Archive for the ‘Internet business models’ Category

Consumers not the cause of Google's slide

Wednesday, February 27th, 2008

Google logoGoogle’s stock price is dropping, and people are freaking out. Yesterday’s stock price drop was in response to a recent report from Comscore indicating that January 2008 showed only flat growth year-over-year versus a 25% increase in Q4. This apparently is the result of lower click-through rates on paid search ads, and people are worried that this means that Google is exposed to a slowdown if there is a recession in the U.S.

The near-panic is somewhat understandable considering that the overall U.S. economy isn’t doing all that great, the tech folks are scared of another bubble, Microsoft is talking about taking over Google, Apple’s stock is dipping, and everyone is looking for someone – anyone – to believe in. Google has been the obvious choice for a long time, and no one wants the tech darling to falter.

But the thing that I take issue with is the notion that this decrease in clicks is a result of consumers clicking less because of a coming recession. These numbers from Hitwise show that there has been no decrease in overall search traffic to shopping sites – meaning that consumers are still clicking.

And if consumers are still clicking on search links, why would they suddenly not be clicking on paid search ads? Could this be because consumers suddenly have become more discerning about what is a “paid” result vs. what is a “organic” result? No way.

My question for Google would be about how much of this decline comes from the dip in clicks on AdSense partner sites. My bet is that the clickthrough rates have dipped significantly on partner pages. Why? Primarily because of the click fraud prevention that Google has been implementing, as well as the “accidental clicking” measures that Google took back in November.

Google click change

Remember, this was the second change that Google made to its ads; the company first changed the paid results on its main search pages in April, a move that many advertisers said led to a decline in the number of clicks, but not in the amount of revenue that they were earning.

And this might just be the bottom line. If there is no growth in the number of clicks, but revenue is growing, Google may have figured out a way to increase ROI for advertisers. Like this Businessweek article says, we’ll have to wait for earnings in April to find out for sure.

7 ways to raise money for your start-up

Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

One of the biggest issues with starting a company – and keeping it running – is finding the cash to stay in business. Even if you work hard at saving money, only spending on the things that are necessary, it is fairly likely that there will be a time when you need more capital.

I am still in the early stages of my start-up, and only have first-hand experience with angel investments, but the following is a rundown of the common ways to raise money for your start-up. Once again, I’m drawing heavily on the stories of the entrepreneurs from Founders at Work by Jessica Livingston for the quotes included here.

SevenThe good news for anyone who has limited resources when starting a company is that entrepreneurs seem to agree that this can be a good thing. The need to conserve resources often leads to creativity, hard-work, and a drive to succeed that can be missing when money is available and things are easier and more comfortable. So the first piece of advice when you’re thinking about raising money is to make sure that you really need it before going after cash.

“One of the things we’re seeing that we really don’t care too much for is that way too many companies are taking money when they don’t need it. And the whole idea we had was that having too little money is a great way of getting great product because it’s a way to get focused.” – David Heinemeier Hansson, partner, 37signals

“The money was scarce, but I’m a big believer that constraints inspire creativity. The less money you have, the fewer people and resources you have, the more creative you have to become. I think that had a lot to do with why we were able to iterate and innovate so fast.” – Caterina Fake, cofounder, Flickr

“I really liked the discipline that came from a bootstrapped startup. I think that everybody that goes and does a startup – even if they don’t do a major startup that way – should start a business that is having to make people happy with them day one, through contracts, through small scale sales, whatever it is. How low can you go? How can you build something really inexpensively? How can you not spend money on furniture and matching carpet and those sorts of things?” – Brewster Kahle, founder, Internet Archive/Alexa Internet

“The advice I would give is to avoid [raising money]. I would say spend as little as you can, because every dollar of the investors’ money you get will be taken out of your ass – literally in the sense that it will take stock away from you, but also the process of raising money is so horrible compared to the other aspects of business. You can’t work your way out of it like you can with other problems. You’re at other people’s mercy.” – Paul Graham, cofounder Viaweb

“I think in general being overcapitalized is a path to failure. The VCs want you to spend. There are general ills with being overfunded.” – Joshua Schacter, founder, del.icio.us

1) Use your own money
In my opinion, this is the best way to fund a start-up if you have the capital to invest. Not only will this ensure that your decisions are not controlled by outsiders, it will also guarantee the highest percentage of profit if you sell. It’s also incredibly motivating if your own money is on the line every day. Of course, if you don’t have extra capital and you’re trying to self-fund, that can be a painful process of skimping and saving every dime – as well as living day-to-day with poverty and uncertainty. So this is probably only a viable option if you have significant personal wealth, or have put money aside in savings.

