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    Russell Viers is a Transition Expert in the publishing world. Since 1997 he has helped newspapers and magazines adapt to changes in the industry. Read more...

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  • Freebird for Free

    June 4th, 2011 by Russell Viers

    Last night I went to see Dale Watson in concert at Knucklehead’s Saloon in Kansas City with my son Parker…fun night.

    If you’ve never been to Knucklehead’s, it’s really an experience. It’s in a part of the city where real estate is about $37 per acre, with derelict homes and buildings all around. In keeping with the Neighborhood Association’s strict code, Knucklehead’s is also on the verge of falling apart…but it’s cool…way cool. If I were to say the place isn’t anything fancy, you still might not be able to visualize how basic this place is.

    The best part is that it’s right next to an active train track at a major crossing. So if you’ve never been there before, the first time the Union Pacific comes in, whistles at full blast, you might very well need to change your underwear.

    Dale was third to come on after two GREAT acts (Zoey Muth & Her Lost Highrollers and Outlaw Jim & the Whiskey Benders) and he was cranking out request after request as people shouted out the titles of their favorite songs. I think I shouted out “From the Cradle to the Grave” ten times, to no avail, convincing me he’d forgotten the song and refused to play it (I was sitting close enough to the stage I know he heard me!)

    He’s a funny guy…great musician…and what a voice, eh?

    During his second encore, he finally must have heard me as he blasted into “Cradle” and rocked the house. The highlight of the show for me was in the closing chords of Cradle as a train came rolling through full volume. Dale looks over at the train screaming through and asks the band “what key is that?” as he tries to match the whistle with his voice. Chris, the bassist, yells out “C” as they all, as if this was planned, cut into “Folsom Prison Blues” and Dale belts out “I hear that train a-comin’…” as if possessed by the ghost of The Man in Black himself!

    Great night.

    Generally after a concert like this I’m still wanting more. In the past I might have headed out to the CD shop to pick up something or get a CD from the stand at the show.Then I would import it into my iTunes and jam on my iPod for a week or two of non-stop [insert applicable artist name here].

    But times have changed.

    I could have gone on iTunes, emusic or Amazon and bought the digitized music…at my fingertips. But instead, all morning, I’ve been listening to I could have turned on Pandora or, which allow me to listen to some Dale Watson and then others in the same genre. This morning I only want Watson…so grooveshark it is.

    I often say “if it can be digitized it will be” and this is a great example of how digital technology has changed the music industry. I’ve lived through vinyl albums, 8-track, cassette tape, even reel-to-reel, CDs, MP3s and now just free streaming music.

    The record stores don’t have to like it. They can deny this is happening and insist that “MP3s aren’t as clear as CDs.” They can get angry over the fact they can’t compete with free streaming radio. They can continue to sell CDs until they just go out of business…or they can watch the trend and find a way to adapt sooner. Adapting can mean finding new ways to compete or just find a new product line altogether.

    The point is, denial doesn’t change the trend. And it’s a fact that the consuming public is changing the way they acquire, purchase, use products and services.

    It’s the same with publishing. We can say “we’re not going to give our content away online” until we’re blue in the face…but how does that help us compete with the websites already in our community that aren’t charging? Of course they’re not as good as yours…but they’re free. And if they offer enough of what the public wants for free, why would they pay to subscribe to get what you’re offering?

    Well, it still comes down to content. Are you offering your community something they NEED and WANT that the other sites and papers aren’t? If so, how are you getting the word out that you have it?

    The newest Dale Watson album, Carrying On, isn’t available on, yet. Nor is From The Cradle To The Grave. If I want to hear them I have to buy them. The free content isn’t as good as I want it right now. So now I spend money.

    As I write this article, Truckstop in LaGrange comes on and the refrain is “They got a damn good cup of coffee…and a mighty, mighty good Kolache.” Some day I’ll tell you my Texas Kolache story, but for now suffice it to say I needed this song. I just hopped on iTunes and paid my .99ยข.

    How are newspapers and magazines going to offer a similar service? One obvious suggestion is more and better photography. We have the cameras, the expertise and the access to get photos our competitors don’t.

    A couple of years ago I photographed the school play in the little town in Austria where I was living at the time. The project was simple, get at least one photograph of each of the hundred children in the play. I shot before the show of the kids getting on makeup and during performances, back stage and after the show. I did this for a couple of the performances just to make sure I had enough photos.

    From about 3000 photos, under difficult lighting, I ended up with about 350 (after removing duplicates, blurry, dark, closed eyes, etc.) and uploaded them to my online photo gallery. Now keep in mind that this school only had 110 students. The first month I had 47,000 hits on this gallery…the second month 54,000. I was the only photographer allowed in the theater and therefore was the “gatekeeper” for this information.

    With the stats I got from this school play, I could have easily gone out the next year and sold advertising around the photos the next year…that’s a lot of traffic. I could also have sold the photos, most likely, or put an advertisers logo in the bottom right corner of every photograph so when they downloaded it and made a print, the logo was right there “First State Bank of Anywhere.”

    At a workshop recently I asked to borrow a camera to demonstrate downloading through Bridge. One of the participants handed me her camera and said she had photos from the elementary concert the night before. I downloaded about 60 shots. They were from the stands and almost all group shots.

    I said “If I had shot this I would have taken about 1000 shots and tried to have every kid’s headshot, some two and three-group shots as well as the groups. I also would have had some shots of the audience as they watched their children sing.” That’s how I do it. I shoot from beginning to end, and work hard at it. I shot a parade in my little town last year and took 3200 shots in less than four hours. You can see the results in this online gallery.

    I’ll close with some questions…

    If you saw a photo of your child or grandchild in my online gallery from the school play or parade, would that make you download or purchase?

    If you saw a photo of your neighbor, friend from church, work, etc. or someone else you know, would you copy the link and send it to them?

    If you continued to see photos of people you know that are better quality than you could ever get yourself, would you continue to go to that website? Would you pay to gain access to that site?

    If you could monitor the traffic to your site’s photos and it was very strong, could you sell advertising to support it?

    Today I’ve spent $11 dollars on iTunes for Dale Watson tunes as well as listened to for several hours.

    7 Responses to “Freebird for Free”

    1. Anita Says:

      Great observations and analogy, Russell!

    2. Russell Viers Says:

      Thanks for commenting, Anita. It’s good to know people actually read this stuff (well, besides my Mom, of course).

    3. Karen Geary Says:

      Last week, my daughter who lives in London, England, commented on Skype that her father-in-law’s photo was on the front of the Memphis Commercial Appeal newspaper. It was a story about the flooding in Memphis and here he was practicing his fly fishing in the flood waters around his condo. And it was a really good photo and a nice juxtapose to the stories about the tragedy.

      Here is the path of the story: we kept our daughter posted by email and Facebook about the Memphis flooding because son-in-law’s family lives there. She Skype’s us to tell us about the photo. My husband looked the photo up on the newspaper’s website. We turned around and ordered the photo from the newspaper – ordered one day; received only a couple of day later. Photo is sitting here waiting for our kids’ visit home and it will be a gift to take back to London.

      Today, I looked at a photo of my husband that appeared in the Paducah Sun newspaper yesterday. I had to pay for a 1-month subscription to get to the e-edition and have access to their buy photos feature. Lo and behold, I have to wait at least two weeks to order the photo because there is a delay in uploading of the photos. I may or may not forget to order in two weeks and I would really like to have the photo.

      Now, in your opinion, which newspaper has their act together and reaping the benefits of their website? Which newspaper is more consumer directed and consumer friendly?

    4. Russell Viers Says:

      A friend of mine just sent me this link to a blog article that supports what I’m saying here…worth a read.
      This article was written a couple days after mine, so he suggested I sue him. Funny.
      I’m just glad people are getting this message out…something has to change.
      Thanks Steven.

    5. Tami C Says:

      Thanks Russell – Always great to hear from you & your great ideas! Keep them coming!

    6. Linda Lewis Says:

      Boy, it’s been a long time! Your night out sounds great, and while your writing tells me you have not turned into an old derelict, you are, nevertheless, still a fun-loving character! Good to know you have time to spend with family. There’s where your heart is. Best wishes, Linda

    7. michelle spurlock Says:

      I’ve been enjoying your blogs-the segue is great! I keep telling myself i want to start putting out an e-letter etc. Don’t know if i’ll ever get around to it or not, but if I do, I would hope it could be as entertaining plus informative as YOURS. (contrasted with the “other” blog you referenced. IMHO=informative, yes. Entertaining, sadly, no. I barely made it past the middle of the article.)

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