Ebert fishes some lessons from his (revenue) streams

In a followup e-mail, Roger Ebert elaborated on some of the developments I described in Thursday’s post about his Tweets of Amazon affiliate links, a venture he likens to fishing.

I’ll sum them up like this:

  • Revenue trackable to specific links and products carries extra value because it enables publishers to understand, on a daily basis, what’s working and what’s not.
  • A publisher’s increased transparency about commercial initiative can reduce user suspicion and irritation.
  • Inviting loyal readers to pay more than the stated price for a valued product or service can generate more revenue than you might expect.
  • And for that matter, even when Ebert issues what might be termed an “unendorsement,” there’s no telling what people will spend money on!

I haven’t been able to shake loose actual dollar figures, but Ebert did tell me that his Amazon tweets are “a good deal more successful” than the membership initiative he launched last year to support his weekly Ebert Club newsletter.

And he said the membership fees are generating enough cash to pay someone (Marie Haws in Vancouver) to spend 40 hours a week producing the newsletter and various Ebert blog pages.

Asked about his Amazon affiliate tweets to merchandise for sale by the online retailer, Ebert wrote: “Amazon income is encouraging because I can see every day which links actually resulted in purchases, which would suggest those people, at least, appreciated them. After I wrote the blog entry explaining why I was doing it, complaints have died way down.”

He pointed out that “certain items ring a bell,” noting: “A package of 20 older Hitchcock films for $5 has sold more than 100 times, and still sells one a day two months later. Other times, I use Amazon links with my tongue in my cheek. For example, as one who has no love of video games, I noted a subscription deal for X-Box Magazine and said despite the bargain price I wouldn’t be subscribing. To my surprise, I sold about 15 subscriptions!”

Finally, he described a phenomenon that NPR’s Andy Carvin encountered with his request for donations to local public radio stations, and that I’ll explore with Spot.us founder David Cohn in an upcoming NewsPay: Sometimes, it pays simply to ask more of your most loyal readers and users.

In response to my questions about the membership fees he introduced last year, he replied: “With the Ebert Club, the original annual fee was $5,” he told me Thursday. “Too low, everyone told me. How could it be worth anything if it was only $5? Mid-year, we added an option on PayPal that members could, if they chose, pay $10 or $15, and most of them chose to pay more.

“We will soon publish the 52nd issue. After that date, all current members will stay at their current level, but new members will pay $10, $15 or $20. Feedback indicates that at these levels members are happy to support he newsletter and, through it, the site.”

Asking for help is paying off for Ebert not only financially but in terms of shaping whatever understanding he has with his audience about how he conducts — and supports — himself online.

Bob Steele and I weren’t thinking of audience discussion about commercial tweets when we wrote in this Word document about enlisting users in online ethics guidelines back in 2005, but the discussion on Ebert’s blog and, more recently, on his Facebook page reflect the sort of collaboration we were hoping for.

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