Saturday, September 27, 2008

The business of a fun-based website, part 1

Early on, I decided that a “fun” website wasn’t going to be enough for me. It had to be a real business, a website that made money from being fun. I spent considerable time on this concept, looking at the ways that businesses made money, especially businesses that weren’t selling an obvious product. Part of my research helped me realize that this book casting activity was fun in and of itself, that there were a lot of people out there who had been doing this all along, and just never had a place to do it. This was born out by our members and the authors once the site became operational. We’ve seen hundreds of comments about the ways people have been doing this in family gatherings, with classmates and co-workers sharing a common interest, or through a book readers circle. Others have no one to share this with, but have been doing it on their own for many years. So, we weren’t really creating something completely new, but rather creating a place for a pre-existing group to finally get together and do it with their casting fellows.

From a business standpoint, this meant that we were primarily an entertainment company, and our business model would somehow have to “follow the fun”. The next problem was, how do you make money when the website itself is free to join and use? We discussed the “membership” concept, used very successfully at book sites like, but we felt that the cataloguing service they provided was worth their membership fee, whereas we weren’t really offering a particular service to storycasters, just a fun place and way to do it. We decided that the newer internet model would have to do: make it free, grow it big, and then charge for our eyeballs through advertising. Our storycasters are a unique mix of people who read books and like movies, so their viewpoint has value for the publishers, the studios, and for anyone hawking celebrity wares. I also knew that, if our storycasters were excited enough, we could sell site-related logo merchandise, like shirts and mugs. Off on the horizon was the distant possibility of getting bouight - our first choice would always be Amazon – but then I read the comments by Donna Bogatin about one of the sure-fire ways of getting into the TechCrunch Deadpool: “Don’t have a business model”. We would have to have a business model that could make money on it’s own, whether anyone ever bought the site or not.

So, that’s where it’s going. We’re “following the fun” by enabling all the fun aspects of this new hobby, making it simple-fast-easy to create and post a cast, and we’re going to follow it up with the community-connection aspect – these people want to connect with others who read the same stuff and see similar (or completely different) people in the roles. Books sales (we’re an Amazon affiliate) are almost non-existent, and that’s normal, considering that these people have already read the book. Book sales won’t take off until people can look up an actor they like, see what they’ve been cast in, and then want to read the books suggested. They'll also buy books that are similar to what they already enjoy, which means tagging books into genre categories. That’s going to become a reality before the end of the year, and then we’ll see a completely new aspect of the site start to kick in.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Authors, part two

Last post, I explained my marketing push that started with authors, and how Catherine Ryan Hyde and Cheryl Kaye Tardif came on the first day to claim their Author Account and cast their works. But they were joined over the next two months by a host of others, twelve in May, either as referrals from other authors, or from contacts through MyBookTheMovie; then five in June, some of whom found the site on their own and joined as regular members, but then indicated that they were authors and wanted to get their own books on the site. Three in July, four in August, and now we’re getting a steady run of authors who either came on as members or found us first as authors. I still have a backlog of people to contact from Marshal’s blog, and a bunch more whose works have been suggested for inclusion on the site and thus get informed and invited that way. I haven’t even tried to contact the “first tier” authors, the Stephen Kings and the John Grishams of the world, simply because they have no trouble getting the attention of the studios if they want to, whereas most of our authors, although published, are still actively writing and promoting their own works, and we can work together more easily, since they know what I’m going through.

The biggest effect of supportive authors has been Google links I could have had no other way. As soon as the site went “live”, I created a Facebook and My space page for it, and whenever I saw a site or blog with a book-related “fantasy cast” on it, I commented and pointed to the site. Those posts are all visible on Google – but those are nothing compared to the comments, posts, links, and pointers provided by our authors. Some have just a web site and a blog, but mention us several times; some have three blogs of their own, and contribute to another three or four, and they have mentioned us on all of them. We’re the first reference on the first Google page, perhaps because we own the domain name. But almost every reference on the next eight pages is also a link to us, primarily because of all the posts by our authors.

The other outcome of helpful authors has been collaborative promotion. Stella and Audra Price write a series of “hot supernatural romance” books. At one point, Stella pointed out that she was always on a book-signing tour somewhere, and was always looking for some kind of interesting “freebie” to give our at signings and events. Could I come up with something? I don’t know which one of us suggested the bookmarkers, but after I saw how inexpensive they were, I agreed to print some up and send them out free. Over a dozen of the authors immediately requested some to give out from now to Christmas – I have commitments for 2900 of the first buy of 3000, so it’s already time to order some more. They just came in from the printers on Saturday, and we’re spending the next day or two to package and ship them. I have posted a photo of the front and back (thanks Malcom and Gary for the graphics work!). Getting ideas from authors who already have a feel for promotion in the book world really helps! That’s why I’m really glad I started promoting to the authors, and let them help drive traffic to the site.