True Business Archives
Introducing My Blog
This obviously wasn't written in 1994 (the date showing on this posting, and the date This is True was born, albeit under a maiden name) -- blogs didn't exist in 1994. When "web logs" -- blogs -- started showing up years later, readers kept asking when I was going to get one.
How I Invented For-Profit E-mail Publishing
I invented for-profit e-mail publishing on Wednesday, June 22, 1994. I'm not aware of any others who claim to have invented it before that time (but see the update below). This is a brief description of what I came up with, and how.
Genesis: "This Just In"
Once I had the business plan set, I spent the weekend researching stories, designing how a "plain text" e-mail newsletter should look, and wrote the first issue. I call it "This Just In", but the first issue doesn't go out by e-mail yet since I don't have the listserver set up yet.
Maybe It's A Tumor
This Just In continues to grow: I had three more countries joining this week: Malaysia, Korea and Finland.
Long Distance Calling
This Just In carries its first paid ad -- for long distance phone service.
First Newspaper Client
The second income stream called out in my business plan gels with my first newspaper client carrying TJI as a newspaper column.
Trademarked Out of a Title
Around the first of the month I asked my lawyer to trademark "This Just In" -- the title of the column and newsletter that is coming up on a year old. The request results in the first "uh oh" of the publication's short life.
Another Year, Another Dollar
It's been nearly a year since the first ad ran -- it took me this long before I got another one. Clearly, the "commercial activity online" taboo is a bit slow to die off.
An Ad for an Ad, a Truth for the Truth
I'm getting to a critical juncture in planning for True's future. It mostly involves getting something for the time I put in -- and the time is considerable: it takes many more hours to deal with the online part than to research and write the column in the first place! I need to be paid for my work.
Excuse Me Sir, Your Mailbox is Smoking
Wow! I wonder what my mail would have looked like if I had explicitly asked for comments on the question of whether to put advertising in This is True!
As it was, nearly 1,100 of your have sent in your thoughts (so far!), and the tally is more than 200 to one in favor of advertising to help support keeping True online.
No Looking Back
My business plan for True predicted I'd be able to quit my Day Job two years after launch and work online full time.
Sure enough, almost to the day, I did that -- I've left my great job at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
A Premium Idea
The daunting task of using poor-quality e-mail software finally make it too hard to publish True by e-mail every week, so I came up with an idea: publish it every other week.
The Circle-R Brigade
It "only" took two years and a rather large stack of small, unmarked bills, but "This is True" is finally registered as a trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. My trademark. :-)
I Finally Nail a Copyright Infringer
One of the most irritating things about publishing online is people who think that if it's online, it's free -- and they can copy it. Wrong! Copyright infringement is stealing.
This week, a reader on True's free distribution is getting a check from me. Why? He was reading a well-known national magazine with a circulation in the millions, and saw a bunch of stories. Bizarre but true stories. "These are reminiscent of TRUE" he said in a note attached to the magazine, which he mailed me.
Lyris: Oh What a Relief It Is!
After more than three years, I finally get to move True's distribution away from Netcom. Netcom's service, never exceptional, has been deteriorating, and something has to change — and it's going to be me.
Back to Weekly
The biggest complaint over the last year has been that True doesn't come often enough (which I fully understand).
For awhile, I ran contests among the readership, with various little "games" to play.
Stealing is Still Stealing, Even if It's Easy
There has been a disturbing increase in theft online lately, of True and other material.
I recently "caught" the owner of a joke list ripping off stories from True. The "author" of the list seems to think anything on the Internet is free and available for use, not only taking it and using it, but deleting the title, authorship, and copyright information! This list owner isn't the only one: a friend of mine who runs a popular list is having trouble with infringement by a radio station and, unbelievably, a major metro newspaper who took the text by accident/sloppy research, but threatened to not provide proper credit when it was pointed out to them that it was copyrighted text.
Reduce, Reuse -- Then Recycle
On Friday, we finally caught up with the pre-orders for the reprints of Volume 1 of the True book collection. One recipient complained: "I was bummed that my books came packaged with Styrofoam 'peanuts'. I can't believe that any world-conscious business would buy those dang things and pollute our planet! Can't you use something else? There is a new product out that uses recycled newspapers, for instance."
I personally assign very great value to "job satisfaction". I mean, I'm a space nerd -- I grew up watching the astronauts skipping on the moon -- and managed to get onto the engineering staff of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, working 10 years there before I quit to devote full time to This is True. If you have to work somewhere, it was an awfully interesting place to do it! But I quit that job to do True. That's how much I love my current job.
