Posts tagged ‘commerce’

February 13, 2014

#71) How do you know?

How do you know?

I mean, seriously, how the fuck do you know?

This simple, timeless question was recently brought home to me by a TV commercial.  Like any good commercial, it failed to actually instill the name of the product in my head, but its message resonated with me nevertheless.  An adult is shown some fancy new product he’s supposed to buy and hesitates.  During his hesitation we see him flash black to junior high, when he dumps a tubby blonde girl: “Sorry, Brooklyn, it’s just not working out.”  In another flashback, now at college age, he declines investing in his friend’s startup: “What can you do with just 140 characters?” Which brings us to the present; the implication being that he doesn’t want to pass on yet another thing that will end up being huge.

Apart from its amusing storyline, the commercial has hit home for me on a personal level.  Since starting my hiking blog, www.nobodyhikesinla.com, I have been fortunate to keep the company of dozens of blogging experts.  Counsel that has been given to me about how to successfully monetize the blog includes T-shirts and other swag; creating a mobile phone application; eBooks about the hikes, branching out to other cities (coming soon: http://www.nobodyhikesinwichita.com).

With demeanor ranging from polite to borderline hostile, depending on the intensity of my expert’s pitch to me, I have invariably rejected most of these ideas, not because I want to be difficult, stubborn or ungrateful, but just because in most cases, I don’t feel that the potential for revenue justifies the effort and expense of, say, hiring an app developer or handling (gulp!) physical inventory, that bane of the existence of anyone who has ever tried to develop an online revenue stream.  My hesitation to endorse these ideas is based on information I’ve gathered about my site traffic, link clicks, etc (I have been known to spend hours a few minutes here and there perusing statistics related to my blogs).  While the revenue the site has earned – mainly through advertising; also through affiliation sales, the Nobody Hikes in LA Guidebook and donations – is a little bit short of Fortune 500 status, by breaking the three-digit income threshold, NHLA stands apart from at least 81% of the blogs out there, according to Infographic.

That being said, a part of me has to ask: what if I am wrong?  Are eBooks based on hike writeups the wave of the future?  By passing on these opportunities, will I become the next Nolan Bushnell?  (In the mid ’70s, after founding Atari, Busnhell had an opportunity to invest in a startup created by one of his employees: a certain Steven Paul Jobs.)

History abounds, of course, with stories like this: numerous record producers rejecting the Beatles; board game makers  passing on Monopoly; the Portland Trailblazers drafting Sam Bowie instead of Michael Jordan.  Hell, there’s even one from my own family: in the mid 1960s in New York, my dad and uncle Joe were involved with the city’s thriving folk music scene.  One of the misfits hanging around the fringes was a scruffy kid from Minnesota named Robert Zimmerman, whose presence was a nuisance to everyone, be they veteran musicians who didn’t want him fucking up the songs or young women whom he was trying to bed.  One of the latter category was waiting for my uncle Joe to meet her at a cafe and when he showed up, she was laughing.  “This homeless looking kid tried to hit on me,” she said.  “When I brushed him off, he said, ‘But I’m Bob Dylan!’  I said, ‘Well, I’m here waiting for Joe Lockeretz.'”

To bring it back to my original question, strictly speaking, no, you DON’T know.  You can, however, make sound decisions based on odds and information.  I consider the fear of passing on a great opportunity to be the converse of fears such as being struck by lightning, being attacked by a shark or being in a plane crash.  Just as plane crashes make the news because of how rare they are, stories such as the Beatles’ early rejections make history because of their infrequency.  Yes, it’s inspirational to hear these kinds of tales and their positive messages shouldn’t just be dismissed.  It should just be noted, however, that these events are the exception and should have limited influence on your decisions, investment and otherwise.  And if you do end up on the wrong side of history?  At least you’ll have some good stories for the grandkids.

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January 28, 2014

#70) You can’t give it away: #1 & #2

Good afternoon readers and welcome to another new sub-series of D-Theory posts.  In this series I will write about free things I’ve been offered but have turned down.  The world is changing and sometimes free ain’t good enough.  In this series of posts I will explore why.