“There are pros and cons to taking money. The best kind of company is one where you don’t have to take any money…I funded the first few years myself. But eventually, I took some money from Mitch Kapor and then others. Not so much because I needed it at that point, but because I knew that, ultimately, you cannot accomplish something completely on your own. You really need to develop a network of people who win when you win.” – Ray Ozzie, founder, Groove Networks

2) Get a loan
There seems to be a general sentiment that small businesses and start-ups are not able to get bank loans. The truth is, there are loans that are earmarked for small businesses. Bank loans can require collateral to secure them, however, and the terms make all the difference in the world, so be sure to read the agreement closely.

“We lucked out and got an interest-free loan from the Canadian government. We’d applied for it, and gotten rejected, and then just sent the same application in again when it was open again, and much to our surprise, we got it.” – Caterina Fake, cofounder, Flickr

3) Apply for grants
From the research I’ve done, it appears that the United States government does not have any grants for small businesses owners, but there are state-based grants available. This list from About.com includes links to the state-based programs. If you’re based in Canada or elsewhere outside the U.S., you may have more luck finding government grants.

“We heard about these government programs, and we started applying for them. It was a lot of work to actually apply for these things, and then it was a lot of paperwork to maintain them. In the early days, they weren’t really big grants. They were rather small, and sometimes you wondered if it was worth all the trouble. But it was very helpful when we needed it. As you become experienced, and as the government agencies that we were working with became comfortable with what we were doing and recognized that we were onto something, the grants became more interesting.” – Mike Lazaridis, cofounder, Research In Motion

4)Put it on your credit card
While it can be difficult to get a bank loan or a government grant, most small business owners (depending on their personal credit histories) are able to obtain some kind of business credit card. The typical issues related to spending on credit apply, with the biggest concern being that the business will fail leaving the entrepreneur with a huge credit card bill to pay off. According to Joe Knight, co-author of the book Financial Intelligence, in a BusinessWeek article, “the worst thing in the world is to have your business fail and be stuck personally with $50,000 in debt at 21% interest.”

“There are more choices nowadays for people – angel money, for example. And many things are much less expensive to do now. You can go further on your credit card than you could before. I want entrepreneurs to make informed choices when it comes to financing. Understand what the impacts and implications are for different financing options.” – Mitchell Kapor, cofounder, Lotus Development 

5) Get consulting work or side jobs
This suggestion is something I covered in an earlier article about how to save money on your start-up. It’s a popular way for flexible start-ups to get some extra cash – money earned from side projects assigned to the company or one of the start-up founders can then be used as an infusion of cash for the business.

“The first year was entirely self-funded. It was just doing this work mostly for HP. HP basically funded Pyra for the first year, unbeknownst to them, because at the time you could charge a decent amount of money for doing pretty simple web application development. If one of us was working on that full-time, it would pay for three of us (not that we were paying ourselves much).” – Evan Williams, cofounder, Pyra Labs

6) Find angel investors
Angel investors are typically wealthy individuals who use their own money to fund a start-up in exchange for repayment of the investment (with interest), or a percentage of the company or both. Angel investors are often friends, family members or previous business partners or associates – or people who are in the start-up founders’ extended network. (This is a good reason to start networking now!)

Angel investments provided me with the initial funding for my business, and angel money has been an excellent way to make sure that I have the capital to fund my start-up, while at the same time having the flexibility to work on a variety of things in different markets without too much outside control. This is how Chris’ company is funded, as well, and it is an increasingly popular way to fund companies, especially in high-tech.

