Yahoo’s Strange Reverse Economics

I tried to write this for the Yahoo! Content Network, which is explained below. But they rejected it (and took a week or so to do so), so most of what you’re reading is illustrative and not accurate. (You’ll see.) The point still holds, so I’ve published it below the screenshot of the rejection email.

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You’re reading this via Yahoo!’s Contributor Network. It’s a biproduct of a company called Associated Content (here’s their Wikipedia entry) which Yahoo! bought two years ago this week for about $90 million. The way it works? People like me — random, basically anonymous people in the eyes of Yahoo! — go tovoices.yahoo.com, click to sign up, and start writing. (It takes a few minutes; I joined the Contributor Network about three minutes before writing this sentence.) If your article is accepted, Yahoo! will pay you, and the rates actually aren’t terrible. Well, the flat rate is, at $2 to $15 for an unsolicited piece like this one, max, and many get $0. But there’s a “performance” rate too. A post on the Voices network could get you $2 CPM — that’s $2 per 1000 pageviews — which isn’t bad at all for basically random content.

But I’m not writing this here for the handful of quarters that this may earn. I’m writing it here to demonstrate a point. Like most everything else I’ve written to date, if anyone reads this, it’s going to be because I’ve tried to bring the first round of readers to this article. There’s little chance of this being featured by Yahoo! (especially because of the topic, but put that aside). Yahoo! sees value in whatever traffic I bring in, and that’s really the only reason they’re allowing it to be published here.

Yahoo!, of course, has professional writers who create the content for Yahoo! News and the rest of their network. Take, for example, this article about Taylor Swift not being a Justin Bieber fan. Yahoo! paid the writer to write that, and, I assume, the author isn’t the one driving traffic there. It’s coming from the omg.yahoo.com front page; that’s why it has dozens of comments in about an hour and a half. And here’s another bet I’m willing to make: Yahoo! pays that writer a lot more than the functional equivalent of the $2 to $15 flat rate she’d get if it were a left-for-dead Y! Contributor Network article. And how much traffic does she have to drive to earn any money? Zero.

In short: Yahoo! pays more for writers than it does for traffic drivers.

This is a very traditional route, akin to what the New York Times and legacy media companies do, but it doesn’t make a lot sense in the digital, massively defragmented world Yahoo! actually exists in. Most articles that they feature are increasingly a commodity, yet they pay those top dollar. On the other side, there are individual with audiences who are willing to send those audiences to Yahoo!’s sites — and therefore, to Y!’s ad impressions — for a cut.

But instead of embracing this, Yahoo! seems to be running away. They just bought Tumblr for two orders of magnitude more than they paid for Associated Content, and there’s little reason to believe that any of the Tumblr bloggers. Most Tumblr bloggers shouldn’t get paid, of course, just like most random essays written on the Y! Contributors Network won’t garner any pageviews and therefore won’t earn any pennies. But there are a few Tumblr users who have really large audiences. Take this guy, for example, who writes for four different sports Tumblrs with more than half a million followers each. At this point, he could pretty easily drive thousands of page views a day just by producing content within the Yahoo-owned Tumblr ecosystem. But will Yahoo! pay him for it?

I doubt it. What he does is a lot more valuable than this article. But if you’re reading this, I’m getting paid.

This is backward. Yahoo! should find a way to pay the traffic drivers, not (just) the writers.

Originally published on May 27, 2013

Reversing the “Write For Free, Gain Exposure!” Offer

“We’d love to have you write for us. We can’t pay you, but it’d be great exposure for your work!”

If you’ve tried to write for someone else online, you’ve probably heard that offer. It may be worth it, it may not be. It all depends. I’ve done it many times while building Now I Know, and it definitely helped. (And if the opportunity were right, the below notwithstanding, I’d do it again.) But your experience may differ.

Now that I’ve gotten a lot of “great exposure,” though, I’m making an offer to potential publishers.

I’ve love to write for you. You have to pay me, but it’d be great exposure for your publication!

Here’s how it works.

1) You tell me you want to write for you.

2) I come up with some potential topics. You pick one.

3) We figure out how much you’re going to pay me.

4) I write. You publish. I promote my work.

Pretty simple.

