Are You a 1 Hit Wonder or a Meal Ticket ?

This is a post about content that I wish I had written.  Props to Peter Kim for recognizing an emerging trend among content creators.  They are giving up. They are narrowing their audience scope to where they can make money or have the most impact. Or, they are selling out. (See TechCrunch).  Im not sure where I read it, but I believe Michael Arrington of TechCrunch said it was the exhaustion of the grind that led him to sell more than anything else.

Its the grind. Here we are years into social media. Blogging.  Vertical Social Networks (see Ning). Content creators have been grinding it out chasing the ability to make a living and possibly put some money away for the better part of a decade with little or no success. Rather than continue to 6am to midnight grind, they are revamping or selling. You can’t blame them. At some point every business has to become not only a labor of love, but one that can pay off your credit card dreams as well.

No one wants to live in the content ghetto forever. Below is an article I wrote 4 years ago. its as valid today in concept  as it was back then.

Is the Internet A Long Tail Ghetto ?

Oct 28th 2006 5:38AM

Chris Anderson did a masterful job of identifying and defining The Long Tail back in 2004 in a Wired Article. What i havent seen yet is a definition of when content crosses over from being part of the long tail, and onto the Vert Ramp (The perfect term to steal from skateboarding).

I think trying to define where the Long Tail ends and the Vert Ramp begins is critical, because the fact of the matter is: No Content Creator wants to be on the Long Tail. Anyone who has ever created content realizes that there is a very thick bar a bit above the the base of the Vert Ramp that acts as a content ceiling (thanks to Oliver Luckett for the term). that they are desperately trying to break through in order to get off the long tail and on to the Vert Ramp.

The concept of the content ceiling recognizes that there is a hierarchy that each content creator tries to work their way up.

First content providers, whether podcasters, vloggers, bloggers, movie makers, writers, poets, whatever the content type make the decision of the creation of the content is about love or money. Is the goal of the finished product commercial, or purely personal ?

If the goal is commercial, whether to make money directly or indirectly from the content, then the battle to fight through the Content Ceiling begins.

The bottom line is that people want to get paid for their work. Creators have a vision. They think there is something special about it, and they want to get rewarded for their effort. Its a simple goal in concept, but its incredibly difficult to achieve.

Very few commercial content creators aspire to get 10k aggregate views from all the videohosting sites. Very few bands are happy with having 10k free downloads , or even 10k friends on Myspace as their endgame. Very few commercial content creators aspire to see their creations end up on Community Access TV. All content creators recognize each of these as a way to create incremental demand for their content, in hopes of breaking through the Content Ceiling, but none of these will reward the content creator with direct revenue. For content creators trying to make a living from their work, they all just represent the Long Tail Ghetto.

The first step towards the Vert Ramp and up the hierarchy is to get paid. More and more sites like Revver are creating opportunities for video creators to make money, just as sites like WeedShare.com and CDBaby.com have been doing for music for years. The reality however, is that  very few make minimum wage for their work.

If a content creator gets paid for his/her work, that by itself pulls them out of the longtail of the longtail. Thats how difficult it is.

The next step up the hierarchy comes from breaking out at least once. You got paid enough for your work to think you or your company have a chance to create content full time. It may be a one time reward, or just the first of many rewards. But as long as its just one so far, you are still in the long tail. Still underneath the content ceiling looking up at the Vert Ramp, but at least you lost your financial virginity.

Its for those that have gotten paid that the content ceiling really becomes an issue. At this point, the content creator has had a taste of some level of success and the pressure is on not only to recreate that success in some manner, but also to gain financially from it. Are you a 1 hit wonder, or a meal ticket ?

At this point, in order to fight through the content ceiling almost all content creators look to Big Money for help. Big Money is/are all the people and companies that control distribution and have big bank accounts. They are the people who can elevate the content creators from fearing their lights will be off when they get home, to buying a new house.

For all the talk of the internet changing distribution, the reality is that in order to break through the Content Ceiling and to climb the Vert Ramp, 99.9 pct of content creators are going to do need OPM (Other Peoples Money). The internet alone is not going to get the job done. You can put your content everywhere and anywhere the net allows you to be hosted, but for most people the amount of revenues for that content you had before you started the hosting process will be the exact same as what you have after the hosting process.

