Friday, 27 January 2017

Internet Browser Brave

Dear all,

This post concerns a new Internet browser called Brave. It has made me think about what that term ‘new content’ or perhaps better put, ‘original content’ is, and how that applies to personal or company websites as opposed to sharing or re-sharing on social media platforms.

First, let me briefly explain Brave so as to preface my thoughts. It is a browser that offers advanced protection and privacy with the ability to manage advertisements, increase speed and security, and for the benefit of this post, allow publisher payments. To be more exact, it has a beta service that allows people to set up a cyrptocurrency micro-payments system, designed to pay people (websites) based on the amount of times you are visited and the amount of time spent. I in turn, as the browser user, can set up my preferences to process micro-payments to the sites I visit.

You may be unfamiliar with cryptocurrencies and it’s not an easy subject to summarise. Even though I’ve been interested in them for a few years, I’m very much a laymen and I find it hard to explain the basics. All I’ll say for now is that the original and most well known cryptocurrency is called Bitcoin and there is an entire world of financial technology innovation going on and although it is still early days I’m convinced it will become an acknowledged world currency/asset in the years to come. At the time of posting this blog the price of a single Bitcoin is $920 / £734. In terms of micropayments we would only be sending a fraction of a Bitcoin, possibly as little as a few cents/pence. The actual way in which Brave works I will let you learn from their website as they obviously go into much more detail than I ever could. Check it out here:

The idea behind micropayments is what I’m interested in. What does the future hold for people who create original content? At present, you may be earning income from website and social media advertising, referrals and affiliate programs and other payments made from content publishers either in fixed fees or royalty sharing and things like that. You may also be earning income from your own sites if you have a subscription or membership program i.e. you charge people to access your website content. Perhaps it may take the form of a token system or Patreon type access.

Whichever way, it is possible to earn money and you may be very successful at sharing content on multiple platforms and all of that complicated digital stuff that I don’t really know much about… but as someone who is interested in writing, it is an nice thought that there may be a way to earn money simply by managing your own work on your own website without the need for membership or subscription fees or posting on multiple platforms.

This is purely abstract thinking here so it’s all pie-in-the-sky for the time being, don’t think I’m trying to promote anything. I’m just imagining an Internet of the future and what opportunities that may hold.

Say for instance everyone in the entire world has totally accepted cryptocurrency micropayments and it is as normal as contactless payments or checking your bank balance on your mobile phone. This is a world where we all have digital wallets and are set up to receive Bitcoin (or any other of the hundreds of digital currencies) based on visitor numbers/duration.

Why would a person visit your website?

What would draw repeating visitors?

I’m not talking about visiting your Facebook page or your YouTube channel or other content providers, or reading your articles that have been published in online magazines, or other dominant media networks. I’m talking about your individual website.

Is there enough original content, and enough new content, for people to want to come back?

As someone interested in writing this makes me think about a couple of things. Am I able to create enough content of a high enough quality to make people’s visits worthwhile? Instead of blogging on Blogger or Wordpress should I simply blog on my website? Should I write a monthly/quarterly short story and publish it solely on my website? Instead of using a site such as Wattpad, shoud I share chapters of a new book on my website? What other media could I regularly produce that could sit on my website without being shared elsewhere? That way I know that the only way people can access new content by me, would be to visit my website and therefore justify micropayments?

