Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Tranny script with talk of recession, ads, future of online music editorial

My friend and former employee Rebecca Nicholson interviewed me for the Guardian last week. The piece itself is here but seeing as much of what was discussed revolves around questions a lot of people are asking me (especially for their ruddy degree coursework... which is somewhat ironic as I didn't even do a degree, although the amount of times I've answered people's questions I feel as if I have over the past few year's), I thought I'd post it here.

This is the IM transcript which has been airbrushed everso slightly of randomness and stumblings off piste. It wasn't done with the idea of anyone reading it in mind but hopefully, if I sent you a link to this, it'll save me repeating myself...

15:15 me: O HAI!
rebecca.nicholson: ah good.
me: don't quote me on that
rebecca.nicholson: too late
rebecca.nicholson: 15:16so this piece
is only short, about 450 words
about online music editorial
the hook is me closing the lipster
me: ah, nice
is it a rant blaming me for starting it?
15:17 rebecca.nicholson: ha no
it's more about how editorial sites are at saturation point
mostly blogs
me: it's like a hall of mirrors in a nuclear echo chamber and no-one is really saying anything, just repeating things and it gets a bit Chinese whispers
15:18 rebecca.nicholson: and that for sites to thrive they need to have a) a function (so dis's message boards) and b) have been established for at least three years
so. do you think we're at saturation with music editorial?
15:19 me: I think what has happened is every passionate pub conversation has turned into 'editorial'and for most people, instead of reading what other people have to say, they write it themselves
and then re-read what they've written and feel like they need to discover more and tick all the boxes all their peers are covering
15:20 I'm not sure if there can ever be too much music coverage on the web but only a small amount of it will be read
the worst bit now is that people don't really need to read any more to inform their purchases because they're neither purchasing nor held back by any barrier of access but their time
15:21 I think much more than music editorial reaching saturation point, the number of ways people can consume and talk about music have reached saturation
15:22 people are now setting up band of the day twitterfeeds instead of wasting 2minutes setting up a blogspot
rebecca.nicholson: So in terms of being revenue-generating businesses, do you think editorial sites, particularly new ones, are doomed to fail? Why is that?
Because people can aggregate stuff now?
(That might be phrased worng)
me: Yeah sites like gigulate and mog.com [http://mog.com] are much better business ideas than trying to start an editorial site
15:23 Unless you're reaching half a million people it's near impossible to make any real money from a website
15:24 Advertising money is pithy, sponsorship is a full-time job to acquire and sites run as business (like, say Gigwise, NME.com [http://NME.com]) are optimized based on google SEO, much more than what music excites or intrigues them
15:25 I think the 3years thing makes sense but I think only because the ones who last that long are in it for the long haul because they HAVE to write about music and share what they love and have found an audience who appreciates this outpouring from a gatekeeper
15:27 I'm not sure anyone could start a music site as a career or profit-focussed business. and I think anyone who does have money as the goal are DOIN IT RONG
15:28 rebecca.nicholson: but what about making enough money to cover costs, say?
me: writing about music (much like making music) is a fairly indulgent pastime and anyone who gets paid, let alone makes a living from it is living a dream. Anyone who thinks they can do it for a living without spending 3yrs living off baked beans is delusional
15:29 rebecca.nicholson: ok
so specifically with dis:
do you think that the function of your message boards, of your community
keeps the site as big as it is?
any more so than the editorial?
