – but I think it should be something like:

Yahoo! makes the web personal.

Okay perhaps that needs work – but listen to my logic. When Yahoo! launched years and years ago and as they grew the crown jewel of Yahoo! was not any specific website or part of Yahoo! – it was the user profiles that Yahoo! had for every user (and they had millions at a time when few sites had over 100k users) which they were able to extend to nearly every new property or site they launched. These user profiles meant that you could add a new service that Yahoo! created without needing to create a new username and password, user profile and more.

Now this seems like a minor achievement – Yahoo!’s profiles have been overtaken for more web users by their Facebook accounts (or their Twitter accounts) which are the login tool that millions of people use to access other services beyond Facebook or Twitter. But done well it is still an opportunity for Yahoo! – and one that starts to help inform what Yahoo! should focus on (and what they may want to forget about).

It is also a question of what is Yahoo!’s identity and offering to companies that will partner with Yahoo! or which will generate revenue for Yahoo! in some manner (most probably via purchasing advertising through Yahoo! in some capacity – currently limited mostly to Yahoo!’s own properties). If Yahoo! were to focus on making the web personal – making it relevant and interesting and useful to every user of Yahoo! – across whatever service(s) and platforms (including sites and services not created or owned by Yahoo! potentially) this would be challenging – and would require that Yahoo! take the side of the individual user over the advertiser – but in exchange the advertisers would get a more valuable placement and likely see far better results when they do (since Yahoo! would in theory only show ads when they were really targeted and of interest to a given user).

In today’s Internet this would also require that Yahoo! focus on building products and services that cross ALL platforms and forms – not just the web but mobile, touch, TV and more. Find ways to expose their services and properties that made them available on every platform – including making advertiser’s campaigns available and relevant to the given form factor. This would be hard, this would be challenging, this would require rewiring/rewriting/reinventing most of Yahoo! currently. It would also require renewed interest in building products and services for non-Yahoo! developers to leverage (Yahoo! just a few years ago was on the forefront of building open APIs and hosting Hackathons to encourage developers to build on top of Yahoo! platforms but I think they never fully committed to this and never made it a strategic priority). I would encourage Yahoo! to explore directions that included revenue sharing with outside developers – potentially putting Yahoo! in the middle of a vibrant mobile development future. Yahoo! would also need to explore lots of service offerings that instead of relying on advertising and mass scale rely instead on subscriptions and direct payments by users – again including pass through payments to outside developers in many cases.

Would this be enough to “fix” Yahoo!? 

I don’t know but it would be a start.

And there is, of course, “one more thing…”

Yahoo needs to streamline and eliminate as many layers of management and approval processes as possible. Likely this means a lot of transitions for current employees and a total rethinking of their current workforce. This might not be easy or painless but I would start by carving out small entrepreneurial teams within ALL of Yahoo!. Teams that would have full authority to spend a given budget in whatever manner they require – with encouragement to be creative – and few requirements that they wait for a committee to approve everything. This would of course work best if a unified, simple vision can be shared by every employee – something would make it easy to answer the question of “would this new …. further the big picture vision for Yahoo!?” – would it help make the web more personal (for example). As much as possible I would look at models from innovative firms such as Valve to attempt to flatten the structures of Yahoo! as much as possible. This is, of course, challenging in a global, large public company – but it isn’t impossible.

Posted in Entrepreneurship, internet, web2.0 | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

tbnl Magazine – call for submissions, subscribers & advertisers

Posted by shannonclark on January 14, 2009

Over the weekend I posted about the magazine – to be named later – I’m thinking about starting. Now having gathered feedback from many folks – in response to my blog post, to email exchanges, and personal conversations I’m ready to announce the next steps and to issue a call for submissions, and  pledges to subscribe or advertise. 

First a simple announcement – until someone suggests a better name (and pending various trademark & domain searches) my working name for the magazine is, in fact: tbnl Magazine. And yes, that stands for “to be named later” and yes, my intention is to refer to it in the lowercase form at least for now.

I wrote a lot about my impetus behind starting tbnl in my first post, having now talked with many people here is a quick summary of the types of works I’m looking for, as well as my intentions around the scale of the magazine (at least initially).

Size: My target, primarily due to practical matters of the technology of magazine printing (multiples of 16 pages offer advantages as most magazine printing presses print 16 pages at a time) is for an 80 page magazine + cover, on a relatively heavy, recycled paper stock (ideally with green inks etc) probably with full color inside and out. The physical size will be close to 8 1/2″ x 11″ (slightly smaller when printed on demand), saddle stitched (i.e. staples not perfect binding). Inside I plan on running advertising (more on that below) with a target of 12-16 pages worth of ads (some will be partial page ala New Yorker small format ads) and will keep the housekeeping pages (table of contents, colophon, staff, writers & artists bios) to a minimum. That leaves around 60 pages for content each issue. The design I’m leaning towards will take inspiration from The New Yorker and the redesigned Atlantic Monthly with somewhat more images (and likely heavier paper) than The New Yorker and probably somewhat (but not by much) less overt design than the new Atlantic Monthly.  Very roughly this means around 35,000-40,000 words per issue (depending on ratio of images to text, final font & font size decisions and other factors). 

In turn this means that published pieces will likely range between 1000 to 5000 words, probably a bit longer for the one or two fiction pieces in each issue (at least one of which will likely be a ‘genre” piece – probably Science Fiction or Fantasy but I’m open to great mysteries or even romance if done very well, probably still less than 10,000 words however). 

