What’s intriguing about Will the future of writing be more like software? is that Pippin doesn’t speak to the publishing process as a whole, but focuses on writing. Being a writer, the article spoke to me about the implications and profound impacts of technology will definitely change the way I am to produce content.
My essay will explore self publishing through two major points of view: one of the publishers’ and one of the author’s.
The option of self-publishing has stirred a lot of controversy amongst the publishing industry’s professionals and authors. Authors prefer to have more control of their own book, to have their hands on the manuscript while it’s being edited and published, rather than to leave it all to the publishers–if an author choses to self publish their book, they have to support all the upfront costs. However, publishing professionals feel that the phenomenon of self publishing is devaluing the written word, and devaluing the quality of the print book, as the self published book hasn’t been trough proper editing, proofreading and typesetting.
My essay will start with an overview on how self publishing was introduced to the publishing world. I will talk about how important projects like project Gutenberg and important figures like Virginia Wolfe who started Hogarth Press in order to publish her own books have pioneered the phenomenon of self publishing. I will also mention how the appearance of POD (Print on Demand) has made self publishing even more possible and accessible to almost anyone. Furthermore, I will explore what means of self publishing there currently are.
Self publishing – what it involves
Self publishing is the publication of a book by its own author, without the help of an established publisher. The author is in control of the entire publishing process: the design of the cover and interior, proofreading and editing, distribution, formats, marketing and public relations. What distinguishes self-publishing from the traditional publishing is that the author decided to publish their book independently of a publishing house. The advancement of technology made the self publishing process easier to be accomplished. Almost anyone can write something and post it on the web as an ebook for free.
The two means of publication, that have made self-publishing easier and more possible are ebook publishing and Print-on-Demand. With the advancement of ebook publishing, anyone can post what they write online, at a minimum cost, almost for free. Anyone has the opportunity to read an ebook on their smartphone, laptop or eReader. Print-on-Demand is a printing technology and business process that allows copies of the book to be printed when an order was placed. The books are then delivered to the customer.
Self-published books have to have ISBNs when made available in a shop or online, unless the author is selling the books directly to the public.
The most used mean of self-publishing, by far, is ebook publishing and it’s the quicker and most cost effective, as ebooks can be created and published with no up-front cost. There are a variety of formats for ebooks and the means to create them are endless, especially nowadays.
Ebooks publishing platforms include: Pronoun, Pubit, Bookbaby, Lulu, Smashwords, Blurb, Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing, CinnamonTeal Publishing, etc. Ebook formats include: e-pub, mobi and PDF.
Print-on-demand allows authors to offer to their readers a self published book in high quality print, as needed. There are numerous companies that offer printing of single books at a cost not much higher than those paid by publishing companies for large print runs. Such companies are: LighteningSource, Createspace, Blurb, Lulu, iUniverse, etc.
There is also the option of paying someone be your publisher, e.g. vanity presses (also known as subsidy publishing). In this case, the author pays a vanity press to do the publishing process for them: turning a manuscript into a book and making it available through major distribution channels.
In 2008, more books were self published than published traditionally. One year later, approximately 76% of all books published were self published, making publishing houses reduce the number of books they publish. Let’s take a look back to when this new trend of self-publishing started.
It is being said that authors have been self publishing for ages, in fact at the beginning of times that was all they could do, as there were no publishing houses to aid with the publishing process. It all started 3000-2000 B.C. when ancient scribes were picture-writing on clay tables and papyrus scrolls.
A bit later, in 1450 Johannes Gutenberg changed the course of publishing by improving the mechanical printing press with the movable type. The course of publishing history in the West was forever changed, as the first mass production of books were printed.
Benjamin Franklin wrote and published the yearly pamphlet Poor Richard’s Almanack, a compendium of essays, weather forecasts, household tips, aphorisms, and proverbs, many of which are in our spoken language today.
William Blake self-published some of his best known works: Songs of Innocence, Songs of Experience and The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1783-1820). Apart from being an author, he was also the illustrator for his works. He designed all the accompanying illustrations and etched them onto copper plate. He printed and coloured the pages by hand, in order to create illuminated manuscripts.
Jane Austen chose the vanity press route in order to publish her first novel Sense and Sensibility. Even though her novels were popular, she received little recognition for them in her lifetime. She struggled to publish her first novels, therefore offered to pay the publisher in order to have them printed.
Hogarth Press was the first renown example of a press started by an author. Virginia and Leonard Woolf started Hogarth Press in order to publish her books and other authors’. Her initiative inspired other authors like Kelly Link (Small Beer Press), Dave Eggers (McSweeney’s).
The invention of the World Wide Web is when the first seeds of online self-publishing got planted. In 1993, it was announced that the technology was made freely available to everyone.
The year of 1997 marks another key point in the history of self publishing: the founding of Lightening Source, one of the largest print-on-demand (POD) companies in the world. The POD technology allowed books to be published one at a time. This technology has opened up the market giving the opportunity to more small presses to be created. This service has made self publishing even more possible.
In 1999 the blog-to-book phenomenon is born. Blog hosting services like Blogger, LiveJournal and WordPress are giving people the opportunity publish themselves on the Web.
In 2006 the first Expresso Book Machine was introduced to the printing world. The EBM can print a book within a few minutes, at the point of sale. It can be found in locations around the world: Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon, and the NYU Bookstore in New York City.
The Expresso Book Machine explained
Ebook gave self published authors the possibility to have their content available online, freely. Companies like Smashwords and BookBaby make it easy for writers to self-publish and distribute e-books worldwide.
Next, I will cover how self publishing affects the traditional book, how publishers are perceiving this new type of publishing, and what is the future of the book if self publishing comes into the picture.
Publishers and self publishing
Why are publishers so eager to proclaim their role and relevance in the publishing process these days? It is mostly because of the increased competition, and one of their biggest competitor nowadays is self publishing and ebooks publishing.
Approximately 20 years ago, the only way to publish a book was to print it and sell it on store shelves. The book publisher was the only one who could help make this possible, they were the key to publishing a book: they were editing the book and then distributing it. The author had to go through the selection process the publisher had in place, hoping that their book gets picked –there was a high chance it would not be. Nowadays, anyone who has Internet can write a book and then publish it on a blog, as an ebook or pdf and have it for sale at the world’s largest online book seller, Amazon.
Today, the role of the publisher is put at question. The authors have various ways to publish their book, they can take it all in their own hands and self publish the book online and in print, they can go the way of vanity publishing, where they basically hire a professional publishing house to do the tedious work of editing, designing, marketing and also distribution. They don’t have to work hard in order for their book to be picked by the very thorough selection criteria of a world renown publisher.
Traditional publishers have to remind authors about their fundamental role in publishing the book. They help pick and curate the best titles, they edit the book professionally and bring to the market a high quality end product. Traditional publishers have been concerned that self publishing will devalue the market for many reasons. First is that not every book is worthy to be published. When an author self publishes a book, they are the ones making the decision to publish or not. The second most important reason is quality assurance. Is the book in a good enough state to be published? It is being said that the author is the least qualified person to make this decision.
Random House on why authors need to work with professional publishers
“Traditional publishers will have to refocus on what they can do best,” he said, “helping an author to publish. They will be service providers for those authors who choose to concentrate on writing. They will be responsible for the right publishing strategy that maximizes the value of the author’s work.”