me: i think there are basic costs but the biggest one is the cost of living to carry something off you need at least one person working on it full-time or 10 people doing it as a hobby if you want it to be as big as DiS, Pitchfork, Stereogum, etc
15:31 I think the community is a whole different dimension, it started as the equivalent of our letters page but has quickly grown into a significant part of our business. It's like a club which is only open on fri/sat having a cafe/bar which makes the rest of the business viable but isn't the core of what the place was intended to be (however, I totally admit that it's fast becoming a much more exciting outlet for expression and resource for connecting people than writing about records which on the whole people have already heard and formed their own opinions of)
rebecca.nicholson: so would you say that aspect DOES make it viable (sorry to shout, need emphases)
15:32 me: It certainly helps. But on the flipside the cost of developing and maintaining them, with teh cost of techies, is hard to factor in whether it essentially breaks even
15:33 yet the problem we have is that we built it all before any social networks existed and the web has shifted so much in the past decade
rebecca.nicholson: ok
this is all very useful
me: phew
rebecca.nicholson: do you think the future is in new sites like gigulate?
or sites like black cab sessions - simple but with a clear USP?15:35 me: Singular USPs are fantastic and I don't disagree with some people saying that sites like DiS are trying to be a jack of all trades (...master of none?) but I'm not sure how those simple things can be sticky unless they're part of a wider eco-system (like the way shopping centers work)
15:36 I think a lot of sites like both gigulate and black cabs are much more like services which need to bolt on to existing things in order to find an audience... like, I dunno, a bongo player needs a band.
rebecca.nicholson: that's a really good point
15:37 me: And obviously if all the mp3 blogs get legal action, the Hype Machine no longer exists without the bloggers wot feeds it
rebecca.nicholson: but are they ever going to bolt onto something brand new? or do they need that authority which comes from being established for so long?
the three-year minimum thing again
15:38 me: A lot of sites are like new bands, they get this huge spike of 'ooooh this is all shiny and new' interest and then there's no reason for people to talk about them and they forget about them really quickly, unless they re-invent and re-launch themselves
15:39 It's like anything tho, without finding 'a story' to market what you do, so that it find an audience, it can be brilliant but totally unknown
rebecca.nicholson: i guess the big question, very simply, is "are the doors closed?"
15:40 The doors are revolving, they don't have locks, it's just about how skillfully you can run through them as to whether you get through to the otherside (break on through...)
15:41 rebecca.nicholson: ha
so you don't think it's a non-starter then, to launch an editorial music site as a business, not just a hobby
have you noticed the recession affecting web advertising?
for dis
and elsewhere
me: There's no real business model of starting a music editorial magazine online, it needs to be viewed like fanzines were. Obviously print magazines live in a different world that advertisers understand but blogs the web, etc only make sense to the small niches who read and cherish them. There's no hollywood or Paris Fashion Week glitz or several million bozos staring into the gogglebox to reach for anyone to truly start spunking big bucks on reaching connoisseurs of blogtronica, donk-step or donkey-wonk pop
15:45 Dec, Jan and Feb were three of our worst months ever for ads, because when campaigns were being booked in October everyone panicked and withdrew their ad budgets
15:46 is it getting better?
or worse?
or steadying?
15:47 me: I think so much of what is spent on youth-orientated marketing is long-term ad spend from aspirational brands who want us to buy stuff when we're grown up. Now's not the best of time to invest in the future, I guess.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Crowd sauce? Would this be a crazy idea for funding DiS?