“We all tried to get $3,000 from each of our parents, and five of the six parents put up, so we had $15,000. After graduating, three of us lived in one house in Palo Alto, and three of us lived in another. We set up shop in the garage of the house that I was living in. It was the classic setup. My parents came up and they saw the garage and wound up buying us some nasty carpet. The tables were all Formica. I won a fax machine at Office Depot. We stole our chairs from Oracle Corp.” – Joe Kraus, cofounder, Excite

“We were very encouraged that the angel investors wanted to invest. We gave demos to two investors. We only wanted to raise $50,000, but both of the investors who saw the demos said yes. So we thought, ‘All right, we’ll raise $100,000 then, since they both said yes.'” – Paul Graham, cofounder, Viaweb

7) Take on venture capital
For me, and for most of the founders featured in the book, venture capital is the type of money that is surrounded in the most mystery. Typically, start-up founders don’t understand venture capital or how it works until they go through a funding round with the venture capitalists. There is also a great deal of fear surrounding the idea of working with venture capitalists, and often a great deal of resistance to taking money from them. However, for companies that need a lot of cash to see their idea come to life or to push them to the next stage of growth, venture capital can be a good option.

“Once you start down the treadmill of taking venture capital, it’s ‘How many rounds before people give up on your or you have a positive exit event?’ So you’re really setting yourself up. The best by far is to structure it so that you don’t have to take money.” – Ray Ozzie, founder, Groove Networks

“We took no investments because there were so many horror stories about what VCs would do to you. ArsDigita was the most public one, obviously, of kicking out the founders and then mismanaging the company and bringing in the so-called professional management.” – Joel Spolsky, cofounder, Fog Creek Software

“We didn’t have any desire to take money. We had heard all these horror stories about people receiving venture money, and even though we didn’t think we could have the aspirations to be something huge, we certainly didn’t want to crash and burn because we took money when we shouldn’t have. And we didn’t know anything about it. Are you supposed to pay them back? We didn’t understand that investors put money in and they own a part of your company. All we had heard were bad things that happened, and we didn’t know why.” – Mena Trott, cofounder, Six Apart (they eventually did take VC money)

“It’s one of those things where, if you look back now, when everyone walked away with a ton of money, everyone loves everyone. We had this great time, etc. It’s generally more complicated than that where, when the company is doing well, they’re happy and they think they’re great. The company’s not doing well; they’ve overpaid and they’ve been too nice. It’s half and half.” Max Levchin, cofounder, PayPal

“Then we found one venture capital firm, Brentwood Venture Capital. Jeff Brody, a VC there, saw it and he thought it was great. He said, ‘We want to invest.’ And they were prepared to put in $4.5 million…It was great, since we were plumb out of money. I would have lost everything; my house; I would have been deep in debt; the company would have folded; it would have been a bad scene.” – Steve Perlman, cofounder, Web TV

The next article in this series on start-ups will talk about one of the key attributes of an entrepreneur – the willingness and ability to change plans quickly, and to adapt to outside pressures and influences.

The Industry Standard is back

Monday, February 4th, 2008

I just got an email with the subject line: “Thanks from the Industry Standard.” Here’s what the message had to say:

“You were one of the first in line to ask to see the brand-new Industry Standard. To show our appreciation for your interest, you are being notified of today’s official launch!

“The site is not only designed to give readers insights into technology and the Internet economy, but also provides a unique community feature — a predictive market.”

The new industry standard logoI’ve written about the Industry Standard in the past, related to the fall of the mighty business (print) publications that I used to follow. But today the site (as a Web-only property) is relaunching.

The site is positioning itself as a “prediction market,” offering analysis and opinion from writers and experts, and then giving its readers the opportunity to agree or disagree – and hopefully use the “power of collective intelligence” to predict the correct outcome.

From the site:

“The prediction market articulates the same emphasis on community knowledge and networking that is perhaps the Web 2.0 era’s most important contribution — the power of collective intelligence. Prediction markets have proven to be remarkably powerful tools for gauging events and trends, and we think that the addition of this technology to the site will provide a very special type of meaningful interaction.”

