Blogging, Online Products and the Future of Newspapers

(Astroblogging) A sleepy little 4,000 circulation newspaper in New Mexico has the lion’s share of the responsibility of reporting what should be a national news story, a 61,000 acre wildfire, called the Los Conchas fire, that threatens the Los Alamos National Research Facility. Here 30,000 barrels of nuclear waste is stored in above ground tents. A fire hitting these barrels makes any terrorist’s dirty bomb threat seem like mere child’s play.

The town of 10,000 residents and the 12,000 research workers were evacuated the town and the site, helped by the National Guard. With the town emptied, the town newspaper the Los Alamos Monitor did something that few newspapers ever do, they did not print a newspaper. Instead they relied solely on their online edition to print the day’s news.

Few people outside the print industry realize how huge this decision is. By not printing a newspaper the Los Alamos Monitor forfeited valuable advertising revenue. Despite the hew and cry of the demise of newspapers, the fact is that print advertising revenue still drives the industry. As much as the executives would love to kill the costs of printing and distributing a physical product, to strip the industry of print would kill newspapers altogether. The revenue model does not yet exist for an online product to yield the profit structure of the paper you hold in your hand in the morning. And this is not from a lack of trying on newspaper executives part.

Still again, the Los Alamos decision points out another flaw in the idea that surrendering the industry to an online model. It is such a small newspaper that its online news product is buried under tons of internet pages that regularly hit the first pages of the search engines.

Let’s backtrack a little bit and talk about how news stories are distributed. For many years, and many for newspapers, services like Associate Press News Service would act like a clearing house for stories of national and world importance. Not only would newspapers take stories from the services, the service would pick them up. A story like this Los Alamos fire would likely find a home in newspapers across the country.

Chillingly, we’ve barely heard about it. This is because quite a few newspapers across the country have decided to cut costs by cutting their dependence on large news services and concentrating on content that can be produced onsite.

Now the tiny little Los Alamos Monitor has this huge story with all the best details, not stripped for space into a sound bite, and not only is not getting reported in newspapers across the country its not being picked up by the search engines. A Google search fails to show the Los Alamos Monitor pieces in the first five pages. I stopped looking after that. What does this mean? To read the stories, you would have to know what newspaper to look for.

I think this should all give us pause. In the end the right to free speech and the public’s right to know might not be curtailed by laws but by the chase for page views and the the almighty dollar.

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Beth Turnage authors Astrology Explored as well as being publisher of Astrology Media Press. Beth is available for private consultations. You can contact Beth at starrynightastro@aol.com.
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Looking to Sell Your Astrology E-Book?

Astrology Book Club(Astroblogging)

(Psst, you are getting a sneak preview of totally new service available to astrology writers who produce e-books)

E-books showcases your astrology writing talents. Much, much cheaper to produce than a print edition, it has the advantage of being available as a direct download from your site. But if you want to expand your sales, then the options can be pricey, or too much of a headache. At least that is what other astrology bloggers have told me.

Thinking of all the negative things I’ve heard about selling e-books in places other than your own site, I designed Astrology Book Club and I’m very excited about it. Judging from the response in one of my Facebook groups, other people think it is pretty cool too.

Set up as a multisite, upon a easy registration process, you instantly have your own site to launch your sales. It is set up in WordPress, and each site is entirely customizable. The plug-in bookshelf is installed for upload, pricing and download of your e-books. I find I have to do a little backend work to set up Bookshelf for you, but once that’s done, you can upload books and start selling. All you need to do is upload the book, write a little blurb, post a pretty picture and you are done! The best part is, all the money from your sales go directly into your PayPal account. There is no waiting for some end of the month accounting, its all right there for you at point of sale. Once the PayPal payment clears, which according to my tests is immediately, the customer receives an email with a link to download the link. As a security precaution the link remains active for only two days.

Your posts are sent directly to the front page aggregator, so the latest ebook posted shows up first. I’ll set up a link on the front page to your page as well under the heading “authors”.

