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Does Sponsoring Daring Fireball Work? (desk.pm)
256 points by saddington on Jan 26, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 108 comments

A previous amusing note from Gruber[1] on his sponsorship system and a sales email from Taboola, purveyor of the obnoxious click-bait grids that you're starting to see all over:

> 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[2].)

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.

[1] http://daringfireball.net/linked/2014/10/09/more-df-rss-feed...

[2] http://daringfireball.net/misc/2014/10/not-intrusive-at-all....

Taboola and that ilk are seriously the devil. I can think of no other development in the last couple of years(or: that became popular over that span) that has done more to degrade the qualitative experience of web browsing.

I try to boycott as many sites that use Taboola as possible... this can leave very few sites left to visit without hating myself... Them and Outbrain have to be the absolute worst that I see on "reputable" sites. You begin to truly understand a site's revenue integrity when you see these in their "Sponsored Content" sections.

This is why I personally don't like using an ad-blocker.

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 noticed the same problem when I sent a link to a friend. All this flashing blinking crap all over the page.

I would like it if that were a tenable position, but it's really not IMO. There's too much cross-site tracking, and most importantly, too much malware distributed as advertising.

Ah, I'd been noticing more and more Taboola ads on my mobile phone, but I hadn't chased down the source. I suppose I should find some ad-blocks for the phone.

How you dragged "bloatware loaded Windows installs" into this I don't understand.

I believe the comparison is that a website loaded with useless, distracting junk that functions is a similar situation to Windows laptops that come with distracting, useless software that pretends to be something desirable. In each case, the user experience is significantly degraded in exchange for the vendor receiving payment. This comparison make sense to me.

Really interesting to see these numbers. I've been reading DF for years and years, and its is the only advertising model I've encountered that doesn't grate. His advertising is considerate, audience appropriate, and vetted. I feel good supporting his advertisers, because I feel good supporting him, and because they're just consistently things I'm happy to hear about.

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.

I'd rather not. It introduces a pretty big conflict of interest (for example, Gruber would probably think twice before writing something negative about a former sponsor when he's on the record endorsing them) and blurs the line between advertising and editorial content. As mentioned in the article:

> 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.

John has been sponsored by Google(1) and by Microsoft(2) both of which he has written some decidedly negative things about. I think he takes conflict of interest seriously, and has a strong division between his editorial and his advertising content.

1: http://daringfireball.net/linked/2014/08/10/ios-at-google

2: http://daringfireball.net/linked/2013/04/20/windows-azure-mo...

I don't think it's as much of a "firewall" in the sense traditional news media (theoretically) tries to maintain as much as a fairly natural separation between the kinds of companies advertising with him and the kinds of topics he writes about. In practice, the chances are fairly small that he's going to have a reason to write negative things about Squarespace, let alone Desk, assuming he's done basic vetting of the product/service.

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.)

Azure itself is pretty safe from Gruber's crosshairs. Google was less successful, but there is a common trend of companies paying their way into the good graces of Apple bloggers' inner circle (Squarespace, Backblaze, Everpix).

I'm sorry, but what you're implying is that these companies have sub-par products that unscrupulous writers have been willing to treat as well-made in exchange for cash payment. As someone who (very happily) uses both Backblaze and Squarespace I can safely say this is not the case, and that they're not just "buying their way into" bloggers' good graces.

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.

Yev from Backblaze here -> I love advertising with John. He's used us before so he approaches every read with a bit of knowledge. At this point, I just give him a few bullets I want him to hit (often new things in the product) and just let him riff on his own. It works great and allows the read to be more natural, instead of mechanical like some of the various other podcast sponsorships.

No, I don't think they are sub par. But I do think their exalted place in the Apple blog world is not earned by quality, but ad money. You don't see many of these bloggers actively using Squaresquare for anything but side projects, but they all push it as the go to platform to use even outside of ads. I would also contend that you can certainly buy your way in. See ads for stuff like Clean My Mac, which I am positive Gruber would never use himself.

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.

This is actually a great example of something I wanted to dig up earlier, which is a DF sponsor that john clearly doesn't give a shit about. The tone of the 'thank you note' for that can be generously described as "professional". You can _almost_ hear him gritting his teeth.

[1] http://daringfireball.net/feeds/sponsors/2014/01/cleanmymac_...

[2] http://daringfireball.net/linked/2013/03/22/cleanmymac

> As someone who (very happily) uses both Backblaze and Squarespace

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).

I feel like there's a big difference in talking negatively about a billion dollar company that pays for an advert and a small sub million dollar company. Would Microsoft even notice or care that he spoke critically about them once compared to a small startup that blew their advert money on his blog care?