From my first look at the site, it is debatable whether it will have much of an impact. The contributors and analysis are good, but nothing to truly distinguish it from the content on any other site. The predicition market stuff is vaguely interesting at first glance, but who has time to vote on more news stories? Even so, my prediction is that the Industry Standard brand and the IDG parent company (with the top tech brands in its arsenal of sponsors – Intel is the “launch sponsor”) will be enough to guarentee a revenue-generating future.

Looks like I may be betting against TechCrunch on this one.

The video long tail gets longer

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

HP’s announcement today that it will begin creating made-to-order DVDs of some of Sony’s movies and TV shows is lengthening the long tail for video even further. By printing movies on-demand, consumers will have access to even more obscure movies and television shows that would not have been economically viable for retailers to stock.

(Thanks to Greg for the tip!)

China to pass U.S. in number of Internet users

Friday, January 18th, 2008

I just saw this article in TechCrunch, and I thought that the information bore repeating here. China is going to pass the U.S. in number of Internet users in the next couple of months, according to this research. The next biggest countries (in terms of number of users) are Japan and Germany.

My question is this – is anyone monitoring all the business models that are emerging and succeeding in China and bringing them to the U.S.? If not, that is a huge opportunity for an entrepreneur who understands both cultures.

New music models worth checking out

Wednesday, January 16th, 2008

In a recent article, I made a series of predictions about the future of the music industry – one of those predictions was that “many new online and digital services will rise and fall.” Now that I think about it a bit more, that prediction seems kind of cheap because in the course of researching that story, I came across lots of the new online and digital services that have already risen. So half of the prediction was more just reporting than prophesying.

Even so, I thought it might be helpful to include a list of the new music models that I found while doing the research. If my prediction holds, many of these will eventually fail, and most of the others will be acquired or consolidate. Staying on top of this quickly changing industry will be tough for awhile, but knowing what’s out there now is a good place to start.

This list is obviously not exhaustive, so if you know of others, or have feedback on any of those listed below, please leave a comment. Also, some of these companies have revenue models that are clear, but others were a bit less so. If you have any input, let me know.

GoombahGoombah logoMusic recommendations based on your iTunes playlist and a comparison of what other people who share similar music interests are listening to. Goombah scans your iTunes library, finds other people who share your musical tastes, and then recommends songs to you based on the songs that they listen to. Revenue model: Affiliate income with potential to get into paid placement, with labels paying for their artists music to be part of the recommendations.

finetune- This site lets you type in an artist and they will createa custom playlist of songs based on that artist and others “like” them. Alternately, you can build your own playlist of up to 45 songs from 15 artists. You can then take your custom playlist and embed it on your blog or MySpace page. Revenue model: advertiser-supported

Groove Mobile – The leading music-for-your-cellphone provider,Groove Mobile logo they have mobile downloads, P2P sharing, music recommendations, streaming radio and music subscriptions. Groove Mobile also powers Orange’s Music Player (U.K.) and the Sprint Music Store. Revenue model: Subscriptions

Livewire Musician – This Web application lets bands, labels or managers book gigs and tours, Livewire Musician Logocommunicate with fans, manage radio promotions, manage the press, and track radio play. A basic account is free, and there are a la carte premium services available. Revenue model: Licensing fees

matchmine – Suggests other songs (and movies and blogs) that youmatchmine logo‘ll be interested in based on your preferences. The company is a product of The Kraft Group/New England Patriot’s interactive media and innovation team. Revenue model: Sells general user data to partners

Nextcat – Social networking for the entertainment industry, Nextcat logowhich in the entertainment industry looks more like traditional networking. Revenue model: Advertising and sponsored listings and placements

nimbit – Business management tools for the indie musician. The nimbit logocompany’s mission is “to put musical artists in complete control of their own music business and brand, enabling them to reach their full potential as quickly as possible.” They do this by providing solutions that allow artists to sell CDs and digital downloads, merchandise, and provides assistance with online ticket sales, e-mail list management, Website design and content hosting and a variety of other services. Revenue model: Paid services

OurStage – This site works kind of like a traditional “battle of the bands.” Bands upload their music, users OurStage logoof the site vote on what they like the best. Every month there are winners of cash prizes. Revenue model: The site sells the music that is uploaded to the site.