This is exactly why media celebrates when someone is discovered on Youtube, or when a contest winner is given a budget to produce a broadband show, or possibly even a TV show for a cable network. They broke out from poverty to primetime. This is exactly why they said yes to production deals and financing. They know that they cant break through the content ceiling without the help. Revver and its peers are working hard to change this, but its far from there.

Its not that signing a deal with a Big Money company guarantees that you will sell enough of your content to break onto the VertRamp. It certainly doesnt. There are plenty of failures with Big Money behind them. However, regardless of content type, if Big Money invests enough of their money and distribution, you chances of being on the VertRamp have increased exponentially.

If you do a deal with Big Money, AND your content sells enough to be on the Vert Ramp of content sales in your genre, you have broken through the content ceiling. The chances are very good that BigMoney will want to work with you again. They have made money from their investment in you. Success breeds success. They will probably come back to you and give you another shot to stay above the content ceiling and climb higher up the Vert Ramp

Once you as a creator have broken through the content ceiling and are on the Vert Ramp, the rules of the game get interesting. In fact, the success of your work, is far more dependeng on Big Money than it is on you. The further up the ramp (unless you reach the very top), the less influence you have in the success of your content. The competition on the Vert Ramp is cut throat. Big Money vs Big Money with enormous stakes. They dont want your help. They want to be Big Money and do what Big Money does. They try to make as much money as possible.

Every Big Money company wants everyone of their products to reach the very top of the Vert Ramp. To be #1 in sales, ratings, viewers, whatever their critical metric is. This is an important definition at this point in time. With all the discussion of the value of views and listens on the internet, it raises the question of just how valuable is a view or listen to a product/company with a product on the Vert Ramp.

The first distinction that needs to be made is a view/listen that Big Money creates versus one that a user creates for Big Money content. Big Money created views/listens are controlled to the liking of Big Money. You only see or hear what they want you to see or hear. So we dont have to identify value there. They do that internally before the content is posted.

User Created uploads of Big Money content , infringing content a user uploads content that belongs to someone else on to a hosting site for open consumption is a different story.

A lot of people feel that user uploads of infringing content is always a good thing. its new or incremental viewership. Its a new fan for a TV show. Its possibly a revenue share o
f advertising. All would seem to be positive. However they are not always positive.

A revenue share might seem great, until you realize that the videohost selling advertising around The Daily Show is competing with the Comedy Central sales force that is selling ads on the TV show, in the cable VOD, on the ComedyCentral.com website, on the mobile distribution of the show, etc, etc. It may also be competing for viewers, with the revenue per user from their website split being lower than what they earn for ads on the TV show itself.

This is a simple example. You can find examples of how it helps and how it hurts for any piece of infringing content. But the real question is; At what point does the copyright owner, usually Big Money, step in and say that they dont want their content being uploaded by users ? Here is a way to get an idea when.

I think there is a correlation between the Vert Ramp and the value of “views” on video hosting sites, or listens on illegal download sites. In fact they are inversions of each other.

Each company has an expectation of where their content will fall on the Vert Ramp. They have a point they consider failure. They have a point they consider break even. They have a point they consider good, not great. They have a point where its a success. Each is a higher and higher point up the Vert Ramp.

If we were to graph that point on the Vert Ramp, the higher up the Vert Ramp the performance is, the less value there is to views of infringing uploaded content . In addition, the higher up the Vert Ramp the performance is, the more likely BIg Money will go after the infringer or host to take down the infringing content. The reason is obvious. The more successful the content, the more confidence Big Money has in its ability to optimize the value of the content to their organization.

The more control Big Money wants over every aspect of the content. Infringing content creates risk to them that can negatively impact value (an exclusive interview on a super popular syndicated talk show that airs at different times around the country). Its not that they always will. Maybe Fox likes the idea of American Idol videos around the net. I dont know. But i do know that they likelihood that they will have questioned it is much higher than say from the producers of a tv show that is underperforming or at risk of cancellation. The more expectations of performance are achieved, the less value a view or listen online is.