By crazy, I mean less bonkers than doing a deal with a non-music-minded or Murdoch-like media corp again. Or as in, less crazy than turning the whole thing back into an amateur project, with an hour or so of several peoples time spent on it a week... which, quite likely, would mean DiS going the way of Stylus (RIP) - although things are stable at the moment, so that isn't something people need to worry about.

Basically, in the current climate, we have ever-increasing reliance on annoying and irrelevant advertising (although praise be for the folks at Beggars Group who you may have noticed taking out a lot of ads as of this week to reach our 300k+ users). Worryingly, the value of advertising (especially Google ads) is falling and there have times recently when advertising has ground to a halt and I think there must be another way.... especially as DiS the brand has value, it just needs to speculate a little more than we can afford right now, to accumulate.

Anyway, I just saw http://www.waywesee.com/nl/info/about- basically its a crowd-funded, shares-like business model (a bit like Sellaband, Bandstocks) but for film-makers.

What I'm thinking, in a very wafty half-awake kinda way from germs of ideas I've had over the years, is something that either:

1) Takes the possibilities of what a DiS community could look like 3years from now and you all help fund the features you'd like be it an iPhone app that finds you nearby music fans looking for people to have a pint with or some follie, like a crazy mash-up of Last.fm and types of biscuits people who like a certain band like. And then, should this site make money, we all share in the profits, when things are ten times as big and every music fan in the world benefits from all the best ideas being prioritized... mostly because at the moment advertising isn't significantly funding things and we need more than one Tom (or at least one and half, part-time), as well as some editorial staff. Although, maybe you'd all fund DiS and decide we don't need to focus on editorial... This is what Twitter should do.

2) Writers suggest features or jobs they'd like to do and people pay for the ones they want to read. Like, I dunno, Kev Kharas to come back as news editor for an hour-a-day a week is £70 a week, and then when enough money is raised for a few weeks in-a-row, he starts doing it. Or Mike Diver says he wants to write 1000 words on 20 bands Mastodon/Deftones fans should check out - a bit like a personal shopper or in response to popular "where to start with threads?" - and users pay him to write the piece, rather than other pieces and share in the ad revenue from the article. Or the people who pay for articles can pay more to advertise beside them (so, I dunno, Dananana... take out a £100 album ad to pay Diver to do a feature about bands inspired by comedians - this is sort of how Japanese style/music mags work, as, from what I could gather, the advertisers pick the articles they'd like to sponsor/fund, although I'm sure there are or would be clear guidelines which we could come up with for avoiding nepotism).

Obviously, the downside might be that some of the bigger shareholders would most likely be labels and musicians with agendas beyond philanthropy (there's obviously practical ways we could avoid this being an issue), or even business-minded hedgefunds, but am sure there are ways of addressing that. I guess I just get a sense that people would really need to have a hope of getting something back or something more or they wouldn't cough any money up (or view it as some cynical pyramid scheme). And perhaps we could offer some shares, like travel miles/indie-points, for users who do helpful things, like posting links on Wikipedia, adding listings, (this is a half-idea I've had in the back of my mind for ages, probably since the first time I played with Wikipedia, that I think a certain type of person will do more grafting if they feel some sense of reward, even if it's just enough 'points' to get into some gigs for free or get access to certain music early or something - although I did suggest this idea http://www.orangerockcorps.co.uk/ for Live8 and think it'd maybe it's a better and more positive use of the idea).

3) It'd potentially be a sensible way for DiS to re-open (well, we still have Martha Wainwright signed, so technically we're on hiatus until her next album) its label... I'm just not sure there is enough potential revenue tho for many people to be able to get their money back. And, for instance, if it was say Youthmovies next album, it'd need a minimum of £10k to make it (let alone fund any specialist people to work on it) and am not sure there are enough fans (although maybe a 1000 people paying a tenner isn't too unreasonable, as I hear Patrick Wolf has raised a fair but but obviously has the benefit of major label exposure and a hardcore fanbase) with enough money to fund them making a record and tour and everything else. And I'm pretty sure, going by sellaband, etc the types of acts people end up with the funding are either ones with existing fanbases, rich relatives or that make palatable crap that was relevant 10years ago.

But perhaps this model make more sense for a way of funding some tracks or package tours (a bit like owngig.com) to help start some careers? And perhaps the idea needs to be a combination of ideas like milliondollarhomepage.com and creating some sort of fund for exceptional music. I know a friend of mine who was trying ot find 50 people to put in £50 each for a 7" singles club which was kinda a nice idea but not sure he found 50 willing people.

4) DiS could avoid these kinds of revenue-share ideas or traditional ideas and 'Do a Radiohead', allowing users to pay/donate what they want? Maybe a daily request to do so for an ad-free or premium selection of content? Although, the flaw I think is that I'd rather people paid because they liked something (rather than a pushy donation request, with the desperate air that without your money will we fail to exist), so it'd be clearly more like a tip or a thank you for a great review or reliable selection of suggestions of music to check out - and this could perhaps also apply to messageboarders who consistently give great and useful advice (sort of like 118 118 for music with any knowledgeable user making some beer money for their advice?)?

Related Posts with Thumbnails