Internet Browser Brave

Dear all,

This post concerns a new Internet browser called Brave. It has made me think about what that term ‘new content’ or perhaps better put, ‘original content’ is, and how that applies to personal or company websites as opposed to sharing or re-sharing on social media platforms. 

First, let me briefly explain Brave so as to preface my thoughts. It is a browser that offers advanced protection and privacy with the ability to manage advertisements, increase speed and security, and for the benefit of this post, allow publisher payments. To be more exact, it has a beta service that allows people to set up a cyrptocurrency micro-payments system, designed to pay people (websites) based on the amount of times you are visited and the amount of time spent. I in turn, as the browser user, can set up my preferences to process micro-payments to the sites I visit. 

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You may be unfamiliar with cryptocurrencies and it’s not an easy subject to summarise. Even though I’ve been interested in them for a few years, I’m very much a laymen and I find it hard to explain the basics. All I’ll say for now is that the original and most well known cryptocurrency is called Bitcoin and there is an entire world of financial technology innovation going on and although it is still early days I’m convinced it will become an acknowledged world currency/asset in the years to come. At the time of posting this blog the price of a single Bitcoin is $920 / £734. In terms of micropayments we would only be sending a fraction of a Bitcoin, possibly as little as a few cents/pence. The actual way in which Brave works I will let you learn from their website as they obviously go into much more detail than I ever could. Check it out here: https://brave.com

The idea behind micropayments is what I’m interested in. What does the future hold for people who create original content? At present, you may be earning income from website and social media advertising, referrals and affiliate programs and other payments made from content publishers either in fixed fees or royalty sharing and things like that. You may also be earning income from your own sites if you have a subscription or membership program i.e. you charge people to access your website content. Perhaps it may take the form of a token system or Patreon type access. 

Whichever way, it is possible to earn money and you may be very successful at sharing content on multiple platforms and all of that complicated digital stuff that I don’t really know much about… but as someone who is interested in writing, it is an nice thought that there may be a way to earn money simply by managing your own work on your own website without the need for membership or subscription fees or posting on multiple platforms. 

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This is purely abstract thinking here so it’s all pie-in-the-sky for the time being, don’t think I’m trying to promote anything. I’m just imagining an Internet of the future and what opportunities that may hold. 

Say for instance everyone in the entire world has totally accepted cryptocurrency micropayments and it is as normal as contactless payments or checking your bank balance on your mobile phone. This is a world where we all have digital wallets and are set up to receive Bitcoin (or any other of the hundreds of digital currencies) based on visitor numbers/duration. 

Why would a person visit your website? 

What would draw repeating visitors?

I’m not talking about visiting your Facebook page or your YouTube channel or other content providers, or reading your articles that have been published in online magazines, or other dominant media networks. I’m talking about your individual website.

Is there enough original content, and enough new content, for people to want to come back? 

As someone interested in writing this makes me think about a couple of things. Am I able to create enough content of a high enough quality to make people’s visits worthwhile? Instead of blogging on Blogger or WordPress should I simply blog on my website? Should I write a monthly/quarterly short story and publish it solely on my website? Instead of using a site such as Wattpad, shoud I share chapters of a new book on my website? What other media could I regularly produce that could sit on my website without being shared elsewhere? That way I know that the only way people can access new content by me, would be to visit my website and therefore justify micropayments? 

One question that strikes me is why would you set up a micropayment allowance to a website and not simply pay a subscription? If you know you will visit a site x number of times in a week or a month then why not just subscribe to them? First off, I didn’t even realise how adverse I am to subscriptions until I thought about it while writing this. Subscriptions tend to be a significant amount, perhaps £10 a month for instance, regardless of how many times you visit. If I pay £10 a month for all the sites I visit then I’ll be broke in no time. I already have stopped paying for newspaper subscriptions. As an example, when The Independent became an online subscription service only, I didn’t take it up even though I was buying their physical newspapers every week. The reason being is that I don’t like committing. That’s probably a new thing, I’m not sure. When I was growing up, it was all about memberships. Perhaps Netflix got it so right that there is no accepting anything less: Incredibly high level of quality and service with immediate cancellations and multiple platform access for £6 a month. That’s a balance that in my opinion favours the customer. Looking back, as a kid I would have to subscribe to magazines and pay a fortune for pretty rubbish content, with all the terms & conditions favouring the business I am using and having painful clauses and customer service. That goes for most things, gym membership, VHS/DVD rentals (screw you late fees), library membership, mobile contracts, and so on (remember how much postage and packaging used to cost!?!? Life before digital downloads… ) Life is changing and as we don’t seem to be as tied down to things anymore, we are much more fluid to change providers (still got a way to go of course) and it seems that online memberships may be heading that way too. I don’t want to tie myself into contracts if I don’t need to.