On the flipside of course, the lower on the Vert Ramp, the more value of every listen or view. Big Money content that is not meeting expectations lets users do whatever they want with their content in hopes of increasing their metrics past the failure , then break even points. So it wont be unusual to see one company allow content from one show to slide under the radar in terms of copyright violation, while pumping out takedown notices for another show.

I think its an interesting discussion. What is the long tail. What happens when content gets off. What happens to the people who are on it. what is the impact of the internet. Is the only way out of the Internet Long Tail ghetto to work with Big Money ?

Time will tell.


28 thoughts on “Are You a 1 Hit Wonder or a Meal Ticket ?

  1. In the world wide web you can find everthink you like, and you must pay only the connection,that’s ok i think. But one problem i see everybody can upload a information who right or failed so you must testing it’s or not.

    Comment by hochzwei -

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  3. The Internet should be useful and FREE.

    Comment by Business Directory & Services -

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  5. I’m not sure how I can personally profit from this, but it’s a cool idea, so I toss it out. Everyone has taken one of those tests designed to find out what you’re good at or what you’d like to do, and they’re all bogus, but what if one wasn’t? What if it really did qualitatively rank respondents according to what they’d actually be good at, and then assemble small businesses that would take advantage of the abilities of the current small batch (20? 75? 200? 5?) of ‘graduates’. In the simplest form, if you had 5 people really good at doing books, you’d open an accounting firm. More likely your 10, say, would yield 1 engineer, 1 public speaker, 1 chef/cook, 2 IT people, 3 general laborers, and 2 middle managers. What kind of small business would best utilize these skills? I have no idea. So to start this plan, you would first hire a small group of questionnaire designers, surely no more than half a dozen, to compose your survey and half a dozen engineers to crunch the numbers. Then you’d need a few statisticians and business experts to decide what business would fit each batch of potential workers. The beauty of this plan is that not only would it be a profitable enterprise, it would also amount to for-profit philanthropy, since you the business owner would be the genius behind the growth. As for details, each and every business should be completely worker owned within 3-5 years, and maybe an in house training arm should be added to bridge the gap between “has an incredible aptitude for” and “is a hands-on expert” at any given task. This plan would put people to work doing things they are exited about, create hundreds of new small businesses (you could even target the industries you most want promoted, renewable energy or AI, for instance) and build infrastructure, albeit on a small local scale, for emerging industries.
    Again, the only bummer for me is that I dont see where I would fit into this enterprise and profit from it myself, but I was so excited by the idea that I thought i would run it past the only guy likely to take it seriously (if anyone would). Hopefully Mr. Cuban himself will get a look at this if it has any true merit.

    Comment by gurneyhalleck69 -

  6. You are totally right. I like your posts. They are really interessting and very good to read.
    Tom / http://www.tomsbikecorner.de/

    Comment by tim149 -

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  9. blogging for the most part has become less about providing rich, relevant content in an open source environment and and as Peter Kim says…it must be the money!

    only the fittest will survive…just like anything else we’re seeing a market correction! I say hear here! Revamp or scram! GR8 RE-POST MARK!

    We’re making it a GR8 1 !!

    @CosmicGroup

    Comment by MediaEngineer -

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  12. Thanks for the post, Mark.

    It seems to me that the Vertical Ramp/Long Tail Ghetto is a microcosm of business as a whole. There are many first-time entrepreneurs trying to make it big, and when they generate revenue for the first time, it’s a huge reason to celebrate. But afterward, it’s definitely back to the grind and trying to achieve the financial success that you mentioned in your article.

    The Big Money company could be an angel investor or VC firm that is willing to fund you, which could help you explode to another level. (Of course, you could fail as well.)

    Anything it seems challenging to get out of the Longtail Ghetto and break through the Content Ceiling, we should all have faith that the cream always rises to the top.

    Thanks, Mark!

    Justin

    Comment by Justin Hong -

  13. Thanks for the post, Mark.

    It seems to me that the Vertical Ramp/Long Tail Ghetto is a microcosm of business as a whole. There are many first-time entrepreneurs trying to make it big, and when they generate revenue for the first time, it’s a huge reason to celebrate. But afterward, it’s definitely back to the grind and trying to achieve the financial success that you mentioned in your article.

