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Bangs from Bangs and a Bun

Bangs from Bangs and a Bun

Not too long ago I went to a blogger’s meetup. There were bloggers there who had successfully monetized their blogs and those who were just thinking about starting. All were listening raptly to the night’s speaker, Muireann Carey-Campbell (AKA Bangs) from as she discussed finding a voice, a theme, for her successful blog.

Business Bloggers Have it Easy

Business bloggers do not have this problem. The theme is set: the company and the industry. All that’s left is to find content that is engaging, whether that be examples of the product’s uses, like Kodak’s A Thousand Words, or personal anecdotes from the front lines à la Nuts About Southwest. (To be sure, these companies do blur the lines.)

Personal bloggers have it a bit harder. We think we have to have a theme. This is an easy trap to fall into. We think that we have to have a reason to blog. We can’t just post something online. The idea of a theme becomes a crutch holding us back, not guiding us forward. But there is another way of looking at themes for a personal blog.

The Writer Is the Theme

a person writing with a pen and paper

by Orin Zebest on Flickr

During her talk Bangs tackled this issue and provided what I think is a pretty good answer: Don’t care about themes. Just be yourself. A blog is not carried by the subject matter. It is carried by the blogger’s personality.

Particularly in the beginning, bloggers can take advantage of the fact that no one is reading the blog to find their voice. Once this voice is found, the readers will start coming. The key is that if a person is real, not a persona, the blog is that much better. People do not have themes. We have interests. And so it is perfectly acceptable to write on variety of topics. The real person behind the topics, the tone of voice and personality, is what ties it all together.

Don’t Forget That Pesky Audience

audience clapping

by open hardware summit on Flickr

This is the reason I have two blogs, this one and The Masked Geek. Put simply, I have two pretty distinct audiences I want to talk to. Sci-fi and fantasy geeks may use social media, but chances are, most don’t really care about the finer points of content publishing on social channels. Social media marketers may like going to see superhero themed summer blockbusters, but I highly doubt the vast majority want to discuss if Batman is really Bruce Wayne or if Bruce Wayne is just a front for Batman.

You may go into blogging knowing what the target audience is, as business bloggers do. You may just want to write and not have a clue what you will eventually be writing about. But, as a marketer, I just can’t help but think that you have to know who you want to talk to. Even Bangs agrees with this point. During her talk, she said that you have to develop common ground with the readers in order to get traction. This target audience may change as your interests morph. For instance, this blog started out meant for fellow young people entering the workforce, thus the post on where to wear a name tag. Now I talk to fellow digital marketers. That’s fine. It’s okay. The key is to use yourself as the theme, but find common ground with those you want to talk to.


We have fewer rights to do things with our digital purchases than our physical ones, even though digital is supposed to offer us more freedoms. If there was ever an argument not to buy digital goods, that one is probably it. Just because you handed over your hard earned cash or credit card debt does not mean you actually get to use the product or service you just bought as you see fit. Not by a long shot.

Your Login Details Are Not Yours to Share

Netflix on a Television

by MoneyBlogNewz on Flickr

Let’s suppose that you want to share your Netflix login with your friends and family. You’re thinking that you bought it, so it should be yours to share if you want. If you live in Tennessee, though, don’t.

Tennessee just passed a law that makes it illegal to share your Netflix login information. The law is meant to target people who sell logins in bulk, but it is worded in a way that if you shared your login with your dormitory floor, or even just your extended family, you could be in trouble to the tune of $2,500 plus jail time if you take $500 or less.

What this basically means is that your digital purchases are not yours. If you want to share movies, buy them on DVD. You do not have the same rights with digital goods as you do with physical ones.

Your Books Are Not Yours to Share

me holding up my Nook

My Nook

Books, the paper variety, have been one of the most shareable items in the world. Sharing books and other printed material has spread the ideas necessary for political and social improvement, such as Thomas Payne’s “Common Sense” prior to the American Revolution.

Yet, if you own a digital book, you do not have the right to pass it to a friend. Yes, there are systems such as the Nook’s LendMe feature which allows you to pass a book to a friend’s Nook for two weeks, but I honestly have a book on loan from, oh, two years ago (Sorry, Aunt Julie. I promise to return it, eventually).

Besides the Big Brother company watching over your activities, there is a platform war. Because the ebook sharing is based on Nook technology, not the universal epub, I can’t share any books with my father, who owns a Kindle. And he can’t use the Kindle version of this feature with me. This is not an attempt by the book sellers to mimic the freedoms we had with paper books. This is an attempt to get more readers to use their platforms by providing the benefits of the network. It’s more like the Betamax vs VHS wars than going back to visiting a friend’s library.