Sonicbids – Connecting bands and music promoters. The site allows musicians to put together Sonicbids logoone digital press kit (DPK) that is then distributed to promoters and helps the artists book gigs without having to send out physical press kits. Revenue model: Promoters pay a one-time fee and artists pay for submissions.

Amie Street  – This site allows indie artists to upload their Amie Street logomusic – the more popular the song, the more expensive it is to download. All songs are free to start and then move up in cost the more popular that they get. When users recommend songs to their friends, they get credit to buy more music. Revenue model: Earn 30% of every song sold

Strayform – Artists put proposals online and they are (or aren’t) funded by the fans who see Strayform logothem. According to Strayform, “Fan funded proposals let artist get paid without giving up a big cut, without blowing money on ads, and without long term restrictive contracts.” All the media is Creative Commons licenced, so fans can use everything freely on any device and share on P2P networks. Revenue model: ?

SellaBand – With this site, musicians need to find 5,000 people who “believe in them” (people prove this SellaBand logoby giving $10 to the artist) and then SellaBand takes the artist to the “best producers and studios in town.” Then the three (artist, believer and SellaBand) split the profits from sales of $.50 downloads. According to this article from TechCrunch, some artists have hit the $50,000 mark and have already headed to the studios. Revenue model: Splits revenue with the artist and users

CDBaby – Online record store that sells albums by independent musicians. They oCDBaby logonly sell music that comes direct from musicians, and pay the musicians directly, weekly. They also help to facilitate the digital distribution of music. Revenue model: They take $4 per CD sold, plus an initial $35 fee.

iTunes – This is a site that probably needs very little introduction. MP3 library, iTunes logofrom which users can download songs for $.99 per track, $9.99 per digital album. Revenue model: iTunes takes 30% of each sale.

Amazon MP3 Downloads- Works just about the same way that iTunes does, except that users don’t have to download a special player to get songs, and digital albums cost $8.99 each. Revenue model: Amazon takes a percentage of each sale

Rhapsody- Another MP3 download site, thRhapsodyis one features unlimited downloads based on various subscription deals. Revenue model: Memberships plans starting at $12.99 per month

TuneCore- This site allows artists to upload their digital tracks, and then TuneCore manages TuneCoretheir relationships with digital distributors, including iTunes, Amazon.com and Rhapsody. I wrote a more in-depth assessment of the site here. Revenue model: Charge artists a yearly fee

In compiling this list, I relied heavily on TechCrunch and Xconomy. Thanks!

What's going to happen to the music industry?

Tuesday, January 8th, 2008

Everywhere I turn it seems that there is a story about the demise or revolution of the music industry (depending on your perspective), sparked by two huge music-related stories that broke last week.

The first was the report that music sales were down 9.5% in 2007. The bright note from that report was that the sale of digital music tracks was up 45%, but even that huge leap didn’t help the industry overall. The second was the announcement that Sony BMG will be joining the other three major labels in offering DRM-free songs.

The music industry is scrambling to deal with the impact of the Internet on its traditional business models.

Going out of Business Music WorldIn this October 2007 post, Michael Arrington of TechCrunch sums up nicely the issues that are facing the music industry, and ReadWriteWeb echoes some of the same sentiments. Basically, sales of CDs and digital downloads are not going to make huge amounts of money for anyone going forward. Both argue that the real money will be made from ticket sales for live performances, merchandising, and special limited-edition physical copies of the music.

But there is money being made from digital downloads – it’s just not of the scale that the major record labels are used to. In 2007, there were 844.2 million digital tracks sold. Radiohead’s recent experiment, in which the band released an album online for free download and asked listeners to pay what they wanted, made them more money from the digital distribution then they made from the digital distribution of all the rest of their albums combined. If this seems strange, there is a simple reason – Radiohead was released from their contract with their record label, a contract that in the past excluded them from any royalties from the digital distribution of their music (remind anyone of the current writer’s strike?) Many signed bands and musicians are currently stuck in contracts like these, the relics of an era when digital distribution didn’t really matter.