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Although saying that, if prices go down then it will be tempting. For instance, I’m not much of a gamer but I do know that there are lots of online worlds that require subscriptions (off the top of my head, World of Warcraft comes to mind) but they seem to be pretty reasonable, especially when the initial cost of the game purchase isn’t too high. I’m not saying it’s great, it’s still expensive of course, but it is much more of a choice if you are paying £10 a month for 24/7 access to brand new content and multi-player interaction. Take that one step further and make it so that you only actually ever pay something when you are actually using a service, but that payment is automated so you don’t have to do anything – and you know what limits you have set so you never spend more than you budget – then we are nearing the world of crypto micro-payments. If a person decides to go on holiday for two weeks then subscription or membership money isn’t wasted because you aren’t paying, if you change jobs or have a baby or move house or undertake any activity whereby you need to save money for a while, then there is no going through the aggravation of cancelling multiple subscriptions (or more likely, not bothering and feeling mighty pissed that you frittering away money) and all the time that entails. You simply don’t use their service and you therefore don’t pay, and when the time comes you feel ready to use their services again, you just go back. 

I’m not going to get into the debate about how long this would take. And I have no idea that if this adoption takes place how long it will be from then before there is any definitive evidence that sharing content on your own site will earn anywhere near the amounts you may be used to. And I’m also not saying that sites such as YouTube would ever lose their position and make it viable for you to be found as an individual (what a tiny speck in the digital universe we are in comparison). I have no idea about this side of things. Search and discovery I am clueless on. All I know is that it gives me a sense of purpose to consider a future in which I publish my own content and I am rewarded for that content without having to sell advertising space or use other income streams that have nothing to do with the actual content I make. It makes me feel like I should be upping my game and that there are possibilities. (and for the purposes of this blog I have taken sponsorship out of the equation)

For a long time it’s been the way that for the latest news you visit social media pages of an individual or an organisation rather than their website, even if the website is great. (With the exception of huge corporations such as the BBC) There’s nothing wrong with that and it makes total sense to see a collection of your favourite sites in one place, but of course you are seeing the layout and theme and branding of the content distributor rather than the original author. It’s a shame in a way because I enjoy seeing the individual design and creativity that goes into individual websites.

That’s obviously not going to change for a long time though and I’m not in anyway saying one is better than the other. It’s all about habits, ease of use, ease of display, speed, connectivity and what makes life easier for you. It’s also about taking control – do you want the power to allow advertisements and sacrifice the positives that come from it in full knowledge of the outcomes? I mean, it should be your choice shouldn’t it?

I think I ‘like’ around 2000 pages on Facebook and it seems impossible an idea to have to surf through 2000 individual sites every day but we don’t have to think in terms of all-or-nothing. Perhaps it could work for your top ten individual authors. Your top ten individual artists. Your top ten musicians. It could be a way of saying to your favourite independent content providers, here’s my few pence for doing what you do, keep it up. Perhaps paying people for content directly and seeing that as a genuine way of reflecting your output is a way to go back to individuality and away from the colossus juggernauts that rule us. That still doesn’t get away from the fact that sometimes it’s nice to have everything in one place. If you want to scroll through Facebook to see all the latest news from the hundreds of the sites your follow in a quick two minute coffee break then fantastic, of course that’s great, I don’t see that changing much. But again, why not have the best of both worlds?

Going back to the beginning, it will never work unless there is a reason for people to visit my website. So I need to think about this. What could I put on there that I don’t share on Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest or YouTube, etc? How will people find me? Sounds so needy when I put it like that.

Something to think about for development over the next few years. 

Have a great weekend, 

R.G Rankine

www.rgrankine.com

www.thinkingplainly.com

Selling online

Dear all,

This post is about selling directly from a website. I decided recently to make all of Thinking Plainly’s ebooks available to purchase as digital files from our company and author websites. But honestly…. this wasn’t because there was any demand for them! It’s more because I love trying new things out, learning and developing, even if it won’t see any immediate benefit. There really wasn’t any need but part of the fun of doing things yourself is that you don’t need anyone’s permission to experiment.

The superficial reason for doing so is to add a bit of new content to our websites and attempt to make them look more professional. I’m not saying I’m unhappy with my website but it is very early days and there is a lot of work to do but as the bulk of the content is already there I’m limited to what I can add. I may change the overall look and theme as that needs some work but in terms what people can see and access it’s more or less there.

In terms of functionality it makes our websites slightly more interactive. A lot of the content is text and images that are purely for information, not for modification or playing with. All of our works are sold through distributors such as Amazon so aside from a few preview boxes it is all links. It’s nice now to have a commercial feel on the website itself.

