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The Asymco way

When I started Asymco.com I did not have a plan. I did not have a policy or vision statement. I wrote what I found interesting. I knew nothing of blogging or of web publishing as a business. Over the following nine months I learned a few things. I also learned a bit about how web publishing (and publishing in general) works.

My observations were brought into clear focus by this brief overview of the core values of web publishing summed up by this leaked document form AOL: “The AOL Way“.

  • AOL tells its editors to decide what topics to cover based on four considerations: traffic potential, revenue potential, edit quality and turn-around time.
  • AOL asks its editors to decide whether to produce content based on “the profitability consideration.”
  • The documents reveal that AOL is, when the story calls for it, willing to boost traffic by 5 to 10% with search ads and other “paid media.”
  • AOL site leaders are expected to have eight ideas for packages that could generate at least $1 million in revenue on hand at all times.
  • In-house AOL staffers are expected to write five to 10 stories per day.
  • AOL knows its sites are too dependent on traffic from AOL.com, and it wants its editors to fix the problem by posting more frequently, with more emphasis on getting pageviews.

This codification of values has inspired me to put in writing my own priorities for Asymco:

  • Learn by writing. Teach by listening.
  • Improve. Move the intellectual ball forward.
  • Illuminate topics which are bereft of analysis.
  • Be notable. “The proliferation consideration.” How likely is the idea to being widely re-published?
  • Review. Encourage participation by reading all comments and reply to as many as possible. Police comments with zero tolerance.
  • Repair. Declare and correct errors.
  • Select. Publish only when the contribution is unique. Avoid redundancy, clutter and noise. Don’t waste reader time.

Many have asked: What about the business model? I’m afraid there isn’t one. I’m still naive enough to think that if I build a great product then everything else will take care of itself.

  • http://twitter.com/MalphasWats @MalphasWats

    # Be notable. “The proliferation consideration.” How likely is the idea to being widely re-published?

    This is a great one – it's how I got here (I think via Daring Fireball), so many websites just like to regurgitate the same stories as anyone else. The stuff you write about is largely unique, whilst still on topics that people are interested in.

    # Review. Encourage participation by reading all comments and reply to as many as possible. Police comments with zero tolerance.

    I think this point is so insanely important and so many websites do it wrong. I really believe that you either do it like this or don't have comments at all. The point is, I read your blog because I'm interested in your opinions, it's great that we can discuss it, but generally I like to see an author's reactions to the stuff people comment on. All of the big-ticket blogozineosites just carpet bomb their content and move onto the next, leaving the commenters to argue amongst themselves. I guess this part gets harder and harder as your readership increases though!

  • http://www.midasoracle.org/ Chris Masse

    Horace, is there anything a poor fan of yours could do to help you find a business model? I want your blog to be sustainable.

  • http://twitter.com/Accent_Sweden @Accent_Sweden

    May we all be so naive–and live long, meaningful lives.

    I suggest that many aspects of your approach fundamentally mirror how Apple works. They do have a sophisticated and successful business model for making money but of course they've been at it for a lot longer. It is the same uncompromising approach to their products that has finally started attracting the masses after having been so focused for so long on the cheapest alternative. Suddenly many more people are willing to pay for a quality experience.

    Likewise, many of us in cyberland are tired of the mindless regurgitations that have overrun the web. Suddenly we find Asymco and discover a place with keen insights, intelligent discussions, and a respect for readers and their input. My only complaint is that Asymco doesn't come in Bondi blue.

    I hope and believe you can continue sharing your analysis and the money will follow without attempting to follow the conventional wisdom of what works.

  • Norton

    Where is the Like button?

    • http://twitter.com/foothillsteve @foothillsteve

      It's over in the right column. You should click it. :-)

  • Jon T

    "if I build a great product then everything else will take care of itself."

    Just as well you are going the Apple way, and not the Nokia way..

  • http://maheshcr.com/blog Mahesh CR

    Now this is a study in contrasts. The big faceless corporation and the individual voice squared against each other.

    So many things about this post are awesome but what is striking is the honesty in declaring the missing business model.

  • http://twitter.com/mortjac @mortjac

    I need to read something like this. It's really good, but it also hurts. You say:

    #Select. Publish only when the contribution is unique. Avoid redundancy, clutter and noise. Don’t waste reader time.

    I've taken another approach, find interesting post and pass them to my readers. But the downside is the redundancy. I will have think hard about that part.

    Thanks a lot, Horace!

    • asymco

      This "way" is not the way for everyone. It is just one way.

  • Steko

    There's no "if", already a great product!

  • http://www.amitiae.com Graham K. Rogers

    Heavens, I came across the site a few days ago and thought it was established but I had missed it. That indicates to me the level of maturity. I was forced into blogging at the beginning of the year when the newspaper I wrote for had a makeover and dumped almost all freelance writers (silly, eh?) and like Horace, took the view that it is easy to retweet or repost, but the original will go much further, albeit considerably slower. I modify that with the occasional post of public interest. As Steko writes, No "if" your product is worth following, and emulating.

  • Omar

    I stumbled on this blog via comments from another blog, and I have to admit. This is truly the most sophisticated and intelligible site I have ever come across that directly deals with technology and the companies that produce them. The reader responses are full of insight and knowledge without being trollish lke most other blog sites I have been on. The admin has truly made a remarkable product and I am happy it’s around for me everyday. This article was great and I agree with the author, create something brilliant and everything will sort itself out.

  • Stefano Mastroianni

    I'm a bit curious about "Teach by listening". Could you please elaborate? Thanks

    • asymco

      By listening to what the audience is saying, I hope to teach tolerance of other views.

  • Mark Hernandez

    Wow. What can I say. Brilliant post. And the wonderful commenters before me have already said what I would have said. But I would add this…

    This post has made me look at myself, and gives me the reassurance that I'm doing the right thing because I'm currently creating something for the Mac/iOS platform that has never been done before, and I'm scared as hell because there's no one who's gone before me, but all the signposts and arrows tell me to keep going in that direction, the row of lights are all green, and I keep telling myself "Just Do It" and the success will take care of itself.

    I, too, have my set of "core values" like yours that are permanently left up on one end of the wall-length whiteboard in my office, and I'm lookin' up at 'em right now.

    I've often fantasized that Apple has a secret NASA-like control room with giant wall-sized displays with product timelines mapped out into the future and with Asymco-style graphs depicting the current industry and and Apple's position then, now and projected. But over on one wall, permanently painted on it are Apple's "core values" that Steve referred to when he was talking about the stolen iPhone 4 at the AllThingsDigital conference.

    What's cool about your "core values," Horace, is that they're all real. It's not double-speak, or the idealism detached from reality that we so often see.

    So, Just Do It! Keep going. There's no one else like you. I know I'm unique and different, and you should be exactly who you are too. We all love you for being yourself and doing what you do.

    More of what's already happening for you will continue, and new opportunities will present themselves as a result. I'm sure speaking engagements and high-level consulting jobs have already presented themselves and you can perhaps consider the asymco.com website not a revenue source but a marketing expense.

    And when you show up on Techmeme, as you have, you know you're getting noticed.

    Mark Hernandez
    Information Workshop

  • http://www.italytasteandtravel.com Italytasteandtravel

    Nice post, I agree with publishing unique content and you also gave me some ways to make my content better.

  • Alan

    Horace,
    What a great post and view on your blog. You are a craftsman plying your trade with master skills, while AOL is a big box store selling the lowest cost, mass produced stuff that they can.

    In the physical world these craftsman based stores have been squeezed out in many cases by larger retailers who can economize the scale of their operation in terms of their supply chain, vendors, and suppliers to get better deals. But in the online world the economics are different. An asymmetric disruption in process.

  • dchu220

    "Move the intellectual ball forward"

    I think all your long time readers can agree that we've learned a lot from your blog. It's great to have a community of people much smarter than me to exchange ideas with.

  • Steven Noyes

    You missed one.

    Original content. Don't be a disseminator of re-hashed concepts already posted else-where. Be willing to look at large amounts of data in unique ways and draw new and unique conclussions routed in reality.

    You know this is true, because time and time again, your site gets linked to as original source research.

    Keep up the great work.

    • asymco

      I thought about it but it's hard to prove originality. I think most scientists would say that they are building on the shoulders of giants. I would say that's also my operating model. I think "improve" covers the notion better.

    • r00tabega

      > The Apple Way. Product focus. Every other business model is a scam of some kind.

      This could sound fanboi-ish, but honestly, the more I hear about how much payola Intel doled out to Dell/HP/Toshiba/etc, and the more I realize it, your statement isn't far from the truth.

      Angling for majority+ marketshare is just rent-seeking. Obtaining majority marketshare because you sell what people want is the true profit seeking model.

      Apple's approach is to create entire new markets (Personal computing, desktop publishing, portable computing… the list is long).

      • asymco

        If you look carefully at both Intel's and AOL's business models you realize that the compromises they made are the same: they traded their right to innovate for increased distribution. This becomes evident when you study lots of companies that suffer from seemingly irrational product failures.

        Dell is Intel's (and Microsoft's) distribution channel, SEO is AOL's distribution, carriers are Nokia's distribution. In each case the product development side of the business is compromised to ensure the selling side of the business can grow. When a business focus changes from product to distribution, you have to start to worry.

        Apple looked at their distribution problem and they decided to just do it themselves. That's the story of Apple stores. The core idea was that you take control rather then sell out.

  • CndnRschr

    Carry on with those principles and you will do well. There is a dearth of original thinking on the net and too much referencing of others (albeit attributed) and group-think. You've identified an under-servied niche and have benefited from the enormous shift in the telephony sector but its your original content that have thrust your blog into the mainstream. The day to give it up is the day that the AOL mantra has any appeal to you…..

  • Tom

    When I started Asymco.com I hada plan and a policy, and a vision statement:

    I wrote what I found interesting.

    If you write it, we will read!

  • http://twitter.com/TheTomanator @TheTomanator

    You're certainly doing a stellar job living up to those values Horace. I check your feed constantly because your insight, not only on Apple, but on business models, principals, etc. provide a wealth of knowledge and I've learned a lot from reading this site.

    As mentioned by prior commenters, I enjoy reading the comments almost as much as your articles because of the intelligent, mature discussions that take place which add to the bank of knowledge that's found here. That's a testament to you and I'd like to thank you for keeping it civil and attracting so many insightful readers.

    You've built a great product here and there's no doubt that everything else will fall into place. Well done and keep the insights coming.

  • http://www.johnmclaughlindesign.co.uk John Mac

    Now that the established news or content 'brands' have almost all been seen to be wh0ring themselves for advertising clicks, where do we go to get great, original content?

    I won't pay a subscription to The Times or any other newspaper as most of the content is as I've just described above. What I would pay for is an online publication that assembled a great team of writers across every important field who only wrote when they had something really interesting to say. Not because they have to fill in a daily quota.

    I know would find myself reading stuff that I previously had no interest in just because it was really well written. Most of the newspaper journalists at the big papers are no better than journeyman bloggers hiding behind the fading reputations of their previously esteemed employers. As soon as they write about something I understand myself I usually realise how uninformed they are.

    And as it would be online only, without the expense of printing presses, physical materials and distribution costs, the overheads should be extremely low, making hiring proper writers a realistic proposition. Surely this model is what Murdoch and his ilk should be aiming for if they truly understood or cared about the medium?

    Horace, your blog is easily the best I've come across for a long, long time. Absolutely first class. If there was an online publication available with this level of interesting, original and intelligent content, from respected writers, on a wide variety of subjects it would be a massive hit. I would pay in a heartbeat.

    • dchu220

      Have you tried Twitter? There's a bit of a learning curve but it's become my first stop each day for content.

      • Vatdoro

        Ditto

  • http://www.johnmclaughlindesign.co.uk John Mac

    How does Twitter guarantee you a selection of high quality, well thought out articles? Any info more than welcome!

    • TomCF

      If you're following <insert adjective> people, you'll get <same adjective> links.

    • dchu220

      Basically, instead of hunting for content through search, you find smart people on twitter and follow them. Every once in a while they will write a short summary and provide you a link to an article they like.

      Twitter is awesome once you get the hang of it. It took me three tries to catch the bug. Here's some guys you can search for to add to start off other than Horace.

      John Gruber
      Dan Benjamin
      Kontra
      Harvard business review
      Marco (Arment???) from Marco.org
      FOSSpatent

      Also another note. If you see a person's screen name in the comments section starting with an @. Then it means that he is logged in with his twitter account and you can follow him too.

  • ______

    I'll skip commenting on the majority of the post, I think the previous commenters have covered all bases.

    As for monetization plans, while the eventual rewards for good work are making their way towards you, perhaps contributing to a new publication like The Daily as a weekly technology/business columnist might be a good gig?

    I skimmed today's edition, it is no Economist but the chosen medium and app is intriguing. I'm sure it will get better but they are definitely missing a business section and a good technology section. Why The Daily? They're new and need talent.

    All this is, of course, if you have no reservations working for News Corp. There's always Babbage at The Economist as well.

  • Martin

    Just a little reminder that Gruber passed along recently (http://37signals.com/svn/posts/2636-the-things-you-do-more-often-are-the-things):

    "The things you do more often are the things you’re going to get good at. So if you get really good at spending money, you’re going to be really good at spending money. If you have to work on making money from day one, you’re going to get really damn good at making money. And that’s what you need to be as an entrepreneur…

    The problem I have is when companies’ business model is free only. And then they say, “We’ll figure out how to make money later.” As if there’s going to be this magic switch they can flip…If you’re not practicing making money, you’re not going to be able to flip that switch and just know how to do it really well. You need to have some time. You need to have some experience at making money."

    Passed along with encouragement. This site deserves to be financially successful. It's quite excellent.

  • chano

    Horace, I genuinely salute you. So refreshing in your frankness; so illuminating in your core work.
    Original work of a high standard which reflects integrity and respect for its audience does deserve a commensurate reward.

    I am sure you will find ways of monetising your work that are congruent with your principles. These can be hard to find sometimes, but they tend to come to mind after a while.

    Good fortune Horace. Keep up the fine work as you are required reading for me!

    Regards

    Chandra Coomaraswamy

  • connerk

    No wonder I like this blog so much. I hadn't noticed before, but, you never post anything unoriginal. You never repost someone else unless you have something unique to say about it. Great job!

  • berult

    Following, succinctly, is what I wrote recently about Apple and book pricing in the App store. My thoughts could very well be extended to any entrepreneurial model bent on thriving well beyond survivability.

    "The keys to a viable platform are the same that unlock the successful implementation of any business plan: symmetry built on top of structural integrity.

    From a mainstream consumer standpoint, Apple is very close to having achieved perfection in terms of the criteria above. Apple has absolutely no qualms whatsoever to stomp all over the competition and push the user experience to its logical conclusion. The consumer within the Apple cultural framework expects no less.

    Profit from an Apple perspective is a shared consumer derivative; it is essentially generated through tight integration between consumer and service provider, neither one can be dissociated from the other. Profit and profit motive stand as "Apple market" commodities; the demand for profit reacts very little to an internal price or cost increase.

    That is peculiar to extraordinarily integrated internal market places; walled gardens of shared identity. So, the sheer pressure exerted by such a tightly knitted unit of market share, seeded on the go by ever expanding, self-serving mind share, will in the end dictate the acceptable pricing scale for books in the App store. 

    The fine tuning of pricing is done entirely within the organic compact of Apple and its platform end users, with little significant input from a loosely connected field of competition. Critical mass brings to a running partnership among equals what monopolistic inertia delivers only to the few: profit commoditization, the ultimate spark for the bandwagon effect to take hold. The Apple story in a nutshell."

    You're aiming high; lo and behold, down below…

  • http://www.aaacounters.com/ Ben

    Huzzah. I wish more of the world worked this way. I hope that this site and the work–e.g. speaking engagements, consulting–that you get out of it are very profitable to you because I find your analyses fascinating. I'm a regular reader, and while I'm not inclined to set up a paid subscription to this and all the sites I read regularly, I have been considering using Readability's service (especially now that it's being linked to Instapaper) so that I can contribute to those sites which I believe provide value to me.

    Keep up the good work.

    -Ben

  • davel

    Horace.

    I for one am glad that I found your site.

    I stumbled upon it because a blogger at a periodical referenced your work. I followed the link and found this site.

    I find your posts to be consistently thought provoking or just very good at summarizing information that is publicly available.

    I think you adhere to your principles very well and would encourage you to continue to do so.

    This site is unique because all of the information here derives from your hard work and it shows.

    I appreciate that you respond to your readers and allow us the opportunity to explore the topics you bring forth.

    Your perspective is unique in that unlike most sites devoted to Apple related topics you do not dwell on stock price but are more interested in the strategic.

    You have also attracted very smart readers most of which have their own compelling views to share.

    Thank you for hanging up your shingle.

    Dave

  • http://www.bertvanderveen.nl Bert Vanderveen

    If you put up a PayPal-button I'd send you some dollars. And my guess is that others would too…

    (And completely OT: Nice that you use the same WP-theme I use!)

  • AlexCAI

    "I’m still naive enough to think that if I build a great product then everything else will take care of itself."
    Obviously enough, you are as naive as Steve Jobs. It just works. Apple is doing great. So will you.

    I love this site! I am your fan. :)

  • FalKirk

    Like the many others before me, I salute your past work and the Asymco Way.

    I'm going to take your first value, "Learn by writing. Teach by listening" – spin it slightly and try to apply it to my own life:

    "Learn by teaching. Contribute by learning."

  • http://twitter.com/dutchtender @dutchtender

    Do you what you love and the money will follow. Horace you do great work.

  • ericgen

    As many have already said, you have a wonderful site and you live your values. The only time that I'm ever disappointed visiting here is when the are no new articles or no new comments.

    Please keep up the great effort providing useful insights and perspective while fostering great commentary in the comment section.

  • Waveney

    'Select. Publish only when the contribution is unique. Avoid redundancy, clutter and noise. Don’t waste reader time.'

    Amen to that.
    Horace, I think you have nailed that perfectly. I come here and can be confident I will leave having been enlightened by your posts and reader comments. I feel it's a bit like using a Mac(or any Apple product), we all feel just better served and empowered. So often, I click a link elsewhere and consume the content only to leave with a sour taste in my mouth and feeling slightly soiled and dumber – just for having visited.
    So, thanks for the confidence in your readers, it shows in many ways.

  • http://www.twitter.com/GuiAmbros GuiAmbros

    "Select. Publish only when the contribution is unique. Avoid redundancy, clutter and noise. Don’t waste reader time."

    That's why I read your blog almost every day. It's one of the few that don't waste my time.

  • Anon Cowherd

    What's your product then?

  • http://twitter.com/Rypeidea @Rypeidea

    Freedom of the Press used to belong to those who 'owned one' Horace, Thanks for your honest professional approach in demystifying complex issues especially your insightful statistical analysis of Apple the worlds most innovative company. Keep up the great work. Cheers Tony Chadwick