When I started writing Daring Fireball in 2002, there really weren’t any established ways for a small independent website to generate money. I mean like literally nothing. I knew, though, that it was what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to write. But I didn’t want to write books. I didn’t want to write for a newspaper or magazine or someone else’s website. I wanted to write Daring Fireball.
I plugged away, writing as much as I could, doing it as a hobby. And I just started trying ways to generate revenue, with one guiding rule: don’t do anything I’m not proud of. In 2003 I first announced publicly my intention to one day write Daring Fireball full-time, and began a brief experiment with Google AdSense. (Daring Fireball was literally one of the first sites on the web showing ads from Google). It didn’t work well financially, or look good. In June 2004 I started selling t-shirts and a $19/year membership system. That worked better.
A few months later, I started selling my own sponsorships:
Effective Tuesday evening, I abandoned Google’s AdSense program, in favor of selling my own sponsorships. If you’ll take a look at the bottom of my sidebar, you’ll see an ad from Daring Fireball’s first sponsor: Coudal Partners’ Jewelboxing.
Thus began the best business partnership of my life.
In early 2006, Jim Coudal started The Deck, with Jeffrey Zeldman and 37signals (now Basecamp). I joined in early February, making Daring Fireball the fourth site in the network. Andy Baio, Jason Kottke, and The Morning News joined soon thereafter. In March, we had a group dinner in Austin during SXSW. I remember a palpable sense of accomplishment. I remember thinking, This is going to work.
A month later I announced I was going full-time writing Daring Fireball. It worked.
Today, 11 years later, Jim announced that The Deck is shutting down: “Things change.”
It’s no coincidence that Jewelboxing was DF’s first sponsor. I devised my original sponsorship system — a set of principles more than a set of rules — through commiseration and collaboration with my friend Jim Coudal. We shared the same deep frustration: a sense that there had to be a way to do advertising on the web that didn’t suck — something that readers would not mind (and might actually enjoy), provided good results for the advertisers, and generated good money for the publisher.
Here are just a few of the things that make me proud to have been part of The Deck:
Perhaps most importantly, we never showed more than one ad per page. From the beginning of web advertising, publishers have seemingly been in a race to cram as many ads per page as they can. In print magazines and newspapers, there are ads like that too, but they’re the low-rent pages in the back of the book. The real money in print comes from the prestigious ads that are exclusive. The back cover. The inside front cover spread. The full page opposite the table of contents. Exclusivity has tremendous value, and most web publishers still haven’t gotten that. And on the web, an ad doesn’t have to be big to be exclusive and to occupy valuable real estate.
I lost count long ago of the readers who wrote to me just to say that they whitelisted The Deck from their ad blockers. Not as a favor to me, but simply because they recognized that The Deck deserved not to be blocked. I love that.
I love The Deck.
“I write for my pleasure, but publish for money.”
I’ve used that quote before when writing about the business side of Daring Fireball, but it’s a good enough quote to use at least once every decade.
As Jim wrote today, what ultimately did The Deck in is the shift in advertising dollars to social networks and the rise of mobile:
In 2014, display advertisers started concentrating on large, walled, social networks. The indie “blogosphere” was disappearing. Mobile impressions, which produce significantly fewer clicks and engagements, began to really dominate the market. Invasive user tracking (which we refused to do) and all that came with that became pervasive, and once again The Deck was back to being a pretty good business. By 2015, it was an OK business and, by the second half of 2016, the network was beginning to struggle again.
This graph showing Facebook’s revenue from 2007 through 2016 tells the story.
That said, Daring Fireball is doing fine. DF RSS feed sponsorships remain strong, and listenership and sponsorships for The Talk Show are growing. The Deck was only one leg among several on the DF revenue stool, and in recent years, it had become one of the shorter ones. I have not decided yet how or what to replace The Deck with. I feel certain of only one thing: things have changed, and it’s been too long since I experimented with new ideas. In terms of aggregate revenue, selling weekly RSS feed sponsorships is the best idea I’ve ever had — but it started as a lark, a last-ditch attempt to figure out a way to provide full-content RSS feeds to Google Reader users.1 It might be time to try a few larks again.