I’m pretty good at driving traffic to what I write. My email newsletter has 85,000 or so subscribers, so I can plug it there if appropriate — and, because I’m the one writing whatever we collectively come up with, it probably is. And even outside of that, I’m pretty good at getting attention for the things I work on.

Proof? Google “dan lewis google reader petition” for example. I didn’t promote that on the newsletter, but it received 150,000 signatures and all that press. I wrote about how I found out about an island nation that ran out of bird poop: 2,700 pageviews.  I explained why I think the backlash to Zach Braff and Amanda Palmer’s  Kickstarters is no big deal: 14,000 pageviews, and Palmer herself read it. And I taught my 5 year old about square roots: 40,000 pageviews. I can bring exposure.

So, let’s reverse the offer. I write — that part stays the same — but you pay for exposure. Interested? Shoot me an email. dan.lewis at gmail.

Originally published on May 22, 2013

The Shep Diagram and Data in the Digital Age

I originally published this on Beyond The Boxscore, here.

One of the cooler things that has emerged this season is the “Shep Diagram,” a series of animated images/video layered into one. It began about a week ago when a reddit user named DShep created the image below. The image was picked up by Deadspin and FanGraphs and a bunch of other places because its incredible, but also because it shows how incredible Yu Darvish is due in part to his consistent release point.

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(If that doesn’t animate, click here.)

Just a day or two ago, MLB Network created their own Shep Diagram for Justin Verlander — watch it here — showing how four of his pitches can look the same coming out of his hand. This method of displaying information is relatively new, but it is taking off fast, in large part because it feels useful nearly immediately.

We haven’t seen data displayed like this much in the past. Sure, we have heat maps and PitchFX data etc., but it’s rare that we’re using actual game footage in this manner. Take, for example, this 2010 New York Times Interactive piece on Mariano Rivera’s effectiveness. They show us a computer-generated representation of over 2000 pitches, and at the time (and now), it’s an incredible way to look at the game. As the Shep Diagram demonstrates, though, it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Fifteen years ago, we were just at the beginning of the era where digital publishing tools and broadband access were enabling the growth of user-generated content. The skill set of the people who were able to gain access to those tools included literacy and a basic understanding of math, and because of that, we have a wealth of ways to explore baseball via words, spreadsheets, and formulas. As tools and skill sets involving digital video editing become better and more mainstream, hopefully we’ll see more things like the Shep Diagram above. A picture is worth 1,000 words; these things are worth ten times that.

Originally published on May 2, 2013

Runs Produced, Ground Rule Doubles, and the Internet Hits a Homer

This is about baseball. It’s also about digital media, but it won’t make sense if you don’t understand baseball.

In the early to mid 1990s, USA Today had this weekly paper called Baseball Weekly. Now it’s Sports Weekly and irrelevant, but at the time, it was groundbreaking — a must-have for a baseball fan. Fantasy baseball was picking up steam at the time and they had ad after ad for the call in, pay-for-transactions leagues which I don’t think exist anymore.

Baseball Weekly, for a time, had a stat called “Runs Produced.” Runs scored (RS) plus Runs Batted In (RBI) minus Home Runs (HR). Runs Produced wasn’t new. Bill James, a forefather of advanced baseball stats (“sabermetrics,” usually), mentioned it in his 1987 annual, and considered it old and wrong. But it stuck around for decades. I recall hearing Mike and the Mad Dog (back when they were still a team) on WFAN discussing it as recently as ten years ago. In 2007, Tom Tango, a guy in the upper echelons of the advanced baseball stats world, wrote this article discussing Runs Produced. The stat, though, is junk, and you’ll have a hard time trying to find anyone who still uses it.

Runs Produced assumes that the batter’s only job is to produce runs. That makes sense — and even modern, advanced metrics make that assumption. But at the time Runs Produced was conceived, two of the core stats collected were “runs scored” and “RBI.” Both spoke to the idea of a player producing a run, either by crossing home plate (RS) or by getting the hit that allowed the runner to do that (RBI). But a home run did both of those, so to avoid double-counting, Runs Produced sums RS and RBI and subtracts out HR. The narrative, on its face, makes sense. Especially when Mike and the Mad Dog take up a dozen minutes of air time to explain it.

