February 10, 2008

Let a Thousand Niches Wither

I've been thinking about getting paid. I was going to say I'd been thinking about revenue models, but that's just a fancy way of saying getting paid, which is maybe part of the problem.

Basically, the web has promises to be the best way for people to connect to each other, and so should be the perfect marketplace. The long tail promises that there are an almost unlimited set of niches waiting to be filled.

In parts, this is true. Take the process that sparked this blog post for example. This morning, Russell Davies wrote on his blog that he'd like a twitter feed of changes in the Amazon sales rank of his book. The idea piqued my curiosity, and an hour or so of poking round the web later, I've found out how to query the Amazon API to get the sales rank for his book and found out how I would hook into twitter to submit the updates.

Now, if I was just knocking something up for myself, I'd be about half-an-hour from having it all finished. But as Russell says, it's the sort of thing that other authors would find useful, so I've been pondering making it into a full-blown service.

"Making it into a full-blown service" is a bit over-the-top, but as Eric Sink said, it's a non-trivial step to go from something hacked together for me to something that I'd be happy letting other people use. There'd need to be a way to sign up, a way to stop the updates, and then the ongoing maintenance if either the twitter or Amazon APIs change.

It still wouldn't be a grand undertaking, but it becomes more like a day's-worth of work now, and then an undefined amount more in the future (but again, probably not too much). It's at this point that it stops looking like a fun problem to spend a while solving, and more like work. I don't want to launch services that I can't maintain, and obviously there's a limit to the number of services I can maintain - particularly if they're being maintained in my spare time.

What the web is missing is an easy way to charge for such small, niche services. Surely something like this is worth the price of a cup of coffee to authors? The problem is that, at present, the assumption on the web is that it should somehow be paid for by advertising, which means that the only things which get built are either a by-product of delivering audiences to advertisers, or things that geeks build for themselves.

If there was a way for people like me to cover their costs (plus a little extra) then we could solve all sorts of niche computer problems for people who can't code, without having to spend all our time working out how to force them to click on adverts.

Posted by Adrian at February 10, 2008 04:56 PM | TrackBack

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Yeah, we all say how much we hate apps/sites with adverts all over the place but I wonder how many people would be prepared to pay a small amount to have the product without them? I'd like to say lots but I don't know, I can only speak for myself...

Posted by: RJ at February 15, 2008 03:19 PM

Hey - I'd certainly love a service like this - or failing that, any chance I could peek at your code to set it up myself? I'm actually giving a talk tomorrow about the future of the book to a bunch of writers tomorrow, and might talk about this.

Posted by: James at February 19, 2008 10:03 AM

Thanks for the comments. I'm still trying to work out exactly what the service would entail, but I think I'll end up building something.

In fact, I've already built something, but that's just a basic service for Russell, which has let us play around with the idea some more.

If anyone is interested in using it or suggesting how it would work, please leave a comment or send me an email.

Posted by: Adrian at February 19, 2008 01:39 PM
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