I think you have to ask yourself the fundamental question. How does John make a living? Perhaps he could move to a paid subscription model. That seems fraught with risk but it's true it's a possibility. But even then you pander to your paid audience vs the paid advertiser (if all your paid subscribers are Apple fans and you noticed a 10% subscription cancellation when you belittle the Apple Watch what happens to your behavior?)

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.

Traditional journalism doesn't try and mix advertising and content to the level this does. This feels closer to BuzzFeed's infamous organic content (http://techcrunch.com/2014/08/12/buzzhome/) than it does to what a newspaper might do.

That's very traditional. Most computer magazines f.e. are under so much pressure that a complete separation is difficult.

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.

> Perhaps he could move to a paid subscription model.

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.

You could buy a shirt and it came with the membership, or pay less for just the RSS membership. He delivered a personal RSS link with a random string. That worked until people moved to Bloglines, because it shared URLs among all its users and thus exposed private URLs to anyone looking for the daringfireball.com feed. At that point, he moved to password protected feeds, until people moved to Google News, which didn't support password protected feeds. This is when he began the weekly sponsorship model.

It's a valid concern, but honestly I think the distorting effects are probably much less than e.g., having to chase clickbait topics for CPM advertising or having Carlos Slim be your largest single investor, etc.

You piqued my curiosity. What's the Carlos Slim comment related to?

He's probably referring to the New York Times.


> I'd rather not. It introduces a pretty big conflict of interest (for example, Gruber would probably think twice before writing something negative about a former sponsor when he's on the record endorsing them)

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.

Jason Snell wrote an interesting article about his experience with an advertiser and sponsorships. He's running his own blog now (Six Colors) with a similar model to Gruber.


For better and worse, it's the way things are going in the near future. People like Gruber and Alex Blumberg (Gimlet Media podcasts) have built up credibility, and are open about what is paid versus editorial, so the "native ads" are merely annoying rather than trust-destroying. Unfortunately, lots of people with a few page-views and more greed than sense will also try to get in on the action, and the web will be an even worse place.

On the other hand the advertising posts are very clearly indicated to be such, there's no attempt to actualy disguise them as editorial. Furthermore by explicitly posting endorsements with the other content he's drectly putting his own credibility on the line. If the advertised service is sub-par in any way it directly reflects on him.

PBS and NPR have to deal with this issue every year and their solution is pretty simple. They report it as they would want to, mention that X Co sponsored them in the past/present, and don't take their advertising dollars for that piece.

There's a big difference between saying "this segment is sponsored by X Co" and letting X Co write their own endorsement that they can then quote as a testimonial from you.

If you're referring to Desk quoting Gruber on their home page, they quoted from Gruber's "thank you" post which, while it borrows a lot from the original sponsor-written post, is still written by Gruber himself.

Yeah, i felt good about using this quote but was definitely not going to use something that I wrote myself. ... because that would be super-lame.

Grubers site is basically one big Apple ad from what I have read on it.

I think another reason the DF advertising model is so successful, for both the publisher and the advertiser, is that the advertisements don't distract from the publisher's content. And in this case it plays really well with the primary means of publication for DF, RSS.

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.

This is one of the reasons I've been a fan and reader of his blog... I feel like his model really "works" and I don't get offended at all.

John has the right to decline any offer to advertise... (obviously) and keeps the bar high.

Many have continued to try and some have really found it to work. I advertised on a number of other blogs that have the exact same model: http://blog.desk.pm/2014-yir/

I was very happy with those results too!

John's model is unique, though, not scalable and heavily gruber-dependent. It's something we can analyze as a particular phenomena, not a way to reinterpret advertising on the Web.

Look at podcasts. They are nearly all, in essence, using exactly Gruber’s model. It seems to me as though there is practically nothing else there …

(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.

I think Gruber is definitely unique and if he "disappeared" it would be hard to replace him.

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?

Yev with Backblaze here -> I'm a bit late to this party, but I can tell you that advertising with John has worked for Backblaze from a monetary perspective. It's a mutually beneficial sponsorship. John's used us in the past, Marco uses us on occasion, and due to that, the ads are read with a certain knowledge of the product and ring more "true" than a lot of things that I hear on various podcasts and websites. The majority of the ads we've done with John are sponsorships of "The Talk Show", but those have been quite successful.

Congratulations to the author and a succesful campaign.

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.

I dunno dude, I bought it, tried to use it, and quickly discovered that it's a pretty poor product. I won't go into it here, because it's off-topic and I left a two-star review in the App Store anyway. But my impression of the app is that its success is mainly due to marketing savvy and the current infatuation with "minimalist" writing apps that use Markdown. So I would say yes, DF advertising clearly worked here, and props to the author for also getting extra mileage out of it with this post + HN hit.

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.

You can always get a refund for the app... and I'm really sorry it didn't work for you.

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.

Believe me, I understand how hard it is. I've been working alone on a project for the past 2.5 years now (not quite ready for prime-time, but soon), so I know exactly what you mean. However, two things are just inexcusable to me:

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.