Authors and self publishing
For an author, self publishing is regarded as a much desired opportunity. They can finally publish their book online/ print without having to wait years to be approved by a publisher. Self publishing democratizes the publishing market and takes the control from the publisher and gives it to the author. Through self publishing, authors have the opportunity to enter into publishing.
Also, self publishing is becoming more and more easier as there are so many companies that offer to help authors self publish their book. Smashwords is a company that distributes books to all the major ebook stores, and give authors 70.5% proceeds on sales. They also provide marketing advice (vital for a self published books in order to garner sales) and provide authors with tools to manage the marketing for a book.
Dr Geuppert argues that: “The main reasons for choosing self-publishing are creative freedom and control; simplicity of process; fun; and the speed of publishing. Self-publishing authors agree that through self-publishing, they have been able to strengthen their capability to work independently as well as their creative competencies.”
However, authors are not aware that when they self publish they are, in a way, cluttering this industry with books that perhaps, should never be published. There is no selection criteria when it comes to self publishing, and companies who help authors self publish their book, have no concern when it comes to the question: should this book truly be published? This might result in a devaluation of the book, all thanks to self publishing.
The question remains: is the book devalued by self publishing?
Authors regard self publishing as one of the greatest opportunities as they have the chance to do something they have wished for: publish their books and also, be in total control of the of the publishing process. This would not happen if the author is taking the traditional way to publish a book. They will have to wait, perhaps, years in order to get published and also, allow the publisher to be in control of the publishing process.
Publishing houses are concerned because they are directly competing with self publishing sites. They risk to go out of business if authors will choose to go the traditional way of publishing. They are also concerned about the quality of the self published book, which can directly affect literature. Self published books are not being professionally edited and published, the author is making the decision when the book is ready for print. Self publishing is cluttering the book industry with books that should not be published.
In conclusion, the publishing industry is changing due to the appearance and popularity of self publishing. Traditional publishing houses have to remind authors about their fundamental role in publishing the book. They help pick and curate the best titles, they edit the book professionally and bring to the market a high quality end product. The future of publishing with self publishing in picture, is yet unknown, but one thing is certain: authors have to understand the risks and downsides of self publishing and what this could mean for the books market.
In “Will the Future of Writing Be More Like Software?” Pippin Lee explores the world of collaborative online writing, and the development of Forkpad—a service he helped create to “[allow] the remixing of stories” on the writing site Wattpad. Having never heard of Wattpad, let alone Forkpad, I was intrigued to read about this online community that has over 40 million users, and represents, according to Lee, what the future of writing could look like.
Being more traditional in my approach to reading, the notion that perhaps, in the future, the world’s reading material will consist of these group-generated productions and fan fiction spin-offs a la Fifty Shades of Grey kind of scares me. Having said that, I feel there will always be a strong divide between the traditional publishing/writing world and the online one (at least in my lifetime). The internet, including communities such as Wattpad, is a free-for-all, with basically anyone able to construct a sentence free to share their work and consider themselves “authors,” of a kind. Lee questions what it means to be “published” in this context, which is an interesting consideration. When the end product isn’t a physical book (be it in print or even ebook format), and can be edited and added to ad finitum, it begs the question of whether these productions even have an “ending?”
As such, I think we should all agree that in its strictest sense, a “novel” should be a publication that consists of a beginning, middle, and end (and is of a reasonable, not too lengthy, length). Even though, for example, Fifty Shades of Grey started off as Twilight fan fiction, it was eventually developed into a novel of the traditional type, and published by a legitimate publishing house. I think that eventually, what services such as Wattpad will help do is generate more Fifty Shades of Greys, so to speak—novels that had their origins as online fan fiction, and are not exactly great literature. We may be surprised—Wattpad may produce the next Margaret Atwood—but at this moment it is hard to visualize that happening.
There is also the question of author rights with such a fluid format of publishing—with so much collaboration and adaptation, who gets to claim authorship of a publication produced in this way? And, the burning question is, what will the incentive be for authors to keep writing; will there be royalties of some kind? At present, online writing communities seem to be simply places for aspiring authors to get their work out to the public. It may be true that in the future, writing will be more like software, as Lee puts it, but I think that future is pretty distant.
I found this article—“How Netflix is Turning Its Viewers Into Puppets”—fascinating, because I had no idea that so many factors were being analyzed each time a viewer logged in and watched something (everything from when a viewer pressed pause to when they started to tune out as the credits rolled). I knew, from my own experience with Netflix, that each time I watched a program, movie, or documentary, I would be provided with suggestions of similar things to watch (“because you watched this movie with a ‘strong female lead’ you may like these other female-led movies”). I have to say that for me, personally, I’ve never taken Netflix up on its recommendations (despite the claim in the article that 75% of its subscribers are influenced by what Netflix suggests they will like. I guess I’m just in the 25% that don’t). I usually log on either knowing exactly what I want to watch already, or, if I don’t, I’ll just search by the genre I’m interested in.
When it comes to recommendations, I am far more likely to watch something an actual human thinks I’ll enjoy rather than what Netflix thinks I will. Additionally, I find it interesting that Netflix pays so much attention to trying to replicate what viewers have already enjoyed; surely, having binged on House of Cards, for example, viewers will want the next thing they watch to be a little different? (If not completely different.) Speaking from my own experience, I know that having just watched say, a horror movie, I will probably want the next thing I view to be decidedly lighter.
At the end of the day Netflix has no real way of calculating what will be a hit with its viewers and what won’t. Again, going from personal experience, I really enjoyed the hit Netflix series Orange is the New Black and the recent 10-episode documentary Making a Murderer, but House of Cards just didn’t do it for me. Despite the political drama getting rave reviews from both friends and family, it just didn’t hook me in like I hoped it would. I know people who watched and enjoyed all three of the above; some who only liked one or two; and some who didn’t enjoy any of them…and their taste in other programs/movies appears to be completely uncorrelated to which of these three they enjoyed, or didn’t.
All this is to ask the question: can Netflix really know what we’ll enjoy, despite all its efforts to track our viewing habits? When I think about my own likes and dislikes when it comes to watching something, there is often an intangible quality that I can’t quite pinpoint that determines whether I enjoy something or not, and if I can’t determine what this is, how could Netflix possibly know?
In “Watch Out! A Cliff!,” Josh Kalven explores how analytics helped the staff at Newsbound figure out what was tripping up readers in a stack article on the minimum wage entitled “Scraping By.” While I have no doubt come across such stacks online, it never really occurred to me that as I was clicking through (sometimes intently, reading the content word for word, and racing towards the end; at others only reading a slide or two before my interest waned), my behaviour was being guaged. I found it fascinating that the way in which readers reacted to this particular piece—dropping off after the content-heavy slides 10 and 12—was so noticeable, and that after it was altered, the overall completion time increased. (I also never knew that such pieces are referred to as “stacks;” thanks, Josh, for enlightening me.)