In researching current rates in the market, it appears (not entirely surprisingly) that rates for most markets are quite, quite low. Lower than I expected. For fiction it appears that higher than $0.05/word is considered quite “high paying” with $0.07 being considered a premium rate. Non-fiction rates are harder to view publicly but I know many writers in various genres so I will be checking with them to determine what would be good and more than fair rates.

My intention is to be a “high” paying market, I want to get the best possible work from the best writers I can find. While I don’t expect what we pay will (at least for the first few years) be high enough to be lifechanging or a significent income, I do want it to be more than just the cost of a nice dinner out somewhere. 

Submissions:

Initally they will be EMAIL ONLY.  

For the first issue(s) I will start with an OPEN submissions policy. However I reserve the right to publish works from people I as for pieces and we may close or somewhat restrict submissions in the future to manage the flow.  A few guidelines

  • Submissions MUST be original, complete, unpublished works. This means no previously published pieces (which includes blog/web published works). Complete means no parts of longer works (i.e. part of a novel for example). See “proposing a story” below for guidelines if you have a nonfiction story you want to propose writing vs. have in a completed form.
  • Submissions MUST be in a standard format. This means: in the email text (with clearly marked beginning and end), as a txt attachment, or as a well formated PDF attachment (well formatted means 12 point font, double spaced, with page #, title & author on every page). An estimated word count should be included, along with a SHORT author’s bio & website link(s)
  • Submissions of nonfiction should, if possible, also include related illustrations. Every story in tbnl will include at least one, in most cases more than one, related images. For nonfiction where possible these should be photographic (or relevant illustrations). For fiction these will be either carefully selected photographs or art. If you submit artwork you MUST have the rights to those works (or show that they are Public Domain works). Creative Commons licensed works which allow for COMMERCIAL USE will be considered. 
  • The payment for a work will in most cases be for the BUNDLED written work and related images. Thus if you do not own the images (i.e. you took your own photos) a split payment will be negotiated between the writer and the photographer or artist for that particular piece. 
  • tbnl will be buying “FIRST PUBLICATION” rights. This means that you are free to sell or publish the work in a collection after it has been published in tbnl. NOTE that issues of tbnl will remain in “print” via Print-on-demand for at least a year and likely longer. Also tbnl will have a “digital” edition for sale to ebook readers which also will remain in “print” for at least a year. tbnl will be purchasing these related digital rights (for first publication) and the right to keep the issue in “print” via Print-on-demand. The intention is to keep every issue in print for as long as possible – but also after some threshhold has been met to pay additional royalties to all contributors to an issue. The specifics of this are to be determined, if you are uncomfortable with this level of uncertainty, do not submit a work for publication in our first few issues. 
  • Deadlines for the first few issues will be announced, with a limited amount of grace period around each (but since submissions are initially “email only” the expectation is that deadlines should be met. Works submitted after the deadline for a given issue MAY be considered for future issues – but a note will be sent (likely autogenerated) noting the missed deadline. Requests to not consider the work will be honored.
  • tbnl will NOT accept simultanous submissions. This is to keep our process as simple as possible for the first few issues. In the future, especially for fiction submissions we likely will change this guideline. This means that if you are submitting a work to tbnl you do NOT currently have the same work being read at another publication.
  • tbnl encourages but does not require CC licenses for the works we publish. Done well we think that CC licenses make a lot of sense for most authors and allow for works to see wider distribution & creative reuse. 
  • The type of writing being submitted MUST be clearly defined. The best way to do this is to include a short (as in one paragraph) introduction to the work. Clearly noting if it is FICTION or NONFICTION. 
  • For a good example of the type of nonfiction tbnl is seeking see the book The New Kings of Nonfiction edited by Ira Glass. Also listen to the stories told on This American Life or on stage at shows like Fray or The Moth. This means a strong, personal voice and point of view, a wide range of topics, and strong writing which can incorporate some of the techniques of fiction writing. 
  • Authors who do not wish to be paid will have options to reallocate their pay. Some writers may not wish to be paid for work they submit. Options will be available to reallocate these payments – likely ranging from donations made in the name of the author to one of a select group of charities or to raising the rates for the other authors and artists in that particular issue. 

tbnl is NOT a forum for “breaking news” or for time-sensative reviews. The print schedule for tbnl is still being determined, at least quarterly though the plan is to go to bi-monthly or monthly as soon as possible.  While we may publish some long form non-fiction which is not in a “personal” voice it will always be with the focus on writing which will be relevant and worth reading for many years so reviews of a new movie, restaurant, play, book, album or product will likely not make the cut. Nor will discussions of topics “in the news” (pending elections, business moves etc). 

tbnl is a forum for great, timeless stories. 

Topics.

In no particular order the following are some (and by no means the only) topics we expect to publish in the first year of tbnl:

  • Serious food – especially looking at “Slow Food” and being a foodie/locavore
  • Hacking – in the original, positive sense of exploring the limits of technology and of creative ways to do things
  • Serious design – especially of the worldchanging variety 
  • Networks – I am the founder of MeshForum, a conference on the study of Networks so not surprisingly I expect to publish works exploring a range of network related topics in tbnl
  • Art – especially emerging art including digital art. Also ways to view and “read” art that illustrates the power of great art
  • Music – not reviews of new albums but rather stories of and about music – about a personal history around music, about the art of making music, about the history behind specific works. Especially of interest is writing that crosses musical boundries – I’m personally a fan of Opera as well as Mashups, Folk music as well as Electronica. 
  • Economics and “smart” business – timeless, great writing about Economics or business are rare and difficult to do, but tbnl will look for great, engaging stories
  • Games – again not reviews of particular games but stories about games, about the game industry, about game design or the mindset of game playing. Everything from computer games to chess to live action role playing games are welcome
  • Much, much more.

