Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Michael Bloomberg, Traders and Your Media Career

Can I get a little more bounce off that mickey?

Wisdom can come from many places.   Many media makers view themselves more as creative artists than business people.  However, to have a sustainable career, we need to be both (as well as having a fanatical work ethic and mad skills....among other things).  Digging through old materials, I found these nuggets of wisdom, equally applicable to a creative media career as to a career as a Wall Street trader.  The original source is from a post made here by the Mercenary Trader.

In it, he extracts some really great practical advice from Bloomberg on Bloomberg, the autobiography of  NYC's billionaire businessman/Mayor, Michael Bloomberg.  Structure. Structure. Structure.  This stuff is basic, but to build a career, we all need to develop a great foundation, and equally importantly, good habits about how we make decisions.

 For example, his advice with regard to deciding which projects to push forward, is to pick projects of the right size, “Big enough to be useful, small enough to be possible.”  Define the project, and its goals, clearly before starting.  What in heck are you hoping to get out of a project?  The goals can change as the project moves forward, but how do you know where you're going if you haven't defined it clearly?  If you're working on projects, especially for other people, and you don't have clearly defined goals, well, it reminds me of the saying about playing poker.....if you don't know who the sucker is at a poker game, it's you.  You, and your time, are your greatest capital.  Spend it thoughtfully.

Media makers as entrepreneurs,  it's kind of the new reality facing us all.  If you don't, you may end up working for an (increasingly smaller) day rate.  Don't get me wrong, working for a day rate can be great.  I do it, it keeps me alive, gives me connections, polishes my skills and I enjoy it.  But, unless you're on the path to making a real career in one of the craft unions, you really need a plan.  Well, actually, if you want to make a career in one of the craft unions, you also need a plan and focus.  Structure. Structure. Structure.  It's inescapable.
Anyway, he does a great job of summarizing Bloomberg, so I'll quote him directly (the original article is here):
  • “Pick the right project:” Make sure your trading plan is logical and sustainable. Aim high, but stay within the realm of the possible. Expand your roster of knowledge and personal capabilities, so as to naturally expand what counts as possible.
  • “Start with a small piece:” Think of your trading process like an engine. Instead of horsepower, though, this engine produces profits. Now think about the various components of the engine. Take those components apart, and examine each of them individually. Ponder on the individual component level, one piece at a time, the things you can do to make the whole engine improve.
  • “Fulfill one goal at a time, on time:” This goes back to the theory of constraints. What can you do right now to most effectively improve your process? What area of concentrated effort will have the most tangible impact on results? Set incremental improvement goals — again oriented to “small pieces” — and knock them down systematically, like targets at a shooting range.
  • Do it with all things in life:” As poker pro Tommy Angelo says, “The surest way to get better at poker is to get better at everything and let poker rise with the tide.” This also works in trading.
  • “One syllable words:” Start from where you are. Don’t stress how long the journey is, as long as you can see a path from here to there. The journey itself is a huge part of the fulfillment. In trading, a deceptively simple methodology can take a long time to master. But the mastery is well worth it. If you start simple and create a foundation, you will then have something powerful to build on for many years to come.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Getting Paid, Part II: The 13 Most Insidious, Pervasive Lies of the Modern Music Industry

Real money is in selling those DVD's at screenings....

In my last blog post, I mentioned an article that tore apart the conventional wisdom about making money in the "new" music industry.  I finally found it, The 13 Most Insidious, Pervasive Lies of the Modern Music Industry, by Paul Resnikoff, published last week in the Digital Music News.

It is really worth reading by anyone involved in any kind of media creation.  Much of this conventional wisdom will sound vaguely familiar to people in the film world.   And isn't horrible bandwidth in the U.S. really the main protection the domestic film industry has right now from suffering massive amounts of high quality downloading by regular folks?

Regardless, the article is worth a read.

My favorites from the article:

Lie #1: Great music will naturally find its audience.

Lie #2: Artists will thrive off of 'Long Tail,' niche content.

Lie #8: Kickstarter can and will build careers.

Lie #10: Google and YouTube are your friends.

Lie #13: 'Streaming is the future...'