    The Big Money company could be an angel investor or VC firm that is willing to fund you, which could help you explode to another level. (Of course, you could fail as well.)

    Anything it seems challenging to get out of the Longtail Ghetto and break through the Content Ceiling, we should all have faith that the cream always rises to the top.

    Thanks, Mark!

    Justin

    Comment by Justin Hong -

  14. I appreciate Mr. Cuban’s informative article, as well as all the comments people wrote in. Starting out in this business, trying to learn the ins & outs of social media, I do have one advantage; learning from those that already have experience in the game. It’s like sitting on the bench, watching someone else on the court make mistakes, then coming into the game and knowing exactly what you need to do to score. Well, ultimately, being the hero is what I want, if being a ” hero ” is making a living off the web.
    Matt Beeuwsaert

    http://www.zaciswack.com

    Comment by zaciswack -

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  16. After all, I’m in the long tail ghetto called the bowels of the internet along with social networking, so why not tap those resources…

    …in the end, if you want make money making content (which, let’s be honest, we all really want to make money at what we love to do) then we must create some kind of art that is appreciated by a niche or enough people who are willing to throw down cash for your masterpiece; be it chess boards or whatever form and shape your art takes.

    Comment by jstevens2009 -

  17. Mark, you are partially correct, in that no one wants to be on the Long Tail; they want to be in the money. But there’s one exception, and that’s the person trying to build his/her brand, image, and popularity.

    Entrepreneurs see this Long Tail of content as opportunity to gain followers with our products, visions, and projects. Though it’s not enough exposure to be in the money, the exposure is indirectly helpful and reliable to get “in the money” through some other method.

    For example, I’m working on a project that produces custom chess boards from wood materials and my competitive advantage has to do with utilizing today’s programming capability. I will use, as best as possible, my social networking resources and forum/web status to market my vision.

    Creating this value and status takes time, energy, and perseverance; I’m just thinking of my autographed copy of Chris Anderson’s FREE: The Future of a Radical Price… status and reputation economy- I want to leverage this value as best as possible.

    Comment by jstevens2009 -

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  19. The problem here is that everyone who creates content thinks they are a professional. It’s no different than any other industry, look at sports for example. How many professional athletes are out there? Very few, but not every kid who is playing basketball on the streets thinks they are a professional basketball player. Bloggers do.

    TechCrunch is as big as a blog can get. Plain and simple. Gizmodo, Engadget and all the others are right around the same size. All Arrington was doing at this point was digging in the sand – it was a waste of time. You can’t go any deeper. He should have built out Crunchgear and other properties like Gawker. Go wider, not deeper. Build a media company. A single property will result in diminishing returns.

    Arrington sold at a nice value (1/3 Huffpost’s valuation and 1/5th of the traffic) and did the smart thing considering the circumstances.

    Ian Bell
    http://www.digitaltrends.com

    Comment by ianbell330 -

  20. I think that a lot creative content producers have definitely surrendered to the paycheck. There are shows on the air that are flopping like a fish out of water but won’t quit until they’ve milked it for all its worth. They don’t care at all about stopping while they’re ahead and preserving their reputation in history because there’s never any insurance that their next project will get noticed. Not that there ever was, but now more than ever, the chances of getting lost in the clutter are immensely high. I think niche markets and content in the “long tail” are nice and all, but combined with today’s challenges of piracy and file-sharing, the creative industries are flat-out suffering in the hands of new media (economically at least). Those who genuinely make art for fun are loving it; after all, a drumming cat can get more than 1,000,000 views on YouTube faster than a talented band can these days. Those who seek sheer exposure are certainly advantaged, but their work is typically of a lower standard than those who do it professionally. And we can all understand how professional content creators are vulnerable in the long tail.
    The content that is succeeding most are experience-based arts like live concerts or 3D movies. Some industry players are adjusting quickly and skipping the sitting-and-sulking phase, which I think is as commendable as it is bold. Surely some advantageous attempts at industry change will fail, but there needs to be a shift in order to revive spirits, and taking a stab at it is the first step. The long tail is in full swing, and it’s a game-changer than can either be detrimental or extremely beneficial–it just depends on how willing artists are to adjust and take risks. Those who aren’t will fizzle out, and those who are have the potential to completely reinvent a culture-shaping American industry.