The primary focus of tbnl is timeless, great stories presented in a highly reader friendly form. “Great” is of course subject to debate but the goal will be to publish a magazine which you read cover to cover and which introduces every reader to a new perspective, to a way of engaging with topics they might not think are of interest. 

I am a geek – but a geek with a very eclectic and quite wide ranging set of interests tbnl will reflect this eclecticism. 

Subscribers

Pledges to subscribe are being sought now. Exact costs will depend on the number of issues we decide to publish in the first year and we are exploring a tiered model as well as a range of publishing options. tbnl Magazine is intended primarily as a labor of love, as such it hasn’t yet been decided if the underly organization will be non-profit or for-profit. In either case tbnl will be run as a business seeking to generate sufficient revenues to pay all parties and contributors and to put out the highest quality publication possible. 

Here are some, very rough, initial thoughts:

1st year (at least 4 issues) subscriptions: $50-75 (less for US subscribers, more for overseas). The planned print-on-demand rate will be between $15-20 + shipping per issue. The retail price, if copies of the initial print runs are sold at retail at all, is likely going to be $15 at least for the first few issues (will probably be lower when/if we move to a more frequent publishing schedule). 

1st year SUPPORTER subscriptions: $150, includes some range of bonus/special features to be determined. This level (or higher) will mostly be supporting the existence and formation of tbnl Magazine. The plan will be to have a range of ways of thanking supporters – this will likely include special events w/author readings, limited editions of art, bonus items and more. It will also include public (unless the supporter wishes to remain anonymous) thanks on the tbnl website.

1st year DIGITAL ONLY subscriptions: $30. Probably around half of the print subscription rate. Individual eBook copies of each issue will also probably be available, likely at around a rate of $10/issue (though exact pricing will be decided based on feedback, costs incurred via the ebook sales partners etc)

Print-on-Demand.  The plan is to make each issue of tbnl Magazine available on a print-on-demand basis. Most likely via MagCloud for a price of between $15-20 an issue. This is, however, limited to US orders only until MagCloud exits beta. As such, the plan is to have a small, limited edition print run for each issue for subscribers (including non-US subscribers) prior to the release via print-on-demand.

Advertising:

From the beginning tbnl Magazine will accept advertising. The initial design allocates around a total of 12-16 pages for advertising out of the expected 80 + cover pages. The full page cover inside & back will be highest priced ad pages. Interior ads will be accepted in full page, (half or 1/3 page – depending on if we settle on a two or three collumn layout), 1/4 or 1/8 page ads (think the ad formats found inside of The New Yorker for examples). 

All ads will be included in all editions of tbnl Magazine including digital editions. If we decide to make some or all of the content of tbnl Magazine available on our website this will include advertising from a given issue so advertisers are requested to include a target URL for those ads.

Like the other content of tbnl Magazine advertising in the magazine should be Timeless in nature. That is, it should remain relevant to readers for at least the next year and preferably the next two years from the date of publication. Thus advertising for brands and ongoing ventures is preferred to the promotion of specific events (i.e. a movie studio vs. a new movie, a publisher vs a specific book). 

The audience of tbnl Magazine is obviously still being determined, but the expectation is that it will be a diverse, highly literate, and deeply engaged audience. Likely small, but also influential and passionate.

Advertising Rates:

These are very much still being determined and to a degree will depend on the initial print runs. But here are some, very rough and subject to change, estimates. Discounts for prepayment and multiple issue committments will be made and agency fees may be extra. Discounts for some types of advertisers may also be made (non-profits, publishers, startups, galleries etc). These are also all based on expectations of relatively low print numbers (<10,000 per issue) when/if demand raises and/or retail distribution is determined these rates may go up. And remember that in addition to the subscriber only print run, the ads will run for 1-2 years (or longer) in the print-on-demand and ebook editions. 

  • Cover (inside, back and inside of back) – $5000/issue. This may be glossy, will definitely be color
  • Full Page – $3000/issue
  • 1/2 page (or one column if a three column layout) – $1500/issue
  • 1/4 page – $1000/issue
  • 1/8 page – $500/issue

As I noted – these are just initial, rough estimates. And they are negotiable. Priority will be given to advertisers who are willing to preebuy and to presupport for the full 1st year of issues (which ensures that those issues will be published).

Email me at shannon DOT clark AT gmail DOT com with submissions or advertising inquieries. Please include tbnl in your subject in all such emails!


Posted in advertising, Entrepreneurship, geeks, networks, personal, reading, San Francisco, tbnl | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Idea for a new magazine – to be named later

Posted by shannonclark on January 10, 2009

I recently learned about a very interesting new service, MagCloud, which prints magazines on demand and handles all subscription features (mailing, payment etc).  They are currently in limited Beta and have some limitations (the biggest of which is the cost for buyers – $0.20/page though the publisher can set the price for any given issue at a higher rate to make some profit. 

For a long time I have been thinking about creating a media outlet of some form and at the moment I am serious leaning towards a magazine of some form. This post is an exploration of those ideas, it is a stake in the ground as to the shape of this new publication. It is also a call for submissions and volunteers.

The Name – to be named later

My working name for the publication was going to be Mesh (or The Mesh) but it turns out that there was a MeshSF magazine here in SF a while back (appears to be out of print now) and there is another Mesh magazine in Jacksonville Florida. Thus to be named later – the name has to be highly inclusive and evocative of the range of topics to be covered, while also not being too long or hard to remember or use (and yes this includes requiring that there is a good domain available). 