Monday, September 30, 2013

Getting Paid

Sorry if I beat on this drum once again, but why are so many talented people still spending so little time thinking about how they're actually going to get paid for their content?  There are yet even fewer conventional wisdom answers, than just a few short years ago (you should be reading Ted Hope to get up to speed, if you aren't already). And even some of the newer revenue models, say YouTube, have been shown to do I say it politely.....heavily in the interest of YouTube and less in your longterm interests (this article is essential reading if you're thinking about building a channel on YouTube).

I have a foot in the more technology oriented content world, app development, interactive content, transmedia, call it what you will.  I can do some iOS coding,  am actually pretty good at UX design, and have published my own content, as well as helped others with their projects.  I'm also currently developing an interactive project which incorporates live video.  I spend a lot of time thinking about the quickly changing economics of the app economy.  One thing which has changed very quickly, in the world of apps, is how content creators get paid.  Pay for an app up front?  Fuggedaboutit.  It's the kiss of death for your content.  No one wants to pay for apps in a marketplace where there are a million plus apps.  Even heavy-hitters like Marco Arment (co-founded Tumblr, founded Instapaper) publicly state that trying to get people to pay for content up-front is a losing proposition.

We're 45% of the way to our Kickstarter goal for materials

Currently in the iTunes App Store, between 60-70% of all app income is from in-app purchases.  In a few short years, developers have gone from making millions from $.99 apps to having to come up with a completely new way of thinking about generating revenue.  Yes, there are still a few blockbusters from established brands but they are far and few, most developers are lucky to get a couple hundred downloads......starting to notice a pattern?

I find many traditional media makers are still in the "if you build it, he will come" mode (albeit with some Kickstarter, community building twists).   Really hardworking, creative folks generating lots of content on no-budgets and hoping to get traction somehow.  Ironically, the very act of generating a lot of no-budget content undermines the very system of which they're hoping to become part.  So, if in the relatively new world of apps, where even quality $.99 content can't find its way, why are more traditional media makers still thinking that they can get paid up front?  This slow-motion implosion has been happening since even before the iPhone existed, it's not like we haven't had time to think about it.  Facebook likes are vapor, celebrities are high-jacking Kickstarter, where is it all headed? 

I need to find an analysis of the conventional wisdom of money-making in the new music industry which I recently read.  It did an effective job of tearing apart the fiction that streaming, touring, selling merchandise and CD's off of a table, and building community with home concerts was making it easier for indie musicians to make a sustainable living.  In the end, what we're seeing is a even more highly stratified music industry with the Lady Gaga's, et al. making a lot of cash and the musical "middle class" disappearing.  Should filmmakers be running down all of these paths without really thinking about this previous experience?  I do know people who have bootstrapped their films by touring around the world for a year, or more, with them.  Really good films. But how many people realistically can do this?  How much is your content really worth, per minute, in the streaming content world?  I can't pretend to have answers, but let's take a moment, stand back, and reassess the questions we need to be asking.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Saintify, the App

St Nicholas of Tolentino, Patron of Animals

Oh boy, I am pretty bad at self-promotion.  I forgot to mention that the app which I produced, Saintify, is now available in the iTunes store.  It is a contemporary re-imagining of patron saints, with 100% original visual and written content.  I'll share a few of my thoughts about the process, hopefully it will be useful for others out there toying with the idea of trying something new, creatively.

As you can see, the artwork is beautiful and is what really makes the app stand out.  It was created by the very talented Gary Amaro, who is better known for his concept art as well as his comics work for Vertigo/DC.  Gary makes great use of the back lighting on mobile devices.  As with most good creative commercial work, it took a lot of collaboration (Anna Mieritz art directed the visual content), from spit-balling the original concept to the final art.  This process takes time, nearly always longer than you think it will.  If you're lucky, it will require a fair amount of going back and forth because you're working with a creative who cares about what they make.

The "rear" of the card

What are some of the lessons learned?  Quality, original content costs money, or your own personal time, to create. That's why a lot of the apps you see out there are aggregating information, or having the users create the content.  It's a rough road for a small content producer to create original content for which people will be willing to pay.  This is no different than music, films, art or any other creative endeavor these days.  I think that the answer often is to give away some content and then to charge users for either "premium" content or for some advanced functionality.  This is why nearly 2/3 of the money earned in the Apple App Store is from in-app purchases, not for initial app purchases.  Frankly, I'm still a little confused by the fact that we live in a culture where people want original, handcrafted creative work for free, but will pay to have a shiny doo-hickey added to the mix.  But that's the way it is, and unless you have created something so amazing, or have a huge marketing team behind you, you'll need to learn how to navigate it.