While it should be noted that “Scraping By” received over 350, 000 downloads within 2 weeks of going live (a significant number), I was left wondering if there is a certain number required of people reading/downloading a piece for the analytics to be sound. After all, there are so many reasons for a reader to drop off on a slide and not complete a piece other than the mere fact that it didn’t capture their interest enough. People get distracted all the time (someone wanting their attention, incoming calls, etc.); do these analytics take into account a reader returning to the stack again? (Ironically, just as I myself was reading “Scraping By,” I got a call midway that took my attention away from it. I had actually been enjoying the stack, and had I not been distracted, would likely have finished it, yet I didn’t find it quite so fascinating as to go back again to revisit it.)
While I can see why stacks make so much sense to those who are trying to deem how captivating the article is, as a reader, I tend to find them tedious (when given the option, I will always “click to view as one page”). Something about the physical act of clicking through slides does not appeal to me as much as simply scrolling down the screen to read an article; it almost feels like too much effort. When it comes to stacks that are presented as a “top” list that counts down (The Top 10 Best Patios in Vancouver!), I will usually stick with clicking through just to see who comes in at number one, but I tend to do so grudgingly, resenting that I have to sift through the rest of the entries when all I really want is to see who’s in first place.
The explosion in branding oneself online over the past decade has led to a whole new career option that not so long ago could not even have been conceived of. The rise of fashion and lifestyle blogging—which chiefly involves young women (although there are a few men, such as Bryanboy) posting their daily outfits and interacting with followers on a range of social media platforms, including their own personal websites, in addition to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. What started out as a hobby for many of these women in the mid to late-2000s has now become an incredibly lucrative business, with top bloggers such as Chiara Ferragni of The Blonde Salad, Emily Schuman of Cupcakes and Cashmere, and Leandra Medine of Man Repeller raking in millions of dollars a year thanks to sponsorships, advertising, and their own spin-off fashion lines. These bloggers have, over the past decade or so, established themselves as members in the top league of the fiercely competitive world of fashion blogging, and have forged a career for themselves where none existed before—no small feat.
So, how exactly did they do it? What magic formula enabled these individuals to captivate an audience and draw them, initially, to their websites, and then to their social media platforms? Well, to start off with, all the aforementioned bloggers entered the playing field early in the game, starting their blogs in the mid-2000s, and employed the use of social media and online growth strategies right from the start. Since then, they have managed to brand themselves into recognizable names (at least for those with even a passing interest in fashion blogging), and command annual salaries in the multi millions.
While all bloggers—be they fashion or otherwise—no doubt rely on many of the same online tactics to promote their websites and personal brand, I will be focusing on those who are primarily in the fashion and lifestyle blogosphere in this essay, highlighting the online practices they employ to reach and maintain a wide audience, which thus enables them to generate income through attracting sponsors and advertisers.
One thing all bloggers need in order to be successful is the ability to generate income through a number of diverse streams. According to Marianna Hewitt of the “Ask a Blogger” column on the Harper’s Bazaar website, fashion bloggers nowadays generate income through a combination of a few of the following six ways: affiliate links, sponsored content, collaborations, marketing campaigns, classes, and photography/other creative services (Hewitt, 2015).
However, before bloggers can reach this stage of generating an income via these streams, they need to be able to demonstrate to advertisers and sponsors that their websites receive substantial numbers of views every day; essentially, they need to have built up a significant following, and there are a number of strategies they can employ to do this.
Good SEO practice is one such element that helps provide bloggers with that key factor to success: discoverability. Every blogger who has made it big once started off as an unknown, but through strategic use of SEO was able to create an online presence. For a fashion blogger, whose posts chiefly consist of outfits, titling the post in such a way as to be discoverable via a Google search is essential. For example, a post that features the blogger wearing overalls would ideally be titled something like “How to Wear Overalls,” or “How to Style Your Overalls”—basically, a title that features the keywords someone wanting to know how to wear their overalls would search for.
In her post “Beginner SEO Tips for Fashion Bloggers,” Jennine Jacob breaks down what exactly SEO is and why it is so important for bloggers. While social media platforms bring in roughly 30 percent of new visitors to a blog, it is traffic from SEO that drives the remaining 70 percent. Citing the Beginners Guide to SEO, she notes that “[s]earch engines are answer machines” and that every time a person searches for something online, “the search engines scour the billions of documents and do two things – first, return only those results that are relevant or useful to the searcher’s query, and second, rank those results in order of perceived usefulness. It is both ‘relevance’ and ‘importance’ that the process of SEO is meant to influence” (Jacob, 2013).
In the early days, building a community with fans/followers is crucial for bloggers starting out. Discoverability is one thing, but of equal importance is hooking readers in so that they are likely to return to websites again and follow bloggers on their social media platforms. In addition to presenting an attractive and unique perspective with good photography, bloggers can also work on building a rapport with their readers—encouraging questions and responding to them in the comments section. Once bloggers—through hard work, stategic online practices, and, no doubt, a lot of good luck—have amassed a following, they can now start to focus their attention on monetizing their website.
Initially, in the earlier days of fashion blogging, banner ads proved to be quite profitable, but today, readers are for more likely to see the native advertising as described above on their favourite websites. Both bloggers and advertisers have started to realize that readers are pretty savvy and intelligent, and probably unlikely to click on a big, flashing ad at the top of a blog just because it’s there. However, native advertising—similar to an advertorial in a print magazine in that advertised content fits in seamlessly with the rest of the content being produced—seems to be more successful.
Top bloggers have the luxury of being selective about who they collaborate with for these ads, as they know that their readers have come to trust their favourite bloggers’ tastes, and can usually be able to tell when a blogger is being inauthentic in their professed love of a certain product, as opposed to when they are genuinely recommeding something. Affiliate links have long been a core part of generating income on websites—these are links to products featured by the blogger on their website. Typically how this works is that once a reader clicks on the link, and buys anything from the company’s website (not just the product in question), the blogger promoting it (the referrer) will get paid a commission (Phelan, 2013).
Many top bloggers are connected with partners via RewardStyle, the brainchild of blogger Amber Venz, who started the company in 2010. The premise is simple: the invite-only program sets up the 14,000 bloggers in the network (known as “publishers”) with its 4,000 retailers. The publishers receive up to 20 percent commission for each affiliate item sold from any of their posts. What many readers do not know is that each time they click on an affiliate link, the link stores a cookie on the reader’s computer for up to 30 days. If a purchase based off the affiliate link is made within 30 days—as long as the reader does not click on another affiliate link, as the browser can only store one cookie at a time—the blogger will make a commission off the entire purchase. While it is reported that only 1-2% of readers who click on an affiliate link will go on to make a purchase, it can be quite lucrative for top bloggers whose links receive thousands of clicks (Adams, 2014). Although readers often do not consciously realize that their purchases are helping to fund a blogger’s lifestyle, most blogs do make note of the fact that they use affiliate links.
Successful bloggers can rightfully boast that they “make money while they sleep,” as is the case with Blair Eadie of Atlantic-Pacific—an ASOS dress she wore on her blog was bought by 83 people within a day of the post going live—and Tina Craig of Snob Essentials, who received a sale in the middle of the night from a reader in the Middle East who had purchased a $46,000 handbag (Phelan, 2013).