But imagine the following two situations:

1) A batter hits a home run. One RS, one RBI, one HR — that’s 1+1-1 = 1 Run Produced.

2) The first batter of the inning walks. The next one, we’ll call him ScoringGuy, hits into a fielder’s choice — the guy who was on first is out at second, and ScoringGuy is safe at first. The guy after him hits a ground rule double, moving ScoringGuy to third. The next batter, BattingInGuy, hits a weak grounder up the first base line, grounding out — but ScoringGuy (and the runner on second) advance in the process. That’s a run for ScoringGuy and an RBI for BattingInGuy. Both ScoringGuy and BattingInGuy “earned” one Run Produced.

The first obvious flaw here is that both ScoringGuy and BattingInGuy did very little to produce that run. ScoringGuy ended up on first base by fluke, replacing the guy before him; BattingInGuy’s weak dribbler only ended up scoring a run because of another fluke — there happened to be a guy on third with fewer than two outs. Both get a Run Produced, but the person who did the yeoman’s work in the inning — the guy who hit the ground rule double — gets nothing.

The other obvious flaw is that the batter who hit a home run in situation one did a lot more than BattingInGuy and ScoringGuy, but all three get the same +1 Run Produced.

The third flaw, which is less obvious, is that situation #1 gave us +1 Run Produced and one run on the scoreboard, which is right. But situation #2 gave us +2 Runs Produced… and, also, only one run on the scoreboard.

In total, we end up with a stat which really makes no sense. So why didn’t Runs Produced die for decades?

My guess is that the proponents of the stat were media people who used it for some reason or another, and they had the power of the last word. Mike and the Mad Dog, for example, were never going to debate some caller about, well, anything. The hosts talk with the random caller for a few minutes, hang up, and then continue on. It’s not a fair fight. The Internet, of course, changed that, as those who objected to Runs Produced finally had a way to repeatedly and constantly push back. Sure, they couldn’t argue on WFAN, but they no longer had to, because the audience was everywhere, and not just tuned into the radio.

Now: imagine someone from media’s old guard tried to come up with a modern, ridiculous replacement for Runs Produced. (It isn’t hard to imagine.) In order for it to be adopted, the contrarians who killed Runs Produced — the Internet riffraff — now have to adopt it. We all know it’s a new world, at least insofar as the marketplace of ideas is concerned. But do we realize how new, yet?

Originally published on May 1, 2013

Declaring Myself for the 2013 MLB Draft*

In June, Major League Baseball will hold its annual “First Player Draft.” I’m ineligible, because I could have been drafted in 2000 but wasn’t, and therefore, am effectively a free agent, able to sign with any team which wants me. But let’s put that aside and, for sake of discussion, assume that I’m just as draft-eligible as anyone else.

If any MLB team wants to draft me, great! Here are my demands:

1. I want a $50,000 signing bonus.

2. I will retire the next day.

3. I will only sign with the Mets.

This is a great deal for the Mets and I hope they take it. Seriously. 1

Why?

Starting last year, MLB instituted this weird slotting/cap/tax system. Before last year’s draft, BaseballAmerica explained it well:

[Every pick in the first ten rounds is assigned a dollar amount.] A team’s total budget for the first 10 rounds is the sum of the numbers for all of its picks, so teams that have extra picks and early picks have more money to spend. The Twins have the highest budget this year, with the second overall pick as well as extra picks.

Teams can spread the money among their picks in the top 10 rounds in different ways so long as they stay under the total budget. For example, the Astros could sign their No. 1 pick [assigned a value of $7.2 million] for $5.2 million and spread the extra $2 million among other players. However, if a team fails to sign a player, it cannot apply the budgeted amount for that pick to other players and loses that amount from its overall budget.

See the loophole? If a draftee signs for less than the amount allocated, the team can use the overage on other players. But if a draftee fails to sign, that money goes away. (That happened to the Mets last year with the 75th overall pick when Teddy Stankiewicz didn’t sign.) This year, the Mets have the 76th pick (among many others), which should have an allocation of about $650,000 to $700,000. I propose that the Mets draft me, give me $50,000, and use the remaining $600k or so to sign actual players at amounts above their allocation.