One question that strikes me is why would you set up a micropayment allowance to a website and not simply pay a subscription? If you know you will visit a site x number of times in a week or a month then why not just subscribe to them? First off, I didn’t even realise how adverse I am to subscriptions until I thought about it while writing this. Subscriptions tend to be a significant amount, perhaps £10 a month for instance, regardless of how many times you visit. If I pay £10 a month for all the sites I visit then I’ll be broke in no time. I already have stopped paying for newspaper subscriptions. As an example, when The Independent became an online subscription service only, I didn’t take it up even though I was buying their physical newspapers every week. The reason being is that I don’t like committing. That’s probably a new thing, I’m not sure. When I was growing up, it was all about memberships. Perhaps Netflix got it so right that there is no accepting anything less: Incredibly high level of quality and service with immediate cancellations and multiple platform access for £6 a month. That’s a balance that in my opinion favours the customer. Looking back, as a kid I would have to subscribe to magazines and pay a fortune for pretty rubbish content, with all the terms & conditions favouring the business I am using and having painful clauses and customer service. That goes for most things, gym membership, VHS/DVD rentals (screw you late fees), library membership, mobile contracts, and so on (remember how much postage and packaging used to cost!?!? Life before digital downloads… ) Life is changing and as we don’t seem to be as tied down to things anymore, we are much more fluid to change providers (still got a way to go of course) and it seems that online memberships may be heading that way too. I don’t want to tie myself into contracts if I don’t need to.

Although saying that, if prices go down then it will be tempting. For instance, I’m not much of a gamer but I do know that there are lots of online worlds that require subscriptions (off the top of my head, World of Warcraft comes to mind) but they seem to be pretty reasonable, especially when the initial cost of the game purchase isn’t too high. I’m not saying it’s great, it’s still expensive of course, but it is much more of a choice if you are paying £10 a month for 24/7 access to brand new content and multi-player interaction. Take that one step further and make it so that you only actually ever pay something when you are actually using a service, but that payment is automated so you don’t have to do anything - and you know what limits you have set so you never spend more than you budget - then we are nearing the world of crypto micro-payments. If a person decides to go on holiday for two weeks then subscription or membership money isn’t wasted because you aren’t paying, if you change jobs or have a baby or move house or undertake any activity whereby you need to save money for a while, then there is no going through the aggravation of cancelling multiple subscriptions (or more likely, not bothering and feeling mighty pissed that you frittering away money) and all the time that entails. You simply don’t use their service and you therefore don’t pay, and when the time comes you feel ready to use their services again, you just go back.

I’m not going to get into the debate about how long this would take. And I have no idea that if this adoption takes place how long it will be from then before there is any definitive evidence that sharing content on your own site will earn anywhere near the amounts you may be used to. And I’m also not saying that sites such as YouTube would ever lose their position and make it viable for you to be found as an individual (what a tiny speck in the digital universe we are in comparison). I have no idea about this side of things. Search and discovery I am clueless on. All I know is that it gives me a sense of purpose to consider a future in which I publish my own content and I am rewarded for that content without having to sell advertising space or use other income streams that have nothing to do with the actual content I make. It makes me feel like I should be upping my game and that there are possibilities. (and for the purposes of this blog I have taken sponsorship out of the equation)

For a long time it’s been the way that for the latest news you visit social media pages of an individual or an organisation rather than their website, even if the website is great. (With the exception of huge corporations such as the BBC) There’s nothing wrong with that and it makes total sense to see a collection of your favourite sites in one place, but of course you are seeing the layout and theme and branding of the content distributor rather than the original author. It’s a shame in a way because I enjoy seeing the individual design and creativity that goes into individual websites.

That’s obviously not going to change for a long time though and I’m not in anyway saying one is better than the other. It’s all about habits, ease of use, ease of display, speed, connectivity and what makes life easier for you. It’s also about taking control – do you want the power to allow advertisements and sacrifice the positives that come from it in full knowledge of the outcomes? I mean, it should be your choice shouldn’t it?

I think I ‘like’ around 2000 pages on Facebook and it seems impossible an idea to have to surf through 2000 individual sites every day but we don’t have to think in terms of all-or-nothing. Perhaps it could work for your top ten individual authors. Your top ten individual artists. Your top ten musicians. It could be a way of saying to your favourite independent content providers, here’s my few pence for doing what you do, keep it up. Perhaps paying people for content directly and seeing that as a genuine way of reflecting your output is a way to go back to individuality and away from the colossus juggernauts that rule us. That still doesn’t get away from the fact that sometimes it’s nice to have everything in one place. If you want to scroll through Facebook to see all the latest news from the hundreds of the sites your follow in a quick two minute coffee break then fantastic, of course that’s great, I don’t see that changing much. But again, why not have the best of both worlds?