Another similar affiliate program is ShopStyle, formerly known as ShopSense, which launched seven years ago, and today works with over 10,000 publishers/bloggers. By the end of 2015, the site, which features 12 million products from 1,400 retailers, and receives over five million searches per week, was expected to drive $1.2 billion in retail sales, according to executive vice president Melissa Davis. Davis also noted that “people…shopping from these bloggers’ sites convert more quickly than average shoppers…[and] 76 percent will convert with two days, [buying] from trendier brands like ASOS, H&M, and J. Crew” (Strugatz, 2015).
In research conducted by ShopStyle’s parent, Popsugar, and CJ Affiliate by Conversant, the effect bloggers had on consumer behaviour online was studied, with the subjects being 2,500 Popsugar and ShopStyle visitors during the fourth quarter. It was found that three out of four people in the study “visit blogs at least once a week for inspiration” and seven out of ten said that blogs are “an essential part of their shopping experience.” Additionally, three-quarters of the sample said that they used blogs to seek out new items, while 85% reported that they “consult or read product reviews before buying an item.” Lastly, more than nine out of ten claimed that “[blogs] introduced them to products they wouldn’t have found on their own” (Strugatz, 2015).
How bloggers profit from content posted on their actual websites is one thing; there is also the strategic use of their social media platforms—including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and, the latest fad among fashion bloggers, Snapchat—to consider when taking into account how these women generate revenue.
Many bloggers use Instagram in collaboration with partners; this frequently involves a company paying a certain amount to bloggers in exchange for a post or few featuring the company’s merchandise (and, of course, praising it). In an article on the Harper’s Bazaar website, blogger Danielle Bernstein of We Wore What revealed how this strategy is highly lucrative. Like many bloggers in her league, she has a “rate card” that “sets her range for the cost of a single piece of sponsored content (i.e. one Instagram shot) from $5,000 to $15,000. This rate can go up or down, depending on the terms of the deal, such as if a brand wants a long-term commitment or multiple Instagram pictures.” Bernstein also noted that (at the time of the article’s publication), her Instagram following was at 992,000—she estimated that once it hit the 1 million mark within 10-15 days, she would be able to charge “a good amount more” for sponsored content. According to Thomas Rankin, co-founder and CEO of Dash Hudson—a program that allows users to make their Instagram posts shoppable—bloggers of upwards of 6 million followers can charge anything from $20,000 to $100,000 a shot (Schaefer, 2015).
The latest craze among bloggers seems to be Snapchat—an “app that allows users to take pictures and 10 second (or less) videos and [either] send them directly to people or add them to ‘your story’ so all your friends or people that follow you wil see it…[once] the viewer sees the snap it’s gone” (Sula, 2015). With 100 million+ users, the app is growing every day, and Sula notes that while Instagram once had people skeptical (“there’s no way it’s going to be bigger than Facebook!”), Snapchat could follow a similar trend and overtake the app. For bloggers, she says, it has the potential to be a stream to collaborate with brands and advertisers on, thanks to the fact that unlike other social media platforms, it is “100% engaging.” She points out that in order for users to view a Snapchat or Snap Story, they have to be actually holding down their finger on their phone; “[unlike] just scrolling down through a feed, they are actively looking at what’s going on.”
Additionally, top bloggers are now starting to roll out their own products as another source of income. Chiara Ferragni, the Italian blogger behind The Blonde Salad, developed her own shoe brand, The Chiara Ferragni Collection, in 2013. The collection, which currently retails from $217 to $400, is estimated to rake in 10 million euros/$11 million in 2016. It’s an incredible success story for the former law student, who started posting amateur outfit shots online in 2009 and now has an online fan base in the multi millions (Lundstrom Halbert, 2015).
Similarly, Emily Schuman of Cupcakes and Cashmere, who started her blog in 2008, now has added her own products into the mix: two bestselling books (published in 2012 and 2015), and a clothing line, issed by fashion brand BB Dakota and carried exclusively by Nordstrom and ShopBop, which launched last year. While Schuman doesn’t quite have Ferragni’s multi-million fan base, she is currently followed by nearly 400,000 users on Instagram, receives 6 million page visitors a month, and has had collaborations with Juicy Couture, Coach, and Estée Lauder, in addition to a clothing line she designed in partnership with Club Monaco. When asked what the key to her success was, Schuman, who left her job in advertising in AOL towards the end of 2009 to work full-time on her blog, notes that “[at] an early point, I understood the metrics necessary to generate income. It took about a million page views a month for the advertising to start sustaining the blog.” She strategically went about aiming for this monthly goal, using the strategies mentioned above—SEO, building a loyal community of followers on her various social media platforms—and was lucky enough to be able to not only reach this goal but greatly surpass it.
So, while the bloggers who have managed to make it big—the Chiara Ferragnis and Emily Schumans—are able to rake in millions of dollars in revenue each year, is there still room for fledgling bloggers entering an oversaturated market to eventually make their mark in the blogosphere? While it can be said that today’s top bloggers “got in at the right time”—a factor that may have been key to their success—there is no reason to suggest that there is no room for new voices. Advertisers are constantly on the look out for fresh voices, and with the right strategic planning, employment of social media platforms, lots of hard work, and plenty of luck, there is no reason why someone starting a blog today should not have the same success as her/his predecessors (Boyd, 2015).
Adams, Erika (2014, August 26). Gossip, Money, Bloggers: A Hard Look at RewardStyle. Retrieved from http://www.racked.com/2014/8/26/7579283/amber-venz-rewardstyle-profile
Boyd, Sarah (2015, July 1). Blogger Emily Schuman Set to Release California Inspired Clothing Line. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/sboyd/2015/07/01/blogger-emily-schuman-set-to-release-california-inspired-clothing-line/#6f23883e7a9c
Hewitt, Marianna (2015, August 18). Ask a Blogger: Exactly How Do Fashion Bloggers Make Money? Retrieved from http://www.harpersbazaar.com/culture/features/a11902/how-do-fashion-bloggers-make-money/
Jacob, Jennine (2013, April 17). Beginner SEO Tips For Fashion Bloggers. April 17, 2013. Retrieved from http://heartifb.com/2013/04/17/build-traffic-how-to-approach-seo-like-a-human/
Lundstrom Halbert, Mosha (2015, August 13). Chiara Ferragni: From Blonde Salad Blogger to Multimillion-Dollar Shoe Designer. Retrieved from http://footwearnews.com/2015/fashion/designers/chiara-ferragni-blonde-salad-shoes-photos-51789/
Phelan, Hayley (2013, August 20). How Personal Style Bloggers Are Raking In Millions. Retrieved from http://fashionista.com/2013/08/how-personal-style-bloggers-are-raking-in-millions#1
Schaefer, Kayleen (2015, May 20). How Bloggers Make Money on Instagram. Retrieved from http://www.harpersbazaar.com/fashion/trends/a10949/how-bloggers-make-money-on-instagram/
Strugatz, Rachel (2015, June 10). ShopStyle Banks on Bloggers, Relaunches Influencer Network. Retrieved from http://wwd.com/media-news/digital/shopstyle-collective-bloggers-10145965/
In the five or so years it’s been around, Instagram has managed to catapult itself from a social platform casually used by people to share pictures with family and friends to a multi-million user app that is being increasingly used as a marketing platform. Defined as “a free photo sharing application that allows users to take a photo, apply a digital filter, then share it on a variety of social networking services, including [its] own,” Instagram was developed in San Francisco by Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, and launched on Apple’s App store in October 2010. In April 2012, the app was acquired by Facebook for $1 billion in cash and stock, and since then has been growing from strength to strength (Basu, 2012).
