Over A Half-Million YouTube Video Views Means?

A year and a half ago I launched a new how-to website, IFITJAMS.COM, to find out if the advice I have been giving about creating a content based website was still relevant. I've written about the progress of that website as it passed various milestones, and this weekend, the little videos I shot while doing car repairs went over a half million views on YouTube. Unlike the little video lectures on self publishing that between preparation and multiple takes take me a couple hours, the car repair videos were done in the amount of time it took to shoot them, between thirty seconds and a few minutes.

Breaking the half million mark for video views is obviously an arbitrary milestone. What triggered me to make it the subject of an update was that I read all of the comments on the videos and censored (eliminated) the ones using foul language or wasting space through unrelated assertions of individuality. I left the criticism, and I learned a few things from it. First of all, the most popular criticism (thumbs up added by other viewers) was that I didn't title the videos in series. If I had four or five videos on repairing a stuck emergency brake, I didn't title them with a common phrase and #1, #2, #3, #4, #5. My reasoning was that the videos were all embedded in a web page I created about stuck emergency brakes, and my previous experience with the self publishing videos indicated that most of the viewers would view the videos embedded in my web pages. That didn't turn out to be the case for the car repair videos which are primarily discovered by people visiting YouTube.

YouTubers tend to ignore the text on the YouTube page explaining where the videos are from, ignore video caption telling them more information is available on the website, and ignore the fact I open and close the audio portion with the name of the website. Serious YouTube users see YouTube as the center of the universe and they send questions through private messages that I only remember to check every couple months. A little over 400 people a month click through to my site through the link on YouTube, another 200 find the site by searching on IFITJAMS or IF IT JAMS, and Google Analytics reports about 1,500 direct visitors a month, some of whom may be typing IFITJAMS.COM into the browser. But those are relatively small numbers compared to more than 500 visitors a day who find the site through text search, or the 2,000 people a day watching the videos on YouTube.

Many viewers offer constructive criticisms that would have been very useful had I created the website and video channel with a business in mind. As repairing cars is an occasional hobby of necessity for me rather than a business or an area in which I plan on publishing books, I don't have much motivation to jump through hoops for viewers who wish the videos were longer, shot differently, or covered subjects in which they have more interest. Sorry about that. Another interesting fact, at least for my channel, is that the wise-acre comments tend to get thumbs-up votes from other viewers. If the viewership was mainly kids, I would think that normal, but it turns out that the viewership is primarily guys my age!

At the current rate of around 2,000 views a day, YouTube is doing more for the IFITJAMS brand than the website, which averages around 750 unique visitors a day. I can't report on a conversion rate for all the IFITJAMS exposure because there's nothing for sale, but if there was a business behind this experiment, it's self evident it would be doing better than an identical business without the YouTube exposure.

So the question that remains is whether your publishing company has books for which you can create videos as a marketing tool. I would suggest yes, in almost all cases. The only question is the efficiency of that effort. If you produce videos about a book on some esoteric subject that only a dozen people a year search for on YouTube, you have a great shot at reaching those dozen people with the right title, but it's probably not worth the effort. YouTube is just another form of publishing where if you don't give the people what they want, you might meet critical acclaim, but you won't get any sales. So before you create a video for YouTube, spend some time searching the site for videos that have some similarity or relationship to what you are planning, and if those videos aren't drawing thousands and thousands of views, or if there aren't any, change your plans.

eBook Piracy And The Moral Hazard Of DMCA

Through protecting “innocent infringers”, the Digital Millenium Copyright Act has done more to encourage Internet piracy than the invention of the file server. It’s no surprise to anybody that recently revealed court filings show YouTube’s founders were well aware of the massive infringements on their website, and in the case of founder Jawed Karim, actually uploading pirated videos. Perhaps, as many have argued, today’s Internet piracy is a disease of immaturity and poverty. But I think it’s more likely a symptom of the DMCA which puts the burden of proof on the victim, over and over and over again, with no penalty or shame falling on the serial “innocent” infringer. A law that protects reckless and illegal behavior by businesses is a fair definition of a moral hazard.