This is, relatively speaking, a huge amount of money. The Mets have the 11th overall pick in 2013. In 2012, that pick was allocated $2.550 million. An extra $600k would bump that to over $3.1 million, which is around where picks 6 and 7 were. Being able to go over slot on a player there could allow the team to land someone who would otherwise be out of reach. Or, the team could use that money to effectively double the signing bonus for the guy they take at #84. There are lots of possibilities.

Unfortunately for me, I’m not draft eligible, though. But there are plenty of college seniors who are, and given the economy and their job prospects, this would be a pretty great thing for one of them.

Plus, I love a good loophole.

 

 

Update: Apparently, MLB already is on to this, and issued a memo threatening to void any picks which reek of this idea. Oh well.

Notes:

  1. Had I been draft eligible, I mean.
Originally published on April 29, 2013

Zach Braff, Amanda Palmer, and the New 90-9-1 Rule: The Indifferent, the Haters, and the Ones who Love You.

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Zach Braff is going to raise over $2 million for a movie without a distributor, without a studio, and really, without anything more than a kind of strange pitch video.

For almost everyone, that’s a lot of money — a real lot, given that it’s hit that point in just a few days. But Zach Braff has money, of course; he starred in Scrubs and wrote, directed, and starred in Garden State, which made $35 million in the box office. He’s got money, and probably enough to make another movie. Regardless, he has access, name recognition, and all the other stuff that the “almost everyone” crowd lacks. Which is why there’s significant backlash against the project.

Amanda Palmer is in the same boat. Name recognition, access, and already a success, she’s a Kickstarter wunderkind now being mocked.

Good. Because they don’t need everyone to like them to be successful.

* * *

510px-1percentrule.svg

There’s an informal rule of online communities called the 90-9-1 principle. 1% of the user base creates the vast majority of the content; 9% dabbles; 90% participate only in minor amounts if at all. The point is that you don’t need a whole lot of people to participate in order to create something pretty impressive. 1 That’s how Wikipedia became the behemoth it is today.

The funding of content can — and, I think will — follow the same pattern. Once a person has a large enough following 2, you can fund basically anything you’d like. Braff has only 28,000 backers of the above-cited Kickstarter, which is much less than the 1% of the weekly viewership of Scrubs, for example. The traditional 90-9-1 principle applies here, as a very small amount of backers are (via their dollars) creating something for the 90.

But what about the haters? That requires another 90-9-1 rule.

* * *

I’m going to go out on a very tiny limb here: Braff is going to get to make his movie, and pocket a significant (to a normal person) amount of money for himself. Similarly, Amanda Palmer can raise six or seven figures for a new album whenever she wants. But more importantly, they can sell the risk to their fans. Compare what they’re doing/did to Louis CK’s $5 download or Andrew Sullivan’s decision to go indy. Braff and Palmer didn’t make the content and then sell it. They didn’t quit their jobs and go on their own. They make their art conditional on it finding dollars, not the other way around.

People who don’t particularly like Louis CK or Andrew Sullivan haven’t taken up arms against their declarations of independence with anywhere near the fervor that we’ve seen for Braff and Palmer. 3 It makes a lot of sense that there’s backlash against the latter because of two simple facts:

1. They’re rich, an better able to shoulder that risk than the rest of us, who typically aren’t rich.

2. They don’t need to sell that risk in order to make what they want to make.

Point one there requires very little explanation, if any. The second one, though, probably does. The operative word is “make.” They could have made their film or album — the question is, could they sell it? If Braff wanted to make his “Wish I Was Here” movie 4, he could have. That’s true even if he wanted to make it without anyone else having final approval over what went into the movie and what got cut. He could have self-financed, found out-of-industry investors, or taken on debt. Most of us don’t have the wealth, reputation, or connections to do that, but he clearly does; that’s how he created Garden State. I don’t really know what happened with Amanda Palmer, but I’d be surprised if she didn’t have a way to fund the creation of the album she wished.

Traditionally, artists don’t take this risk. The publisher or label or studio does; the artist by and large gets paid either way. Louis CK and Andrew Sullivan are breaking the mold pretty dramatically here when you look at it from that vantage point. On the flipside, it kind of makes sense that Braff and Palmer don’t want to be in that seat. Generations of artists simply haven’t.