Going back to the beginning, it will never work unless there is a reason for people to visit my website. So I need to think about this. What could I put on there that I don’t share on Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest or YouTube, etc? How will people find me? Sounds so needy when I put it like that.

Something to think about for development over the next few years.

Have a great weekend,

R.G Rankine

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Selling ebooks direct

Dear all,

This post is about selling directly from a website. I decided recently to make all of Thinking Plainly’s ebooks available to purchase as digital files from our company and author websites. But honestly…. this wasn’t because there was any demand for them! It’s more because I love trying new things out, learning and developing, even if it won’t see any immediate benefit. There really wasn’t any need but part of the fun of doing things yourself is that you don’t need anyone’s permission to experiment.

The superficial reason for doing so is to add a bit of new content to our websites and attempt to make them look more professional. I’m not saying I’m unhappy with my website but it is very early days and there is a lot of work to do but as the bulk of the content is already there I’m limited to what I can add. I may change the overall look and theme as that needs some work but in terms what people can see and access it’s more or less there.

In terms of functionality it makes our websites slightly more interactive. A lot of the content is text and images that are purely for information, not for modification or playing with. All of our works are sold through distributors such as Amazon so aside from a few preview boxes it is all links. It’s nice now to have a commercial feel on the website itself.

More seriously though, the long term strategy is to make my digital footprint as big as possible and build the foundations of online sales technology so should there be an increase in our following we can maximize any opportunities. I’m not saying that’s going to happen and it’s nothing more than wishful thinking if I am being totally honest however that in itself is not a reason to not try it out. It is much easier and quicker to remove work than it is to add it and by learning all the integration stuff now I’m not really losing anything. It may prove to be a waste of time in the realization of the idea but I still would have learnt a lot and experimented with something I haven’t done before so as far as I am concerned it is a worthwhile adventure.

In short, I have set up an account with a digital download company called Send Owl, check them out here: and I have then integrated two payments solutions with them. The first being PayPal: which I am sure you have heard of, and the second a company called BitPay: which unless you are interested in cryptocurrencies you may not have heard of. For a few years now I’ve had a layman’s interest in the world of financial technologies and have watched the rise of cryptocurrency Bitcoin as well as several other cryptocurrencies. I thought it would be a fun thing to do to practice more of what I preach and actually integrate a Bitcoin provider into the SendOwl payment system so as well as customers being able to buy our ebooks with bank payments or credit card payments via PayPal, they could also pay with Bitcoin. I don’t see it as a revenue stream because I don’t see my ebooks selling (I’m not purposefully downplaying our work, it’s just that without a serious marketing plan/budget and social media campaigns – which are some way off yet – there is no point pretending) but I do see it as learning something new that potentially could be very worthwhile later down the line.

When someone purchases an ebook they will receive an email confirming their purchase and a link to click on where they can download. They can download the .mobi version of the story (for Kindle), the epub version (for most other major ereaders) and a PDF version (in case they want to print it off and read). They don’t have to download all three but they can if they wish. It’s still just the one price, they don’t pay for each version.

The one difference to buying it direct from a distributor such as Amazon if you have a Kindle, is that you have to upload the file to your ereader yourself but I have done that many times myself and it’s not a hassle. Of course that means you could copy the file and send it to your friends but I don’t care about that at all. I’d be over the moon should someone feel it worthy to copy and share!

As I say, it’s early days but it’s been a nice distraction to work on something like this and get away from writing for a while (I realise that’s not the point but you know, we all need a break!) and you never know, it may prove a good move in the years to come if things go the way we hope they will.

Then again, you may think it is a terrible idea and that I have opened myself up to a tonne of paperwork and legal issues that could have waited and it’s a lot of fuss and expense for nothing. Perhaps you are right! If you have thoughts on the subject send me a message, I’d be interested to hear.

All the best,

R.G Rankine.