Not Just Dumb, But Hella Dumb
When reviewing the logs for my autoresponders I sometimes find people arguing with them, even though the messages they get clearly say that they are an automatic response to the e-mail they sent. I thought you'd like to see an example.
To URL, or Not to URL: That Was the Question
I did a test of including the URLs (when available) for every story in last week's Premium edition, and asked readers to give me feedback: did they like it? Hate it? Or...?
Self-Promotion and Other Funding Sources
True's readers are a passionate bunch. Stephanie in Minnesota writes: "I might be more inclined to subscribe to the Premium edition if you didn't toot your own horn *incessantly*, making me read all the bull***t e-mails people send to you gushing about their subscriptions. It's a pain in the f*****g a**. Get on with it, will you? On a lighter note, funny stories!"
Where, Oh Where, Is That?
Sue in the U.K. writes, "Just wanted to ask if it would be possible when writing 'This is True' if you could write exactly which state in the USA the stories are located. Instead of CA could you write California? (I'm hoping this is the right state for the abbrev.) I know the majority of readers are from the U.S., but for those of us who aren't and who love knowing where these people are from, it would help rather than us trying to guess which state has been abbreviated."
It's a GOOHFy World
"You've caused a notable effect on cultural consciousness." -- that's what one of True's readers said, one of hundreds and hundreds of you who wrote to say that Mike Peters' popular Mother Goose & Grimm comic strip featured a "Get Out of Hell Free" card.
When Taking Becomes Stealing
Free subscriptions. A free RSS feed. Free content for web sites with a new story every day. But for some people, it's not enough: it pains me that some want more and more, and can't abide by the simple rules in True's Terms of Service in exchange for so much free stuff.
What's in a Number?
Last week I noted:
When I moved to Western Colorado, I chuckled when I was assigned my PO Box: it's number 668. Several readers chuckled too, commenting that I must be the "neighbor of the beast". Yes, I did look in the little window of Box 666 and saw it had mail in it -- so it wasn't available. But guess what? That boxholder let his box go so I grabbed it.
As of now, True's official address, and the address to mail order Get Out Of Hell Free cards by mail, is Box 666 (what the heck? Sounds fun to me!)
This week, the response:
True's Ten Year Anniversary
This week's issue marks a milestone: True's Ten-Year Anniversary! It's hard to believe it's been 10 years, since I feel like I'm just getting started. I find I still have plenty to say, but most of all I'm still having a lot of fun writing it. I certainly hope you're still having fun reading it.
Live Free or Whine
The 11 December issue was reruns from 1995 since I was down with the flu. One of those stories was this one (which dealt with trying to embarrass journalists into better writing so there aren't so many errors in the paper). It was only the second "rerun column" ever in 11-1/2 years of weekly True issues.
Christmas, Premium Issues, and Independent Content
Typically, around Christmastime, I send the Premium edition of True to the free edition readers.
The first time I did that, I was surprised that so many took the time to say "thank you". A simple thing — and meaningful — but actual, sincere thank-yous seem so rare these days. Then again, True readers are a good bunch, so I'm no longer surprised to get the warm notes of thanks. I'll let this letter represent the many who wrote about last week's Premium:
True Milestone: Issue #666
I started getting notes last month about whether I had "special plans" for issue #666. "Not that the number actually means anything, but it tickles me to have noticed the landmark," noted one, Jordan in S.A., Australia. Indeed, I do consider it as much superstition as being afraid of the number 13. Wikipedia has a good article on the many variations -- it addresses how the number came to be regarded with such disrepute; or should that be 616 that's feared? The irrationality over the number is so great that New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson pushed through a change of U.S. Highway 666 due to its "infamy brought by the inopportune naming of the road." It's now known as U.S. Highway 491. Americans laugh at "primitive" and "superstitious" people, then tremble in fear over an arbitrary number.
Update: New Series Launched
I've been working on an idea since last Fall, and it's finally just about ready. It would have been ready this evening, except this is a holiday weekend. But I can't wait to let you know about what it is:
Today I got a copy of the new book Be Unreasonable: the Unconventional Way to Extraordinary Business Results by small business coach Paul Lemberg. In the book, Lemberg uses me and True as an example of starting a business in an "unreasonable" way (in his chapter on "Unreasonable Thinking").
Big Changes at TRUE Central
We've been totally swamped lately. It wasn't just the GOOHF water bottles, which were extremely popular and the huge quantity we were able to get sold out in about a month (but sorry: we really can't get any more, since the manufacturer discontinued them -- figures!).
New Page Design
Frequent visitors will notice a fairly dramatic change here: a totally new page design.
I ran three letters in tonight's issue that finally solves something that has perplexed me for years. (The meat is in the third one, but the first two lay the groundwork.)
The first is from Daniel in Ohio: "Unlike most people who try to butter up the author by saying that they make a point to read your ezine first, I save yours for last. Like the tastiest part of the meal, or desert, so that I can savor your stories throughout the day. Thanks for all your hard work, and keep them coming."
Why $0.00 Is the Future of Business
Hey, look at this! Only 14 years after I put it into practice, WIRED magazine's Chris Anderson (author of The Long Tail) has fully grasped my business model: making money by giving away something of value for free.
His article, Free: Why $0.00 is the Future of Business, looks at the economics of giving things away (starting with the granddaddy of the concept, King Gillette and his razors), and how it's fundamentally changing business -- and enabled mine.
Yahoo Alert: True's Biggest Crisis Ever
I've given up trying to work with Yahoo, which represents the largest domain subscribed to True. There are more than 20,000 addresses within the Yahoo.com domain on True's distribution (plus a couple thousand more on variants such as yahoo.co.uk, yahoo.ca, etc.)
Yahoo Debacle Update
Last week I announced a major disaster, and asked for your help in getting the word out about True to help reverse the problem. A good number of you listened, and helped. Thank you. While the threat isn't gone, this newsletter will be able to continue.
Missing In Action
So, there was no free edition on Friday, August 22. There were definitely reasons for that, and at first I decided I wasn't going to say all the reasons why. But after thinking about it, and recovering from the problem I'm about to tell you about, I decided I owed you an explanation.
Customer Service: What a Concept
There's a reason why I posted this little diatribe, after running it in the 7 September free edition.
My wife told me this week she was trying to buy something online, but in addition to fairly steep "shipping and handling" fees (much more than the item would actually cost to ship), there was a 20 percent "restocking fee" added to the price -- you know, just in case she returned it. No thanks.
Expanding True's Sources
A quick note about True's story sources. When I started True, I wanted my stories to be from "mainstream, legitimate newspapers" -- with an early addition being the weekly news magazines (like Time and Newsweek). I've always stayed away from broadcast sources, since I always want a printed version of a story to rely on.
New 'Deluxe' GOOHF Card
I want to tell you about my new Get Out of Hell Free product. I'm really excited about it: I've been dropping hints about it for several weeks now, and I'm happy to say they start shipping Friday.
My mail isn't all whining like last week's post -- far from it. I publish more of the whines because they're so ...well... entertaining! But Paul in Texas really liked last week's issue. He wrote:
The Future of Newspapers
When I started True back in 1994, there weren't too many people online — especially compared to now. Once I quit my Day Job to pursue online publishing full time, I was constantly looking for peers — people to talk with that would understand what it was I was doing. It was hard going at first, but I eventually found several communities of people using e-mail discussion lists to communicate. I joined several, and was able to find a number of interesting people to help keep me stimulated and learning new things.
How I Beat Spam
...Without Having to Change My E-mail Address
My e-mail address has been around online for many, many years, and it gets a lot of spam -- many hundreds per day. For most users, spam far outstrips legitimate mail. It was 1996 that I realized that spam would become a huge problem, which is why I wrote my Spam Primer to educate my readers about it. And sadly I was right: it's estimated that more than 90 percent of all e-mail transmitted is spam. And how many of them get to my inbox? Lately, I'm averaging less than one a day.
Robbing Peter to Pay Paul
A few weeks ago I grumbled in a newsletter about the lousy ads I was getting on one of my sites, which were bringing a whopping 4.8 cents per click. I said "I may try Bing ads instead if Google doesn't get me better [ads] soon."
Later Lyris: Arrived at AWeber
This week marks the first issue sent solely to the new distribution list -- you might have noticed that it says at the top of this week's issue that it's "only" going out to 38,463 subscribers. After months of notice, I have shut down the Lyris-based list, even though well over half the subscribers didn't move to the new list, hosted by industry leader AWeber.
Not the End of True!
Time for an update on my The End of True? post from about a month ago -- which is no longer online because it was confusing people.
First, in that earlier post I said very clearly that 1) "I have NOT made any decisions yet" and 2) "True won't stop." That's still the case. But, I said, I "might be on the last year of True." -- which "has always been the case. We never know how long we'll be on this planet."
This is True List Break-in
From True's 17 October 2010 issue.
On the whole, This is True readers are a pretty technically savvy bunch: many of you use "tracking" e-mail addresses -- addresses which readers have used only to subscribe to my newsletter(s) -- and I've had a number of reports this week from readers who have received spam to those unique addresses. That's obviously a big concern to me.
Pick Me! Pick Me! Pick Me!
As you probably know, I've been looking for a writer or three to help produce This is True. I had announced that I was thinking about retiring the publication so I could concentrate more on my new Mastermind project.
The Origin of "This is True"
When I had to change the name of this publication (anyone who got it under the original title, This Just In, is someone I consider an Old Timer among readers: I dropped it in April 1995!), I wracked my brain for a new title. But I'm not sure I've ever told the story about where "This is True" came from.
Meet Mike Straw
As I noted in early October, I came up with a plan to keep True going even though I'm trying to slow down a bit and work less (or, at least, work less on True!) Recently, you met the first outside writer I had hired, Jennifer Weiner. It's time you met the second, Mike Straw. I did an interview with him over the weekend.
One Change Enables Another
A Bare-Knuckles Experiment
It always fascinates me how readers perceive me and the business behind This is True. This is the story of one reader's ...well... "interesting" impression.
Florida: Officially the Weirdest
Some interesting statistical analysis on True story locations from Premium subscriber Mark in (yep!) Florida:
I noted in Friday's free edition that I received a "take-down" demand from an attorney about an article. The letter was dated August 4, but I didn't get it until Thursday, August 18.
Meet Alexander Cohen
I've already run interviews with True's contributors Jennifer Weiner and Mike Straw. I finally got my newest contributor, Alexander Cohen, to take time from has day job and his True sideline work to answer some questions -- just in time to get some feedback from him about two stories he wrote that promise to be ...controversial. Let's start with those two stories, from True's 11 September 2011 issue.
Reader Survey: Should True E-mails Be HTML?
Both the Premium (paid) subscribers and the Free edition subscribers were asked:
Update on TRUE's Book Compilations
I'm getting more and more mail asking about this, and I've been dropping hints here and there that something's up. So it's time to give you the skinny on where things are with True's book collections. Exciting things are happening!
Survey Results on Book Compilations
I ran a survey the past week asking what you wanted to see in True's book compilations. Here are the results.
YAIBB — Yet Another Internet Business Book — arrived here on Friday, sent to me because it's YAIBB that mentions me, This is True, and the GOOHF cards.
Looking at its Amazon reviews elicited a chuckle.
"Help Me Promote You"
I've asked readers to please recommend True to their friends — that, after all, is probably how they heard about the newsletter in the first place. But a reader wants help to do that: "I'm not a writer," says Carla in Oklahoma.
After years and years on this distribution, Jeff in Virginia unsubscribed last week, complaining there were "too many ads for the premium edition — it like [sic] a never-ending pledge-week on PBS."
Hints on Advertising in This is True
I've been meaning to write this up for some time, and with the holiday ad season ramping up, now's the time.
I've had some of the savviest people in the world advertising in This is True — Seth Godin, the first online marketer ever, was actually the first, way back in 1994. I've also had some really clueless (in a business sense) advertisers. Most, of course, have been somewhere in between. Here's a quick review on how to help your ad buy achieve the best result it can.
When people unsubscribe from This is True, they have the opportunity to leave comments. Most don't, and oddly some think they "have to" (I mean really: "No comment."?) And of course some use it as an opportunity to protest — like when I tell the truth that they don't want to hear.
And then there are the weird ones.
The Return of Paul Myers
OK, my old buddy Paul hasn't gone anywhere, but I've talked about him before on this blog, and it's time I talked about him again. He's the type of friend that if I make a quick phone call to him (as I did today, to catch up), we end up gabbing for over an hour. Sometimes three. Paul made his reputation as an advertising copywriter for some of the biggest names in marketing — and then he chucked it all to help people creating businesses with really low-cost products that give a lot of bang for the buck.
Premium Subscribers Demand: Raise the Price!
It has nearly been a decade since the price for a Premium upgrade changed -- it went to $24. Premium subscribers themselves have said it's too cheap. I wanted some detail, and was boggled by what they told me.
A True Milestone: 1000 Weekly Issues
The 11 August 2013 issue — Issue 1000 — brought a new look to This is True: as promised nearly two years ago, plain text is out, and “simple HTML” is in. I introduced it to the Premium subscribers this way:
Ground Control to Major Tom
It’s been forever since I’ve written a “What I’ve been reading lately” blurb. You’ll like what has been on my tablet lately. (It’s amusing that while putting this in my blog software and having to choose categories, both “Away From Work” and “True Business” seem appropriate. Read on, and you’ll understand!)
End of One Era, Start of Another
While doing my research this week, I stumbled across an interesting tidbit: Paramount Pictures has become the first major film studio to announce that it will no longer be distributing movies on film, and is going exclusively to digital distribution. Only 8 percent of theaters in the U.S. have held back on converting to digital, so this will put some added pressure on them. Paramount says Anchorman 2 will be the last of its features to be available to theaters on 35mm film stock. Other studios are expected to quickly follow suit.