What hurts far more than the loss in revenue is the principle of the damn thing. The Deck did it right, and it worked for over a decade. I’m sure I would’ve gone full-time writing Daring Fireball sooner or later, but I couldn’t have done it when I did, in 2006, without The Deck.
I was chatting with Jim earlier this evening. Someone wrote to him to ask, “Why didn’t you sell the network instead of shutting it down?” Jim’s answer: “The Deck was built exclusively on close, personal relationships. I don’t think those are mine to sell.”
In 11 years, Jim and I never had anything more than a virtual handshake through Messages (née iChat) as a “contract”. They say don’t do business with friends. My experience says otherwise — if you have the right friends. ★
Brian Solomon, writing for Forbes about Uber’s South Korean “karaoke/escort bar” scandal:
If true, that incident would be bad enough, but it appears to have emerged solely due to Uber’s attempts to cover it up. According to Holzwarth, Emil Michael called her three weeks ago as the news about Uber’s workplace culture became a full-fledged scandal. Michael allegedly asked her not to speak to the press and to pretend the visit was simply to a regular karaoke bar. From The Information:
When Mr. Michael called, he told her that “things have been really rough out here,” referring to Uber’s issues. He then said, “Remember that night in Korea?” There are reporters, he said, who will try to “break the story and I just want to go over things with you. We just went to a karaoke bar and that’s all that happened, right?”
“It’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up” is a cliché, but in this case it’s true. I didn’t emphasize that in my first post about this incident. Here’s what I think:
Personally, I think these establishments are morally repulsive.
I understand that Asian culture is different from U.S. culture, and I understand that part of Asian culture — certainly in South Korea — is “doing business” in such establishments. But The Information’s story doesn’t say the Uber execs were “doing business” with Koreans. They were a bunch of Americans out amongst themselves, so the cultural norms of South Korea aren’t relevant.
And, most importantly, the real issue here is Emil Michael asking Gabi Holzwarth to lie about the incident. That’s outrageous. It should be considered a firing offense even if you personally think these “karaoke/escort” joints are A-OK. In addition to being the wrong thing to do, morally, it was also incredibly stupid, because Holzwarth told The Information that the reason she came forward with the story is because she was so outraged (rightfully so) by Michael’s request that she lie about the incident:
“I’m not going to lie for them,” she said in an interview with The Information this week. In the interview, she described Mr. Kalanick as “part of a class of privileged men who have been taught they can do whatever they want, and now they can.”
She said she wouldn’t have considered speaking publicly had Mr. Michael not attempted to “silence” her.
I can see the argument for keeping a personally reprehensible executive who is doing amazing work. I’m not saying I agree with it. I don’t, actually. I’m just saying I can see the logic. I can’t see the logic in keeping a personally reprehensible executive who would do something as stupid — not just wrong but stupid — as calling a former colleague and telling her to lie to the media if asked. ★
Apple is preparing new iPads for a launch in March, Barclays analysts Blayne Curtis and Christopher Hemmelgarn wrote in a note distributed to clients on Friday. The analysts cite supply chain sources spoken to during a trip to Asia.
“New iPads in March — Bezel-less [like the upcoming iPhone] — We expect the 9.7-inch to move to a low-cost model, a refresh of the 12.9-inch pro and a new 10.9-inch, which is likely the same physical size as the 9.7-inch but with a borderless screen,” the analysts wrote.
A March iPad launch lines up with predictions previously made by KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo. He predicted a 10.5-inch iPad next year, along with a low-cost 9.7-inch iPad.
Japanese website Mac Otakara, a month ago:
Last time, the Barclays analyst predicted the announcement of the addition of bezel less iPad Pro (10.5 inch) model in the next iPad Pro series at the end of March 2017.
Also, the shipping of the iPad Pro 2 (12.9-inch), iPad Pro 2 (9.7-inch), iPad Pro (7.9-inch) at the end of March, and the iPad Pro (10.5-inch) in May were also expected as a possibility.
New iPad Pro “2” models at the existing sizes make sense to me — iPads that look very similar (or even identical) to the existing 9.7- and 12.9-inch iPad Pros but with updated internals (A10X chips, better cameras, etc.). The 9.7-inch iPad Pro is a year old, and the 12.9-inch model is almost a year and a half old.
An updated iPad Mini would make sense too. Right now the high-end iPad Mini is the iPad Mini 4, with an A8 chip. In the past, Apple has generally updated the iPad Mini models with internals from the year-ago flagship 9.7-inch models. That would suggest a new Mini with an A9 chip and perhaps support for Apple Pencil. Maybe they’d call it “iPad Mini Pro”. Or maybe just “iPad Pro” — the 9.7- and 12.9-inch models don’t have different names. Or maybe nothing at all — it wouldn’t surprise me if Apple has no imminent updates for the iPad Mini.
What doesn’t make sense to me is a new 10.5-inch model. The idea makes sense — keeping the physical footprint of the current 9.7-inch models but reducing the bezels and putting in a bigger display. The ideal form factor for iPads and iPhones is just a screen, like the phones in Rian Johnson’s Looper — reducing the size of bezels and moving toward edge-to-edge displays is inevitable. Even the pixel density math works out for a 10.5-inch display.
What doesn’t make sense to me is the timing. I don’t see how an iPad with an exciting new design could debut alongside updated versions of the existing 9.7-inch and 12.9-inch iPads. Who would buy the updated 9.7-inch iPad Pro with the traditional bezels if there’s a 10.5-inch model without bezels? No one.
The report from the Barclays analysts back in November tries to make sense of it thus: “We expect the 9.7-inch to move to a low-cost model”. The idea would be that the new design takes over as the high-end model with the standard footprint, and the 9.7-inch models with the old form factor move down the lineup to the mid-priced tier. But that doesn’t square with the rampant rumors that Apple is preparing an update to the 9.7-inch iPad Pro. If Apple were going to replace the bezeled 9.7-inch design with an edge-to-edge 10.5-inch design, they would just lower the price of the current iPad Pro, without changing the hardware. That’s what they’ve done every single time they’ve introduced new iPads in recent years — the new models keep the same prices as the old ones, and the old ones move down the lineup with lower prices.
That still doesn’t make sense to me though. Why would Apple update the standard-sized iPad Pro to a new edge-to-edge design but keep the existing design for the more expensive 12.9-inch iPad? The new 12.9-inch iPad Pro would look dated on day one. Mac Otakara’s speculation that the new 10.5-inch iPad might not ship until May (with the updated 9.7- and 12.9-inch models shipping in March) doesn’t help with the logic, either. If Apple announces all these new iPads at the same time, you have the same problems mentioned above. If they release the updated 9.7- and 12.9-inch models in March, but keep the new 10.5-inch model under wraps until May, anyone who buys one of the updated 9.7-inch models in the interim is going to be justifiably outraged.
Applying Occam’s razor to these rumors, I think the most likely explanation is that Apple is working on a new edge-to-edge design iPad with a 10.5-inch display, but that it’s a 2018 thing, not a 2017 thing. Or, at the very earliest, a late 2017 thing — something they could unveil in October. If that’s the case, almost everything makes sense:
[A brief interpolation regarding the rumors about a new iPhone with an exciting new edge-to-edge design debuting this September: There are also rumors about updated iPhones with the existing 4.7- and 5.5-inch displays. If all of this is true, then I would expect that the updates to the 4.7- and 5.5-inch iPhones will be rather pedestrian. The “S” models over the years have typically introduced major new component improvements. For the same reason that it makes no sense for Apple to introduce a flashy new edge-to-edge 10.5-inch iPad alongside major updates to the existing iPads, it would make no sense to introduce a flashy new edge-to-edge iPhone alongside major updates to the existing iPhones. If there is a flashy new edge-to-edge iPhone design, what would make sense for updated 4.7- and 5.5-inch iPhones would be something very much akin to the iPhone SE — minor component updates and a clear position in the product lineup at a tier beneath the new edge-to-edge flagship model. (I also find it interesting that there are only rumors of a single new iPhone with the new edge-to-edge display — if true, that says to me that Apple is going back to a “one size fits all” lineup at the flagship tier. They’ve had record-breaking success with the “two sizes” strategy, but it might make sense to go back to one size if they can fit a 5.x-inch display and a larger battery into a form factor roughly the size of the current 4.7-inch models.)
There’s one other way this rumor of both a new edge-to-edge design iPhone and updates to the existing 4.7- and 5.5-inch iPhone makes sense to me: if (a) the new 4.7- and 5.5-inch models are traditional “S” updates, with significant component improvements and the same price points as the current iPhone 7 and 7 Plus; and (b) the iPhone with the new edge-to-edge design has a significantly higher price than the iPhone 7S and 7S Plus. And indeed, rumors suggest it might have a starting price of $1,000 or higher. On paper that sounds like something Apple might do — Tim Cook would love to see the iPhone’s average selling price go up. But in practice I see the same product marketing problems as with the idea that a new edge-to-edge iPad might debut alongside major updates to the existing iPad Pros. The new iPhone 7S and 7S Plus would look dated on day one. That’s not a problem if they’re slotted into a mid-level pricing tier, but it is if they’re priced at $800-900. Yes, Apple has done something like this with Apple Watch Edition, but the Edition watches only use different materials. The Edition models don’t make the regular Apple Watches look stale; the purported edge-to-edge iPhone would do just that to the existing models. End interpolation.]
There’s even some evidence for this schedule of events — updates to the existing 9.7- and 12.9-inch iPad Pro models soon, radical new iPhone in September, and radical new iPad after that — in the rumors surrounding these new iPads. Back in August, MacRumors published the following excerpts from a report by Ming-Chi Kuo:
We expect three new iPads (12.9-inch iPad Pro 2, new size 10.5-inch iPad Pro and low-cost 9.7-inch iPad) to be launched in 2017, though this may not drive shipment growth amid structural headwinds; 2017F shipments to fall 10-20% YoY. If the iPad comes in a larger size, such as a 10.5-inch model, we believe it will be helpful to bid for tenders within the commercial and education markets. As a result, we expect Apple to launch a 10.5-inch iPad Pro in 2017. In addition, we estimate the 12.9-inch iPad Pro 2 and 10.5-inch iPad Pro will adopt the A10X processor, with TSMC (2330 TT, NT$177.5, N) being the sole supplier using 10nm process technology. The low-cost 9.7-inch model may adopt the A9X processor, which is also exclusively supplied by TSMC. […]
Revolutionary iPad model likely to be introduced in 2018F at the earliest, with radical changes in form factor design and user behavior on adoption of flexible AMOLED panel. We believe iPad will follow in the footsteps of the iPhone by adopting AMOLED panel in 2018F at the earliest. If Apple can truly tap the potential of a flexible AMOLED panel, we believe the new iPad model will offer new selling points through radical form factor design and user behavior changes, which could benefit shipments.
It doesn’t make much sense to me that Apple would introduce a new 10.5-inch iPad Pro in 2017 and “radical changes in form factor design” in 2018. It would make a lot of sense if the 10.5-inch model is the “revolutionary” iPad scheduled for 2018.
Also, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro already sports the A9X chip. Again, it would both make sense and fit with the history of the iPad lineup if a new 9.7-inch iPad Pro “2” replaced the current iPad Pro “1” at the top of the lineup, and if the iPad Pro “1” replaced the iPad Air 2 as the lower-priced 9.7-inch model. ★