It’s easy to see why users were initially drawn to the app: it is the definition of the old adage “A picture is worth a thousand words.” In today’s society, the immediacy of such a platform is very attractive—you simply reach for your phone, snap a picture, share it and within seconds that image you felt the world, or, at the very least your friends, needed to see (your lunch, those flowers, that dog) is immediately out there.
Compared to other social media platforms, there is something pleasing about how streamlined and clutter-free Instagram’s interface is. Unlike Facebook, for example, Instagram is all about the pictures. (Of course, captions are allowed, and often add much to the image, but on the whole it’s safe to say the app is very visually based.) Whereas on Facebook your newsfeed is likely to be bombarded by your friends’ statuses, photos, and scores on Candy Crush, Instagram offers an uncluttered, steady stream of images. And, compared to Twitter, which may be considered to be the verbal equivalent to Instagram, users can instantly get the gist of what the people they follow are trying to convey without having to actually read anything. (It must be noted that while Twitter does permit the sharing of pictures, these are essentially secondary to its main purpose, which is conveying written messages in 140 characters or less.)
So, while all of these qualities make Instagram an attractive platform for the average user, what exactly is it about the app that makes it such an attractive marketing platform? In this essay, I will attempt to argue why Instagram’s features make it so ideal for this purpose, and why more and more businesses are using the app as a marketing tool.
In the early days of Instagram, the app was primarily used in a more casual way; simply as a way for friends to share mundane snaps from their day (jazzed up a little by one of the several filters the app featured, of course). In recent years, however, it has becoming increasingly used as a marketing platform, while still retaining the attractive interface that first had users flocking to it. (While users often complain about the subtle changes the app brings in every so often, the overall feel of it has changed very little over the past few years.)
In “Ten Reasons to Adopt Instagram as a Marketing Tool,” the author notes that “social media marketing can be tricky because the whims of the population change at a moment’s notice” but fortunately for Instagram, it currently has “the cool factor in spades,” having recently overtaken Twitter as the second most popular social media platform behind Facebook (Villegas, 2015).
Unlike other platforms such as Facebook, Instagram was designed as a mobile app, with a desktop version being added only long after the app had become “culturally relevant.” The fact that most of us are constantly on the go and glued to our phones has huge appeal for marketers—as Villegas puts it, “[their] customer base is always a click away from seeing [their] posts and becoming engaged with [their] company.”
It has to be said that while the very visually based Instagram doesn’t lend itself to every business (it’s hard to imagine an exciting or aesthetically pleasing feed produced by a law firm, for example), it does, suggests Villegas, “afford companies to market themselves in new and unique ways” with features such as hashtags, time lapse videos and Instagram-specific themes such as Throwback Thursday. On the subject of hashtags, the author notes that while these are now obsolete on Twitter (who knew?), and never really caught on on Facebook, they are “extremely powerful” on Instagram, and have a two-pronged effect: when using them you can both promote your business while also making it easier for consumers and other businesses to find you.
Another reason why Instagram should be used as a marketing tool? It can be used to conduct market research, via its native hashtag search engine, which gives users an idea of how popular certain hashtags are. This information allows the user to target which hashtags are most relevant to their business, and use them appropriately. In addition, apps such as Followers+ can be used to run analytics on posts and followers to help users better understand how well their posts are engaging with their audience.
Also of note is that of the top three social media platforms, Instagram is the most youthful, with more than 40% of its users falling in the 16- to 24-year-old category, while Facebook and Twitter have more appeal for older demographics. Villegas notes that any business that targets this demographic but does not yet have a presence on Instagram is essentially not worth its salt (2015). A study conducted by BI Intelligence found that overall, the app is “skewed towards urban, youthful women,” but it should be noted that even those businesses not targeting this particular demographic should not dismiss the app as a “useless opportunity” (da Cunha, 2015). Why? Because according to da Cunha, Instagram is showing similarities to Facebook, its parent company, which initially was a social network for students of Ivy League colleges but now has “a wide international presence and includes demographics of every age, gender, race, etc.” She notes that “[she’d] be willing to bet that your parents are on Facebook.” Essentially, while Instagram’s chief demographic (as of 2015) were young women living in urban settings, it won’t be long before even older men living on farms (for example) will be jumping on the Instagram bandwagon.
The growth potential for Instagram right now is “tremendous,” with the stats bearing testament to this. In 2013, the app grew by 66% (“the biggest jump of any of the top ten mobile apps during that time period”), and brands that advertise with Instagram “receive 15 times as much engagement as they do on Facebook.” Additionally, Instagram’s sponsored posts program has proven to be more successful than Facebook’s counterpart, “boasting tremendous results in terms of ad recall and converting viewers into followers.” While Instagram’s sponsored posts come across as “organic and relevant,” the sponsored content on other social media sites can feel “spammy and unengaging,” according to Villegas. As an avid Instagram user myself, I can attest to this—several of the accounts I currently follow were initially introduced to me via a sponsored ad on my feed. And I have definitely doled out many a like to the images produced by sponsored content, which at present only advertises itself as such with a discreet “Sponsored” on the right-hand corner, and a button you can click to “Find Out More.” On Facebook, by contrast, I tend to find sponsored content irritating, and I have never “liked” a business or wanted to know more about it simply because it popped up on my feed.
Another attractive aspect of Instagram is how ideal it is for launching a marketing campaign featuring user generated content: “[companies] can enjoy the benefits of residual marketing that happens organically, and all they have to do is advertise the promotion and monitor the results by clicking a hashtag. It’s a win-win, especially given Instagram’s ubiquity and reach.” Lastly, Instagram has been proven to significantly increase revenues, which, of course, is “the ultimate goal of any marketing campaign.” A study by Shopify—a “Canadian e-commerce company…that develops computer software for online stores and retail point-of-sale systems” (Wikipedia)—found that Instagram referrals had a “higher average order than those customers who were referred by Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest.”
It is worthwhile to look into the history of advertising on Instagram in a little more depth. While these paid ads were initially only for large companies, Instagram is now making it easier for “any company in 30 countries” to advertise on the platform with a “self-serve” option. Furthermore, “analysts at Kenshoo, a marketing software company, predict that [Instagram] could make as much as $1 billion in annual revenue in the next three to four years,” with Emarketer having predicted that the app has made $595 million in ad revenue in  alone (Griffith, 2015). It should also be noted that advertising on Instagram has huge appeal for businesses because, “unlike many mobile advertising platforms, Instagram has the ability to target its ads to very specific audiences using technology and data from its parent company, Facebook.” And because this specific targeting is so desirable, the pricing of ads on the app has been on the high side, with an average cost-per-thousand views (CPM) of $6.70 (a figure that is likely to change as more advertisers come on the system, according to Kenshoo). Likely because of its niche targeting, Instagram also boasts impressive clickthrough rates: “users are two and a half times more likely to click on ads than on other social media platforms,” says Kenshoo.