Keep the Premium Tagline Challenge?
Once per month, there's an extra story in Premium without a tagline, so that readers can try their hand at ending the story. I call it the Reader Tagline Challenge, and often the readers come up with a wide variety of funny endings to the extra story.
Facebook: Starting to Circle the Drain?
Facebook is about to get worse — a lot worse — and I think my days there are numbered. I can’t be the only publisher getting ready to give up.
20 Years ...and Counting
This Week Marks a Huge Milestone for This is True: the end of its 20th year. It started as a bulletin board item outside my office at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The first one, dated 26 June 1994, was written to go into my business plan. I hadn’t actually gotten distribution set up. As I was working on that, though, I kept writing a new column each week and, when it went online in July 1994, it was an instant hit, quickly ramping up in circulation.
Ask Me Anything
A reader thought I should go on Reddit and do an AMA, or "Ask Me Anything" event. I do have a Reddit account, but I've been far from active there, and I'm a bit dubious that I'm known there. It'd be pretty icky to do an AMA and not have anyone show up.
But after pondering it for several months, I thought I'd do an AMA outside of Reddit, and invite the Premium subscribers to ask the questions. It was set up using an online survey site so that it would be easy to make it anonymous (but questioners were allowed to leave their names if they wished), and promised to answer the most interesting questions in my blog.
The Pomplamoose Problem
An Interesting Article on the site Artist Empathy (yeah, I hadn’t heard of it before either) discusses “The Pomplamoose Problem”...
In a discussion group I frequent, one of the members posed a link, and wondered:
“Not sure if the writers here see the need for this....”
The link was to a Kickstarter pitch for the “Hemingwrite — A Distraction Free Digital Typewriter” which “combines the simplicity of a typewriter with all of the modern conveniences of living in 2014: cloud documents, e-paper display, and full-size mechanical keyboard.”
“Why?” the sales pitch asks.
Know Thy Enemy
A Letter from Roland in Kent, England (where my family name comes from), really got spinning through my mind, because it really helps to put everything in perspective. Let me explain — starting with Roland’s letter (the italics are from the original):
Webby Come Lately
In June, This is True finishes 21 years online — a pioneer in online publishing that predates Facebook, Google, Amazon, and the vast majority of other web sites you can find online today.
"Only in Premium"
The Minor Format Change introduced last week brought a lot of positive comments. Just one example: “Love, love, love the new way you tease the 'missing' Premium stories.” —Mark in New Jersey. That’s awfully nice. But, of course, there were protest unsubscribes last week because I stopped gathering all the “stories you missed” summaries into a large paragraph, and instead left their story slugs up among the full stories, and included a brief summary of the story there. A few examples:
Cut Out the Middleman
While Looking for Something Else, I came across this letter from a reader dated May 30 ...2005:
Forging My Own Path
What Would You Include as significant milestones in the “history” of weird news? I really had to roll my eyes this weekend when a reader sent me the URL to an article from the July/August issue of the in-print (and, obviously, online) Pacific Standard magazine: “Who, What, Where, When, Weird — How oddball items came to dominate the news business, and became normal in the process.” — billed as a history of “weird news” and where it’s going, what with that newfangled Internet thing and all.
Why I've Removed Google's Ads
It’s a Matter of Control
This is True went online in the first half of 1994, so True has been in business longer than many big names in the Internet biz, including Google (1998). As a classic feature column, I received (and turned down) syndication offers from two different newspaper syndicates, including one of the biggest in the business, because I wanted full control of True’s publication rights — including its online presence. And as of today, I’ve turned off Google’s “Adsense” service on this site for the same reason: to assert my control.
This is True on Patreon
Last Week, I Noted I Had a High-Risk (but “audacious”) goal for True — and came up with a way to take most of the risk away.
Alternative to Patreon, Please?
Premium Subscriber Erik in Nevada wanted to really help True, but he didn’t want to do it via our new effort on Patreon, the “crowd-funding” platform for creative endeavors.
First Patreon Goal Reached!
True’s Patreon campaign to help keep this publication going has broken its first goal: scores of readers have joined together to get great rewards, and, as of last Thursday, together are now providing more than $1,000/month funding to help pay the bills.
The Return of Randy's Random
Long-time readers may remember that years ago, I had a separate mailing list called “Randy’s Random” — mostly jokes and funny stories. But how to deal with graphics? I didn’t want to email graphics, so Randy’s Random then morphed into Jumbo Joke, which (as you probably know) ran for years. I sold it a year ago because I was tired of maintaining it.