Wednesday, May 2, 2007

I Am a Minion of David Hobby!

From Wiktionary:

minion (plural minions):
  1. A loyal servant of another, usually more powerful, being.
All great leaders have minions. I should know (about the minion part, not the leader part). David Hobby from Strobist says jump, so I jump.

Come June 4th, Hobby will be starting Lighting 102 (see the announcement), an interactive off-camera flash tutorial/workshop where you (yes YOU) can learn, take pictures using that new knowledge, and share them with other students on the Strobist Flickr group. I'll be there. I hope. And I finally signed up for Flickr am a member of Flickr (but forgot I signed up).

And now back to the minions...
Look, I'll admit it, I admire Mr. Hobby. Not because of his off-camera flash expertise (although he's pretty damn good at that too). No, I admire Hobby because he built a site in a little over a year that has over a hundred-thousand regular readers and a huge quantity (over 500 articles) of quality content that keep people like me checking the site for an update a few times a day. FYI, those stats are from straight from the horse's mouth: Hobby's announcement above.

Wow. Think about that. 100,000+ people regularly visit his site. If he can get $1 from each regular reader over the course of a year, he can quit his day job. Who says there isn't money in the internet?

Aside from that, think of the power that Hobby wields. Without a doubt, he is responsible for the average price of a used Nikon SB-24 on eBay almost tripling in the past year. If he bought up 10,000 units of a cheap flash (or other flash-related item) with potential, wrote a do-it-yourself page for adapting it for Strobist uses, then sold them on eBay, he could easily turn a nice profit. Would it be worth the trouble of selling his soul? Maybe, maybe not. But the point is, when something is said on Strobist, the Strobist minions listen.

This power can be used for good too, and already has. By closely tying Strobist to Midwest Photo Exchange (MPEX), Mr. Hobby has used the Strobist hoards to create the demand needed to manufacture custom specialty items in bulk (such as the umbrellas). You know what would be really great? Buy up unwired male and female PC connectors for 10 cents apiece and then sell them on MPEX so we can make our own PC cords for specialized uses. I'd much rather pay 50 cents for each connector and put together my own custom cords than pay $6 for one pre-made. Do you hear me David Hobby?

How to get minions (and profit from them) in 4 easy steps:

How did Hobby build his following so quickly and make them so loyal?

I'm sure President Bush would like to know :)

It'd be awesome if Mr. Hobby could actually take a step back from flash and post a bit on Strobist about how he grew Strobist so rapidly and how he monitors its progress. But I'll take a shot at identifying a few important things:
  1. Quality Content. People won't come back if they don't learn anything.
  2. A Collaborative Atmosphere. While Hobby is the only one running it, he always says we when referring to the site author(s). He also highlights the work of readers which tends to increase the sense of belonging. Minions like to belong.
  3. Closely Tied to Flickr. The Flickr group allows more collaboration between the members AND increases the profile of Strobist. 99% of Flickr members have probably seen a good photo with Learn how to light at Strobist. at the bottom of it.
  4. Clean Site and Simple Navigation. Both new visitors and old friends can navigate the site easily, and the view on the screen is content-based without many distracting ads. This seems obvious, but it can't be understated.
I have a feeling that there is a lot more to it than that, and after updating this blog for a while, I know Strobist is a result of a TON of work.

Yet, at least on the surface, Hobby really hasn't monetized the blog much... or has he? Well, I guarantee you he gets some payment from MPEX -- it would be silly not to. He also has a few ads, and I expect every ad gives him some sort of kickback or affiliate fee. And I'm sure he's reached the point where advertisers contact him to ask for space on the site (and, to his credit, I think he has turned most of them down).

Strobist does not look like a site that was designed to make Hobby money. I sincerely believe Hobby started the site in order to teach, but he's not an idiot, and if you look closely you can see how he's monetized the site. Amazon referals. The MPEX tie-in. Small advertisements. A method of making donations. But all of it done in a way so that his main audience is not alienated (in fact, quite the opposite -- we want to help him). A textbook example of how to build a following and squeeze a little money out of it without making the minions angry.

Back to photography...

But this is a photography blog, what does this have to photography?

Well, more and more, photographers are using their skills to build an online presence. Fred Miranda. Bob Atkins. This does two things: raise their profile (making them more likely to get freelance jobs), and allow them to directly profit off site visitors. Indeed, photography is a hard business, and I think this will become more and more common. Even the little guys who are semi-pro (or semi-amateur) could benefit from knowing how to draw traffic to their site and keep them coming back.

So, Mr. Hobby, can you let us in on your secrets? It would be very interesting for those of us who are interested in building traffic, maintaining traffic, and profiting (even in small ways).

I'm planning a follow up post to this [see it here], describing (the small amount) what I've learned by maintaining this fledgling blog.

I have no minions.


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