    Comment by skyegirl911 -

  21. am amazed at the non talented working

    i have a comedy tv news show 7 years now
    born in america and raised by immigrants

    central casting and gay lesbian bi people
    have blacklisted me from making money working
    because im not a black or a gay but a russian jew

    i have my own players association 2 of them aftra and sag
    unions for actors i’m “Caucasian” still i have less rights
    i have been setup had my voice recorded on job and off job
    i come from and was raised by poor people and was framed up

    since i am jewish and have a tv show, big people in unions
    (much as they hide from admitting thay hate jewish people)
    had me set up on job as a way of getting rid of me forever

    i am better more experienced and hungrier than all actors
    willing to do much more now for less money since no income

    competition (on topic)and setups(using information)is a big reason

    Comment by ajew -

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  23. Mark, I appreciate your VertRamp description. You are describing a real environment, and maybe it’s the distinction I’ve been trying to figure out, a method of delineating the world of indie filmmaking as it exists right now. Perhaps there are VertRamp filmmakers and LongTail filmmakers.

    There is currently a huge gurugasm in the indie film community that only the LongTail is legitimate and the VertRamp with OPM are to be slayed by forced “free” distribution of the creator’s content.

    I speculated about this new world of VertRamp and LongTail in a blog, “Are Closed Cultural Tribes the Last Hope for Artists?” that looks at the situation from a different angle.

    https://michaelrbarnard.wordpress.com/2010/07/25/are-closed-cultural-tribes-the-last-hope-for-artists/

    These are interesting days, especially for indie filmmakers.

    Comment by MichaelRBarnard -

  24. This post is really interesting to me, especially after something that happened with my blog over the past week. This past Saturday, Mr. Cuban tweeted the most recent post on my blog (Thanks, by the way). After the tweet, I had a record day with 3000 page views (the site was completely anonymous except to family and friends before). After this happened, my reaction wasn’t only to think about how I can continue to develop content on my site (which I will do), but how I can make money by using BIG MONEY. Why I made this leap, I don’t know, but my thought was, “if I want to make some money, I need to write something for a newspaper or write a book and get paid.” Actually, what happened is that I started putting a lot of effort into writing a great follow-up post and thought, “if I’m going to put this much effort into something, maybe I can get paid.” The point is that I realized the way to make money to pay down credit cards and pay for a summer vacation is by using BIG MONEY. This would be done alongside publishing content for my blog, and both could synergize to strengthen the other. So I agree with you Mark, eventually bloggers and other content creators need BIG MONEY to make the leap from a one hit wonder to a meal ticket. But since I’m currently a one hit wonder, anyone who’s interested in the post I mentioned above can check out on my blog. It’s titled “7 Priceless Business Quotes from Warren Buffett.” (Ha, sorry, couldn’t resist a shameless plug.)

    Comment by josephwesley -

  25. I think there’s an important caveat that you’re missing. There are different size ramps. The size of the ramp you ride on is determined greatly by your lifestyle. The gift of living modestly means that you can use a smaller ramp and do something you love doing.

    At least that’s my experience as a person whose blogs sustain my family and me. Plus, the ramps vary in size based on the niches you choose to ride. There’s incredible value in dominating a niche online. I’ve done so in a couple niches with 0 marketing dollars and $7/month hosting. Not bad.

    John

    http://www.crashutah.com/about/

    Comment by sytycd -

  26. There are a handful of youtube artists who make money by selling ads during their videos. In that realm they are controlling advertising content and still creating their own content.

    Eventually, Big media may come a knocking simply because the youtube artists have demonstrated the ability to generate a profit without them.

    Comment by Alessandro Machi -

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  28. I agree. I founded Streetball.com in 2006. Despite the ups and downs, we had a nice community of 350,000K and 1.9million pageviews. In order to take it to where it needs to be, we need to partner with a larger organization or OPM without “selling” out to who we are.
    ryan

    Comment by ryanmendezstreetball -

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