If Google didn’t index these piracy sites, the DMCA ensures that the other search engines would, and that many people would defect to them. The same holds true for the “legitimate” file sharing sites like ScribD and YouTube whose early growth was supported through large-scale copyright infringements. As long as enabling copyright infringement on a massive scale is viewed as an innocent activity, any Internet based corporation foregoing the opportunity for free content is ignoring its fiduciary obligation to its shareholders. Setting up a website for pirated eBooks (while protesting one’s innocent intentions with a DMCA link) is a great growth industry. The graph below shows a fairly new download site I never heard of before last week. It will soon be one of the top 500 websites in the world, according to Alexa. A good chunk of their traffic comes from search, some of which is supported by illegal copies of my eBooks.

The damage done DMCA in encouraging the widespread dissemination of illegal copies of digital works goes beyond the erosion of rights-holders earnings and the moral hazard for infringers. Innocent people using Google to search for books can be steered to pirate sites without understanding that they are infringing on copyright. That’s why I still go to the trouble of filing DMCA takedown notices with “legitimate” sites like ScribD, where a normal person could believe they are downloading an eBook that the author and publisher decided to offer for free. The version of my laptop workbook that I requested ScribD remove last week had been edited to remove my name, which had been replaced with:

and the entire copyright and license agreement page was replaced with:

Another problem with the moral neutrality of search engines is the indexing of file sharing sites which are likely to infect the user’s computer. You might think I would find it amusing for somebody trying to steal my computer troubleshooting books to end up buried in malware, but I don’t like seeing my work used as a stalking horse. I have too much respect for the technical talent at Google to believe that they couldn’t filter out these results in real time with their own malware site detection algorithm, which is why I attribute those results to the moral hazard of DMCA and the abdication of responsibility to do right. The results with the double exclamation points were judged potentially dangerous by AVG. Sometimes, not being evil just isn’t enough:

Any author or publisher of eBooks with an audience can do a search to see how many sites are using the lure of pirated versions of the eBooks to attract traffic. Just Google the title of an eBook in quotes, followed by the word “download” and tell Google to limit the results to the last 24 hours through the "options" link. During the occasional waves of piracy that sweep over my eBooks, the new notifications for potential downloads reach into the hundreds per day. But it’s a little trickier to find out how many people are intentionally (traditional spelling) searching for pirated eBooks. One rough measure is simply to start typing the title of the eBook and see what suggestions Google’s auto-complete function comes up with, as in:

Unless you’ve chosen to release your eBook for free, seeing the title paired with “torrent” or “rapidshare” is a bad thing. But to get some hard numbers, though dated from some previous month, I suggest the Google’s Adwords KeyWord tool. The results below are from the month of February, before the wave of new infringements that caused the number of webpages referring to a downloads of the laptop eBook to jump. That search gives an idea of the number of people who know exactly what they are looking for, vs the ones who might have heard about the book somewhere and want to learn more about it or even to make a legitimate purchase:

Ironically, freedom loving piracy sites never make the PDF versions of eBooks directly available to search engines for indexing. The reason? If search engines sent seekers directly to the downloadable eBook, the pirate site would lose the opportunity to show advertising and end up paying for bandwidth with no financial return. Pirate sites can’t embed advertising in the stolen eBooks without taking the legal risk that the DMCA would no longer protect their infringements. I say “risk” because it’s possible that by automating the addition of advertisements to all files uploaded, a sharing site could to maintain a gauziest veil of legal innocence under DMCA.

In the short term, I look at the piracy issue from the standpoint that the Internet giveth and the Internet taketh away. Whether or not I’ll continue bringing out new editions of the books that are popular piracy targets in the future depends in part on whether sales of the paperbacks and the legal eBooks justify the investment. If piracy impacts sales to the point that new editions aren’t logical, I’m not publishing for the sake of advertising supported piracy. And while I don’t laugh at people getting viruses in the process of ripping me off, I might find it amusing to Google around a bit in a couple years and see how many piracy forum wish lists I can find where people have requested the new edition of Rosenthal’s book. They may have a long wait.