I won't win this argument (and I won't try), but, I appreciate the time you took to write me a response!

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 ...


Re.: 2. Don't worry about the price point atm. He might be right that it is not worth currently for him, but it looks like that a lot of other people value it.

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.

a great reminder. i'm keen on keeping it simple... and focused. i don't need to be the next microsoft word... i'd rather not actually.

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.

> 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?

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%).

Yup. people are returning the product and there are a lot of people that hate the product... that's fine. i'm not trying to create a perfect product for 100% of the population... just certain people who will find it useful.

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.

$30 is most certainly not "a lot of money", and it is this attitude that makes indie development so hard these days. This app is meant for serious bloggers (i.e. those that spend many hours writing each week), so if it works for them $30 is a steal.

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...

this paper-napkin math isn't entirely off-course... and my time as a developer would make much more fiscal sense if i went and did contract work... hell, i did this for a long time and made a ton of money in comparison to my "take" as an indie developer via the MAS.

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.

No problem John, I'm not (yet, at least) a user of your app I'm just a fellow indie that wanted to illustrate the reality of doing business at just $30/copy. Prices are low enough to make most indie development uneconomical in pure dollar terms. Though I wholeheartedly agree that money is not the only motivation, customers need to realise that developers need to make a decent living in order for there to be a vibrant ecosystem of apps.

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!

here here!

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.

If a programmer builds an amazingly perfect app, but has no users to see it, did she really build it? -Confucius

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.

one of the most important things that i've learned in the process of building this particular indie app is the fact that GAINING TRACTION should be as important as building the product.

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.!

Actually it is pretty easy to get Apple's customer service to refund an app. Just say it didn't behave as expected and you would like a refund.

Hey John, I ran into some similar issues as the parent w/ line breaks (and w/ the local/remote publishing stuff in general). I posted a couple of comments on the Desk.pm feedback forum and am compiling some notes as I poke around.

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.

this is great and you're right, software is never done, only abandoned ( http://john.do/software/ )...

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!

As a writer, I like the idea of a minimalist writing app. I really do. It feels natural. Just you and a blank screen so you can tap away and kill whatever demons are haunting you.

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.

You do understand that Desk and Scrivener are not really in competition, right? Or do you also lecture Miata owners about how they're cute vehicles and all, but they should really know that Miatas are terrible for long-distance cargo hauling?

(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.

i second this... insofar as sharing that for years (a decade+) i've used basic markdown editors and even code editors for a lot of my writing.

many of them are not very good... but some of them are amazing. it's all about what works best for the individual.


i've been really "nice" about every single comment here on HN... but i can't help but let you know that this comment is single-handedly the most pompous one of all.

"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


Agreed and agreed.

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.

>> Minimalist apps are for people who want to play 'pretend' at writing.

> 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.

this comment will go nowhere, but, i'll try...

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.

You are welcome, and thanks for acknowledging without getting defensive. My hypocrisy comment was not directed at you, but to the general HN crowd that upvoted yours while downvoting that of puranjay (it had negative votes at the time of my comment). I have seen this happen with my own comments which, although meticulously researched and not offensive, sometimes get down voted to oblivion just because I challenge a dominating belief here. It shows me that people can be all smart as they want, and yet continue holding on to their beliefs like a tribe member defending tribe values.

And now this post makes Gruber excellent cash, so maybe Gruber thanks Desk again. Definitely excellent strategy. (Not that the post is insincere of course.)

I appreciate that big-time... it's been a great trip and experience. And yes, I want Desk to be a "great" product but it's going to take time for it to really mature in that direction... I've had a great start and I'm glad that software is iterative... always room for improvement.

The community has helped a ton in helping to qualify new features (that make sense) and reward me through my execution.

If you have a Mac App or iOS app, Daring Fireball would be a great place to advertise. I'd like to here from some of the web apps that are promoted, do they have a same uptick in subscribers?

Right... I wouldn't have dropped any coin on DF if I was showcasing another app or web-based service... I just wouldn't have been as confident on the possible return.

Azure Mobile has been a sponsor. I guess at that point it becomes difficult to even extrapolate the impact of the sponsorship...

Yeah. The acceptable cost for acquiring a customer for something like Azure, AWS, Heroku, New Relic, et al. dwarfs the cost of most advertising that reaches the ideal audience (so, yeah, ROS banner ads on Yahoo might not cut it). I'm in the email newsletter space and had the cloud division of a very major three letter company send me an IO to buy >$100k of advertising without us ever having communicated before - I couldn't fill the order as we don't have that sort of capacity, but it blew my mind and certainly got me thinking about where to take the business.

> I went on to grab a net-revenue (profit) of just north of $32,000 for the month of December, 2014

That's pretty darn impressive. Congratulations! Excellent copy writing on your desk.pm landing page as well.