Additionally (as I mentioned in my other essay for this class), there is huge potential for advertisers to collaborate with bloggers and celebrities to promote their products. The rates can seem ridiculously high to those of us not in the spotlight—for example, Kylie Jenner reportedly can command $300,000 for a single Instagram post endorsing an advertiser’s products—but all things considered, a celebrity like Jenner has at present a dedicated following on Instagram of 57.1 million users, which is a staggering amount (Brown, 2016).
So, what does the future hold for Instagram as a marketing tool? It appears Instagram is treading carefully for the time being when it comes to advertising on the platform, not wanting to cause outrage amongst its 400 million plus users, who are extremely verbal when it comes to venting their frustration at changes the app brings in (Griffith, 2015). (The latest proposed change, in which users’ feeds would be arranged not in chronological order, but rather in the order of which users they interact with the most, had users in an uproar.)
In “The Future of Advertising on Instagram” (Allen, 2015), the author notes that when the app “officially switched on its ads API [in August 2015],” a huge turning point was marked. Prior to this, ads could only be bought by contacting an Instagram sales rep directly (and then, this was only for larger companies in certain locations), but the changes brought about mean that Instagram can grow at an even more rapid pace. Analysis conducted by Bank of America Merrill Lynch predicted that the app’s revenues “could increase tenfold over the next two years, to reach near $1 billion in 2017, and continue to skyrocket, to over $3.8 billion by 2020.” While Instagram overtook Twitter in late 2014 in terms of the number of monthly active users, it has yet to overtake it in revenue—but at the rate it’s expanding, it’s almost a given that it will do so within the next year or so.
All things considered, the future is looking remarkably bright for Instagram’s foray into being viewed as a powerful marketing tool. While no one knows quite what the future holds for social media platforms, it is pretty much guaranteed that advertisers will be flocking to the app in increasing numbers in the coming years as the opportunities it presents for reaching out to a huge number of users are vast.
Allen, Robert (2015, August 25). The Future of Advertising on Instagram. Retrieved from http://www.smartinsights.com/social-media-marketing/instagram-marketing/the-future-of-advertising-on-instagram/
Basu, Kaustav (2012, April 9). A Brief History of Instagram. Retrieved from http://visual.ly/brief-history-instagram
Brown, Kara (2016, January 19). Here’s How Much Celebrities Make in the Instagram Product Placement Machine. Retrieved from http://jezebel.com/heres-how-much-celebrities-make-in-the-instagram-produc-1740632946
Da Cunha, Margot (2015, January 6). 10 Instagram Marketing Tips to Make People <3 Your Brand. Retrieved from http://www.wordstream.com/blog/ws/2015/01/06/instagram-marketing
Griffith, Erin (2015, September 9). Instagram Gets Serious About Ads, Opening Platform to All. Retrieved from http://fortune.com/2015/09/09/instagram-advertising/
Shopify (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shopify
Villegas, Felipa (2015, February 11). Ten Reasons to Adopt Instagram as a Marketing Tool. Retrieved from http://getlevelten.com/blog/felipa-villegas/ten-reasons-adopt-instagram-marketing-tool
Please Bot Responsibly: A Compendium of Audience Building Bot-haviors
By Erik Hanson
Building an audience on social media can be a laborious, time-intensive endeavor, so it only makes sense to use technological affordance where they are available. One such technology, social bots, are capable of making audience building an easier task by automating many of the time intensive tasks. A common place for social media audience building bots is Twitter, with which this paper will concern itself. It will argue that although bots, through increased sophistication in automation, have the capacity to aid greatly in building an active and engaged audience, one must exercise caution when designing and implementing the bot in order to navigate the challenges of being labeled as a spam bot, managing users’ expectations of bots interactions and embracing the possibilities of semi-autonomous bots.
Pull vs. push: how has the paradigm shifted?
The pull vs push strategy as employed in marketing has undergone a paradigm shift. In the old days, it was about pushing products out. Manufacturers had the power to decide what to process, the retailers sold what was handed to them. According to an article in The Frontline, “The push system involved manufacturers deciding what they’re going to produce and then trying to get retailers to buy it and sell it for them.”
The world’s largest retailer isn’t so only in name—“It has over 11,100 stores in ~27 countries. With a market cap of over $275 billion, it ranks among the top ten companies in the S&P 500 Index”. (Analyzing Walmart – The World’s Largest Retailer)
Walmart revolutionized the pull vs push strategy by placing the power in the hands of retailers. “The retailers have more and more say over what is being produced, under what pricing, at what time. They’re basically playing a key role in dictating exactly what will be produced, when and where.” (The Frontline)
Pull vs Push in Publishing
Now let us consider the pull vs push phenomenon in the increasingly digital world of publishing. Allowing readers to pull in the content they wish to read is not only vital but pretty much the only option left to publishers today. “We’re moving to an environment where it will be about consumers pulling rather than publishers pushing a product,” said David Steinberger, president of Perseus Books. Adds Rajiv Jain, chief technology officer of photo-marketing site Corbis: “Discoverability has always been an issue, but there’s now infinite shelf space.” (Pull vs. Push: Publishers Search for New Ways to Help Readers Discover Their Content)
In the olden days it was a matter of laying content out at the bookstore. Publishers chose the books that ought to make front shelf. This made them further choose the books to publish—which happened to be the ones they felt were front-shelf worthy. There may have been countless novels and stories that never saw the light of day because of such monopoly. Either that or a miraculous change of events led the publisher to see the error of its ways. Following is an example of one of the biggest errors of judgment in publishing history:
The Christopher Little Literary Agency received 12 publishing rejections in a row for their new client, until the eight-year-old daughter of a Bloomsbury editor demanded to read the rest of the book. The editor agreed to publish but advised the writer to get a day job since she had little chance of making money in children’s books. Yet Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling spawned a series where the last four novels consecutively set records as the fastest-selling books in history, on both sides of the Atlantic, with combined sales of 450 million. (Best-sellers initially rejected)
While the traditional routes of marketing books were limited, publishers enjoyed power. But with the emergence of the Web that changed. There is now “infinite shelf space” as Jain put it. Social media platforms emerged to compartmentalize that space quite well. SEO giants emerged to make sure the platforms remained viable and connected. Giant online retailers such as Amazon emerged to capitalize on it further and self-publishing became a glowing testimony to power changing hands.
Enter Web 2.0
Going back to square one for a bit, let us examine the word “push” in detail. The official US poster of Terminator genisys at a bus stop, advertising both Arnold Schwarzenegger in his full, machine-with-a-soul glory and the dates when the movie would hit theatres is an example of “pushing” content out. It is already there. Terminator fans see the poster and know what they have to look forward to and when. They do not put in any effort to looking up the details on their own. In the “push” case, you are basically shoving matter out and hoping your customer picks it up. This type of strategy works well in cases where the brand is established beyond a doubt. Terminator is a franchise and the mighty and as-impassive-as-ever Schwarzenegger, its selling point. Push in such a case works fine. Fans are bound to hit the theatres.
Now let us look at “pull”. If I want to read fiction involving, say, North Korea, I google the very words: fiction involving North Korea. Google promptly comes up with about 404,000 searches (in 0.51 seconds). The sites that stand out prominently are Wikipedia, Goodreads, Amazon, and even important news sites, in this case, The Guardian. While “pull” here involved a bit of work—thinking up what words to search—the reward was a collection of about 400,000 sites to choose from! That is a lot of content to choose from and conversely speaking, not at all the monopolized rendering or “pushing out” of content as a publisher would have traditionally preferred.