Cooking Up A New Social Blog - For Loners

As the Blogger deadline for cutting off FTP access for blogs like mine nears, I've started looking into alternative platforms for Self Publishing 2.0. But my new blog is more than a test for the WordPress software, it's also an attempt to use blogging as it's intended, as a social networking tool rather than as a content management tool. You can check it out at (I initially gave the wrong link when I posted:-)

From the technical standpoint, it's the first time I've offered e-mail subscription to a blog, (though you don't get the pictures that way), and included a Blogroll. More on that in a minute. I even created a custom graphic for the look:

The problem came with the subject. What do I know enough about that I can write something every day without putting myself to sleep? I concluded that the one subject I should really be able to hit out of the park is going through life alone. I realized I might have a different take on the subject when it came up in conversation a while back that I don't have a table for eating. I've been eating off my lap for the last dozen years because there's nobody to tell me not to.

I've written a handful of posts over the past week while learning the WordPress software, but I haven't hit my stride on the tone yet. It won't be a glorification of living alone which I see as a second class existence at best. I'm more interested in the cooking tricks and time trials of living alone, never having somebody to call to come pick you up. I'll also write about being in business alone, which has upsides and downsides and probably a wider audience. So my clear vision for the blog is a place for people to be alone ...... together. Huh?

Which brings us back to the problem of the Blogroll. There are plenty of blogs about business and finance that I can include, most are essentially giving advice to individuals, but I couldn't find a single blog about living alone that wasn't the result of a death or divorce. I'm interested adding blogs by people who are living alone because like me, that's all they know. I don't understand why I haven't found any yet, could they all be ashamed?

Let me know if you have any Blogroll candidates for me, I'm still looking.

Low Cost Digital Publishing Experiments

I've taken quite a few photographs in my life, and between the series of how-to books written for McGraw-Hill and my websites, I've published over a thousand of them. One of the things I've learned is that panoramic pictures almost never capture the same feeling you get when you're looking at some distant attraction. It cost me dozens of rolls of 35 mm film and hundreds of dollars in developing to learn how to frame photographs in the view finder so the final print didn't shout - "Why didn't you move closer, dummy!"

Then the new millennia arrived, and in 2000 I bought a Olympus D-360L, a 1.3 Megapixel camera with no zoom for $300. It took me a couple days to really internalize the fact that taking photographs was now very cheap. In fact, the more I've used the camera over the years, the cheaper each individual photograph costs as it's amortized against the original $300 purchase. I almost feel like NOT taking photographs is costing me money.

Web sites follow the same economics as digital cameras. Once you're paying for a website, adding web pages doesn't cost anything extra. It's NOT adding web pages that makes a website site seem like a waste of money. Starting a website with a half dozen pre-planned pages and never updating it is like buying a digital camera and never even filling up the memory card. Imagine if you had a friend who claimed to be a big photography buff, and every time you visited he just showed you the same half dozen photographs. How often would you go visit him?

The primary value of all this digital stuff to publishers is that it makes it cheap to experiment. Whether you're talking about blogs, eBooks, print-on-demand, eMail newsletters, videos or podcasts, production cost is limited to the first copy. Reproduction, as pirates all know, is basically free. That's why I'm such a strong advocate of the incremental approach to publishing. Why tie up all of your time and money in creating a comprehensive work before you know how it will be received? Take it a web page at a time, see what interests your readers, try to find a compromise between what people want and what you want to give them. The old publishing world said, "It's our way or the highway." On the Internet, the highway is just a click away, so try to unbend a little.

Unfortunately, the ease of creating digital products has led to quite a few con artists "publishing" eBooks that serve no purpose other than enriching the publisher. All it takes is a good sales pitch and some cut-and-pasted together garbage so that the buyer doesn't cry "Fraud" and reverse the charges through their credit card company.

Besides, some of the best digital publishing experiments involve giving work away for free. I try writing about new subjects on a regular basis to see whether there's enough interest for me to start thinking about writing a book, and if that writing isn't always top-notch, at least I'm not charging anything for it. And sometimes the results of a digital experiment will even surprise me. For example, I've known for a decade that my hands are too shaky to take photographs at night (the exposure time is long even for a digital camera), and I know that taking pictures of celestial bodies is a waste of time. But I made the experiment on a bright moon shining through the clouds the other night and was impressed with the result. Click on the small picture for the full size version.