What Do I Know
Email to current web client.
Hello young internet moguls..
I would like you two to mull something over. (No, I'm not going to suggest you don't sell stuff. I think you *should* sell stuff.) Take some time to toss it around before even thinking about a yes or no. Give it a day or so... Discuss... Call me... Write me...
Also, I'm not going to insult you and write "In my opinion" before each sentence as we are adults and should know that OF COURSE IT'S MY OPINION!!!! And another thing. I figure you know everything I'm saying. It's not meant to be condescending (that means "talk down to") but just to.. you know... make points or something.
Ado no further - my thoughts:
What I know about The Internets:
Attention spans are short. Everything is free. Quality is rewarded.
And, as evidenced by the three previous sentences: sweeping generalizations are the norm.
1. Quality is rewarded:
Google makes great stuff. Google hires the best people, lets them work the way they want to work yet expect their products to be better than anyone else's. Even if the general public don't like or use a product. If you do any thinking about web services (I do quite a bit of it) and you think about google, you know that their stuff is going to be awesome and will only get better. And, if they do happen to make something that sucks ass in the bad way, they'll cop to it and either remove it or make it better. They've created an empire.
I imagine that this is somewhat the way you're going to operate your site. You'll be attracting the best and the brightest and let the crap float away or be improved upon. The "brand" will then be ass-ociated with quality. The folks who make crap will then be too intimidated to approach you and the best and brightest will be more inclined to use you as a web distribution channel.
Thinking about google vs. Microsoft, (who I also admire, actually), you see a huge difference. Microsoft seems byzantine, costly, corporate in the worst sense and bureaucratic vs. google's streamlined, simple, consumer-friendly and generally "nice" image. It's even reflected on their web sites. Trying to locate something at Microsoft is an exercise in clicking. Google's home page has their main feature prominently displayed and all of their other stuff readily available. It's soooo sweet.
2. Everything is free.
Right or wrong, this is the case. Your site is being built in Ruby, a free, open-source programming language. We considered building in PHP, another free, open source language. The cool thing about open source software is that many of the creators do it so you can use their free stuff to make money. What people who pirate software and music (dude, music wants to be free...) don't seem to get is that it costs money to create something of value. Even more important, quality is rewarded. But, there's a difficulty in trying to get what you deserve. It's a tough PR position. Look at Google vs. Microsoft. Metallica vs. Radiohead.
Selling music and film online is tough. No one's really figured it out. NBC just left iTunes and as peer to peer software gets easier to work, the average person is not going to see the point in paying for premium content.
I acted in a "series" for superdeluxe. They have budgets (small) and attract good talent. Their stuff is, as that annoying mattress guy says "FREE!!!"
YouTube. Revver. MySpace and all those other online video places. Free.
The numbers in Smut, the industry that created the internet, are beginning to drop because of all of the free smut content online. redtube, megarotic, pornotube and at least sixty bazillion other sites all contain free, current naughtiness of the highest caliber.
Waaayyyy back in 1998, you could make a million bucks a year posting 50 shots of a naked chick a month and charge a 49.99/month subscription fee. The market has been glutted so they're doing daily live chats, blowjob giveaways and more. (or so I hear. as a mormon child of jesus, I shun all pornography and all of satan's temptations such as women in general)
Which is why premium content has got to be really, really, really premium.
3. Attention spans are short.
The sites that are the most popular are the ones where you get in, get what you want and get out.
Google: "i need all the web addresses of lesbian goth golf clubs in downtown san francisco"
IMDB: "who won the best sound editor oscar the year i was born"
deancameron.com: "when was i born?"
Lots of clicking around and hoop jumping is a turn-off. There is an entire industry now devoted to making it so the user doesn't have to read instructions or click too many times.
My point... Finally...
I suggest you start out offering a subscription area instead of a per-unit sale model.
There are lots of reasons to do this. And, obviously, I think they outweigh the reasons to use a per-unit model or I wouldn't have written this stupid-long email.
You can keep a cache of content. It will make your site sticky instead of people being bombarded with an enormous list of the same stuff each and every time they come to you.
Instead of spending hours and hours setting prices, product IDs, remembering how to tag each film etc. you tag something for sale or not for sale.
Same for keeping track of sales. Say the site earns $500 in february, you make your disbursement equally among your content providers. Ass-uming you planned on paying your providers once they hit a certain amount, you won't have to keep track of 2 dollar pay periods. You end every pay period free and clear with each one of your providers.
If someone's not selling, you don't want them stuck on your site with their stale content. You can keep them on the free area or set them a-sea.
Yes, of course it's easier to program but not that much. The difference in the time you'll spend maintaining it will be night and day. Hours a month vs. hours per day.
Once the site begins going gangbusters you move to a per-item model. It's done all the time.
As a matter of fact... tightcircle was a money-making venture because people grew to love the service which wasn't even understood when it began so much that $36/year was worth it to them. And that trust from the users to the service was one of the things attracting the folks who ended up buying tightcircle (and subsequently not doing a damned thing with it...)
Subscription will also motivate your providers to pimp the site all the time and provide great stuff. You might want to make the numbers available to them. If they see someone getting 1 download to their 20, pressure will be put on the 1 download guy to step it up instead of the 1 download guy saying "aw screw it... i'll just leave the thing up there. someone's bound to buy it someday... what do I care?" I know how gossipy the comedy world is. If everyone's participating in everyone's profit, everyone will push harder. Reward it.
So that's that... Make sense? It's quite late now, so it may have gone off into a miasma of madness.