Posts Tagged ‘Content aggregator’

“How to Create & Publish Your E-Book Using Free Tools” is coming along nicely. Chapter four is nearly finished. I’m pulling myself up with my own bootstraps, so the book itself becomes a showcase for what you can do with the tools I use and recommend. I’m plowing discoveries and research back into the book as I go for a truly iterative process.


Here’s a graphic of the cover I plan on using. I designed it myself using the same tools I’ll be describing in my book. Once I complete Chapter four, I’m going to up-load the draft as a PDF on a special page on The Aware Writer blog and invite my readers to download their own copy with the understanding that they will be getting an incomplete first draft. There’s a lot of meat in the first chapters, enough to get you started in self-publishing.

I’ve been doing a lot of research into E-books, ereaders, DRM (Digital Rights Management aka copy protection), copyright, what it means to “own” a book and more. Copy protection is dumber than dirt and it pisses me off. I’ll be using unprotected PDF files so people won’t need to buy a special reader to view the book and they won’t be restricted in any way.

How far am I willing to take sharing? I’ll probably put the final version of my book up for sale at a nominal price on another website, but I’m going to make the book freely available here on The Aware Writer for all of my loyal readers.

When will the draft be available? Well, I’ll try to get the file uploaded within the next week. I’ll keep you posted.

I’ve written a lot about publishers and content aggregators and how they take advantage of writers. I’m convinced we can bypass the gatekeepers and reach our readers without their help. Self-publishing our own E-books is one way to do this. Want to join me in this adventure?

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David Coursey, in “Paving the Way for Premium Content,” his  6/11/09 Tech Inciter, PCWorld blog post, leads off with “Paid content is the best hope of saving “the media” as we know it.” I disagree with him on that score because the media as we know it is disappearing faster than an ice cream cone in August and I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all. The rest of his article is deadly accurate.


The content aggregators don’t want to hear it, but David’s first point is free and low cost content supported by ad revenue is “absolutely broken.” I’d call it a train wreck in the making. Forget profits, content aggregators like Helium are struggling just to stay alive. Maybe their ad supported model made sense a couple years ago, but they’ve put their train on the wrong track and it’s probably too late to switch.

The quality of content that can be supported by ad revenue simply isnt’ there and the signal to noise ratio of ads to real content drowns out even that content. Coursey says that for premium content to take hold, the free stuff needs to go away. I think it will. When the ad revenue model fails and the content aggregators crash through the wall into the street, free content will disappear for lack of patrons.

Coursey’s second point, that quality costs money, that somebody has to pay for it if they want it puts today’s writers in a much better position. The train wreck is a wide open opportunity for writers who understand what’s going on in the publishing industry. Gordon Crovitz of The Wall Street Journal has seen the writing on the wall and will be offering the WSJ version of a paid subscription in the fall. (see my Newsstand of the Future post for details)

When publishers controlled the presses and distribution, they called the shots. They decided who would write their content and what people would read. The Internet democratizes both. The writers who create content and the readers who want that content are in control now. Self-publishing used to be a “snicker behind the hands” avenue for losers. No more.

Every writer with a computer and an Internet connection has the tools he or she needs to publish. Every reader with a computer and an Internet connection has access to everything. As Chris Anderson puts it in The Long Tail, there are two imperatives to a thriving Long Tail business: “1) Make everything available, and 2) Help me find it.”

All we need to do then as writers is create premium content and help readers find it. They’ll pay for it.

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The phrase “I have seen the elephant” may have come from the fable of the farmer who, when he heard the circus was in town, loaded his wagon with produce and set off to see for himself. The circus elephant spooked the farmer’s horse and he lost his load of vegetables when his wagon overturned and the horse ran off. The farmer supposedly said he didn’t care because “he had seen the elephant.”


Fable or not, this 19th Century American expression came wearily to the lips of the the 49ers seeking riches during the California gold rush when they discovered the truth of facing and overcoming adversity and hardships. The phrase also cropped up among  Civil war soldiers as shorthand for their war experiences.

Reality soured the get rich quick visions of the gold rush miners. Panning for gold was hard work and often brought meager returns.  Many writers, eager to cash-in on the promise of the Internet have “seen the elephant” too.  I know I have.

Writing is hard work. Good writers get caught in the stampede for instant money and online recognition.  They often give up in frustration when the wheels fall off the rating engines and their work is buried under piles of smelly garbage. All too often, content aggregators fall short of their promises.


Helium “forgot” to pay their writers yesterday (they are supposed to pay out on the tenth of every month). Maybe they’ve seen their own elephants? Makes you wonder what’s next.

Don’t believe all the hype. Reality wakes us up. The Internet holds great promise for writers who persist, who realize that success takes time and hard work. Don’t give up. Take a deep breath, dust yourself off and next time the elephant won’t stomp your dreams. We may be world weary. We may have seen the elephant, but we’ll find a way — together.

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The Times Roman font is small for a reason. It was created to fit into the narrow columns of British newspapers, yet people insist on using it as a standard for wide copy where the font is out of place. Why? Helium, the online aggregator, uses a style guide from the print world for online titles: “Helium uses AP style in headlines – first word capped.”

Print guidelines in a digital world? The folks at StomperNet proved, with extensive testing, that the search page (SERP) click through rate on titles where only the first word is capitalized is 9 percent lower than titles using Title Case. You’d think an almost 10 percent increase in click thru would be incentive to change.

People stick with the past out of habit and tradition. It’s what they know. Paragraphs didn’t come along until the Renaissance and the Medieval Scribes didn’t use any punctuation at all (and we argue about misplaced commas!).

DN-0009255, Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago Historical Society.

DN-0009255, Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago Historical Society.

The Internet is changing the face of our world and a lot of the rules too. Writers and publishers who adapt to the digital world will prosper. As Chris Anderson points out in his book, The Long Tail, the star system where publishers decided what people would read is dead or dying. In a The Long Tail digital world, everything becomes available to anyone who wants it.

Today’s content aggregators try to meet the demands of readers by offering lots of stuff and rely on Google and SEO to bring in visitors and their ad clicks. What happens when (not if) Google changes the rules? What happens when people don’t visit because they’re sick of online ads?

Self-publishing is one answer for writers looking for an audience. I’m writing a book that will show writers how to create a professional e-book using free software. The real issue will be how to bring writers and readers together so both benefit.

I think a subscription service is the best answer. Subscribers would be presented short pieces based on their preferences. Over time, with reader feedback, the offerings would be tailored to each person and their tastes. They would have the opportunity to get to know authors and to purchase and download longer works at reasonable cost.

A good subscription service would build relationships between readers and writers and be fair to both.

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Each online content aggregator puts their own spin, their own brand on their web site in an attempt to be different, to be the innovator and the savior of writers. Publish your material with us they say. We have the page rank to put you in front of a large audience. We’ll reward you for your efforts <insert complex payout scheme here>.

Does this mean that content aggregators are evil?
Not at all. They give writers an instant platform to showcase their work on the Internet. They do pay something for content. But content aggregators all share a business model that puts their own interests ahead of the writers who contribute. This isn’t news, publishers have always worked this way. Writers provide all the content and the aggregators use that content for their own advantage.


The print publishing industry is falling to pieces before our eyes. The content aggregators are simply moving the traditional publishing model to the Internet. They still want to herd writers and harvest our work. It doesn’t have to be this way. As Chris Anderson points out in The Long Tail, “The PC made everyone a producer or publisher, but it was the Internet that made everyone a distributor.”

The Internet democratizes distribution.
The iTunes model took music distribution out of the hands of the music publishers and put it into the hands of the musicians. It showed the world that musicians didn’t need music publishers to get their music out to their listeners. Do you see a parallel here? Why can’t this same model work for writers? I think it can.


Writers can survive and prosper without content aggregators.
Online publishers will wither and die without writers to feed them our content. Writers can choose to be the bulls and lead the herd into the uncharted territory of The Long Tail. Here’s a poem I wrote a few months ago.

In Defense of the Bull

With me
or against me.
The herd moves.
I lead, defend.

Follow my horns
to freedom.
Or wear them in your gut.

Hear the call.
Do you defy me?
Or will you run with me?

Death alone can
still us.
Will you die?
Or will I?

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Not even close. No writer can earn a living out of the ad click tip jar. Associated Content (A/C) calls their payout to writers performance pay while Helium uses the term ad revenue share and bills itself as a co-op. A/C tells you up front that you’ll be paid $1.50 to $2.00 per 1,000 page views while Helium keeps their payment model a secret. Helium only tells you that they share ad revenue with “…active members based on their level of activity and value.” Be careful. If you “fail to participate” and don’t provide the free labor needed to fuel the Helium rating engine, you earn zero.

pennyIn plain English, using A/C’s highest performance pay rate
, each page view earns you two tenths of a penny. How many writers would contribute their work to a content aggregator if they understood up front that they would be paid so little each time a visitor views one of their articles? Sure you can earn $20 but you must “sell” your material to 10,000 people first.

To be fair, A/C pays up front for exclusive publishing rights
and somewhat less for non-exclusive rights. Helium pays anywhere from fifty cents to two dollars and fifty cents up front depending on your writing star status. Helium also runs contests with cash prizes and awards other party favors like badges.

No matter how they present themselves, content aggregators are online publishers.
Their main source of revenue, like their print counterparts, comes from advertising. They may not be making a profit now, but the only reason they are in business is to do just that. The real question is will they ever turn a profit and how much of that profit will be shared with the writers who provide all their content?

Online advertising is big business for Google. They earn billions. The sites hosting online ads, and this includes the content aggregators like A/C and Helium earn far less. Helium’s site looks more like the yellow pages with all the ads. And now they’re pushing advertising to the limit with keyword ad links embedded in published articles. The signal to noise ratio of too many ads threatens to drown us out.

Writers depended on publishers when the publishers controlled the printing presses and means of distribution. Publishers have always handed writers the short end of the stick and online content aggregators have taken this to the extreme. But they cannot survive without the content that we as writers provide. We can publish our writing without the middlemen. But can we earn?

The Long Tail provides clues that say we can publish and be paid for our efforts. The Long Tail can free us from the tip jar. I’ll have more to say about this next time.

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