Of course, there is still money being made in the music industry, but as fewer people are buying CDs (that are costly to produce and distribute) and as more people are downloading digital music (that is practically free to reproduce and distribute), less money is being made. And, the money is being spread among more musicians. The Long Tail is in full force in the music industry, allowing more people to make money as consumers spend their dollars on a wider variety of music and musicians.

So this puts the music industry in this strange position. The indie artists, who are making some money on their small but loyal audiences and the Long Tail, but often not enough money to live off of, would be psyched to get a record contract because the record companies have the marketing and distribution capabilities that they don’t have access to. The big (and already famous) bands, are trying to get out of their contracts in favor of the freedom that the indie artists enjoy. And the record companies are panicking. This is creating a weird, wild situation where everything is about to totally implode if change doesn’t happen quickly.

The really big question is: What online business model is going to work for the music industry going forward? Any successful model will have to support both the record labels and the artists who are producing music. And it will have to be one that consumers will spend their money on.

Here are my predictions:

  1. The new model will be all about the audience.In the past, bands knew how many records or songs they sold, but not the name of the individual that bought them. Digital download and distribution, as well as social networking sites like MySpace, now let musicians know much more intimately who their audience is. By collecting the name of the individual who downloads their song (whether they pay for it or get the download for free), musicians will be able to have a much more personal relationship with their audience – and they will be able to re-market to them in the future. As musicians begin to realize that having the name of their fan is worth more money than the $0.70 they get from iTunes, they will either begin  offering all their songs for free, or Apple will have to adjust their business model and begin sharing data with the artists. Radiohead may have been the first major label to try offering free downloads, but many others are following suit. Trent Reznor (of Nine Inch Nails fame), just produced a Saul Williams album and released it online the same way that Radiohead did – and he has told everyone about the data that they collected. Reznor is bemoaning the fact that only 18.3% of the people who downloaded the album paid $5 for it. He thinks that this stinks (and it might) but he is neglecting the really exciting fact that 154,449 people downloaded Williams’ album! That is an audience of 154,449 if you at least collected an email address. That is a significant fan base – and in my opinion, it is going to be the primary model of the future.
  2. Musicians will begin releasing songs more frequently, as well as more versions of each song. When digital downloads become the norm (and that day is close), there will be no need to stick with the CD format where musicians release all their fully produced songs in one giant lump. Instead, they’ll release things as they are done, there will be more live performance and acoustic versions of songs, and more interesting bits, more looks into the recording studios, more evidence that songwriters and musicians are humans and that every version that they play isn’t perfect. (UPDATE: Looks like Mark Cuban agrees with this prediction.)
  3. Record labels will try to hold onto their business models. They will succeed only until current contracts run out, but they will eventually fail. They will do this not because they don’t see the writing on the wall, but because they can’t figure out how to change.
  4. A new type of record label will emerge. The new label will serve more as a helper to the artist than an owner of the artist. This new label will assist with marketing, bookings, networking and the other promotional aspects of the music business. But instead of owning all the rights to the artist, musicians will PAY their labels for their help, and the musicians will retain their rights. The new labels that will be successful will be the ones that know how to do SEO, online marketing and social networking. These types of labels will become the norm. (And they probably wont’ be called record labels.) (UPDATE: Looks like CNET agrees with this prediction: “If we end up ridding the world of labels, we’ll only have to re-create them–in some other, probably more nimble form.”)
  5. Apple will be one of the new “record labels.”
  6. Many new online and digital services will rise and fall. In 2-3 years, we’ll be left with the winners. At least three of the winners will be companies that no one has even heard of yet.
  7. There will be new ways to buy music. Walking through Target, no longer will you head to the music section to buy music. Instead, as you hear a song piped over the airways, or walk past a TV that is playing a music video and decide you like the song, you will be able to use your phone or mp3 player to purchase and and download the song instantly.
  8. The stuff inside the CD case will still be valuable in digital format, but it will look completely different. People still buy CDs for the lyrics and the liner notes inside – as well as for the artwork and the experience of opening the case and looking through the packaging. This won’t change, there will always be a market (although a smaller one) for the special edition hardcopy CDs. And it won’t be long until someone comes up with a way to sell that stuff in digital format, as well. But although the digital information will be the same, it won’t look the same as the CDs of today. This will be a huge money-maker, much bigger than anyone expects.