There is a stats package for you to check to see how many people have visited your site. Very cool.

And very part of all, your first three months of all this coolness is totally free! You get to take a good spin around the service to see if it worth a $2.95 monthly subscription free. Yes, after the introductory period, for less than one day’s latte, you get to sell your ebooks together with some of the most awesome astrology writers on the planet. That is the vision.

Come together and let’s make this happen! Visit Astrology Book Club and let me know what you think.

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Beth Turnage authors Astrology Explored as well as being publisher of Astrology Media Press. Beth is available for private consultations. You can contact Beth at starrynightastro@aol.com.
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Astrology Blogger’s Toolbox–Writing Evocative Headlines

Toolbox(Astroblogging) No doubt about, your headline is an extremely important part of your blog post. Whether or not your post is read often depends on how carefully you crafted these critical first words.

According to the Advanced Marketing Institute, the key to grab readers is to amp up your Emotional Marketing Value. Headlines with words that evoke an emotional response are perceived more positively by readers. The AMI notes that most English language words Continue reading

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Plugins, Plugins, Plugins! . . . And One Just For Astrobloggers

Self hosted? Not a Photoshop warrior? No way to add charts to your posts? Well, Jeffrey Kishner has created a plugin to do just this for you. The best part is that this plugin is free!

You can grab this plugin at Jeffrey’s page, where he displays the different options in how you can present the chart by making little changes to the shortcode. While the charts default ascendant is 0 degrees Aries you can add the ascendant degree to the shortcode to get the correct ascendant for the chart you display. Jeffrey explains all this on his page, so I won’t reinvent the (chart) wheel here.

Unfortunately for you Blogspot bloggers, this nifty item is only available in for WordPress. Bummer.

Jetpack by WordPress.comSelf hosted WordPress users can experience a little bit of a let down when migrating off WordPress.com. Where are all the little nifty features? Well those were just for the .com folks, but there is a new plugin under the aegis of WordPress.com allows you to access the best of the best features in the plugin package called Jetpack.

Features include:

Simple, concise stats with no additional load on your server. Previously provided by WordPress.com Stats. These stats are a beautiful thing. I just might give up my Sitemeter subscription.

The WP.me URL shortener.

Hovercard popups for your commenters via Gravatar.
Easily embedded media from popular sites like YouTube, Digg, and Vimeo.

For the Math geeks, a simple way to include beautiful mathematical expressions on your site.

A widget for displaying recent tweets. Previously provided by Wickett Twitter Widget

Your readers can easily share your posts via email or their favorite social networks. Previously provided by the Sharedaddy WordPress plugin.

Your writing will improve thanks to After the Deadline, an artificial intelligence based spell, style, and grammar checker. Previously provided by the After the Deadline WordPress plugin.

The hitch is that you need your WordPress.com account to activate this plugin. And it is true that you can gather up the individual plugins separately, but this package works, simply, neatly, and with no stress on the installer (you).

You can install the plugin directly by searching “Jetpack” in the “Add New” portion of your plugin section and click install. Nothing is easier. You can find more information here.

Another plugin that looked promising but has only presented problems in installation is Bookshelf. Bookshelf promises a free interface to upload, and sell through PayPal, sell your e-books. Oh, it looked beautiful and people who worked through the problems say it works great, but I haven’t gotten the thing to work yet. Too bad, because it would have played a part in my plan to conquer the world. Maybe it still will, if I can get the developer to respond to my request for assistance. We’ll see. If he does and it works, I’ll let you know.

Update: My friends at Hostgator helped to resolve the issue with the plugin, so kudos to them. We’ll roll out the page the plug is is on when Mercury goes direct, because only an astrologer who doesn’t know her craft would launch a new product when Mercury is retrograde!

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Beth Turnage authors Astrology Explored as well as being publisher of Astrology Media Press. Beth is available for private consultations. You can contact Beth at starrynightastro@aol.com.
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Writing Posts That Ride Search Engine Popularity

Search Informed Marketing is Power(Astroblogging) In an astrology blogging workshop that I gave last year I talked about using Google Trends to mine subjects for blog posts. One attendee objected saying he didn’t want his writing dictated by the popular media. He seemed to feel that this is “selling out”.

We blog and we want people to read our work. Unlike other publishing media that has corrals it readership through traditional distribution and marketing tactics. bloggers are dependent on SEO techniques to get our message across. Small blogs often swim against the tide and those who blog in niches like astrology have a bigger task to capture audience.

Looking at other astrology blogs it is clear that a good number of bloggers have a good selection of evergreen posts that explain general concepts in astrology. However, sometimes it is easy for us to lose sight of the fact that everyday readers do not have the background in astronomy or astrology to even name the planets let alone make the leap that the planets have symbolic meanings that relate to their life.

If any of you remember the old television show Welcome Back Kotter, in one of the first episodes Kotter’s class. made up mostly of a gang called the Sweathogs, refused to believe they could learn how atoms works. The scientific information didn’t make sense. They didn’t have a frame of reference. Kotter, thinking out of the box, started taking about hypothetical gangs, the Pro’s and the Trons, where they were positioned and how they related to each other. The Sweathogs got into the discussion and got the frame of reference. “There”, said Kotter triumphantly, “Now you know how the atom works!”

Like the Sweathogs our readers need a frame of reference, something in which they are interested to kick off a discussion of how astrology works in their lives. What better reference than something for which they are searching already?

If you are not familiar with it already, you should check out Google Trends. Though rapidly shifting, Google Hot Topics which shows Twitter postings and Google Hot Searches that track website searches provide a real time snaphot on the most popular searches on the internet. The trick to getting a subject with some staying power, a day or more.

Go ahead, take a look at today’s Google Trends. On a slow news day you will see a mix of celebrity and sports topics and searches. On a hot news day, you will see the events of the day. In any event if you posting every day or nearly every day, these topics and searches can be a spring board to a subject for you to explore astrologically. You don’t have to write about every #1 topic or search, nor should you. Check out the links to see if there is something that sparks your interest. Maybe it is something you knew nothing about, but you can find a way to use it to illustrate a point about astrology. Some of my most traffic garnering posts came from doing just that.

Another benefit from posting on hot topics and searches is that it will help you gain recognition in the search engines. As proof I offer this email that I received today

Hi, Beth – I just Googled “Parke Kunkle interview” and your blog came up number 10. That’s damn good, girlfriend! Janet

Yeah.

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Beth Turnage authors Astrology Explored as well as being publisher of Astrology Media Press. Beth is available for private consultations. You can contact Beth at starrynightastro@aol.com.
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Crazy for Contact Forms

Contact Form(Astroblogging) Let’s face it. Many of us are blogging astrology to build our astrology business. Yet I’ve notice a lot of us are not making use of our blogging visibility by promoting our businesses on our sites. Now you can go back and forth between the esthetics of having too much versus too little personal promotion and much of that is a personal decision.

As someone who has spent much of her professional life selling print products I can tell you marketing professionals spend a lot, and I mean A LOT of time figuring out response rates and the best way to increase them. Marketing professionals zero in on not just the message, but the elements that will get people to respond to the message. In fact, you can have the most compelling message in the world, but if you do not provide to your customers a fast and easy way to respond to the message, it won’t do you a darn bit of good.

As a real world example, the marketing manager of our circulation department set up a promotion that featured a discount on the subscription price if the customer responded on a certain day. Discounts are no brainer in the print circulation world. But he also set up the promotion so that the customer would have to call into the call center to get the discount. Here all the little details that go into a subscription gets attention, from the start date to the payment arrangements. And all the customer had to do was pick up the phone and make the call.

Let’s translate that into building your business from your blog. Take a look at it right now:

Is there an easy way for your potential clients to contact you?

Is it readily visible on the page or does the customer have to click on something else to get there? If it doesn’t smack them in the eye, than that point of contact is doing you little good. Its time to take it up a notch.

Is there an invitation for the potential client to contact you?

The last thing a potential customer want to appear is foolish and most likely won’t reach out to contract you if it isn’t obvious you want them to do so.

Or, (shame on you) is it absent all together?

Some might make the argument that comment sections are all that’s needed, especially since you want to build your up your blog, and comments crank that up. However, my opinion and experience is that when it come to a potential client and their problems they don’t want to share with the world that they are talking with an astrologer much like many don’t admit they are talking with a therapist. At least not at first.

So what’s a solution here? A contact form. much the like you see on the sidebar here. For WordPress users there are a selection of plugins to use as a contact form.

For Astrology Media Press I chose the Word Press Plug In Custom Contact Forms 4.0.1 by Taylor Lovett. This plugin is not connected with a paid service and can be easily changed to suit the look and feel of your site. Since “free” and “customizable” are what I look in a good contact form, it does the trick for me. You do need to take some time to learn the features, so it is not an “out of the box” type of app but it is easy to use even if there is a plethora of features to navigage.

If you use a Google BlogSpot blog you can create your own form and insert the code in your blog.

On the other hand I found this site–Wufoo that lets you create any type of form whose code you can pop into your website. It promises to always be free, though the number of forms you can create are limited to three, so make them some good ones!

Image from user Simon_lwc on Photobucket.

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Beth Turnage authors Astrology Explored as well as being publisher of Astrology Media Press. Beth is available for private consultations. You can contact Beth at starrynightastro@aol.com.
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When Someone Violates Your Copy Right

copyright(Astroblogging) Nothing frustrates a writer more than when someone lifts their work and uses it without permission. The thief may publish the article under his or her own name. Online writers face special challenges because their work is easily copied into someone else’s blog or forum.

This is what one blogging friend found when she traced her work published in its entirety on another site. Appeals to the site admin was met with resistance, denial and even a claim that anything published on the site was protected under the site’s own copyright. What a nightmare!

While imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, in the writing world is also actionable. Few us though have the time and resources to slog things out in court, there are things to do to protect your work.

Experts recommend, of course, that you register your copyright with the U. S. Copyright Office, though registering a blog, which is ongoing collection of material, is problematic. However, just the act of publishing a blog piece with a date and an author name establishes your ownership of the material. As long as your original work predates any subsequent publication of the material the blog itself proves your ownership.

Additional and less expensive ways to protect your material:

1.) Understand what constitutes copyright and copyright infringement. The use of a passage may be considered fair use and not actionable. Printing an entire work without permission certainly is.

2.) Check Copyscape, an online tool that checks and compares other online works to yours, will pull up for free ten searches each search. If you want more, then of course you have to pay at 5 cents per pop. Copyscape provides a nice little badge with warns people not to copy your work. This may or may not be as effective as a “Beware of Dog” sign, but at least you provided a clue on how seriously you take copying of your work.

3.) Write a nice letter to the admin of the site or forum explaining that your work was used without your permission and what you would like them to do to address the issue. In the past I’ve laid out to certain people that a paragraph and a link to the rest of material is OK, wholesale copying of the work is not. State what will happen if the material is not removed. Most reasonable people comply.

4.) If this doesn’t work than then next may. Write to domain server explaining that you found a terms-of-service violation in one of their hosted sites. If you don’t know the domain server you can find this information in the Who Is? Database, which can be accessed through your own domain registrar. Go Daddy for instance will allow you to look at the Who Is? Database list of the owner of the domain name. In the list you will domain server name. Most of the time, writing to the host will solve your problem, as they certainly don’t want a legal fight on their hands.

What are your experiences with people who have used your work without permission?

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Beth Turnage authors Astrology Explored as well as being publisher of Astrology Media Press. Beth is available for private consultations. You can contact Beth at starrynightastro@aol.com.
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Posted in Copyright Law, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Sometimes You Just Have to Fiddle With the Code

Swearing(Astro Blogging) You’ve seen some of your friends add a Facebook “Like” button and a “Tweet” button to each of their posts. And you think “Gee, I’d like to do that too!” Actually Blog Grader recommends that you do. This was my blogging project yesterday for Astrology Explored. At one site I grabbed the code for a Facebook Like button, and another a Tweet button picking in each case the horizontal option with the intention of putting them side by side. Except of course, it didn’t quite work like that, since the code for each didn’t quite match in size parameters. The Facebook button’s code actually stretch across the length of the blog post preventing the Tweet button to side next to it. Even when I fiddled with the length parm for the Like button, the Tweet button sadly sat below it to the left. Hmm. Sometimes you just have to fiddle with the code.

Actually, if you are paying attention, you can change some of these parameters even on the page where you grab the code. However, some people aren’t even aware of their pixel width for a blog page, so it is just as easy to make changes within the code as long as you are careful.

For some the thought of tweeking a code is scary. Many of us don’t know enough about how these codes are put together. And it is true a little misstep can produce some unintended results. Let’s take a look at one code, so you can get an idea of what you are looking at. Let’s look at the Facebook Like button which I laid out here in pieces.

iframe src= This is the opening statement which defines what this particular piece of code is. There are different statement, they all do pretty much the same thing. Do not change this

http://www.facebook.com/plugins/like.php?href=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.astrologyexplored.net%2Fhome&amp > In this piece of the string is your web address to link the action of the code to your site. Again do not change this.

;layout=standard&show_faces=true& Instructions for look of the button. Do not alter.

width=450& Ah, something looks like it can be changed! This is the width, which at 450 goes across the length of the blog. But no, this in not the number to change because changing it will do nothing. Just leave it alone.

action=like&colorscheme=light& More instructions for the look of the button. Unless you want to be particularly daring, just leave it alone.

height=80″ Though we want to change the height, this is not the place to do it.

scrolling=”no” Another instruction to ignore.

frameborder=”0″ style=”border:none; overflow:hidden; Again, no need to fiddle with this.

width:450px; With the “px” notation, which stands for pixels you can change this number as long as it is not shorter than the image. In this case I changed it to 300, which when the Tweet button butts up against it, will put the Tweet button at the half way mark of the blog. Sweet.

height:80px;” The height parameter, to achieve the effect I am looking for needs to be changed. Since on the Tweet button’s height is 20 pixel, I’ll change the Facebook button’s height to the same pixel height.

allowTransparency=”true”> Another image instruction. No need to touch this.

/iframe The closing statement which closes the door on this piece of code. Leave this alone.

To put the two side by side, just insert the Tweet code at the end of the closing iframe statement.

The result is this:

Go ahead. Press the buttons. See what happens!

So what do you do to have this code show up in each of your posts? Sorry, no automation here. Copy and paste it each time in the new post.

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Beth Turnage authors Astrology Explored as well as being publisher of Astrology Media Press. Beth is available for private consultations. You can contact Beth at starrynightastro@aol.com.
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Image from Photobucket from user FamousPoliceDog

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Grade Your Blog Here

Blog Grade for astroblogging.net/main

(Astroblogging) I’m blogging this because Hub Spot told me I should. No, this is not some evil plot on Hub Spot’s part. A while back I wrote about Hub Spot’s Web Site Grader which is very cool way to see what is good and not helpful about your current site.

Web Site Grader spun out mini-version of this as Blog Grader. In looking at their helpful recommendations they told me I should do another post. They also had some other helpful things to say. They recommended I should post more often, recommending at least once a day, though in their own blog post they noted that A list bloggers post twice a day. They thought the average post length was a little short. And they’ll show you the level of social media engagement that your blog enjoys, or not.

In the end, if you want, you can get this nifty little badge (shown above) that can be inserted into your blog, if you want to display your blog rank.

All in all, this is nice snapshot of your blog, and following their suggestions will help you out a bit, without stressing out with a lot of do’s and don’ts.

If you want you can type in another blogs URL to see how you stack up to them.

While you are at it, you can check their list of the Top Sixty Astrology Blogs for October 2010 based on their rankings.

Looks like I have some work to do, so I better get cracking! Let me know how this works for you!

Posted in Promotion, SEO | Tagged , , , , | 10 Comments

Widgets, and Networks and Customer Service, Oh My!

(Astroblogging) The great irony of my life is that in my day job among other things I run a call center. This means that I have high expectations at what I expect from customer service of other companies. Among these high expectations is an attitude that the customer MUST be satisfied in the course of an interaction with a company.

You can imagine my frustration then at dealing with Widget Box, a company which Astroblogging previously endorsed, but sadly must now tell you, don’t go near these people with a stick.

Widget Box allows you to create widgets, and if you decide to “Go Pro” they will generously allow your widget to go without their advertisements. There is a price for this generousity, however, $29 per year. I ponied up this amount last year when I created Astrology Media Press last year on the defunct Blogs.Mu site. Blogs.Mu had a limited selection of widgets, so I attempted to fill the void with Widget Box widgets. This year, going to Host Gator with Astrology Media Press my WordPress options expanded and the Widget Box widgets were no longer needed. My problem stemmed from not cancelling the service before they automatically charged my PayPal account again.

Here is my communications with Widget Box. If I wasn’t so annoyed with them, I would be laughing my head off.

Dear Sirs,

Regarding a recurring payment on my Paypal account, (Recurring Payment ID#86919885TU790951S) on paypal account under the email (deleted).

Please discontinue this yearly subscription fee, cancel my widgetbox account if you like, and please refund this money.

I did not intend to renew, but since I received no advance notice of the charge, did not have a chance to do so.

If you check your records you will see I have not accessed the widgetbox account in quite some time, and I simply find no use for the product.

Sincerely,

Beth Turnage

Their reply:

Dear Beth,

I’d be happy to answer any questions you might have about your subscription and you are welcome to cancel anytime. Simply login to the widgetbox site and go you “my Account.” You can scroll to the bottom of the page to find options to cancel your subscription or cancel your account all together. You can also click on “purchases” and find the option to cancel there, as well.

However, please keep in mind, per our terms-of-sale, that a subscription service is non-refundable. So this step will only cancel additional service periods: http://www.widgetbox.com/info/legal/terms-of-sale. We emailed a reminder of the renewal on July 21, 2010 to the email address we have on file at Widgetbox: starrynightastro@aol.com. I currently show that you account is active with 4 PRO widgets and therefor not eligible for a refund.

The account will continue to have the Pro functionality until the subscription period has ended, after which time it will turn back to a basic account and functionality and you will not be billed again.

We will be more than happy to assist you with any functionality concerns, as needed. You can find a list of our various Pro products and features here: http://www.widgetbox.com/info/about-us/our-products/. If you are having functionality issues with any of your services, please send a detailed email to support@widgetbox.com and your email will be answered in the order it was received or review the many customer questions and interactions at http://www.getsatisfaction.com/widgetbox

Please let me know if you have any further questions.
Cheers,
Brittany

That “cheers” really got to me, especially since this company told me to go take care of my request myself and yeah, sucker we are keeping your money even though you are not using our service.

And no, despite their assertions I did not get ANY emails regarding a future charge to my PayPal account.

So you can be sure that I went right away, deleted the entire account and send them another email.

Response:

“Unfortunately, I cannot offer you a refund on a product you have had for over a year.”

This despite the fact that the fee was a subscription fee for one year into the future.

But I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised since charging people perpetually for services they aren’t receiving seems to be de rigour in the online world. Despite the fact that Blogs.Mu has been out of business for three months, and has given me one refund already, its parent company WPMU DEV continues to charge me my monthly hosting fee.

Its up to you folks, but you just might want to avoid these businesses, because life is too short for bad customer service.

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Beth Turnage authors Astrology Explored as well as being publisher of Astrology Media Press. Beth is available for private consultations. You can contact Beth at starrynightastro@aol.com.
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