I like the feel of the landing page, but I have a hard time figuring out what desk is.

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.

This is great feedback and something I can do better. I had actually done a retrospective on the change of the landing page but you're right... it still needs improvement.

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.

I wouldn't even say it's a design issue. More of an information issue.

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!

I'd argue that design and information are (or, should be) inextricably linked. Your advice is sound however!

I did a much bigger FY2014 retrospective today: http://blog.desk.pm/2014-yir/

Hopefully that paints a better picture.

This section confused me -- can anyone explain?

> 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?

I'm given 100 "tokens" or "review copies" to give away for free per every single release via the MAS.

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.

Congratulations, first -- that's a good thing to run out of!

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.

Hah. During the moment, when I realized the massive influx and that I was "out" of tokens, it was incredibly disheartening... one of those moments where the floor seems to disappear type of things.

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.

Well, it is a fake problem. There's nothing preventing a developer from hosting a binary on a server and sending the download link to a potential reviewer or user, other than the simple matter of implementing license checks and demo timeouts. It's the same now as it was 20 years ago.

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.

well, what might be considered "simple" is not entirely simple. sure, i could send out the packages to anyone, provisioned locally. sure.

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.

Could you have simply wired them $29 to buy the app? Or would that be seen as dishonest.

it could be interpreted as dishonest in a number of ways... since the blog post and/or review would no longer be an unbiased review... but rather there was now a financial transaction and thus introducing motive for a more positive review.

it now is a "sponsored" blog post instead of an impartial review.

Couldn't you just build them a beta build? It seems like a no-brainer.

i suppose, but there would be parts that would probably "break" and thus creating a false or "incomplete" experience.

you're right though, there are some other possibilities, i'm sure.

This was very helpful and thanks for publishing. Right near the end you just touched upon what i think is an important topic (perhaps its own post) If you could chart it your first exposure to John's (or anyones) audience is probably 80% of the bang for the buck. Sponsoring again 4 to 6 months later really only exposes you to net new readers since your first exposure or those that missed your first exposure and/or weren't a good target then but are now. If John is charging the same amount for each sponsorship the pricing model is broken for both of you. It sounds like you're underpaying for the 1st one and overpaying for additional and vice a versa for John. In general it's just something worth noting for anyone who advertises via such distinct channels (Imagine if HN let you do the same thing how your traffic and sales would be impacted by the 1st time you were on the homepage for 8 hours vs if you did it again 3 months later)

This is a great point and something that I thought was going to "pay off" but didn't. The results were significantly different but still beneficial... what I should have done is waited a few more months to dive in.

Will I do this again? Probably... but not until a major release, like a 2.0...

On the other hand, repetitive ads are less interesting for the reader (at least, I feel that way when reading DF), so they have a higher 'cost' to Gruber. Though this is more relevant to multiple consecutive sponsorships than a few of them spread over months.

I suspect this is a lot more informative about the future of journalism. The 'old school' magazine/newspaper group was all about getting 'readership' and then 'blasting their eyeballs'. And there was a tremendous amount of loss to their madness. 6 months after a magazine was published it was entirely unlikely that someone would pick up that issue, see an advertising message, and act on it.

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).

In addition, I think the ultimate litmus test is whether or not they create "value" for readers... or is it just marketing fluff? Even with my own blog post I tried to create value for people reading it... and making sure they could not just read my experience but learn something from it for their own usage.

Sponsored posts might come up in long tail searches, but most of the pages on the DF site, at least, are monetized with a display ad on the left. This will show the current ad at the time of the page view, not the ad at the time the article was written.

> This will show the current ad at the time of the page view, not the ad at the time the article was written.

Which is awesome. When I thumb through old BYTE magazines they have ads for companies that don't even exist any more. :-)

Great post. Thank you for sharing all of this - really great information and I'm thrilled for you that you took a risk and it really paid off. Cheers to that!

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!

I appreciate that a lot!

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!

What's often under appraciated about sponsored content is that it does seem to be catching on as valuable channel to acquire customers not just branding exposure.

Here is a case study from Dash as well.


(Full disclosure I'm on the team at SyndicateAds)

I think his model works well for his blog. Not all blogs work well with this model and it doesn't necessarily scale well to a large news org.

For what he does and how he does it, this is a cool model for both him, his audience, and apparently the advertisers.

Yes. Couldn't agree more. There're other bloggers in the tech/culture space like Jason Kottke of kottke.org, and Jim Dalrymple of The Loop, who make far less from advertising/sponsorships than Daring Fireball.

I've done a quick RETROSPECTIVE on how this "viral event" impacted sales: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8959967


Thanks everyone! That was fun.

TLDR: "Yes, DaringFireball worked for me."

HAHA. I should add that...

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