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More seriously though, the long term strategy is to make my digital footprint as big as possible and build the foundations of online sales technology so should there be an increase in our following we can maximize any opportunities. I’m not saying that’s going to happen and it’s nothing more than wishful thinking if I am being totally honest however that in itself is not a reason to not try it out. It is much easier and quicker to remove work than it is to add it and by learning all the integration stuff now I’m not really losing anything. It may prove to be a waste of time in the realization of the idea but I still would have learnt a lot and experimented with something I haven’t done before so as far as I am concerned it is a worthwhile adventure.

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In short, I have set up an account with a digital download company called Send Owl, check them out here: https://www.sendowl.com and I have then integrated two payments solutions with them. The first being PayPal: https://www.paypal.com which I am sure you have heard of, and the second a company called BitPay: https://bitpay.com which unless you are interested in cryptocurrencies you may not have heard of. For a few years now I’ve had a layman’s interest in the world of financial technologies and have watched the rise of cryptocurrency Bitcoin as well as several other cryptocurrencies. I thought it would be a fun thing to do to practice more of what I preach and actually integrate a Bitcoin provider into the SendOwl payment system so as well as customers being able to buy our ebooks with bank payments or credit card payments via PayPal, they could also pay with Bitcoin. I don’t see it as a revenue stream because I don’t see my ebooks selling (I’m not purposefully downplaying our work, it’s just that without a serious marketing plan/budget and social media campaigns – which are some way off yet – there is no point pretending) but I do see it as learning something new that potentially could be very worthwhile later down the line.

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When someone purchases an ebook they will receive an email confirming their purchase and a link to click on where they can download. They can download the .mobi version of the story (for Kindle), the epub version (for most other major ereaders) and a PDF version (in case they want to print it off and read). They don’t have to download all three but they can if they wish. It’s still just the one price, they don’t pay for each version.

The one difference to buying it direct from a distributor such as Amazon if you have a Kindle, is that you have to upload the file to your ereader yourself but I have done that many times myself and it’s not a hassle. Of course that means you could copy the file and send it to your friends but I don’t care about that at all. I’d be over the moon should someone feel it worthy to copy and share!

As I say, it’s early days but it’s been a nice distraction to work on something like this and get away from writing for a while (I realise that’s not the point but you know, we all need a break!) and you never know, it may prove a good move in the years to come if things go the way we hope they will.

Then again, you may think it is a terrible idea and that I have opened myself up to a tonne of paperwork and legal issues that could have waited and it’s a lot of fuss and expense for nothing. Perhaps you are right! If you have thoughts on the subject send me a message, I’d be interested to hear.

All the best,

R.G Rankine.
www.rgrankine.com
www.thinkingplainly.com

Harpy Blinks – new short story ebook


Dear all,
 
I released my latest short story ebook, ‘Harpy Blinks’ on the 18th December. It is most certainly not a Christmas story but December is when it just happened to be finished and I wasn’t going to wait around.
 
The story centres on a forty-six year old man who appears to be unhappy with the way his life has turned out even though by all markers he seems to be doing quite well. While taking his department out for a drink (there is a section before this happens that you can read part of on the preview below) to celebrate a new promotion he meets a young woman. This young woman turns out to have a connection to him and as such they begin a conversation. It is evident she is drunker than he is. As the night progresses he stays drinking with the young woman and the story follows the conclusion of the night from his point of view.
 
The preview above is for the US/World Amazon site but to buy in UK you can visit: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Harpy-Blinks-R-G-Rankine-ebook/dp/B01MU2717J
 
I had a story like this in mind for quite a while, and as I have mentioned before most of my short stories have been drafted years ago, and it was just a case of getting around to it. (All of my new ideas are being channelled into the novels I want to write over the next five years.) However it did change quite a lot in the writing. My original idea was to present a dilemma to the reader. I wanted to set out an ambiguous tutor/student relationship whereby your instinct is to presume there is something awry or unsettling in the relationship but upon examination you can find no evidence to suggest this. Therefore the whole story plays upon societal norms and expectations, and depending on your personal point of view, asks more questions of you than it does the characters. But as I started writing I found that I wanted to present a much more explicit and defined situation. I felt this gave the reader more of a problem because it wasn’t the case that they would have to dig to find something unsettling and balance their own sense of proprietary, rather they would be presented with an uncomfortable and unsettling situation and then have to confront themselves with how they judge the characters. It became a much more fulfilling exercise in writing although there were some uncomfortable moments for me too. For starters, it contains sexually explicit material. Not of the erotica kind, or the steamy-beach-holiday kind, but more of the everyday lustful, unsentimental animalism described in everyday crude language. I was reminded of all the interviews I’ve seen where an actor describes being in a sex scene and all they could think about was that their mum would be seeing this…
 
Without giving the story away it wasn’t just the language that was difficult. It was the portrayal of abuse. I won’t say any more than that as I want the story to stand for itself and allow for many interpretations, I don’t want to give concrete explanations that may change a reader’s perception of the piece. All that I shall say is that it was not a nice place to put your mind and I hope that transfers to the reader. 
 