I find something intriguing—The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson. A Pulitzer prize winning novel, it deals with themes of propaganda, identity, and power in North Korea, and has been published by Penguin Random House. The very first site advertising the same is Amazon.com and along with this novel, Amazon recommends what other books customers look at—for similar themes or simply by virtue of them all being award winners.
But it doesn’t stop at that. There is more.
Goodreads does even better. It lists out entire e-shelves of books that have anything to do with North Korean literature.
Not to be left behind, Wikipedia has its own “Category: North Korea in fiction” as well as “North Korean literature”. The Guardian weighs in with “The best books on North Korea | World News…” And that’s not all, scroll down a nanometer and you can see The Washington Post proudly brandishing its own list of “10 illuminating books about North Korea”. And this by no way is the end of the list.
But already, I have choices. I now have “Aquariums of Pyongyang: 10 years in the North Korean Gulag” by Kang Chol-Hwan and “Nothing to envy: Ordinary lives in North Korea” by Barbara Demick to add to my list of intriguing North Korean literature.
Push to pull (by reluctant publishers) to push (by interested readers)
This is where things become more interesting—turning push to pull. Publishers who want to succeed must realize that the time to push content out is past. Readers pull in what they want and in turn, it is the readers who “push” content out further. And this is where the shift comes in—readers choose what to push out. Control has changed hands.
Using social media platforms, publishers make sure everything they have is out there. The Orphan Master’s Son exists on Goodreads, Amazon, Wikipedia; it has a Facebook page, it has been tweeted about, and it has also been bandied about on Pinterest and Tumblr. But from here we enter murky territory. The success of the novel does not depend on the social media platforms that the publisher has used to make its existence known. At least not anymore. And not from a lack of making an effort at pulling readers in but simply because readers now have choice. They can choose if they still want to read The Orphan Master’s Son—even though the publishers think it is the best and even though it now has a Pulitzer Prize to its credit.
In fact, while “pulling” my own content in, I decided I found Escape from Camp 14 by American journalist Blaine Harden more intriguing. So not only do I pull that content in, I choose to push it out further. I decide to pin it on my Pinterest page on books I have read so far. Other interested “Pinteresters” look it up, and repin it from me. I like its “Facebook” page. My close friend on FB who “follows” my activities, looks it up intrigued. And now it seems he has read it too because the 500 “likes” for “Escape from Camp 14” just increased by one more reader. I vote and add to its scores of 90 and 8,907, respectively, on Goodreads. In all this rigmarole, The Orphan Master’s Son lies forgotten—and not because it is an inferior novel in any way. It must be an excellent book with harrowing themes of love, betrayal, dark underground tunnels, and harsh labour camp laws—not very different from Escape from Camp 14 itself. Yet my choice is all that mattered in the moment I chose to go with Escape from Camp 14 and not the latter. Flustered publishers had already done their bit—they had tried pulling in readers for both books as best as they could.
But this is exactly how the pull vs push paradigm works today. Readers pull in what they like and choose to push it out further. Publishers are relinquishing control.
“In cyberspace, it’s hard to push material in front of readers the way it has been done by a bookstore, a newspaper delivery boy or a mail carrier. But bookstores are disappearing. And readers often reject commercial e-mails from publishers. Many online readers use a search function when they want news or information rather than seek out a particular website.” (Pull vs. Push: Publishers Search for New Ways to Help Readers Discover Their Content)
Fear of discoverability to “infinite shelf space”
The question that emerges is what does the publisher do? Or lets go back a bit and analyze why publishers were so anxious to push out certain types of content while blatantly disregarding other precious gems as discovered by serendipity. After all, Louis L’Armour received 200 rejections before Bantam decided to risk it. He is now their bestselling author with 330 million sales. (Best-Sellers Initially Rejected)
What is it that they feared? Discoverability.
And that has now changed. With Web 2.0 and the relentless social media presence brought on by it, there is immense scope for discoverability. Or rather, with the “infinite shelf space”, publishers are at a loss as to how to control the flow of media.
Initially, plagued by fears of discoverability, publishers chose what to publish, thus maintaining a tight rein on the entire process from tailoring content to choosing the book cover. Now the digital world has made discoverability quite easy and, therefore, even trickier for publishers.
So these are the questions plaguing a publisher these days: How do they ensure their products are discovered when readers have a million others to choose from? How do they make themselves useful? David Steinberger, president of Perseus Books asks, “How do you invigorate that pull?” It gets better, which social media platform do you choose from? Or does all or any of it matter in the end if it all depends on the reader?
Attempts at pulling in readers: the grimaces, the sacrifices
Communities around brands
“According to Conde Nast group president David Carey, newspapers and magazines foster communities of readers that “form around our brands.” For example, Wired magazine hosts events that attract as many as 50,000 people. At the same time, former Wall Street Journal publisher Gordon Crovitz warned that in the digital world, communities based on content producers’ brands are fragile. “It would be easier for publishers to work together to create a New York Yankees website than to get Yankees fans to come to a newspaper website,” he said. (Pull vs. Push: Publishers Search for New Ways to Help Readers Discover Their Content)
Why didn’t a publisher buy Goodreads?
The twist came the day Amazon bought Goodreads instead of a publisher! After all, if you want to build a community of readers around your products, a better platform than Goodreads cannot be imagined.
A “social cataloguing” website, it allows “individuals to freely search Goodreads’ extensive user-populated database of books, annotations, and reviews. Users can sign up and register books to generate library catalogs and reading lists. They can also create their own groups of book suggestions, surveys/polls, blogs, and discussions. In December 2007, the site had over 650,000 members and over 10,000,000 books had been added. As of July 2012, the site reported 10 million members, 20 million monthly visits, and 30 employees. On July 23, 2013, it was announced on their website that the user base had grown to 20 million members, having doubled in close to 11 months.” Courtesy: Wikipedia
Of course, as Hoffelder suggests in his article “There’s A Reason That No One in Publishing Bought Goodreads“, it could be about “publishers not being able to afford the rumored $150 million that Amazon paid for Goodreads, but they probably could have afforded it when it was smaller.” In fact in 2010, 3 major publisher got together to announce “a new site that would give them a direct digital connection to readers. It’s called Bookish, and it does give Hachette, Penguin, or Simon & Schuster a direct connection to readers. But the connection it offers is so very, very different from Goodreads that the differences tell us quite a bit about these publishers’ priorities.”
Goodreads vs Bookish
The contrasting differences here are examples of how publishers realize that the time to “push” content out is long gone but are still living in denial.
“Goodreads was launched to encourage readers to show up and be bookish. The community formed around them.
Bookish, on the other hand, was launched in order to provide Hachette, S&S, and Penguin with “direct digital customer relationships”. The publishers got to build it from the ground up, and the manner in which it functions says a lot about the type of ”direct digital customer relationships” these publishers want to have. The word relationship implies that there is more than one party speaking, and that is not the point of Bookish. This site exists to be little more than yet another marketing channel for publishers.” (Goodreads vs Bookish)
Going after Facebook and Twitter: not exactly a success story
Shareaholic report has shown that Facebook still reigns as king of social media. With an outstanding 22.3% of overall traffic to sites coming from Facebook, it is one of the best places for publishers to promote their content. (Facebook vs Pinterest vs Twitter: What Should Publishers Use?)