On top of that, the upside from going indy is big. They don’t have to pay for a ton of overhead relative to traditional methods, the costs are much lower. There are many fewer stakeholders in the project, they receive a higher percentage of the payout. But we already knew that.

Combine that, though, with the ability to sell your risk to your fans, and we’re onto something big. (That’s really Kickstarter’s whole thesis.) If you have a few million fans and 1% of them pony up $100 on average, you’re golden.

But again, what about the haters?

The vast majority of people in the U.S. have no idea who Amanda Palmer is. More know who Zack Braff is, but there are 300-something million of us at, at its peak, Scrubs only (“only!”) had 15 million viewers. That’s your first 90% — the group of the addressable market (TV owners? movie goers?) who are indifferent to or unaware of the artist. They just don’t matter, at least not insofar as funding the content is concerned. 5 Your fans are the 1%. A small fraction of them (1% of the 1%) will fund the creation of the content, and the rest of them will likely buy it once it’s made, unless it sucks. 6 And then there’s the haters. As long as they’re a relatively small group — even if they’re much, much larger than your true fans — you’re probably OK. That’s the 9%. Like the original 90-9-1 principle, the actual percentages are made up; they’re demonstrative of the underlying theory.

In the end, the fans matter and the antagonists — unless there is an absolutely enormous amount of them — simply don’t.

———

Notes:

  1. The 1% isn’t intended to be accurate; rather, it’s demonstrative. In the case of Wikipedia, it is certainly overstated. If you look at the growth of Wikipedia (see the graph here) you’ll note that it crossed 1 million articles in early 2006. About 70% of the US population was online by then — that’s about 200 ml\illion Americans.. But there were only about 50,000 active editors on Wikipedia in 2006. If that’s 1% of the Wikipedia readership, then only 5 million of that 200 million (2.5%)- nowhere near the reality at the time.
  2. I realize this is a big given. Few people have the following of a Zach Braff or Amanda Palmer, and in both those cases, they developed their audiences only after a major entertainment brand or two “discovered” them and made them famous. A large part of the backlash against them is due to this. I see this as a temporary problem ripe for disruption and *not* a true barrier to entry for the heretofore undiscovered creators. But that’s a story for another day.
  3. A large part of the anti-Palmer backlash is because she tells her story as an outsider — as if anyone could do what she’s done — which doesn’t jive with the fact that she was part of the duo the Dresden Dolls, which released two studio albums under a Warner Music Group subsidiary’s label. But even if she acknowledge that fact, I think there’s still be meaningful backlash because she’s not assuming the risk of her work not selling.
  4. It bothers me to no end that he said “Was” and not “Were.”
  5. Much like Wikipedia, though, they could become customers/users later on. There’s a lot of upside here, although it’s hard to get it. But imagine if Braff’s movie gets a Best Picture nomination…
  6. There’s a HUGE amount of upside here. That’s why Garden State grossed $35 million at the box office. Or, put another way: if 350,000 people see this movie in theaters, at $10 a ticket, that’s $3.5 million — 10% of what Garden State made. If Braff gets $2 per ticket, that’s $700,000 right to him.  Wow!
Originally published on April 27, 2013

Allen Stern, Who Dedicated His Life to the Health of Others

My friend Allen Stern passed away earlier this week, unexpectedly. Many people I know also knew him, and I could not be more saddened to be sharing this news.

I don’t have any details — his sister Sari posted an announcement about an hour ago on his Facebook page  — except that this all came as a shock to all of us who have spoken with him recently. I’ve kept in touch with Allen primarily via IM since his move to Austin about two or so years ago, and he had incredibly reinvented his life. Less than a month ago, he posted a pair of pictures of himself, one from December 2011 and another from March 2013 — he had lost 125+ pounds.

Allen’s transformation was bigger than that, though. Last year, he sold CenterNetworks and now, was working on selling his startup CloudContacts. He was re-dedicating his life to help people learn to live a healthy life, and had focused his energies on LetsTalkFitness. He was reaching thousand and thousands of people each week via the site, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and had 3,000 people signed up for his Smoothie a Day email newsletter. (It was a growing success story; he was at 93 people on September 30th!) He took incredible pride in this, crafting images that would make a professional photographer nod in agreement, all to spread the message of the value and importance of good health. He was having an impact, too; he regularly shared with me the wonderful comments people emailed him and left him on Facebook, thanking him for inspiring them.