The Format

My thinking is that to be named later will be more akin to a series of books than a monthly (or more frequent) magazine, though over time it may evolve into a more frequent publication. Thus I am torn about a number of physical formats – leaning between a book like size such as that used by Granta (or many University literary magazines), a slightly larger format such as that used by Foriegn Affairs, or a more traditional magazine size such as The New Yorker or Monocle (which is more booklike in format). 

That said, while a perfect bound format (glued edge) creates a more booklike publication, I personally find that format less conducive to reading – as quite literally it makes it harder to read the publication (since you can fold the magazine to only view one page at a time as you can with a traditional magazine). That said, it does create a more archival publication which has some advantages. 

Years ago when I was the editor of a literary magazine (in high school, we won an award) we decided to go with a half size format which had some advantages especially for the publication of poetry as it created a highly readable format (if small).

However for to be named later my goal is to have a publication which stays in print for a long time (so “back issues” remain available for a long period of time), which eventually (and as soon as possible) pays highly competitive rates for photos, art and articles, which supports a lot of very interesting writing, and most critically is a publication which I want to read myself. 

The Guidelines

  1. Articles must have a point of view, but may not be purely opinions.
  2. Every article will have illustrations – photos or art
  3. Every article will be bylined
  4. A very wide range of topics and types of articles will be accepted – no subject is out of bounds IF the writing is good, consise, and well written.
  5. Serious as well as non-serious writing is welcome and encouraged, including in most issues at least a few articles that meet peer-reviewed academic writing standards (footnotes and all)
  6. The physical form & design matters.
  7. Every issue will have at least one work of fiction (clearly identified) – genre writing not just welcome but encouraged (Science fiction, fantasy, mystery, romance etc).
  8. Every issue will be meant to be relevant for at least a year, usually longer. Thus timely articles will not be printed, nor will reviews which are timelimited (i.e. of a limited run of a show – though movies which will eventually be on DVD may be accepted)
  9. While the focus may include regional and city interests – underlying to be named later will be a global perspective (though initially at least all articles will be in English)
  10. CC-licenses for the content will be encouraged (though not mandated) and while to be named later will retain a right to keep each issue “in print” for a long duration, authors & artists will have the right to sell their work for other publications (i.e. they retain all rights – but to be named later has the right to keep an issue “in print”, including via print-on-demand for a long duration – ideally perpetual). Much of to be named later (perhaps all) will be published online as well as in physical form – though the PRINT edition is the primary focus.

So what do those 10 somewhat random points mean?

First I am imagining a publication which will have a seriously broad range of articles – from writing about food, to serious academic exploration of economics, to science fiction stories, to photographic coverage of art and hacking. 

That said, the focus of to be named later will also be on timeless writing, on writing which is first and foremost eminently readable and engaging – which you want to turn back to and could pick up anytime after it is published and enjoy (i.e. this will not be a publication trying to cover breaking news or trying to get “exclusives” or scoops). 

to be named later will have advertising

Even if to be named later is wildly successful in generating interest and subscribers it will include commercial content from the beginning. Advertisers who welcome the timeless nature of to be named later and want to support the publication of high quality, challenging, intelligent writing covering a wide range of issues with a high focus on being enjoyable to read and experience. 

My tastes are wide ranging and eclectic – a magazine I publish will reflect these interests – and thus, I hope, will be of interest to an audiance that share some traits with me. In turn, I hope that there are (and I believe there are many) advertisers who want to reach this audience. Some may be local, some national, some global. All will be welcome (with some limited exceptions) specifically political or advocacy advertising will probably not be accepted as it would be discordant with the tone and focus of the magazine (which is inclusive not exclusive). 

Curation will be key. 

I may technically be the publisher, may also be an editor, but first and foremost I will be the Curator of to be named later – it will be my tastes and decisions (or my choices on delegation) which will determine the content of the magazine. 

Topics to be covered

  • Food – especially from a Slow Food and serious foodie perspective
  • Local businesses – not reviews persay but stories about local businesses but with a global perspective
  • Hacking – especially from an Arts perspective
  • Science Fiction – both via publishing great stories (including perhaps Fantasy or other genres) and also articles about the field & genre
  • Science – especially reports from the frontiers of research
  • Business – if written about in a highly engaging manner and in a timeless manner
  • Non-fiction storytelling – think This American Life style stories – which can cover any topic imaginable but are written with a point of view and story to tell
  • Design – especially highlighting intentional design applied in innovative ways.

Topics which will not, mostly, be covered:

  • Breaking news – i.e. current events, pop culture etc
  • Politics – while great stories about campaigns might be published, “stories” which are more manifestos will not
  • Activism – I am a CENTRIST. I am neither “left” nor “right” and my magazine will reflect this. While we may, occasionally, take (and publish and clearly label) an opinion on important matters, my magazine will not be a forum for activism, nor will it mirror the articles found in most Free weekly newspapers around the country (indeed in spirit we will likely be more capitalistic)
  • Time sensative reviews – stories about the arts (movies, theater, music, books, gallery shows or events) will definitely be published, but reviews of specific events or limited availability content will not
  • Product reviews – the focus of the magazine will be on stuff people want to and will enjoy reading, reviews of products rarely meet this criteria – nor do they usually meet the criteria of remaining relevant for years to come (since most products today are only sold for a limited time and replaced later with newer/better/cheaper/faster versions)