The worst thing is that these laws and gimmicks are highly unlikely to cut down on piracy. Rather than getting the movies through a semi-legitimate source, many who used to use a friend’s Netflix login are more likely to turn to pirate sources than buy their own accounts. And the inability to pass books on to friends with different platforms is more likely to limit people’s exposure to more material, and you can’t buy what you do not know about.

More than this, however, it’s the question: Who owns these digital goods? Not you. Even though digital opens the opportunities for more freedom with your purchases and information, you actually have fewer rights with digital products than physical ones. You just paid a one-time only renting fee to use them.

What if all content were free?

Free Wifi logo

by Wayda Dreamscape on Flickr

With all the discussion going on about pricing in my Digital Publishing course at Hult International Business School, I had to ask this question. There are people, like Cory Doctorow, who maintain that content should be free. He publishes his books for free online using the Creative Commons license. I actually agree with him since I think that piracy in terms of entertainment materials is just too rampant to fight, and who would want to? Often the pirates are the publisher’s biggest fans, and fighting fans is just weird.

But I can’t lump all publishing together. Entertainment is one thing while business, news, and other more factual writings are distinctly separate. When this information is provided for free, does it maintain an intrinsic value or gain the value of its price – nothing?

John Jantsch from Duct Tape Marketing has outlined 5 pitfalls of free content for a business. Hartley Brody with the Inbound Marketing pros over at Hubspot posted a reply defending free content. This exchange made me ask some very important questions about the value of free content:

How Much Value Do People Get from Free Content?

Jantsch points out that show-up rates for free events are around 25-30%, much lower than would be expected to a paid-event. I can’t speak for everybody, but I can say why I don’t show up to free events I RSVP for: I just can’t be bothered or something else comes up. That something else has more value in my eyes than a free event, and nothing happens to me if I don’t show up. No lost revenue without a gain, for instance. And if I do show up, how much attention will I pay? Will I be more likely to skip out if I hear a friend is having a party nearby?

snow and a person walking through it

by dickuhne on Flickr

Brody’s reply to this issue was to say that the event holders (or newsletter senders or whatever flavor of content you produce) should include a coupon or other incentive for people to do what they said they would, such as show up or read, but this isn’t always possible. Newspapers can’t necessarily give out coupons when all their content is free, for instance. And this coupon must be pretty valuable to outweigh my laziness before an event. After all, it’s a gain, not a loss, and humans react more strongly to potential losses than potential gains. They will trudge through snow when sick to attend an event if it means they would have “wasted” their money if they don’t go, regardless that the cost is sunk. This is hard to duplicate with a coupon.

This lack of effort to attend or gain the benefits of free content versus paid means that when someone has actually paid for content, they will actually get more value out of it. If I have paid for a NY Times online subscription, you betcha I’ll be reading most of those articles! When I pay for a single magazine, I go through each page not to miss anything, even when most of it is uninteresting. I feel I have wasted money when I don’t. Do I read all my RSS feeds with such zeal? Nope. I lose nothing by doing so, even though my feeds routinely pump out great information.

How Can We Judge the Value of Free Content?

the tabloids rack

by brownpau on Flickr

Jantsch also raised the point about “eroded value.” In his words, “How good can something that’s free really be?” He was more worried about the lack of differentiation between quality content and slapped-together “pitch fests.” When all the prices are the same, telling the two apart is hard. This probably contributes to the lack of effort people will put into attending a free event. Without prior experience, it’s hard to tell if the event is really worth going to.

Brody counters by suggesting that publishers need to build a reputation for quality and then show that reputation off by displaying how many other people have signed up for your content. This still doesn’t display how much the content is worth, however, since it doesn’t answer how many of those newsletter recipients are actually reading the e-mails or have just forgotten to opt-out. With the Internet being so huge, it isn’t that hard to get a large following. Just look at some of the “gurus” on Twitter.

A higher price signals the higher value. The retail industry has known this for ages. They have known that if you want your store to be considered high end, make the scarves expensive. Even though they are really rather cheap to produce, the price gives the items caché and the brand, value.

Prices Might Help

dollar sign painted on some bricks

by Jim Legans, Jr on Flickr

Pricing your content will help you avoid these pitfalls. If you charge for your events, people are more likely to show and truly listen to what you have to say. The price can be used as a way to judge value, too, so the more expensive – to a point – the more valuable.

Now, like Jantsch, I am not suggesting hiding behind a paywall. For instance, displaying ads for expensive items would associate your free content with the value of the displayed merchandise. You can encourage event attendance by having people pay with digital currency received through a game experience. Perhaps a more common and direct system, however, is the freemium system. A newspaper could have its more general reporting up for free and its in-depth coverage behind a small paywall. Longer reports and such could be paid for one at a time. eConsultancy does something like this with their varied level freemium memberships.

Have you noticed that people are saying “blogs and social media?” Heck, I’ve probably said it a few times. But, the plain and simple truth is blogs are social media, most of the time.

What is Social Media?

Twitter bird chirping

by ivanpw on Flickr

This is the best place to start, but the definition is changing. Brian Clark over at Coppyblogger wrote an article on how blogs are social media, using a Wikipedia definition of social media to support his point. Now, Wikipedia has changed since Brian’s article. I’m going to use the current definition in acknowledgement that definitions are changing. This is probably a good thing since it means this discussion is evolving and Wikipedia is our benchmark of where it is at today.

According to Wikipedia (today, at any rate), “Social media can take on many different forms, including Internet forums, weblogs, social blogs, microblogging, wikis, podcasts, photographs or pictures, video, rating and social bookmarking.” But Wikipedia also says that, “Social media are media for social interaction, using highly accessible and scalable communication techniques. Social media is the use of web-based and mobile technologies to turn communication into interactive dialogue.”

These two definitions are on the same page, but the second one is in the introduction while the first is down in the Examples section. While both definitions are right, the first definition, that Brian used, has the word “can” in it. Not to quibble with words, but basically blogs can be social media, but it is also possible for them not to be.

When Is a Blog Social Media and When Is It Not?

On an earlier blog post I discussed if blogs were publishing or not and if comments on social networks were, too. I concluded that an item is only considered publishing (in the traditional sense, not the “send this off to the world sense”) if the idea contained within it did not require a response to have meaning. Publishing and social media overlap, as with this blog, which is both social media and publishing.

But is all publishing social media? Nope. As the second Wikipedia definition clearly says, social media is media used for interaction meant to make communication a two-way street. This does not define all publishing, that’s for certain. Even if we disregard all off-line publishing, there are still plenty of online newspapers that do not allow comments (like I explore in my discussion of my hometown’s AZcentral). Even many top bloggers do not allow comments, such as Seth Godin.

Without the comments, are these forms of publishing still social? Even if blogs are generally social, are they always? I think without the comments feature on a blog, the blog is in essence the same as that newspaper’s website, not social media, though it is still “media” in the sense that it is published.

But Isn’t the Web Social by Definition by This Point?

Seth Godin's Blog Logo

Social or not?

Now Adam Singer at the Future Buzz does make a good a good point when he says that all content on the web can easily be social. I just copy past from an old-fashioned brochure website, post it to this blog and comment on it, forcing it to be social. Any presence on the web whatsoever is social to at least this degree. But I don’t think this satisfies Wikipedia’s definition. Yes, I would be using technology to turn communication into a dialogue, but I’m changing the platform. The website I copied from isn’t the technology that’s being social. Wherever I paste the content in order to add my comments is where the social element is coming from. That static website is not social at all.

The same goes for Seth Godin’s Twitter and Facebook plugins that allow readers to share his writings on those platforms. Those platforms are what are being social. Seth is making that social element easier, not contributing to it as a meaningful dialogue. After all, it could happen without the plugins, just as with my fictional brochure website.

It’s Not a Clear-Cut Definition

A blog is social if it welcomes dialogue. It is not if it doesn’t. But does that dialogue have to happen in a comments section? No, not really. I’ve linked to three other bloggers in this post. It is quite possible that linking like this could be considered social enough. Perhaps the blog post itself is the dialogue, without the comments, just that it takes a bit longer to occur.

I don’t think I’ve come up with a definitive definition of blogging as social media. I do hope that I’ve pointed out an interesting element to the discussion. Just as the Wikipedia definition has changed between my writing this and Brian Clark’s article, I expect it will again change shortly. We’re still discovering this world and testing its limits, after all.

What do you think? Is a blog social by merely being a blog or is it how the platform is used that makes it social?

It’s a tough question. As you might have read in the prequel to this post, there are potentially three digital publishing pricing models. Here’s a brief list:

  • Make it cheap or free so that word gets around easier and hopefully encourages purchase of the more expensive versions of the same content. This hits lower price points, but may cannibalize sales.
  • Charge subscriptions to view content, like the Financial Times does. Hopefully the publisher’s brand will be so well regarded the consumers will think it is worth paying for and not opt for the free version put out by competitors.
  • Publish the content as though it were software. Consumers can purchase it, but there will be upgrades and such they will have to purchase as well. This will cover the large initial investment in digital and the subsequent smaller investments to keep the operation running.

But which one works?

Well, Not Paying and Not Ads

The pay wall runs up against the availability of free substitute content. This model requires a strong brand, and those are expensive to grow. Because of this, pay walls can only really work for those companies that already have strong brands. Anything less and this path is unavailable.

software manuel

by mrbill on Flickr

To treat content like a piece of software makes a certain amount of sense, if it is delivered through an app, but if it is merely available online, then the pay wall’s problem still exists. How can a company, particularly if it is not immense and does not have wide brand recognition, grow? Or will we be faced with a monopoly of large publishers as all the smaller ones die out?

Digital advertising can’t cover the bills like it used to, so this takes out many of the free content business models. As John Squires, the former EVP of Time Inc, puts it, digital advertising is worth less than the analog version because it gets around to fewer people. This is odd, considering how people pass along information via social media, but Squires writes that a paper magazine is read by 7 people but a digital version is read by only 1.5 people per copy.

The Answer Is an Infomercial?

Gilt Taste LogoI think publishing will take a different route. Publishers will make their money through the communities that surround their content. They can charge for people to be a part of this community or merely sell merchandise to these individuals. That’s what the new magazine Gilt Taste is doing. The cooking magazine has no ads. Instead it offers consumers the opportunity to buy the products it discusses in the content. This is actually what Cory Doctorow is doing by allowing his books to be passed freely all over the Internet. The content becomes an advertisement for something else. In Doctorow’s case it is the hardcover versions of the books. In Gilt Taste’s case, it is the cooking appliances.

I know what you’re thinking: “This isn’t pricing content! It’s eCommerce! An infomercial!” And you’d be right. That’s exactly what it is, a pretty infomercial. What’s wrong with that? Yes, perhaps the newspapers will have some difficulty with this, after all what can they sell you in an article about Obama? But they could offer you’re a chance to donate to the political parties, which in turn support the coverage.

In either event, I think free content is the way to go. Money should come from elsewhere. Feel free to disagree with me. Many do. You can do it in the comments or even Tweeting at me.

*This post was written as part of an assignment for my

Masters in Digital Marketing from Hult International Business School,

but since the topic was interesting, I decided to use it for this blog.

AZCentral logo

Large newspapers and magazines are posting digital versions of themselves online and in app stores, but what about the small guys? The national papers seem to be surfing this digital wave with an okay success rate. They aren’t wiping out much, lately. But what about the local papers?

How is, for example, my home town’s AZCentral doing? It calls itself “Arizona’s Home Page” and is the digital version of the Arizona Republic, the largest local paper in circulation in the capital city of Phoenix. But how is it coping with the digital revolution? Is it riding high or wiping out?

This is a look at how a smaller, less well-known newspaper is adapting to digital. Sometimes it’s good to look at something other than the celebrities once and a while.

A Bit of Background

According to the website’s About section, the news website AZCentral is the digital arm of the Arizona Republic, the oldest and largest news publisher in the state with over 110 years of history. It reaches about 1.5 million readers per week and is one of the top 20 dailies in circulation in the country. The website itself is the most active website in Arizona. It allows users to catch up on the most recent news, surf job listings, look for new real estate, entertainment news, and community information, amongst other topics.

However, perhaps more important than the strength of the brand is the fact that my little hometown newspaper is owned by a national company, Gannett Co, Inc.

How Digital Is This Digital Site?

AZCentral screen captureAs you can see from the above image, it is basically a digital version of the newspaper. This is rather to be expected. Most online newspapers are like this.

But we can still see how digital has wormed its way into how this online news source operates.

  • Most Read The lists of articles can be sorted, and not just based on the publisher’s opinions. They can also be sorted based on how popular an article is. The users can create their own customer experiences.
  • Update Recently? The website also says when a category of articles was last updated. Speed is critical online where people want, and expect, up-to-the minute news availability. This is one way that a news publisher can gain respect and loyalty from an audience. (Though I always wonder how good fact checking is done at this speed…)image of the share function on azcentral
  • Easy Sharing One of the differences I noted between digital and traditional publishing is well in evidence – the ability to easily share articles.
  • moms like meContent From Other Sources AZCentral is also snagging content from other places. Because the owning company is so large, they present a “Moms” tab for a category on their homepage, but it leads to the website below.
  • Comments Anyone? AZCentral is also offering readers the ability to comment and “Make your voice heard.” However, I think it is worth noting that they don’t have a forum.

comments feature on AZcentral

In general, AZCentral is actually quite digital, to an extent. They are using the tools available to make sure that their news gets out with easy sharing. They are saving their budgets by snagging content from partners like MomslikeMe, and they are creating a reputation for speedy news by showing off how quickly they update their sections. They are even allowing for a customizable experience in some respects, like how news is sorted.

But I am worried. They have no community. They allow for comments but I highly doubt they act on them. Most comments are rather banal, like we’re used to seeing on news sites, and are not always allowed, such as on political articles like this one about President Obama. Though honestly, I can’t blame them for that. It would just deteriorate into a name calling fest.

The Future for AZCentral?

The future is an unwritten book. AZCentral is doing several good things, but as I described in my article on what exactly is publishing, though the message is very important, the community that feeds on that message is also important. AZCentral doesn’t have much of a way for readers to develop that community.

They are also spread out very thinly. The website covers a lot of content, but I, for one, never went there for anything but entertainment news and things to do around the city. In fact, the events section is the only section where they allow direct reader participation. Individuals can submit events for free to their calendar. They do not even have a blogs section so that their individual staff writers can develop their own personal brands. I fear that their brand is a bit diluted and they could do with a bit of trimming. After all, if my hunch is correct and entertainment is what they are good at, why do the rest of it? Just link to another source and save the money.

*This post was written as part of an assignment for my

Masters in Digital Marketing from Hult International Business School,

but since the topic was interesting, I decided to use it for this blog.

Subscribers to this blog may have noticed that I have posted a lot about publishing in the last few days. Well, I’m taking a class on Digital Publishing, so there’s your reason. But that does beg the question: What is publishing, anywho?

A Potential Definition

image of an antique printing press

by kladcat on Flickr

John Batelle provides an interesting definition of what publishing really is. According to him, Publishing means connecting a community through the art and science of communication. Basically, he goes back to the beginning and explains that when we didn’t have printing or writing, the message and the medium were the same – I spoke and communicated my message. When publishing came out, this conjunction of message and medium stayed. The message – the content – was seen as inseparable from the medium – the printed word. Batelle holds that this is not true. Publishing is about the message, not the medium.

I would agree with this, to a point. Something written has no point unless it carries a message, and that message has no point unless it has an audience, and thus a community. But Batelle carries this idea farther than I would. He insists that publishing should be thought of as speaking and so things like social media are included in that definition. He doesn’t come right out and say it like that, but that’s where his logic takes me. I can’t agree with that.

Now, I’m not belittling social media. Not only do I love it, it’s what I do. And I will acknowledge that there is a gray area. Blogs like this one are often considered as part of social media, but there is no doubt in my mind they are also publishing mechanisms.

Published Messages Stand Alone

image of the Washington Monument in DC

by Wes Thorp on Flickr

While publishing has morphed and is no longer about the printing press and paper, it is still about the message, and a particular type of message at that. Publishing does not include conversational messages. If I post “Hi there! How was your day?” on Twitter I am not publishing, I’m engaging in social conversation. If I post a well thought-out haiku on Twitter, I am publishing. My message does not rely on a response for its meaning.

I think that that is the key. Communities rely on this response, so Batelle’s definition in really a definition of conversation. I think published content can be the focus of a community, like any novel’s fan-club, but it carries a meaning and a message by itself.

Comments Inform that Message

a picture of statues having a conversation

by cliff1066™ on Flickr

Responses are going to be important to the future of publishing. Comments from readers will inform the next thing to be published, tying the published material more closely with the community that feeds on it.

This blog is a good example. I write my message here, in the post section. My message has been thought-out and stands on its own. By including links, I’ve inserted it into a general body of knowledge and commentary on a question – “What is publishing?” But those links are back story or examples. I’ve coopted them for my message, which is what I’ve written here. Now, you, dear reader, can post comments, changing the context of my message but not my content. Your comments may inspire me to engage with you in conversation by replying to them, or they may inspire me to write a new post, linking to your comment, and thus coopting it into my message even as I give you credit for it. (Any graduate of high school had to learn to cite other works, after all. That doesn’t make my work any less original for the citation.)

So, go on. Engage me in conversation in the comments. What do you think of my definition of publishing?

*This post was written as part of an assignment for my

Masters in Digital Marketing from Hult International Business School,

but since the topic was interesting, I decided to use it for this blog.

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Who Am I?

I am a Digital Native who is trying to puzzle out what exactly that means. I share my thoughts on social media, digital business models, and PR here on this blog.

I am currently getting my Masters in Digital Marketing from Hult International Business School, having gotten my B.S. in Marketing from Arizona State University. Everything is on track and I am making headway towards my dream: World Domination... or being a productive, helpful citizen and marketer. Whichever comes first.

Don't hesitate to get in touch. I Tweet daily at @KateDavids and also have a science fiction and fantasy blog ( and Twitter (@Masked_Geek).

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