UPDATE: This Music Lessons post by Seth Godin is an awesome add-on to this article. Go read it.

Photo by SqueakyMarmot

What is The Long Tail?

Thursday, January 3rd, 2008

The Long Tail is a term that was coined in a 2004 article in Wired and then was turned into a book – specifically, The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More, by Chris Anderson.

The Long Tail book coverThe basic premise is that because of the Internet and it’s infinitely wide and incredibly low-cost distribution capabilities, the big “hits” of popular culture (be they movies, music, books, etc.) are no longer the only things that will make money. Now, the “misses” will also be money-makers.

“With no shelf space to pay for and, in the case of purely digital services like iTunes, no manufacturing costs and hardly any distribution fees, a miss sold is just another sale, with the same margins as a hit. A hit and a miss are on equal economic footing, both just entries in a database called up on demand, both equally worthy of being carried. Suddenly, popularity no longer has a monopoly on profitability.”

This large volume of small purchases (selling less of more) is what Anderson calls The Long Tail.

The best way to get a grasp on this concept is by reading the original Wired article, so go read that now if you’re interested in this topic. Anderson also has a blog that provides continuing coverage and analysis. The Wikipedia entry is here.

Google could really hurt my self-image by asking if I'm fugly

Wednesday, November 21st, 2007

There was a huge protest when Google debuted paid search ads in Gmail. People are still debating whether this is a violation of privacy, or just good business practice.

Personally, I don’t mind too much that Google peers into my inbox to read my messages and serve me relevant ads. Partly this is because I make my money through Internet business models and appreciate the forward-thinking (and money-making) brains behind Google, and partly because I just don’t have any secret e-mail that I want kept private. Yes, for you privacy advocates, I understand (and agree) that we have a right to privacy. But Gmail is a free, commercial service and no one is being forced to use it. So I don’t mind the ads.

Until today when I opened my inbox and found this:

Gmail FUGLY ad

Isn’t Google supposed to be reading my e-mail and delivering me relevant advertising? How is this relevant? Do they suddenly have a camera on me, too? Am I fugly?!

So I couldn’t resist, I clicked the link because I had to find out if I am fugly, and the link took me to the World Of Quizzes, where I had a chance to take the “Are You Ugly Quiz.”

Are you UglyI know you are dying to find out the verdict, but I can’t tell you because the quiz was all a front for some terrible co-registration marketing service.

WARNING: Do not be sucked in by this quiz even to attempt to discover if you are ugly. I actually took the quiz (as part of my research for this post, really!), but I was subjected to AT LEAST 50 ads, and I never saw the results of the survey. I am not exaggerating. I quit before it was over when I started having to click off 20 check boxes saying “no I am not interested” on each page.

It appears that Prospectiv is the source of this site – and the nightmarish number of ads. (At least according to the logo on the quiz pages.) I would love to hear some stats from them on how many people actually become leads as a result of this lead capture methodology – and if anyone that takes the survey actually makes it to the end to find out their results. I am all for creative marketing, but this example seems to take it too far.

Vertical search with humans behind it

Thursday, November 1st, 2007

Ask Jim logoI occassionally blog for SelfEmployed.com, and in writing a post for that site today I came across a search engine for the Small Business market – AskJim.biz. It’s a vertical search engine that has a database of articles about small business issues behind it. The site was conceived of by Jim Blasingame, and the articles are written by a group of experts (Jim’s “Brain Trust”). I didn’t use the site indepth, but I ran a couple of sample queries and compared the results from AskJim vs. Google. AskJim was better.

 This is an interesting business model for vertical search – a niche search engine that really isn’t a search engine at all, but has a giant database of trusted articles behind it, powering it and providing relevant results. This could be a helpful solution to folks in the small business market who are suffering from search engine fatigue. It will be interesting to see if this model will work in other markets.