I intent to be named later to be eclectic, to be personal, to probably not be for everyone. That said, for those to whom it resonates I want it to be a publication which is read cover to cover. The focus will be on being reader friendly first – high design second (we will not be akin to Wired magazine in terms of design aesthetic)

All of this is tentative – now I am looking for:

  • Submissions: email submissions or ideas for articles/stories to shannon DOT clark AT gmail DOT com, please use a SUBJECT line of “Submission for to be named later”. Include a short bio of yourself, as well as the publication history (if any) of the article (preference is for unpublished writing). For the first issue(s) payment will depend on advertiser and subscriber targets so be prepared to only get a token initial payment (but the goal is to reach “professional” levels as quickly as we can. If you will only sell the story for a specific ammount include that, but realize that may impact our ability to accept the article/story for the first few issues
  • Volunteers: while in the future all staff will be paid (if only small amounts initially) to get going will be a labor of love, not money (unless we obtain financing or serious advertisers/sponsors quickly). Copyediting, “slush pile” reading, and pre-press layout help are initial core needs. Quickly as well help with advertising sales, distribution and more will also be needed.
  • Advertisers: From the first issue the plan is to have advertising. Rates almost certainly will go up as we grow the audiance, but the advertisers in the first few issues will be set – even as those issues remain (as is the plan) in print for at least a year, likely longer. So the first few advertisers will, we hope, get a bargain over the long term. There will be a limited number of full page ad opportunities, as well as a handful of partial page opportunities (think New Yorker style part of page ads). The back of the front cover as well as the back pages will be the highest cost ads. Rates are still to be determined, preference will be given for advertisers who are willing to commit to a full year of issues (at least 4 but the goal is to get to probably monthly). Advertisers will also be part of the online presense as well as the print publication – so should include a URL to link their ad to online. As a new publication ALL aspects of the readership are yet to be determined (including the size, demographics etc) so early advertisers must be interested in the mission of to be named later and willing to support it. Exact dollars are hard to determine (and to a point go up as the number of copies printed go up) but my initial “gut” guess is that for the first 4 issues something close to $100,000 is needed to pay all writers & artists, to physically print the magazine, and to pay staff (even just a token amount). So a target of about $25,000/issue is the goal though more may be needed for the very first issue.
  • Investors – My plan is to bootstrap. Even in the absense of all the advertising support I might like, the goal is to use a service such as MagCloud to enable us to put out a first issue (or two) and build up the audiance over time. To learn by doing and to thus incur as little costs upfront as possible. But if the right investor or sponsor/grantmaker were to offer I would listen. My goal is first to get great stories published, secondly to make money doing so (mostly I want to build something which is self supporting at a minimum). I also want to test my theories about how a new media publication could more than just made do but also prosper even in the Web 2.0, “the media is dying” world. 

So that is the idea – very rough, may not happen, but I hope it will. Please leave a comment, blog about this, link to this or at least contact me if you are interested!

Posted in digital bedouin, Entrepreneurship, futureculture, geeks, internet, personal, photos, reading, tbnl, working | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Please copy this new business idea (but give credit)

Posted by shannonclark on November 23, 2008

Open Office

Consider this post as cc-atribution licensed – feel free to exploit this idea commercially (heck that’s the point) but please do give me at least some credit if you do

A timely, new (if also old) business idea

I describe myself as a locavore – whereever possible I try to purchase the food I eat – whether in restaurants or that I cook at home – from local sources – ideally as close to the source of production as possible. I shop at the butcher’s shop down the street, the corner (and great) produce market, the local farmer’s markets and try as much as possible to avoid shopping at big box national chains and when I do I try to purchase mostly locally sourced, seasonal products as well as fair-trade and environmentally friendly products when I have to (i.e. toilet paper etc).

But being a locavore is not just about food – I also try to do most of my other shopping – whether clothes, books, or gifts for family and friends from local stores. I often buy used books as gifts – both because I often find highly personally relevant works that way – and because philosophically I like supporting good reuse. However I also recognize that this does not support the authors directly – so in the case of books by friends of mine (which is literally nearly 100+ books a year, not all of which I buy) I generally buy those new, usually from a local independant bookstore (or occasionally the first week they come out from a big chain store such as Borders to help out my friend’s first week sales numbers). 

So what does my personal shopping preferences have to do with my business idea?

I moved to San Francisco only a few years ago, in that time I have spent a lot of time and wore out a few pairs of shoes, walking the streets of San Francisco learning the neighborhoods, finding shops and areas of interest. However I find that there is no good source for me to refer to, especially as we enter into the holiday shopping season, to know what stores are selling what, sales or special offers they are making, and especially about newer shops which might be offering just the right thing I want to buy.

I’ve looked at many of the various free publications here in SF (SF Weekly, The Bay Guardian) as well as a few of the monthly magazines – and while they offer a limited amount of coverage of the local scene (and even more limited amounts of local ads) none of them do a very good job – and the extremely local options (my neighborhood Noe Valley has a very small local newspaper) while interesting are quite limited in their coverage and fairly low quality.

Sites such as Yelp offer some coverage – though I do not like Yelp in the least – I find it next to useless – the food coverage is horrible and the shopping coverage to random and fundementally people have way too different a range of perspectives as to what is a “good value” to cite just one example or of what tastes good – I’m biased but I think I am a far more discriminating restaruant critic than the vast majority of the reviewers on Yelp.

My idea is a high quality, probably seasonal, web AND print publication (or publications)

The publication would be relatively high quality in the print edition – though it would start with the digital edition and extend rapidly to a print edition (once ad commitments were high enough to pay the cost of printing probably in color and a distribution/subscription plan was set). 