I last spoke to him (via IM) on April 1st. He was working on a green smoothie e-book and looking at ways to monetize LetsTalkFitness better — he truly wanted to make this, his life’s calling, his trademark business. The last thing of substance that he said to me best summarizes his dedication. He had found an ad network which could monetize his image views, but he didn’t want to use it. He was concerned that, if he posted an image of a smoothie, and someone got an ad for “some garbage food” on it, that would be bad — he only wanted to promote healthful options.

I don’t know what’s going on regarding funeral arraignments nor how to best pass one’s condolences on to his sister. My best guess is to post a comment on her Facebook post.

RIP, Allen. You’ve made the world a better place, and you will most certainly be missed.

Originally published on April 6, 2013

Hug Your Fans and They’re Fans For Life

I tweeted that out today while watching the below. It resonated.

When I sent the tweet, I didn’t realize that Billy Joel actually hugged the audience member — that didn’t happen until the end. I wasn’t talking about a literal hug, but the figurative idea of embracing your audiences in an incredibly meaningful way.

While watching the video, think about how many people will, forever, think of Billy Joel in a much better light. Obviously Michael Pollack, the freshman pianist, will remember this forever. But so will his friends who helped get Joel’s attention when Pollack wanted to ask the question. So will the people who were sitting in the audience who didn’t know Pollack. And so will many of us who watched the video and shared it.

That’s the hug.

Originally published on March 12, 2013

Writing for Exposure: What Publishers Should Promise When They Aren’t Paying

It’s been almost a week and Twitter is still abuzz over the issue of publishers not paying writers, but instead promising “exposure” to their audience. (If you haven’t been following, google “Nate Thayer The Atlantic” — I won’t waste anyone’s time recapping it here.)

I’ve written for exposure a lot over the last two years. I write for free to gain exposure for Now I Know, and more specifically, for subscribers. Most of that “writing” is just me letting other places republish my work, but sometimes there’s a bit of editing involved, reworking, or combining of things.

My goal is to gain subscribers for my Now I Know email newsletter. I’ve come up with a series of requests I make of the publisher, which began with the awesome people at mental_floss, who understood that goal when I first wrote for them and helped me come up with ways to maximize that. What do I ask for? (a) A series of clear, call-to-action language, explaining why the publisher’s readers should subscribe to Now I Know; and (b) a promise/explanation of how the publisher focus their audience on my article.

Most of the places I’ve written for have done both of those, but in two cases — Business Insider and Huffington Post — they haven’t, really. I knew that going in and I do not want to cast aspersions here. Both were entirely professional and forthcoming about how they intended to promote my piece (i.e. give me exposure beyond the resume line) and even though it didn’t meet my normal requests, I chose to experiment. Both experiments went as well as you’d expect, which is to say not well at all.

GOOD vs. Business Insider

About a year ago, GOOD republished five articles of mine. That relationship was the product of a healthy back and forth between me and an editor there, describing how they’d promote the article and how the links to Now I Know would look. The first article, here, has sent over about 1,200 visitors since, as evidenced below.

Screen shot 2013-03-10 at 11.52.49 AM

After that article ran, Business Insider approached me and asked if me for permission to republish the same article. I tried to get them to engage on the same questions I asked of GOOD, but it wasn’t happening. I figured I’d say yes as a test. They have a much larger audience than GOOD, and if they could drive traffic, great. But I realized that was very unlikely, as their audience is fragmented across their site and unless I received prominent placement, it wouldn’t be worth it for me.

A year later, the results proved that BI wasn’t worth my time at all:

Screen shot 2013-03-10 at 11.54.06 AM

That’s 115 visits. About 100 of them are from this article, which is the same as the GOOD one (and incorrectly states that the article originally appeared at GOOD).