In fact, desperate publishers would even team up with rival organizations to pull readers in. In a recent blog, a writer says, “The Daily Dot regularly posts other publishers’ articles on its Facebook page, which featured 40 such articles in the past week. The site works with around 35 publishers, including Mental Floss, Maxim and Wired. Seven of those sites have agreed in turn to post Daily Dot stories on their own Facebook pages.” (In search of Facebook love, publishers form link-sharing pacts with each other)
Earlier last year, “nine major publishers began publishing articles straight to Facebook under the social network’s long-anticipated product, called Instant Articles. Facebook sweetened the deal by letting publishers control the ad sales, branding and content; sell ads on the articles and keep all the revenue; and get data on their readers.” But the attitudes are not as bracing as they seem. Not every publisher is happy about such strategies—after all, who likes to relinquish control.? “BuzzFeed and NBC News were the only ones to go all in committing to using the product. Others, like The New York Times and the Atlantic,” … took “a more cautious approach”. (How publishers are using Facebook’s instant articles)
Moreover, a few thousand “likes” hardly mean that their content is being read or that their books are being bought. Keeping readers engaged on their Facebook page is another matter.
Regarding the success of the “Instant Articles”, a blog post explained how it has led publishers to sacrifice their own site visits for the 1.5 billion pairs of eyes that visit Facebook, not to mention it only means more revenue for Facebook itself. “As TechCrunch eloquently wrote, ‘[they] are in danger of becoming dumb content in the smart pipes of platforms like Facebook and Twitter’.” Moreover, “With channels like Facebook, you’ll never see the full picture. As such, you can’t compare it to your own data, you can’t use it to build your own interest graph, and you have no control over who your content gets matched with.” (Are Facebook’s Instant Articles Actually Beneficial to Publishers?)
There was a time when Twitter was used to tell compelling stories.
“Previously, the platforms were willing to pass people on to a publisher’s website where they could show ads, promote their other posts, and forge a relationship worthy of a subscription fee or frequent repeat visits. The platform just wanted to be a gateway, and run ads between these chances for discovery.”
“Now, the platforms want to absorb the Internet, becoming the destination — a sit-down restaurant, not a take-out counter. The latest example of this is howTwitter’s newspapery Moments feature assimilates the content of tweets it aggregates on mobile, but hides the vital link back to the publisher’s website without users even knowing.” (Twitter And Facebook Are Turning Publishers Into Ghost Writers)
Pinterest might have some hope
As Mary Hiers says, “Pinterest has had an astonishing rise to prominence since it started as a closed beta operation in March 2010. By August 2012, Pinterest was the fourth largest source of traffic worldwide.
According to Matt Crystal, Head of International at Pinterest, “Pinterest is quickly becoming an important part of the audience development and engagement strategy for publishers. Publisher content is a great fit for Pinterest, and because every Pin links back to its source, we drive significant traffic to publishers of all kinds.” (A Publisher’s Guide to Pinterest Strategy)
As journalist Alastair Reid reports, “The notion of saving pins to a board is powerful,” he said. “It signals consumer intent and starts a chain reaction of sharing.”
But this is where the news stops being so good. Pinterest is still heavily dominated by female users, according to a research survey—users into crafts, fashion, lifestyle, and cooking. So this site might not be too conducive for content from every type of publisher. Plus, again content trafficking is solely in the hands of readers. It all depends on which pin they want to repin, which has absolutely nothing to do with which publisher has advertised that pin!
“For publishers, social media is mostly about driving traffic… Several publishers report it doesn’t drive much traffic”. Amanda Michel, The Guardian’s U.S. open editor, said it “doesn’t have obvious transactional value.” Another social editor for a large publication said it is “more of a fun, rogue little playground.” (Is Tumblr a Must For Publishers?)
The bond between readers and publishers weakened a long time ago. In a Web-besieged world where content can flow in through apps, devices, computers, tablets, and other digitized screens, expecting a steady inflow of dedicated readers is out of the question. With the emergence of Amazon, bookstores—a publisher’s direct link to readers—already started going extinct.
But that was not all. Amazon’s Kindle Publishing System came along to make things uglier—for the publishers. This system has turned self-publishing into a wholly exciting and global phenomenon. In fact, Hugh Howey, with his hugely popular Wool series, which he initially released as a self-published book on Amazon’s aforementioned platform, is a live example of how a traditional publisher can be rendered completely useless.
Reluctant but still desperate to drive content, publishers started using social media sites to help generate traffic to their own sites. But here they are faced with several challenges, each more complicated than the next. This is the age of the web, meaning an explosion of content and shorter attention spans. Jumping from content to content can hardly ensure a dedicated readership to a particular website. In fact, in this day and age, distraction rules and therefore, quality of content suffers.
As mentioned above, it is totally up to the reader whether they want to follow content to its birth parent or simply forgo it and choose from the million other options. There are hundreds of sites to choose from. Choices offered by social media are endless. Therefore, publishers can hardly have a say in it.
While Fifty Shades of Grey outsold Harry Potter, raking in millions for Penguin Random House, it left more than one mouth hanging open at the incredulity of this phenomenon. Even the parent company could not have anticipated such phenomenal success! In the traditional days, a publisher would have outright rejected such ambitious content. And in the unlikely event that a publisher did risk publishing it, the book could hardly have hit headlines, had it not been for the ease with which its content was picked up—and read discreetly!—on tablets, ipads, and a multitude of other such devices with screens. In addition, let us not forget the enthusiastic reader tweets, retweets, pins, repins, likes, shares, and downloads!
Last but not the least—it is a dog eat dog world out there. Social media platforms themselves cannot only be concerned with the joys of a publisher. This is quite clear with the “Internet absorption” that is going on currently. “Facebook doesn’t need any individual publisher, but they all need the social network. Facebook never wants you to leave, so it’s swallowing up where you might try to go. A few years back, its News Feed brimmed with links to content hosted elsewhere. News articles, YouTube clips, business websites, ads for ecommerce stores.” (Facebook’s Quest To Absorb The Internet)
Yet these are desperate times. “With way more content than its algorithm can stuff into people’s feeds, supply is high, and Facebook controls the demand. If it’s willing to give publishers a way to stand out in the feed and get more traffic, they’re willing to try it rather than risk being left outside the garden walls.” (Facebook’s Quest To Absorb The Internet)
The rest is of course up to a reader. There is no saying what will take one’s fancy. These are days of the vampires, werewolves, and shades of gloomy colours!
It is not a pretty picture. But it is all there is. For now.
Whether we like it or not, playing, discussing, and creating video games is an ever popular past time being enjoyed by an increasingly wide range of the people. This medium tends to be disregarded as without intellectual or cultural merit, unlike books and films that are highbrow, because of the negative image of those who game. It is important to appreciate just how significant video games are to our culture, as they are increasingly becoming the way in which many individuals consume stories. This essay will explore the current standard of video game narrative, the appeal of these games for those who consume them and the future of game writing and development. While there are only a few scholarly articles written on this subject, there is a high level of conversation on the subject among gamers and much of the information in this essay comes from those who engage in games the most.