In terms of format the coverage of stores (which would be a major focus of the publication) would be highly visual – lots of photos to illustrate every article – at a minimum of the storefront, of the owner and/or staff, of a few representative products. The articles would ideally be part of a piece covering a broad theme – either a collection of related types of businesses and/or a given neighborhood of the city. 

Publishing an article would be seperate and NOT related to that business running an advertisement in the publication. But in the course of talking with each business ads would be pitched – the articles would run online, would include a link to the store’s website (if it has one) but would be writen to be relatively timeless – i.e. wouldn’t be focused on current sales (or perhaps only a current show in the case of a gallery). If a store pays for an ad – that ad would be a platform for them to maintain up-to-date information about offers (discounts for readers, current specials, new shows, upcoming events). The ad text would be clearly identified as being an ad. 

Pricing would be flexible – this is a bit of an experiement – my rough thinking is that broadly speaking pricing would be tiered – with one level for businesses under some arbitrary size (or in certain categories) and a tiering up level up – the result in part being that national chains would be charged almost certainly a higher rate than most local businesses – though a local business selling very high end products (and thus if their volume is also high having a fairly high revenue base) would also be charged at the higher rates. Ideally the rates would be for the whole season – so for a few months at a minimum. 

I don’t know the right rates – but my gut says something <$200 or so for a small business (<$250k/yr gross revenues) and going up from there to a few $K for a business such as Macy’s.

Technically each advertiser would be given a way to update their ad text – which would appear online around the article covering their store/business as well as in relevant sections (so in the larger article covering their neighborhood or business type). Before the print edition(s) each advertiser would submit the content they want to have – small businesses would likely have TEXT only advertisements and those paying a slightly higher rate would have small sized graphic ads (i.e. 1/4 page or likely smaller) with the largest companies who pay the higher rates being offered either a set of small graphic ads or a full page ad. The premium placements (back cover, front pages, middle pages) would go to the highest rates though likely at least one or two of those pages would be reserved for a collection of small, text ads from smaller local buisnesses. 

So this is a very commercial idea – it is not about long form investigative reporting, nor is it about highly political ranting (as is so much of the free weekly press). But neither is it only focused on businesses of a given type – i.e. not just “green” businesses or in the other extreme not just high fashion/design businesses. 

Executing on this idea would take a lot of people – and a lot of work – and the result would need to be carefully edited and produced to avoid (in the physical print form) being unwieldy – my instinct is to print many different editions – perhaps as frequently as once a week – with each one focusing on different neighborhoods and different themes – i.e. perhaps local butchers and bakers in the week before Thanksgving but also cover three distinct neighborhoods of the city – so both theme and geography – with the final result being nearly complete coverage of the city in some fixed period of time (perhaps the whole year or perhaps on a rotating basis over 3-4 months).

Each print edition might include a few long form articles – but initially I think it should not – the focus shoudl be on some visual (as well as textual) coverage of lots of businesses and lots of themes. As an article is written and edited the whole piece would be published online – probably with an editorial standard of a minimum number of photos (2-4 at least I think), an accurate address (or addresses), hours of operation, website link.

Of course technically much of this data could be marked up as one or more microformats – but that’s not the point here – the point is to build up a rich set of interesting content – content that gives you a solid sense of what the buisness is about (via visuals and writing with a human voice) combined with relevant – if also commercial – messages (i.e. ads from the business or related businesses – always clearly marked). 

The idea here is also to be a curator of the city (or more accurately to enable multiple people to curate different aspects of the city) so not every business will be covered – only the ones that a given curator thinks are notable – are worthy of being writen up and discussed. 

So that is my idea in the broad outlines – yes, it is in many ways very traditional – it builds on past ideas (Yellow Pages, those free publications you find in most cities in your hotel rooms) but I think there are a few twists here as well – lots more visual content (enabled in part by digital cameras) and an experimentation in the form of advertising content – i.e. to have ads which are updated by the businesses automatically for the duration of their contract (technically this could be via a custom RSS feed from a feed under the business’s control – with some HTML/URL filtering/preprocessing) Heck, the ads could technically be updated via Twitter!

In thinking about the businesss requirements of this idea I think it could be bootstrapped by a small core cadre of passionate people – it would require a few sales people and a lot of writers – initially everyone would be working essentially on commission/spec – but eventually a rate per business would be set, as well as rates for the curators who would choose which businesses meet the criteria and editors who would ensure that all copy is of a high quality (gramatically, factually accurate, all photos licensed accurately etc). 

The reason to combine a print publication and the web are many – for one the print publication would then, in part, be distributed at the many local stores featured in the publicaiton (probably sold there not given away for free – placing a small price on it gives a revenue incentive to the stores – probably the face value would be set at say $3.00 or so – and the stores would keep it all for the say 20 copies they get for free – if they want more they pay for them at some preset rate)

Anyway lots of details to work out – but if you are interested in exploring this idea here in San Francisco leave a comment or contact me directly. If you want to explore this idea in your own city – as I said at the beginning consider this cc-atribution – please go and try this – build up a great buisness and make lots of money – just also please give me some small bit of credit.

Posted in advertising, Entrepreneurship, internet, reading, reviews, San Francisco | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Mixing online & offline advertising – seeking examples

Posted by shannonclark on October 27, 2008

I have been following the move online of offline publications for over a decade (I’ve been on the Internet since 1991, went to my first websites via Gopher search) but something I have been wondering about since the mid-90’s and still almost never see is why so many publications who have offline publications (magazines or newspapers of any frequency) do not include their print advertisers as 1st level content in their online presenses.