Smithsonian Magazine v. Huffington Post

In January, Smithsonian Magazine republished an article of mine about Kraft’s use of patents to protect their mac and cheese shapes. This wasn’t the first piece I’ve had there, but it did well, sending 1,000 or so readers to my landing page:

Screen shot 2013-03-10 at 12.05.45 PM

The Smithsonian relationship developed the same way as the mental_floss and GOOD one, and works similarly.

A day or so later a HuffPo editor approached me about republishing that article. HuffPo and BI’s business models are similar, and I approached the conversation with the HuffPo editor like I did the BI one. In the end, the article ran, again as an experiment in my eyes.

The results:

Screen shot 2013-03-10 at 12.15.30 PM

Not terrible, honestly, but not really great. And not really worth the work to get another one in the system, especially because I don’t have much if anything of a relationship with an editor there, so I don’t know if my next piece will get anywhere near that much (“much”) exposure.

“Exposure” is an amorphous, oddly-defined or undefined term. It probably makes very little sense for a full-time freelancer to give the Atlantic a 1,200 word cutdown of a longer piece for free, as a one-time exposure to a subset of their audience is not very valuable to the writer. On the other hand, if the Atlantic were to offer a freelancer a week-long stint blogging for one of its more visible areas, that sounds good.

In my case? If HuffPo or BI were to come back to me and ask for another piece, I’d say yes — but I’d condition it on them providing the article the traffic I know they can provide if they choose to. If they ask why, I’ll send them here. And if they so no to that condition, they won’t get my permission. It can be worth it for me to write for them, but by default, isn’t.

Originally published on March 10, 2013

Did NASCAR Admit to a Flagrant Violation the DMCA? I Say No

Background:

  • NASCAR had a bad accident this weekend where a car exploded and stuff — tires, metal, etc. — went flying into the stands. People got hurt, some very badly.
  • A fan took a video of the accident and posted it to YouTube.
  • NASCAR used the DMCA to take down the video.

NASCAR explained what happened to the Washington Post, here. What they said is a bit contradictory, but here are the two parts I want to focus on.

One:

In an interview Tuesday afternoon, NASCAR Vice President of Digital Media Marc Jenkins made clear one point: “This was never a copyright issue for us,” he said. Nor was it a censorship issue. The matter related to the fans involved in the incident. “We blocked it out of respect for those injured,” says Jenkins.

And two:

As Jenkins explained, NASCAR owns the rights to video shot at the track but “we don’t enforce the guidelines unless the content is used commercially. … We do proactively go after pirated video of the television broadcast, but that’s the only time we use it.”

Dan Gillmor and I conversed on Twitter. He thinks that NASCAR, given the above (and the rest of the stuff I omitted — I don’t know exactly what sentences he’s relying on), “admits flagrantly violated the law” in taking down the video. I disagree. I don’t see an admission here. 1

Taking the second quote first, NASCAR believes it owns the rights to the fan’s video. They used their copyright of the video, as stated in the first quote, to require YouTube to remove the video. Their reasons for doing so — censorship, economic, because a Martian told them too, or to protect the privacy of potential victims — are irrelevant to their power to do so. The DMCA only requires that your takedown notice swear under penalty of perjury that you own the rights to the content; it doesn’t require you to explain why you want that particular piece of allegedly copyrighted content removed from the third party’s service.

While Jenkins also says (in the first quote) that “this was never a copyright issue for us,” I think he means to say that “this was never an economic issue for us.” In other words, NASCAR wasn’t trying to take down the video so they could sell their own crash footage. The other interpretation — one which suggests that NASCAR couldn’t lawfully remove the video — is entirely inconsistent with the second other quote. On the other hand, the rest of the first quote is consistent with the second. NASCAR believes they could have taken the video down for any reason or no reason at all.

If you credit NASCAR’s words here as honest — and I am doing that, but again, solely for the purposes of determining whether there’s an “admission” here — NASCAR didn’t violate any laws here. Rather, they’re claiming that they used their copyright to achieve a non-traditional goal.

Notes:

  1. To be clear, I think that the fan video was a fair use of NASCAR’s copyrighted content, assuming, that is, that NASCAR actually actually owns the copyright to the fan video in the first place. (And I think that’s unclear.) That’s another story. I’m focusing on whether NASCAR admitted to a violation here, not whether NASCAR actually overstepped its bounds. They probably did.
Originally published on February 26, 2013