When you are bootstrapping something like this on your own, you savor the small victories.  For me personally, it was a great learning experience in UI design.  My own little victory was creating a very flat user experience, while still providing a lot of functionality.   Our ability to implement these ideas was only possible because of the inimitable Kaolin Fire, writer, developer and general creative mad man (and new daddy).  Having great developers, and having a great relationship with them, is essential if you want to be able to try new ideas which require original code.  Kaolin delivered far more value than we could afford to pay him for, partly because he's an awesome guy and partly because he's interested in solving unique problems (ditto for Gary Amaro).  This is the point at which I have to say, if you aren't curious, driven and just generally want to try to make awesome things, you are wasting your time by doing this kind of work.  In the end, it shows in what you create.  You also have to be resourceful.   I taught myself how to design icons, three of the navigation bar icons shown above, I created.  The only other option was to pay someone else to do the same thing.

Saintify's Social Solution

The other victory was creating a solution for sharing content across Facebook, Twitter and email, using the same content.  That is no small deal, if you've navigated in these waters you will understand, and took a lot of thought and skill (and a brilliant coding solution by Kaolin).   We ended up creating a social "card" for each patron saint, generated within the app, which allows users to share some of the original content within the app.  The social card again required a lot of collaboration to make it work.  Lesson learned?  Things that appear simple, or obvious, usually required a lot of thought and effort to get there.  And, help from talented friends like the designer Fiel Valdez, who is a master of elegant, understated design.

Sharing on Facebook

If anyone has any questions about the process, or would like for me to elaborate more on aspects of creating interactive content, feel free to email me directly or leave a comment.  To manage this kind of project well, from creating wire frames to designing the app store listing and creating the necessary marketing materials, is a complicated undertaking.  And, again, you really need to love the act of creating because the odds are slim that you will end up making a profit.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Where's the Money?

The full screen experience

Just a quick post to highlight something I saw this morning..... I read a lot of information about the economics of second screen, streaming distribution......yeah, usually it's a lot of hype and mind numbing information that doesn't really talk about the meat of the matter, where's the money, who's paying and what's the payoff?  So I thought I'd share this link from one of the myriad of people out there (Viaway) looking to distribute and monetize content.  Again, this is more of a "take a look at this" post, than an analysis.  Mostly, I was surprised to see actual numbers for compensation.

I'll summarize [emphasis added by me]:

1. Per minute and subscription royalties:

For professional video content (no cats allowed):  "$0.001 per minute watched.  For example, if 10,000 users watch your 2 hour show, your [sic] earn $1,200."

For professional Audio content: "0.0003 per minute watched. For example, if 10,000 users listen to your 2 hour show, your [sic] earn $360."

2. Pay-per-view royalty (Video on demand)

50% of the rental price of the content.

I don't have a lot of time to talk about this today, however, I think the models do raise interesting questions.  My previous post spoke about the importance of engaging user experience.  When you start talking about per minute or subscription models, it really starts getting interesting.   Now, you're in a marketplace where you're getting paid by the minute watched, in a world where the reality is ever diminishing attention spans for content.  How do you engage viewers long enough to make a profit at $0.0001 per minute per viewer?  Especially if you're content is on a channel which is taking a slice of that?  I'll try to look into this more, I see that that content is offered as a channel in the Roku Channel Store and other places, including via Android and iOS apps.

I honestly have no idea what's happening here, I'd love to hear the overarching vision from someone in-the-know. Fascinating.  Frankly, it is always ominous to me when I see video content listed alongside Pandora, iTune Radio and the other music streaming sites, given what musicians earn from those services.  The subscription options for Viaway are here.

How far are we from a day when you will be able to create your own online channels of content and pay just for the technical infrastructure?  How does this compare to the evolving YouTube advertising type model?  What are the opportunities, or is this just another  treadmill of diminishing income for content creators?  Who will be able to market their content, so it isn't lost in the tsunami of content created every day?  So many questions today.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

New Directions

"Will it fit?" and other pertinent questions.