And, in many cases have entirely different advertisers online vs. offline with little overlap and very limited even acknowledgement in the online presense of the offline advertisers at all.

Now there are 1000’s of publications around the world and I only read a few of them offline or online, so perhaps there are some great examples I have missed – please leave comments w/links to examples, especially those that do it very well.

And sure, I know there are objections from some that “ads” are not content (I’d argue that they most certainly are content) or that people would just ignore them online (though I’d ask if they have ever really be tested). To address the content question – there are entire magazines offline which are almost entirely based around the “content” of ads (the many highly profitable Vogue magazines for example) and other magazines such as The New Yorker where the ads make up a key part of the look and feel of the magazine (especially the small format ads) but in both cases the offline advertisers seem to have no part at all of the online presense.

I have been thinking about this as I have been looking at magazine and newspaper websites in preparation for thinking about a submission to the Knight Foundation’s $5M News Challenge (deadline is Nov 1st). Now I am at a slight disadvantage as many of the judges are friends of mine (so will have to recuse themselves while evaluating me) but I hope that the idea I have, whether I implement it or not may inspire many people to copy it in the future (it is geographically specific so I’m happy to see many people copy it in cities around the world – and even in the same cities as I think there is plenty of room for many).

But one part of my idea (among many) is to build relationships that extend from the online world to the offline aspects of my idea (which is not only online – it includes a print publication – working out the exact details) and not just the articles, reviews, calendar listings etc but also the content from the advertisers.

So as part of my research I’m looking for counterexamples, publications which are doing a good job of including their financial supporters (sponsors as well as more traditional advertisers) into all aspects of the publication – online and offline.

Posted in advertising, economics, geeks, networks, web2.0 | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Abstractions for Metrics and Targeting – extending OpenSocial

Posted by shannonclark on February 20, 2008

Tonight I attended the MIT/Stanford Venture Lab event “Shaking the Money Tree of Multi-Platform Social Networks” which my friend Jeremiah Owyang moderated. It was a sold out event which drew a very diverse crowd of students, brand advertisers, technologists, entrepreneurs and analysts. The event was great with short presentations and an engaging panel discussion. During the panel discussion I asked a question, which in turn sparked an idea I am exploring in this post. In the next few weeks and months I will be engaging with many people around these ideas and I look forward to comments, criticism and suggestions about how to accomplish these two main ideas.

In the interest of full disclosure, when I asked my question tonight at the event I noted that I was not an impartial questioner – I have a stake in this. To elaborate further, the company I am in the midst of co-founding, Nearness Function, is an ad network working to bring brand advertisers to select applications – including very likely applications running in Social Networks and on OpenSocial. If both of my proposals below happen it certainly will help Nearness Function and our partners and clients – and I hope, will help the entire industry.

Tonight Kevin Marks of Google discussed three important ways in which OpenSocial creates abstractions.

  1. Abstracting the Friend networks of the “viewer” and “owner”. Allowing these to queried and traversed.
  2. Abstracting data persistence for applications
  3. Abstracting the event (“news”) feed which the use of an application can generate

My question and now proposal would add two abstractions – to OpenSocial and likely to more of the web in general.

  1. Abstract metrics
  2. Abstract targeting data

Taking these points in detail, here is what I am suggesting. These are my initial thoughts – I welcome feedback and further discussions.

Abstract metrics

The web 1.0 metrics resolved around “pageviews” and later, slightly more refined around “impressions” or “uniques”. In the past few years with the rise of pay-per-click advertising both against search results and increasing elsewhere across the web, “clicks” and a resulting calculation of “ecpm” (effective cost per thousand) has been a commonly used metric for success. And terms like “uniques” and “impressions” get used a lot – though exactly how to define and calculate them is not always clear in the least. Even “clicks” have to be recalculated to take into account “ClickFraud” – i.e. automated or malicious attempts to game pay-per-click systems, often by automating clicks on links (sometimes to generate income, but more subtly to exhaust a competitor’s budget).

For OpenSocial, and for much of the web of 2008, I would suggest that we start to think about abstractions for metrics that fit this new environment.

My initial suggestions would be to define active vs. inactive states so that an application can report back when a user is active (and we define what that means) within the application. A further refinement to this abstraction would be to measure the time in each state again with uniform ways to start and stop that clock.

Additionally a defined way to count events within the use of an application potentially including a measure of where within the application attention is paid could be highly useful as well. This might start by building on similar tools that are already used to track web activity and interactions. In the OpenSocial (and widget case more broadly) one complication being how to log and report back these metrics in a standard manner.

Ideally these metrics probably should flow back to the hosting social networks, to the application provider, and potentially (and again this needs clarification) be shareable with third party providers – such as an ad network (like the one I’m building).

Abstract targeting data

In the panel tonight when I asked about this the conversation shifted to a discussion about what an ad network can and can’t store based on the terms of service of a given social network. That is important, but it missed the point of my suggestion.

Here what I would be proposing is a bit more complex than the metrics, it would be a set of abstractions around what data flows to the application (which in turn might flow to the systems used to target advertising) which could be employed for targeting. Abstractions are important because even seemingly “simple” elements can, in many cases, prove complex.

Take “gender” – in many, but not by any means all, social networks this is relatively simple “male” or “female” – however this is not always the case. For one there are often many people who leave the field blank (i.e. undefined) and in at least some networks people of another gender (“transgendered” to take one example) can specify that. An abstraction might not resolve all possible nuances – but, for example, it might require the “undefined” case (and likely an “other” case) to be handled.

The issue that advertisers, marketers, application developers and social networks all face is nearly everyone recognizes that targeting messages – if done well and reasonably – adds greatly to the impact and effectiveness of those messages (however you choose to measure that). But each party also defines what and how they think that targeting should (or could) happen in very different ways.

My suggestion would be to create some standard and abstracted ways to think about a common set of data that could be available at the point when targeting could occur. Note that this would be done in a manner that could also be kept in compliance with a given social network’s terms of service. i.e. on FaceBook that data which is shared would not be retained for more than 24hrs etc.

Here are a few of my suggestions for areas where a discussion could (and should I’d say) happen, I’m sure I’ve missed or overlooked some things – and in some cases the standard may be very simple.

  • Gender
  • Age – I’d suggest by ranges vs. specifics – with a standard set of ranges
  • Geographic location – potentially in two parts a) of viewer, calculated from IP address etc, at time of use and b) “home” (possibly “homes”) as stated in user profile
  • New user/viewer of a given application vs. returning user/viewer vs. has application installed on own system (ideally even if “own” profile is on a different social network)
  • Path to current session – i.e. via internal to social network search, via link on friend’s page, via link on stranger’s page, via external search, via external deep link
  • Technology – browser type, speed of connection, mobile phone vs computer vs console
  • Measure of frequency of interaction (with social network, with a given application) – i.e. you could target people who use the site every day and have for the past 6 months differently from people who use that particular site only once a week. You might also want to target users who are in their first X days of using an application or the underlying social network in a different manner than users who have been using it for months.

I’m sure there are others.

The key points here is that what needs to be defined is not just the categories but some abstract and standard ways to pass the relevant data. Keeping in mind that at the end of the day the goal here would be to make:

  • The user experience better by presenting more likely to be relevant commercial messages
  • The advertiser purchasing opportunities to be more clearly defined so advertisers can compare apples to apples
  • The developer have an easier set of tools to understand the users and to offer, if desired, opportunities to advertisers
  • and for Third party providers, such as an ad network, to have at least a minimum set of expected to be available data which could be used

These abstract targeting data would not preclude additional information being used to enhance and improve results (where that data can be used if covered under terms of service) but it would help improve targeting especially for OpenSocial applications which cross multiple social networks. The final results (i.e. which specific ad to show if any) might take a variety of additional factors (which ads were shown to that user or to similar users recently, what the actions of those users were, what various advertisers are willing to pay at the moment, etc)

This is very much a work in progress. I’m sure there are some overlaps here with activities of various industry groups. I welcome suggestions, enhancements, and other comments!

Posted in advertising, Entrepreneurship, internet, networks, web2.0 | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Advertising in Applications – a workshop series

Posted by shannonclark on January 9, 2008

As you may know if you have met me recently and/or have been reading my blog regularly, I am in the midst of starting a new company, Nearness Function, which is an ad network focused on placing commercial messeges, especially branding messages, inside of applications. We take an expansive view of what an application is – so we will work with web applications using AJAX, widgets, Flash applications, desktop applications (which connect back to the web), mobile applications. We are also exploring helping publishers of certain types of rich content such as podcasters and video bloggers – we’ll definitely work with media players which might play such content and as rapidly as we can build out the infrastructure we will expand the ad formats we can serve to include video ads which have had great success as an ad unit in many applications already.

As I speak with publishers (in our case mostly software companies) and with advertising agencies, media buyers and direct advertisers I have been struck by the range of experiences and questions around how to best place ads inside of dynamic applications. These questions range from debates about the formats that work to questions about what metrics and pricing models can be used to sell and track these ads. In our role as a network we have to provide solutions to the technical issues of getting the right, targeted ads in front of the individuals who use a given application, we also have to address the business needs and goals of both the media buyers, ad agencies, advertisers and publishers – all while also remaining focused on the experience of those individual users whose actions and reactions form the basis for the value of the advertising.

So, starting at the end of January and continuing on a regular basis we are starting a workshop series on Ads in Applications. This will be a long lunch to start with the first event to be held here in San Francisco at the end of January. Future events will include more lunch workshops and, I hope, some open to the public events in the evenings which will have a more traditional speaker format.

The first lunch workshop will be by invitation only. If you are reading this and would like an invitation contact me directly – please include a note about why you are interested in participating which includes your current role & company (or companies). The workshops are intended for senior people from application companies (often founders) and senior folks from the ad buying side. Select investors who have a portfolio of firms in the application space will also be welcome to participate – though they are encouraged to invite representatives from their portfolio firms. For the workshops press, including bloggers, are specifically not invited – these will be off the record, working discussions. My hope is that from these closed events we will also organize some open to the public events and/or come up with some public proposals – either for standards or as suggestions to standards efforts at organizations such as the IAB.

For the first workshop the format will be highly collaborative discussion, we will be a relatively small group and will all have a chance to both talk, listen and ask many questions. My hope is that in a few hours we can cover a range of ongoing questions and issues – including formats, metrics, measurements, definitions of “targeting”, acceptable pricing models (which both drive metrics and are in turn driven by what can be measured), how to define success, and various best practices around the integration and targeting of ads. I hope also that we have some discussion about how to disclose commercial content inside of a variety of types of dynamic applications – in many small widgets and in many types of other content what is an “ad” can not always be fully obvious.

Watch this blog for more details about the workshop and contact me directly (and/or leave a comment here) if you would be interested in attending, hosting, or helping organize these workshops.

Posted in advertising, Entrepreneurship, internet, networks, web2.0, working | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »