About This Case


17 Aug 2009, 11:59PM PT


10 Aug 2009, 12:18PM PT


  • Advertising / Marketing / Sales
  • Consumer Services / Retail Industry
  • Internet / Online Services / Consumer Software
  • Media / Entertainment
  • Start-Ups / Small Businesses / Franchises

Ideas For CwF+RtB Promotions


Closed: 17 Aug 2009, 11:59PM PT

As you know, we've been running our CwF+RtB experiment for a few weeks now. We're looking to do new promotions and special "this week only" types of offerings, on a regular basis. Two weeks ago, the special offer was a free Techdirt hoodie or free lunch with Mike Masnick, with the purchase of both the Book Club and the Music Club packages. This past week, we tried separating out just Amanda Palmer's signed book and CD for those who didn't want the entire Music Club. We've got plenty of ideas for other promotions, but we thought, why not get some ideas from you? And we'll do it as an Insight Community case, as well, to demonstrate again how the Insight Community works. So, the way this will work is that you get to suggest ideas for promotions within CwF+RtB (or potentially new tiers that go beyond the 1 week promotion), and if we use your idea (this only applies to the first person to suggest that particular idea), you'll get a free Approaching Infinity package, with the book signed by Mike (that doesn't come with the regular package). So, you'd get Mike's signed book plus a free t-shirt. We look forward to your ideas!

19 Insights


Why not set up a "Build Your Own Tier"?  People could pick the things they like most from the current available tiers.  For smaller tiers (a few t-shirts, a hoodie, and a book for example) you could have an automatic system that builds a tier based on templates for each item plus a static base price.  For larger tiers (lunch with Masnick, an Insight case, all of the CDs, and shutting down the blog for fourteen and a half weeks) you could actually get someone to quote a price since things like that are a bit harder to pin down with a template. 

Amateur musician, computer consultant, part time Troll
Mon Aug 10 2:02pm
What do you mean by template? Are you basing it on the amount of items purchased, the total price, or some other metric?
Hugo Castilho
Tue Aug 11 2:15pm
I was given this opportunity by the good people at techdirt (thank you) and couldn't agree more.

Maybe the best way to keep it simple would be to assign points to each item and allow the user to pick and chose until they reach the number of points for a given tier.

Any user who wants to sponsor a post can give a topic to the Techdirt writers to cover as the writer sees fit. The post can be clearly labeled as a Sponsored Post, as well as include a standardized initial request for coverage of a specfic topic.

Additionally this experiment could be a proof of concept for funding investigative journalism.

Just a guy up in Alaska trying to make ends meet
Note: these may already exist in some form:
Why not have the ability to do a special advertisement(inline) for another blog/website or have Mike review yours either privately or through a blog post.

Or have a one-week deal to allow for something special with the comment field on the main blog at techdirt.com. Such as:
-Have Mike respond to your first 10 comments
-Have a special color for a users comments (like Mike has a "techdirt blue" color to make his comments stand out) like green for instance which says they're part of this promotion.
Aguy Whoneedstenbucks
Mon Aug 10 1:19pm
The last two are really good ideas IMO. Both are low/no dollar cost to Techdirt but could be very valuable to the people that would purchase them. Even some of the detractors might buy a 'post highlight' for a certain number of posts.

Give your haters something to proudly show hoiw much they disagree with you. Tshirts that screams "Masnick is WRONG" on the front and "See why at www.techdirt.com" on the back, stationary they can hand out at music & news industry conferences, or something along those lines. You gave them the chance to shut you up, but it financially unreasonable to expect any of them to buy it. You could give these away at nearly cost and still come out ahead.

Just a guy in Alaska trying to make ends meet
Rose M. Welch
Thu Aug 20 12:58am
I like that. :) I like that alot more than the looooots of t-shirt t-shirt. Don't get me wrong, I bought one... But I don't like it.

What better way to connect with fans than with a fan.  Specifically one of those little handheld fans with programmable LED lighting that spells words and phrases as it spins. 

So here is the gist of the idea I am mentioning:

There are a lot of topics worth teaching people, for those willing to lend an ear. Teaching is something that takes some experience, but I think for concepts such as digital music, piracy, educating the masses, common business sense, streisand effects, building up website interest, whatever. I'm sure some companies are completely daft about that. 

As another topic of interest here, how to gain valuable feedback from your customers might be another thing to teach.

How about we teach them? Support techdirt, have Mike come play teacher for a day, albeit remotely or even over the phone or something if not in person. I think this sounds parallel to the concept of the insight community, and it is in a sense, although potentially broader.

Things which need to be explained that people don't want to do - I think Mike could do this!
Michael Ho
Tue Aug 18 6:40pm
Interesting suggestion.. seems sorta like:

But obviously, we could do other topics as well...
Matt Reingold
Mon Aug 24 6:54am
Basically, yeah, that's what I was thinking. There are a lot of things that could use being taught, p2pu is something cool I've never seen before but overall as an idea it's like a paid seminar but without the sales approach (since you know the people paying obviously want to learn).
Seeing as how you have a fair number of people who passionately disagree with your viewpoints, how about selling front page space for counter-points to articles? Sort of like Connecting with Anti-Fans.

The purchaser would given the opportunity to provide a rebuttal for a specified number of articles during an allotted time-period. They could also be offered the opportunity to rebut only articles on a particular topic. The rebuttal would be printed on the front page along with the original article, and follow the original into the archives.

Purchasers would have to abide by a code of conduct - obviously you couldn't tell them what to say, but you could limit the rebuttal to the word count of the original, forbid profanity and preclude adolescent behavior such as an entire argument consisting of the phrase "Mike is a butthead".

Mike Martinet, new media entrepreneur and artist. Creator of the SouthRustern school of contemporary art. southrustern.com Author of Botaday - daily sketches of robots - botdaday.com
Aguy Whoneedstenbucks
Mon Aug 10 2:07pm
I don't know that it would be a good idea to limit the word count because some would claim that it would limit their ability to properly rebut. Making money off of the anti-fan does give me a certain amount of warm-fuzzies though.
Brendan Moore
Mon Aug 10 7:12pm
I was thinking of submitting a more generalized idea of this: Guest Writer.

Techdirt Supporter (from either side of a related issue, or just sharing thoughts about it) pays for the ability to have his article posted to the front page amongst all the other TechDirt posts. Perhaps he/she gets to post just one for the lower price, or can choose one a day for a week for a bit more.

Granted the Fan/Anti-fan could just put his thoughts in the comments, but this has some advantages for them:
- Their words are featured on the page
- They can argue/present in long form
- They can discuss something that may not hit the frontpage otherwise (and thus they could not comment on it)
Mike Martinet
Tue Aug 11 8:32am
Granted the Fan/Anti-fan could just put his thoughts in the comments...

Also - and this may be obvious - but the person who has purchased the rebuttal, should be allowed to read the article before it is posted.
Brendan Moore
Tue Aug 11 3:04pm
It took me a minute to understand what you were getting at, Mike. But, after reading it and your original post over I think mean that the Anti-Fan, in your case, gets to see this Article _before_ it hits the frontpage, and is given some time to create his Counter-Point post, which is then presented along side (or, linked from?) the Article in question.

Did I get that right? I didn't interpret the Insight this way originally.

This might sound ridiculous, but one of the problems I have with the Book Club is that all of the books are signed.  While this increases their monetary value, it decreases their personal value as I can no longer underline or flag pages, write in the margins, or even read the books without worrying about damaging the product (for example, I wouldn't be able to take one of the books on an airplane to read it, as the chance of damaging it is too high).  It would be great if either there were a cheaper option that offered the books unsigned, or an option that gave two copies: one signed, one unsigned. This would be a great alternative to buying the books on Amazon or at Barnes and Noble, because a portion of the money would go to Techdirt, so I would still get to benefit Techdirt and be a part of the community while ingesting the information in the books.

Suzanne Lainson
Mon Aug 10 6:25pm
If you want unsigned copies and you want to contribute to Techdirt, can't you just buy the unsigned copies from Amazon and send a check to Techdirt as a contribution? You've accomplished your goal.

Mugs. Not all offices have vending machines (mine doesn't) and a good old fashioned mug and pen set can go a long way.

Joseph Hunkins
Tue Aug 11 11:12am
David I was about to give you a hard time and say "Mugs!" was an uninspired idea but a somebody else just noted how welcome they felt at a new job thanks in large part to the coffee mug placed thoughfully at their desk.

A chicken in every pot, a TechDirt Mug on every desk!
David Widdick
Wed Aug 12 7:19am
I know its uninspired, but in my business where we do a lot of face-to-face. It is amazing how much those faces smile with a mug.

A physical item that no-one else has is even more desirable.

(I'll quit before I start sounding like Mike...)

Something that has so far delayed my purchace of any package: I keep hoping that there will be a cheap option that allows me to get both a Techdirt T-Shirt and and Techdirt Hoodie. That way I can be a Techdirt-wearing fan all year round. (Without being freezing/overheated)

Currently the only package with both is $100,000 for ten of each with other stuff.

A college student who likes to think that things can change for the better.
Greg Fenton
Wed Aug 12 9:25am
I'd like to add to this: how about a cheaper t-shirt/hoodie option for those who already have purchased the Crystal Ball & Badge?

i.e. what about people who want multiple t-shirts (Loooooooots of them?) or would like to add a hoodie to their already proudly worn wears?

Admittedly, it was surprising to see Techdirt offer the "CwF + RtB" model. It's been using it since the site went live on the internet, so it really didn't need to "sell" t-shirts. The reason behind the model was understood, but something's missing.

The problem, from my position as a long time reader, is the model feels cold despite its attempt to connect with fans. How is throwing a list of items for sale connecting with fans? Unless a buyer is willing to shell out $1,000 or more, there is no "connection".

To help establish this connection, each tier, even the $5 edition, should allow buyers to ask questions to the staff of Techdirt. Once submitted, the crew can then answer them via a weekly post. If connecting is the goal, this is one step to help establish that goal.

The CwF + RtB model itself must be dynamic to change. Otherwise, it's nothing more than a weekly catalog of wares. Connecting with Fans should be the emphasis. Finding ideas for this dynamic change can be a challenge. It's going to be difficult to pass a new business model if this model only works once per buyer. Repeat customers is necessary to sustain it.

Given the travels Techdirt staff do, it would be nice to see a spontaneous "Lunch at [location]" tier in which the first 10-25 (depending on size of eatery) can really connect and gives a reason to buy (again). Not all readers live in California, nor can just get up and visit the state. Help make an effort the next time the crew is in New York, as an example.

In summary: focus less on the "Reason to Buy" and more on the "Connecting with Fans". The tiers, as presented, lacks the latter under the $1,000 mark.

I started my web career by learning HTML on my own. Instead of charging people to make websites, I taught them how to do it. A lesson lost, it seems, today.

My quick suggestion it to change the name to "Tech Connections" or "Tech Insiders" or "The Maz Special" or " anything that does not require such a high level of Techdirt familiarity.  The name is too cleverly complex for me.

Agree with those suggesting links / mentions and counter points as good package items although since Google bans "selling links" this type of thing needs to be handled in good form to avoid pissing off the big G.   Maybe just include a lot more TechDirt advertising in these packages.

Publisher of travel, history, and news at several regional and national websites and blogs. Major annual conference coverage includes CES Las Vegas and Search Engine Strategies San Jose.

Treating something like this as an "all or nothing" thing - you either are so engrossed you will put out big bucks (relatively speaking) or you "don't care enough" is, I think, ignoring an opportunity!

Most of us would love to have lunch with Mike, and/or we are interested in some of the side benefits (or, as in my case, NOT!). However, we are not willing to fully commit for "half a loaf".

So, offer something special, but low cost, that gives you a ticket(s) in a lottery. I would buy a reasonably priced "this dirty shirt brought to you by TECHDIRT" or some such, if I also had a chance to win lunch with Mike (or Mike (Ho, that is)).


Gene Cavanaugh (Marion Eugene Cavanaugh on the USPTO web site) specializes in small entity patenting (what the founding fathers intended in the US Constitution).

Case Sponsor

Mike Masnick
Wed Aug 12 12:54am
We'd definitely thought about this, but unfortunately, as far as we can tell, doing so is an illegal sweepstakes or lottery in California... so it went out the window. :(
Michael Ho
Thu Aug 13 12:45am
Ha! I didn't think anyone would really want to have lunch with me... Thanks! :P
Gene Cavanaugh
Thu Aug 13 8:48pm
Thanks to both of you. Personally, I think you are both great (especially since my comments, which are sometimes a little barbed, don't seem to affect our relationship!).

I'm choosing to focus on the "Connect with Fans" aspect a little more heavily here. In fact, this suggestion doesn't have any buying directly connected to it -- though, hopefully it might lead to better fan relationships resulting in giving them RtB.

It's simple: Read the user submitted comments attached to your stories, and highlight those that are particularly insightful or interesting.

It can be as simple as providing a coloured background to the comment. Perhaps it gets a little tag ("Mike likes this") or the comment gets bumped up to the top and is displayed immediately beneath the story (or even shown with the story on the front page!).

It costs Techdirt nothing (except a little time), but it would make the user/Fan feel like their input is valued at Techdirt when they put the effort in. They get the other end of the Connection which hopefully gives them a reason to stick around, and eventually a reason to buy.

There won't be great comments on every story -- maybe not even every day -- but, it takes very little effort to show them they are appreciated when they do show up.

Might even have the side benefit of taking the quality of all comments up a notch.

Applied mathematics graduate student in Canada
Brendan Moore
Wed Aug 12 4:56am
Upon some reflection, I decided that I should provide a more pure "CwF+RtB" variation of this.

Pay for Highlighted Comment. Pretty straightforward, I think. You buy the package, your comment are highlighted in the comments section in some fashion for a designated period of time.

Has an entirely different effect from my original suggestion, but I think is still a good possibility. Users would like the idea of having more attention drawn to their comments. Again, this has value for the user at zero cost to Techdirt.

I stand by my original suggestion, but wanted to present this too.
Justin Honebrink
Thu Sep 3 2:14pm
Me as a reader would not like this option. A comment that does not have much thought behind it that is highlighted would detract from the site for me. Just because someone has more money then thought they should not get a highlighted comment rather then the guy that actually is an expert in the subject but did not pay anything.
Brendan Moore
Sat Sep 5 11:54am
I agree, which is why I prefer the former suggestion (of highlighting selected user comments of high quality). It actually better serves to connect with fans, and hopefully will entice them to commit to support in other ways.

I added "paid comments" mostly to provide a twist with something that can be purchased by the user/fan. While it is conceivable that it could be abused or misused, each abuse is in fact supporting the site. There are certainly people with more money than brains, but I find it unlikely that a person with nothing to add to the conversation would want the highlighted comments.

Five bucks should get you a window decal or some kinda cubicle art, not just an online badge.  If you want to sell something just online for very very cheap, why not put up a carpet page and sell squares for a dollar each to members, sorta like milliondollarhomepage.com did?

I am currently pursuing a Ph.D in Information Systems-related field, and I am a Sr. Systems Engineer for a major telecommunications company. I have a long family history in the Computer Science field.
Rose M. Welch
Thu Aug 20 1:01am
I'm cool with a badge and my face for five bucks. I would buy a decal for an additional five, tho.

Some CwF+RtB packages are not really that closely tied to use of Techdirt content and the Techdirt experience. Packages should offer something deeper for the most engaged Techdirt readers/commenters/insight community members. I also echo the commenters that have suggested CwF+RtB packages should move towards becoming ongoing services rather than one-off product buys.

I like some of the ideas already mentioned (my fault for not being fast enough) but I'd also extend or augment them in the following ways:

1. Paid 'Member' profiles: Sam Erb already mentioned this towards the top and I really like the idea to color/badge/highlight profiles for paid members to distinguish them from regular profiles. LinkedIn does this with paid subscriptions. Subscribers get a bunch of additional services there but I think the badge is valuable in itself. Memberships could be limited to a certain number of profiles to create exclusivity. Once filled, they only become available when existing members don't re-new. I'm not sure how existing Techdirt badges work but membership in an exclusive model would become more appealing if badges could be embedded into users' own blogs/sites etc. Alternatively, in an uncapped model, as the number of memberships go up there is the potential to introduce levels i.e. blue, silver, and gold in reducing numbers at higher price points to preserve status. However, this could also become less effective if seemingly every comment/profile is a different color.

Paid member profiles is also a no-brainer candidate to extend as an ongoing subscription. Perhaps Techdirt editors could promote (up to) one 'member' comment per post to the top of each thread as a 'featured comment.' This adds an incentive to become a paid member but might not corrupt the user experience as much as a paid service to promote comments directly, as Brendan Moore suggests, although that is another option:

2. Paid Comments: Brendan's idea for paid comments might also be a very worthwhile experiment and could be done a number of ways.

Users could pay for their comment to be badged/highlighted where they naturally appear in threads, or perhaps you make room for one paid comment per post at the top of each thread (or some other prominent position) on a first come first served basis. This avoids a slew of paid comments on any given thread.

Either way, paid comments is another great candidate for an ongoing subscription and could be offered as a monthly allowance (with rollover?) or as a flat-rate subscription (as well as piecemeal and all of the above).

3. Brown Bags/Open Days I am trying to think of more things that deepen the Techdirt offering and appeal to the most engaged users. It seems like having lunch with the Techdirt team has appeal for that reason. What if this access is formalized as brown bag lunches or open days at Techdirt offices or elsewhere? Paid attendees could discuss current issues/topics of interest to the Techdity community. Perhaps these could even be created as virtual discussions in order to remove any limits on geography. These might also appeal to your Insight Community clients as well, either as paid attendees themselves, or as lead generation for you if they get free-access to witness or participate in discussions with the Techdirt community before sponsoring a case.

This may be the independent musician in me speaking here, but I know I am absolutely not the only one out there who is their own entrepeneur, so I think a lot of people would find this as exciting as I would.

Select an independent business person, whether it be a musician or small business owner, or artist, or filmmaker, or whatever you choose, who is unknown to a mass majority of people. Conduct a few email interviews with that person and then feature them in a "Case Study." Each Case Study would be comprised of two articles. The first would be an introduction to who each person is, what they do, their thoughts/experiences with CwF+RtB, etc. The second article would be a follow up as to how being feautred in TechDirt increased their sales/website hits/exposure. Anything they've noticed from the TechDirt shout-out, you write about it in the second article. Hence, the case study!

It's sort of similar to what you have been doing with Amanda Palmer and Trent Reznor, but much more personal and grassroots and sort of a hands-on way for both you and the potential subject to truly see how CwF+RtB can work. I am not sure what a fair price would be for the feature...I would assume somewhere in the $250-$500 range. Even though I am a mostly broke musician, I would definitely shell out that much! I think a lot of other people would too. It would just be too cool not to. :)


Lucciana Costa Indie piano-rock chick fresh off the release of her debut album "Last Chance for a Pony" and embarking into the world of being a "real" musician. Whatever that means.
Suzanne Lainson
Fri Aug 14 3:05pm
I've known magazines that have tried the "pay-for-review" model and readers tend to discount it.

I suppose you could just sell a case study writing service. I've written case studies for industry clients for a fee. They use them in their business operations.

Muddying the difference between writing for a client and writing editorial content for Techdirt could be an issue. Essentially you'd be saying (whether you actually posted these words alongside the case or not): "This case study has been paid for by the company/artist profiled."
Suzanne Lainson
Fri Aug 14 3:21pm
Thinking about this a bit more. Here is the problem. The artists/companies paying for getting case studies into Techdirt might not be the most interesting stories to tell. So will giving them special coverage devalue the overall quality of Techdirt?

Or, do you separate them into a separate section, devoted to special Techdirt members/cases? Chances are that if they aren't all that successful, then no one is going to read them. If there is no true story there, it's hard to write one even if they have paid good money for it.

When people try to offer stuff like this, it generally works better to offer something that does not imply any level of quality. For example, people might pay to be an extra in a film. They can be dropped in, or given a line or two, but there is no implication that they have acting skill.

Similarly you can sell advertising that runs alongside you copy, but which doesn't suggest that the editors are endorsing the advertisers. It's very clearly paid-for placement.

Product placement in movies/TV shows is a bit more dicey, though it is getting to be so common now that most audiences know that if they see a product in a TV show or film, the companies involved probably paid for that rather than a matter of it being an important element in the storyline.
Lucciana Costa
Mon Aug 17 6:30pm
I suppose the main caveat to this would be the situation of a lack of good story. My first thought was to pay to be CONSIDERED for this feature, that way TechDirt would have control in selection. But that obviously negates the value for the person paying, unless you set up a way to give their money BACK, which is ridiculous.

Maybe change the idea a bit...reduce the price to $25 and you get to submit a proposal as to why you should earn a Case Study. That way there is some form of quality assurance, and fans of TechDirt can still feel good about helping out, even if their proposal isn't chosen.

The article wouldn't have less merit just because the subject paid for it. The person isn't paying for a review, or any sort of commentary on the quality of their work. The person is paying to become a test subject so TechDirt can gain even more insight into the concepts they discuss.
Michael Ho
Tue Aug 18 12:30pm
Hi Lucciana,

I like parts of this idea... and I wonder if there might be a market for "proposal grading and proofreading" -- so that a starting artist can try to hone his/her case-study-pitch.

I'm reminded of this service offered by the scientific journal, Nature:



After giving this some thought, I think I see (IMO) a fundamental problem in the presentation of the problem. "Connect with Fans" gives the impression of "artists" from high on Mount Olympus connecting with "those little people". I am aware that is the feeling many in the industry have, but to me it Of course, I am unimpressed by things like "Idle American" (or is that American Idol?) and similar "icons". I like music, and some movies, but even though "artists" make more than what I consider to be important people (engineers are an example); to me, these are people with a job, and if I feel they are friends, and I like what they have to sell, I will buy; but I prefer buying from friends, not Gods.

Gene Cavanaugh (Marion Eugene Cavanaugh on the USPTO web site) specializes in small entity patenting (what the founding fathers intended in the US Constitution).

Not really suggested, completely, but one minor piece you could add is giving away a physical "Techdirt Insider" badge (think Boy/Girl-scouts) with the purchase of a higher level teir (say starting with the Club teirs). It's unique -- I don't know of any site that gives away, let alone sells, badges these days.

I don't see any ball caps in the deal, that's something else - shades, pants (gotta have pants!). Add-in some boxers and you'll be set! ha.

Subscription to some publications? I'm not a news guy, or anything near it, so this may be a bit out there. But I'm sure there are some, concidered good, publications that would provide some additonal insights to the market.