Recently, I have alluded to other, non-film projects upon which I have been working.  One project, Saintify, is nearing completion.  It is an iOS app upon which a small team has been has been working for the past year or so, on the side.  It's been an interesting experience for me, juggling technical, creative and producing duties in a completely new medium and on a low budget.  At times, the gear shifting almost was too much: from good old-fashioned issues like creating focused, quality visual imagery and written content on a budget to trying to figure out whether code existed that could make a screen do something cool without breaking the screens around it (thank you,, to trying to figure out how to create pixel level wireframes representing every screen, and every interaction, in Omnigraffle.

Pixel perfect

Some of this work has been directly pertinent to my other media work. Most importantly, the idea of thinking more fully about user experience has helped focus my brain on media creation moving ahead. Visualizing, and planning, how the audience is going to interact with what you create, from beginning to end, and maximizing that experience, is not a part of the creative process which can be glossed over any longer.  On one level, this isn't entirely new.  Great filmmakers already plot their films out carefully, weeding out scenes, lines, words, that don't enhance the audience's experience of the project.  However, now that process has been put on steroids, as audience expectations of what an entertainment experience should be have become more and more complicated.

The audience wants, expects, to actively participate in the process, even if it is just to complain loudly and publicly.  Whether it's an interactive device, crowd-funding projects by their pet director or guiding the conversation about the project in social media, today's audience is no longer just an audience.  They are participants, partners.  Personally, I think it's great.  Anything that focuses creative minds to think more fully about what they're trying to create, and to whom they are trying to communicate is just fine with me.

Sometimes the questions raised are profoundly creative, like finding simple hacks to create a beautiful new experience, and sometimes they're as simple as "will it display correctly on all 7 devices?"  But they are all important.   For some people, I know this is already old hat.  Thankfully, many of those people are generous and share their knowledge online, or in reasonably priced books.  For many of us, it is going to be a matter of survival to learn how to engage our audiences more thoughtfully and to anticipate needs that they haven't even considered.  And integrate it into great stories.  The era of disruption is far from over.  May we all live in interesting times.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Interactive Journeys

Click on the image to get to the video

While on the subject of music videos, last year saw the release of this interactive video by the band Chairlift (I'd embed the actual video, but I now realize that Google makes it difficult to embed video from anywhere except YouTube now.  I'll be moving the blog to another platform, as soon as I get my new hosting all squared away.  Hey, Blogger is a free platform after all. More on that, on another day).

Anyway, the Chairlift video uses technology created by an Israeli company, Interlude .  They're selling a web-based tool which enables "the creation, design and deployment of interactive videos."  A lot of the content created so far seems to be branded and there's no discussion on their site as to the cost.  It's definitely worth watching where they take the technology.  They do say their player requires "no installation" on iOS or Androd.   I'm not sure what that means, I tried to play their content with a browser (Chrome and Safari) in iOS (iPad) with no success.  It does work well on desktop browsers, however.  There is an iOS app using their technology, Mozart Interactive, which is available in the iTunes store for free.  It's cute, and engaging, however, it doesn't seem to offer anything groundbreaking (technology-wise) for iOS.

I do hope that you watch the Chairlift video.  It is definitely worth a look.  Creatively, the question which I come back to, over and over again, is would I rather go on an unguided, interactive journey or, a well thought out journey created by a master?

Maybe what we need is an interactive video made by Spike Jonze?

Friday, February 15, 2013

Has It Really Been Nearly a Year?

Ouch.  Really, I just haven't had much to say.  I've been working hard, doing freelance camera work, camera shading, the odd colorist gig, and making my own projects.  I've finally made some small steps towards creating more interactive content.  Change can be challenging, and time-consuming but I'll talk a lot more about that soon.

I really feel especially lame for not posting my New Years music/video.  I want to fix that first.  I'll go with a music video from 2012 that really fits the bill: catchy, ridiculous, but still manages to express a truth (which, slyly has as much to do with the demographic time bomb of bored, un and underemployed young men as bad girls).   I will note that it was shot in Ouarzazate,  Morocco and not in the Middle East.   It apparently has changed quite a bit since I visited it many, many years ago, and is now the film capital of Morocco. It has a lovely Kasbah and a very old fortified city nearby, none of which were used by the artist and her talented creative partner, Romain Gavras.   

Well, belated New Years' greetings to everyone: