> Speaking of revenue and pageviews, true story: I got an email yesterday from a sales rep at Taboola, pitching me on running their ads on DF. It included this line: “I see your site is not monetized at present, and I think there is room to do so in a non-intrusive manner that can still make you money.”
> I don’t know what I love most about that. I think it’s that from the eyes of someone who sees Taboola ads as “non-intrusive”, what I’m doing at Daring Fireball doesn’t look like “monetization” at all. Needless to say, I find Taboola ads to be highly intrusive. (You may not be familiar with the “Taboola” name, but you’ve seen their ads. They look like this.)
I really like what he does, and it makes the rest of the web remind me of the bloatware loaded Windows installs on every PC that isn't sold directly by MS. Short term money at the cost of a slower and more annoying experience that users hate in the long term.
If I have ads blocked, then I'm blind to the problems that the average internet user faces. I end up viewing, reading, tweeting, talking about sites that are flat out reader-abusive in their advertising. As a web developer, my sense of the state of the internet is warped.
With ads turned on, I end up avoiding those sites and seeking quieter places. I have a better understanding of what normal people see.
I would really love to see more independent journalists follow his model, although obviously his market is more suited to this model than some others are. Still, I think there's a lot to learn, here.
> the cost today ranges between $8,000 – $10,000 dollars per placement and you get to write your own post, essentially
Maybe this isn't a big deal for DF, but I can imagine this would lead to a total lack of trust for other independent journalists.
The failure mode for this theory, of course, is if one of the companies -- especially a service like Squarespace -- either shifts their business model to something slimy or is revealed to have been doing something slimy all along. Personally, I don't think Gruber would hesitate to both report on that and stop taking their ads -- doing so would have little to no effect on his bottom line.
(The observation made by another commenter about how many bloggers and, of course, podcasters pump Squarespace without actually using Squarespace is wryly amusing, though.)
I'm pretty sure that if they're in anyone else's good graces, it's because they provide a great product with solid service at a decent price. It's absolutely not because they had to bribe people to overlook the fact that they weren't really any good.
In essence, DF is an endorsement-based model. This is one where a justifiably trusted source uses their hard-won credibility to promote products that reinforce their credibility. It's pretty much the opposite of a model that allows people to "buy their way in". Indeed, that's the whole point. You can't buy your way in. If you don't have a decent product, you're not getting listed.
I don't think there is anything extremely unscrupulous going on, just that there isn't much of a wall between editorial and advertisement with Gruber's model as some people claim.
Just wanted to second your comment and add that Everpix too was also a really good product before they closed down (I still haven't found an alternative that works for me).
The next alternative is he relies on advertising. When there is a conflict of interest in advertising it's mostly around transparency (the site does legitimate and paid product and service reviews side by side and so you don't know what is paid content and what isn't) This approach though seems very transparent. The worse case scenario is a product or service he advertises becomes crappy (based on his backlog he wouldn't need to accept an upfront crappy product) and he doesn't allow them to sponsor again. The biggest crime is he holds off calling out said crappy product because at one time he took money from them. I'm not sure he'd do that and that would only be a real issue if JG was the sole or primary source of reviews for the service vs all the other channels that review products and give you a wide range of opinions to draw on if you need them.
TL;DR: All commercial models involving information sharing are flawed so you have to deal in shades of gray and this seems good to me.
Even the ones that still have a separation, are a little bit more gray in the sense, that they do special deals i.e. free software for their coverstory and so forth.
It was on a paid subscription model before the current one. Loading the site was free, but you had to pay for the RSS feed.
Or maybe it was that buying a shirt got you RSS feed access for a while? Don't quite remember now.
Generally the companies that advertise on his site are companies that his readers would find useful, but generally aren't the kind of companies that he discusses in his blog posts. Although [I believe] he has had Microsoft and Google products advertise on his site periodically, and his coverage of those companies has still been on his own terms.
Consider "traditional media": radio, television, and print. Yeah, we all love to hate commercials, etc.
But compare it to the Internet, which is a complete cesspool. I use my hometown newspaper as a example (http://www.ajc.com/). Many websites are completely unreadable, and/or require a supercomputer to fully render and execute the CSS/JS. And I believe it's fairly common knowledge now that these types of advertisements are hugely ineffective for the advertiser.
John has the right to decline any offer to advertise... (obviously) and keeps the bar high.
I was very happy with those results too!
(I’m not sure exactly where this podcast model is coming from. I think I first heard it – in an incarnation that is nearly totally similar to what DF does – on Dan Benjamin’s 5by5 network. That genesis would even sort of make sense, as Dan Benjamin are friends and used to be long-time co-hosts of a podcast. I obviously can’t recall exact dates, so I’m not even sure who came first there, actually. Now other podcasts and podcast networks are doing it, too.)
What that means is this: The actual hosts of the podcast read the ad in their voice, though they still say that it’s an ad read (that’s analogous to putting the ad directly on the website in the website layout together with the other content and in the RSS feed, though still marking it as sponsored content). Nearly all will also add in little personal touches. Those can be widely diverse, from a simple, slightly personalised thank you (as Gruber writes), to stories about how the hosts use the product or why they like it, all the way to specially produced editorial content for the sponsor (as Startup and Reply All from Gimlet Media are doing by, for example, interviewing their sponsors and talking to them about their business).
That’s practically identical to what Gruber does, just in another medium (and maybe the podcasts were even first and Gruber just cribbed from them and adopted it to his medium).
I honestly think this is at least somewhat workable on a wider scale. Not a billion dollar scale, sure, but a small operation making a small profit with a couple well paid staff? Sure, that’s very imaginable and partly already sort of happening.
In other words, what makes DF "work" is Gruber... and if he wasn't there... it wouldn't really work. It makes you wonder about the sustainability of "people-centric" companies.
I have thought often about this in terms of my own projects... how many of them would be sustainable without my very explicit presence?
My favourite part of his post reminded me of a quote my marketing professor once told me "The most important thing in a marketing campaign is a great product"
Had desk been a poor product, I doubt the Halo-effect would have happened.
Not only is his promotion on DF and followup blog post a model of How It's Done, but his entire blog is really well-done from a marketing and SEO standpoint. Lots of relevant internal links, good photography, great design, and posts that are devoid of keyword spam and are just the right length and reading level.
Anyway, great design, very savvy marketing and SEO, wrapped around a buggy app that ticks a lot of the currently trendy boxes and contains some shocking deficiencies. And if I sound irritated for being taken, it's because it cost me $30, which is what a mature, quality, premium app like Pixelmator costs.
It's honestly really tough being an indie developer... I have to do EVERYTHING related to not just building the DAMN THING but all of the business, marketing, Q/A, financials/accounting, blogging... the list is eternally-long.
v1.0 was lucky... in a lot of ways. v1.1 addressed a shit-ton of issues... v1.2, out in a week (hopefully) will add a major user-requested feature...
it... just... takes... time... when... doing... it... alone...
thanks Jon for the comments. I'm doing my best.
1) this is a writing app /with no support for paragraph breaks/. That is unbelievable to me. Nobody who writes for a living can use an app that shows all of your text to you as a really large single block with no horizontal breaks between paragraphs. How? Why? Not only am I stupified by this, but I also am dumbfounded at all of these 5-star reviews that don't mention it or any of the other show-stoppper flaws I pointed out within the first 20 mins of use. Are people reviewing an app that they've not actually used?
2) The price. $30 is a lot of money, and yeah you can try to convince Apple's customer support to give you a refund, but we both know nobody does that.
The combo of high price, glaring product problems, and a masterful marketing effort just doesn't sit well with me. I'm not saying you're a scam artist -- the site and even the app reflect a lot of passion and creativity. But I do question your priorities. More coding and user testing, and less SEO and blogging and convincing everyone in your network to give the app 5 stars, maybe.
1. I'm working on this and the feature was an attempt to combine both WYSIWYG and Markdown into one formatting experience. This ended up being a gamble and one that I lost and the newest updates will address this. It sucks, i failed, i got it wrong.
2. A lot? sure. i guess. there are tons of great alternatives, for sure!
"More coding"...? #facepalm ...
If you continue adding features and continue making the product as a whole better and more valuable for a larger and larger audience.
So eventually he should be happy as well.
That requires obviously, that you mostly add features. i.e.
you don't re-invent features or redesign features without adding value (just to make prettier),
I have seen a lot of teams/people doing that kind of mistake.
i think one of the most important things any developer or business does is decide who their customer is... and who their customer isn't.
Possibly, but then that would be a bunch of people with a lot of money :)
> 2) The price. $30 is a lot of money, and yeah you can try to convince Apple's customer support to give you a refund, but we both know nobody does that.
Is $30 really that much if it delivers value? Desk is meant to make blogging simple. It's definitely hard to argue if you buy the app, hate it, and don't use it. At that level, a price point of $5 or $10 would still be much more expensive than what you got from it.
But for people who actually use the product, how long will it be before they extract the $30 of value (ok, this is a simplified view, there is non trivial effort for learning the product.) from the product to have made it a good investment? Whether it is time saved, or increased quality of output, I'd argue not much time at all.
Another thing to note is that the article points out that the number of returns for Desk is small but non trivial (~2.6% of revenue), so people do in fact do that. This is consistent with my own experiences (about 4%).
but, one of the biggest motivations for building this was knowing how hard it is to write, full stop. even after writing and blogging for 14 years... it's still as hard as ever.
any tool that can help me write and grab my strange amorphous thoughts and put them down into something understandable makes that ROI-value hit positive real quick.
so, for those people who are able to write more and publish more via the app... i think it's really worth it to them.
why? because writing is really fucking hard.
Remember that out of the $30 John gets just $20 from Apple, and if you take another third out for other expenses you're looking at less than $14. Needless to say you need to sell a lot of copies at that price to break even on your development time, on the order of 10,000/year, which is more than 27 copies/day! Then take into account that the App Store makes it difficult to get repeat revenue out of customers even if they use your app for several years...
But, that wasn't the point and wasn't the motive... so, i am okay with "eating" those costs so that i might be more "in control" of this product's destiny.
appreciate the support... this is what makes "indie development" worth it.
As an indie who has made the mistake of both pricing too low and spending too much time on development (vs marketing) in the past, it looks like you've done very well to avoid these pitfalls so far!
one of the biggest compliments and encouragements that i've received is that other indie developers have told me that i've done it "right" by pricing the app the way I've done it.
in fact, many of them have shared with me that they've done this wrong in the past and that they wanted to encourage me that i've gotten at least this part right!
the challenge is that those "atta boys!" are all private via DMs or individual emails... not public so they aren't available for all to see.
but to be sure, i've got a bunch and it feels great.
In less snarky terms, I think focusing on marketing is super important. The faults and missing features can be fixed when you have users and money to pay for the work to do so. I'm sick of using a nice obscure app that is abandoned because I'm one of the few people who use it, so I'm less harsh on marketing as opposed to "more coding" than you.
that nearly killed me when i first realized that. this book really changed my perspective: http://blog.desk.pm/gaining-traction/
it's hard to do both... i mean, impossible... but i've focused more on doing a good job of building community, creating content, and gaining traction through experimentation (e.g. marketing on Gruber's blog) than I ever have...
and... it's kinda worked.!
I have maximal sympathy for the challenges you face and I think that the concept of focused-editing with seamless publishing is fantastic, especially since no one else has done it, and I'm willing to wait for some updates to see where it goes, but I wonder if there should be some better visibility on the apps current caveats.
the challenge is that i wasn't aware of many of the issues until we had a plethora of users (which is great). i can only catch so many via testing and alpha-users!
thanks for your patience, that means a ton. it really does as an indie developer.
finally, i try to point a lot of people to our community forum, which has grown quite nicely over the last 3 months. there's a lot of help there and said caveats. i can always do a better job in this department though, so, thanks for the kind reminder!
Except there is a problem: serious writers need more than 'minimalism'.
All the authors and novelists and long-form fiction writers I know have reams upon reams of notes, plot information, and character data cluttering up their MS Word (argh) and Scrivener screens. I even know some to use spreadsheets to keep track of complicated family trees and plots in long fantasy novels.
This is why I use Scrivener. It's bulky and far from minimalist, but it has the tools I need.
Minimalist apps are for people who want to play 'pretend' at writing. Or write a blog post a day and call that 'substantial writing'. But if you really, really need to put together a story, you will need to do your research. And minimalist apps are of no use to you then.
(Edited...) I'm not particularly enamored of "minimalist" writing apps, either -- I'd really like to see a prose-focused editor with modern design sensibility with the editing capability of Nota Bene for DOS two decades ago (which, it's worth noting, Scrivener lacks as well) -- but you're being unduly snippy about it, I think. I write and even occasionally sell stories that are, in fact, written in Markdown in relatively minimal editing environments. Not every story needs research folders, timelines and an index card view.
many of them are not very good... but some of them are amazing. it's all about what works best for the individual.
"substantial writing"...? really? "serious" writers?
I could list 10,000 pieces of GLORIOUS work that was crafted on nothing more than "pen" and "paper" ... or perhaps just "paper" and "ink" and "typewriter"...
PEN + PAPER == Maximally-minimal "app"...
and in that way, with Desk, I was attempting to create an homage, of sorts, to the "old way" of creating great writing work.
keeping it simple, effective, useful.
minimalist apps are for the serious and the playful, for those that are writing epic novels (one user of Desk is a multi-New York Times winning author) and those that are, as you say, "pretending" to write (like my 8-year old daughter, perhaps: http://john.do/gift-writing/).
but, it all, at the end of the day, is still writing...
"There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed." ~~~ Ernest Hemingway
Tolstoy didn't write War & Peace with Scrivener, after all.
But what Tolstoy did have was a thick notebook filled with copious notes.
As did every other writer.
Heck, there was a picture going round a few days ago of JK Rowling's huge spreadsheet with plot information, all written on paper.
Now, you can of course get yourself a notebook and take your notes and get your writing done in a minimalist app, but since we are talking about using the computer alone to get all your writing done, I won't bring pen and paper into the equation.
Desk replaces the typewriter. It doesn't replace the notebook and endless scribbles and marginalia.
For that, you still need a tool like Scrivener.
> this comment is single-handedly the most pompous one of all.
It is interesting to note that HN's commenting guideline is to "Be civil. Don't say things you wouldn't say in a face to face conversation." yet, the folks here are downvoting puranjay's neutral 'pretend' comment (not targeted at anyone in particular) while upholding yours (you don't tell someone to their face that they made a pompous remark). What hypocrisy.
you're right. i should have taken a step back here. i am being hypocritical and i am (was) wrong. great catch and thanks for that safaridevelop.
The community has helped a ton in helping to qualify new features (that make sense) and reward me through my execution.
That's pretty darn impressive. Congratulations! Excellent copy writing on your desk.pm landing page as well.
I don't know how it compares to other markup editors or distraction-free writing environments (I currently use and love Ulysses, and have tried several other similar apps), I don't know the details of its blogging platform integrations, or how it manages media.
Without that info, I'd be happy to try a demo, but not risk $30 to figure out if it's an app I can use.
It's obviously working well for conversions, and other people feel like they're getting enough info to risk $30, but I'd need quite a bit more information than the app's website currently gives to know if it's a purchase worth making.
At some point I'll probably hire a "real" designer to help me... since i'm not a designer by any stretch of the imagination.
If there's no demo available, I need (as a potential purchaser) quite a bit of information to know if it's worth risking my $$'s. I'd say some combination of screenshots/gifs or screencasts going through the program would be great. Or maybe more of a focus on the workflow, or maybe just expanding your features section to be illustrated with screenshots form the app showing how features are used.
Honestly, some of the best descriptions of the program are in App store reviews where it's compared to other distraction-free/markup writing environments.
Also, congratulations and good luck!
Hopefully that paints a better picture.
> I was so unprepared for this deluge that it stunted what was already going to be a banner month as I simply did not have enough review copies and tokens to go around. I ended up having to wait-list over 30 prominent blogs which hurt my momentum severely.
He's selling software, right? It sounds here like he hit problems that simply shouldn't exist for a digital product.
Is this an AppStore-specific problem? If so, why in the world should it work that way?
Essentially, I ran out and couldn't give free copies for review for big name blogs and news sites and thus lost a lot of opportunities for free press.
But it's a bit infuriating that the problem seems to be completely fake; that is, of course Apple has no limitations to how many review copies and/or tokens they can generate; they could trivially give you a button to request more.
In cases like yours, that would have been the more profitable choice for them... but they're operating at immense scale, which generally means removing choice as much as possible -- and there must be some loophole they're closing (though I admit I don't see it yet). They can't pay someone to check every possibly dodgy request for more copies/tokens, and so they can't check any.
/rant -- this is certainly a tangent to the article! I just found it startling. I've sold my own software and online subscriptions for more than a decade (though nothing ever likely to become big) and naturally if I feel like giving away copies, they're mine to give.
it's just the "price" one pays for being part of this ecosystem i suppose. very thankful for it in general, but, there is always room for improvement.
It's telling that many App Store developers, even very successful ones, no longer bother with that crap. It's just so much easier for both the developer and user to send out a promo code in an email.
but... doing a demo with license checks really, really, really well...? that takes time, care, and impact user-experience.
i decided that i didn't have time (yet) to implement a really kick-ass demo / trial version... but in the future i'd like to take a serious look at it.
context is important: as an indie developer i only have so much (so little) time to invest... i have to really carefully choose my battles of where i spend that time... and that's really the hardest part of it all.
it now is a "sponsored" blog post instead of an impartial review.
you're right though, there are some other possibilities, i'm sure.
Will I do this again? Probably... but not until a major release, like a 2.0...
But on the web the long tail is the long tail. Search engines can pull an article out of the mists of time and that advertising is still intact. So you're exposure is very different.
Combining that with the curating effects of a trusted source, and you get a solid advertising value for the right brands.
I expect it will be "successes" like DF which inspire additional people to create this sort of content and that seems to be a good thing for everyone (advertisers and readers).
Which is awesome. When I thumb through old BYTE magazines they have ads for companies that don't even exist any more. :-)
That said, your site has so few images on it of the actual product, that for a price of $30, I feel like you are holding back for a reason. I buy anything and everything, but this doesn't feel right. When someone displays their admittedly very nice logo far more than the product I get a flashing warning sign. My 2 cents.
When I can either get a demo or see more of the product I will probably buy.
Again, congratulations on your successful launch!
To answer your question, i had actually was trying to explicitly move people to the app store to "view" the images there... but i could do a better job of providing those screens... thanks for that!
Here is a case study from Dash as well.
(Full disclosure I'm on the team at SyndicateAds)
For what he does and how he does it, this is a cool model for both him, his audience, and apparently the advertisers.
Thanks everyone! That was fun.