The problem with writing drama is that despite what the word ‘drama’ means you risk normalising situations. As I was writing, I was thinking how many people could or would see themselves in the characters I am creating. One on hand that is what I am hoping for, to reflect modern life and let people associate with situations they may find themselves in, or have found themselves in, but on the other hand, I’m not writing an essay. It is meant to be enjoyable, readable fiction (well, enjoyable in the language not necessarily in the subject matter) and I don’t want to make it so every day that it reads more like a newspaper article. So some aspects are heightened and some ignored, some described in detail, some overlooked, and so on. As I wrote, re-wrote and edited, I found myself naturally gravitating towards a certain kind of focus as that is where I felt it had the most impact. Writing in that way is very joyful because there is quite a lot of freedom, I didn’t feel constrained to fit into a preconceived idea. Although, yes, it is very hard to delete lots of work because it doesn’t ‘feel right’ or doesn’t ‘fit in’, there are moments when you feel days and weeks of work are totally wasted.
 
This was a totally fictitious story, not based on anyone I know or a personal experience of mine. That’s the first thing people ask of course but I was prepared for that and will quite happily repeat that I am not Harpy, I am not the young woman, and there are not two people out there that are. But of course, yes, you cannot help but draw upon people and experiences to create characters, it is just they are comprised of dozens, hundreds if not thousands of people you come across during a lifetime, some for brief moments, some part of your life forever. As I built these characters up I both became them, and also distanced myself from them. I wanted to make both characters identifiable but not necessarily likeable. It’s a natural thing to do when starting to read a story, to ‘side with’ the main character as in most cases they are the traditional protagonist hero. However I didn’t want that. I wanted the reader to be doubtful, to be concerned, to worry about the way things are going and of course then you feel like you are betraying the people you have just created because you are intentionally making them look bad. It’s a strange feeling to have to write badly of people but again, quite joyful because it makes you think: if this character is effecting me and I know them inside and out because I created them (and by inside and out, I mean I know the characters information to a far higher level than I could ever fit into a single story, in fact a lot of the time spent developing a character can feel wasteful because you know you are never going to include this information in the story itself, yet that’s the only way to make them believable) then what will a reader think about them when it is the first time they will have encountered them!
 
As I have said many times, I am a novice writer and I know I have a long way ahead of me but I feel this story was a good lesson for me. I learnt and developed a lot during this process and I feel a better writer for it. I guess you should feel that way after every story but I don’t. This time however I was a lot stricter on the editing and a lot more focussed on making it ‘readable’. I tried to be as brave as possible in my descriptions while still not being too exacting, the whole show-don’t-tell thing not being my strength. I feel I stuck to my aim of describing something in a thematic way without overtly expressing my personal opinion or being too didactic. I want all of my stories to be things people can associate with even if in a general ‘this is society’ way and this may be an uncomfortable but not by any means unusual example.
 
The cover image is pretty straightforward symbolism. The beginning of the story describes a single afternoon in a local park or field and I thought I would use that. I visited a field I know and took lots of different photographs all of the same place but at different angles, heights and lengths. I then applied different colour saturations to each of them, playing with hues, tones, brightness, and so on before placing them in a haphazard order. Very simply this is meant to imply that a memory, no matter how strong, can be fragmented, incorrect, changed over time, not in the right order and certain elements emphasised whilst others minimised. Therefore the cover shows that although it is the same place you are looking at (or rather memory, or even, future ideal) it appears very differently and not in the way you would expect.
 
I feel happy with the story although I do have to be truthful and say that I didn’t want to take up any time over Christmas so I made sure I finished it for a 2016 release. It may well have been better to have waited a while and done one more round of re-reading and editing but I had to make a decision. I have two more short story ebooks ready for 2017 (although this time back to collections, three in each, of much shorter length) that will be Collection Four and Collection Five. They need some work done but are more or less there. And I have one more short story that will be of similar length to this one that I would like to finish by the end of spring. Those aside, I will be returning to my novel in 2017 as I need to get that finished. I am glad I took time out and entered competitions this year as I feel I learnt and got a lot from it but I won’t be doing anywhere near the same amount in 2017, instead making sure I get a decent draft ready of the novel. Wish me luck as I am doubting myself before I even finish this sentence…
 
Have wonderful Christmas and New Year celebrations.
 
The best to you all,
 
R.G Rankine.