The rule for these posts is that the declined free offer has to be made aware to me by permission marketing; the provider of the free products described here will in fact have reason to believe I might be interested in it.  In other words, you’re not going to find any free vacations for listening to a time-share sales presentation.  Offers described in this series will truly be no-strings-attached; yet I have still declined.

I don’t wish to make these posts a negative reading experience; rather my goal is to enlighten.  As a vendor, it’s easy to assume that “free” is some kind of magic word that will automatically get you the results you want; this is a mistake I’ve made many times when I’ve been on that side of the equation.  I hope that by sharing my own experiences I can help readers understand the consumer’s perspective.  If you, the reader, has either declined a free offer similar to one that I describe or perhaps have made a similar offer to your customer base but have had disappointing results, feel free to share your stories.  Without further ado:

#1) Mark Knopfler, “Privateering”

Last October my wife and I saw Mark Knopfler, former guitarist and lead singer of Dire Straits, in concert.  After purchasing the tickets I was given a link to download Knopfler’s latest solo record, “Privateering.”  I have not yet done so.

As a musician, I understand Knopfler’s desire to keep creating and growing as an artist.  I also can guess that, just as I get tried of playing the same songs over and over again, Knopfler probably isn’t in a hurry to bust out “Sultans of Swing”, “Walk of Life” and “Money for Nothing.”  Here’s the problem: I think I speak for the majority of his audience when I say that I’m not paying for “Privateering”; I’m paying for “Sultans of Swing”, “Walk of Life” and “Money for Nothing.”  I did not hear any of those songs.

The concert was still an enjoyable experience; the musicianship was top notch and the songs were good.  Some of them were on “Privateering”, but I can’t remember which.  My non-downloading of “Privateering” is not intended as a slight on Knopfler or as a revenge ploy for his set list.  It’s simply a reflection of the fact that, while Knopfler might have put just as much effort into “Privateering” as he did into his earlier music, it’s the latter which is in higher demand by myself–and I’m guessing, the majority of his fan base.  Making something free doesn’t automatically give it urgency.

#2) $10 Sam Ash gift card

Sam Ash, the nationwide music store chain, has been providing customers with a $10 gift card for an in-store purchase of $50 or more.  No-brainer, right? Here’s the problem: The gift cards are mailed to you, come with an expiration date and they can only be used in the store.  The motivation behind the gift card is obvious: Sam Ash wants you to come back to the store and buy more stuff.  All well and good but when I have to spend $5 in gas (not to mention an hour in transportation time) to redeem my $10 card, I’ll just order stuff online without the discount.  Removing the expiration date might help; if I am going to be near both a Sam Ash and a Guitar Center and need to pick up strings or another accessory, if I have the Sam Ash gift card and know that I can use it regardless of the date, my decision will be easy.  The lesson here is that “brick and mortar” businesses have to be able to counter the convenience and effectiveness of online shopping and that a $10 gift card probably won’t do much to tip the balance.

December 3, 2013

#63) Apps I’ve paid for #2: Modern Hiker

Continuing the series of posts about applications I’ve purchased, I present the Modern Hiker smartphone app.  I bought this one both as a consumer and as a competitor; it’s been often suggested to me to look into creating an application for www.nobodyhikesinla.com.  I hoped that in addition to helping me more easily access the hikes displayed on the website, it would give me ideas for a possible NHLA mobile app.

Given that the app costs only $2, it would be hard to say that I didn’t get my money’s worth, but I would have liked to have seen more hikes listed on the app.  Modern Hiker has hundreds of hikes listed, but only the most popular are shown on the app – Solstice Canyon, Sturtevant Falls, Echo Mountain, the Bridge to Nowhere and Mt. Baldy to name a few.  There’s already so much information available about these hikes that the consumer would do just as well to look it up on a smartphone or print it out beforehand than to use the Modern Hiker app.  That said, I could see how the app would be useful to a novice hiker who isn’t familiar with Topanga State Park, the San Gabriel Mountains and the rest of L.A.’s outdoor areas.  It provides hike summaries, statistics and photos in a neat, fairly user-friendly package.

So far, the two apps I’ve paid for and then reviewed (this one and the Prince of Persia game, which I have still not won) have in common that no free counterpart exists.  Two dollars may be a lot for something that can just as easily be acquired for free, but when it’s the only choice, it doesn’t exactly break the bank.