02/05/2001

Mailbag:

Windows 98 in a Ram Disk

Defeating Web ads. I’ve read enough talk of ads on the ‘net recently that I think it’s time I share a little secret. This is from an upcoming Shopper UK article, but seeing as it probably won’t hit the streets until May, why not talk about it now?

A lot of sites are putting policies in place to ban ad-blocking software. I think that’s a bit ridiculous. I didn’t used to have a problem with ads online. They were small and unobtrusive. Then people started using animation to get more out of the tiny space. I thought that was clever. Then the animations started speeding up immensely, and that was when I started getting annoyed. I don’t like movement on Web pages. Movement is inherently distracting. We naturally pay attention to movement, because way back when, movement meant lunch. Or it meant something thought we were lunch. So we instinctively give the moving priority over the static.

I don’t have a philosophical problem with advertising, but when you force me to look at blinky stuff while I’m trying to read text, it starts to bug me. Blinky stuff that’s also sexually suggestive really gets on my nerves. No wonder guys think about sex 72 times a day–it’s flashed in front of our faces constantly! So I normally block ads, using one of the many great ad-blocking programs out there.

But IE has a feature that makes ad-blocking less necessary. If it’s just the blinky stuff that bugs you, turn off GIF animation. Go to Tools, Internet Options, Advanced, then scroll down to Multimedia and clear the checkbox labeled Play Animations. That’ll tone down the GIF-based ads. Java and Javascript-based ads will still get through, but you can disable those there as well. Unfortunately there’s not much you can do about Flash, though if you right-click on some Flash ads, there’s an option that comes up called Play. Clear that checkmark, and the ad stops. It doesn’t always work but it does sometimes.

O’Reilly online. Frank McPherson noted the existance of O’Reilly books online.  Yes, they launched a subscription e-book service this summer. Authors are supposed to get unlimited access to the library (they never got around to sending me account information… big surprise), and we do get a very small royalty. Basically if someone subscribes to one of our e-books for a full year, we’ll get about the same amount as we would have if the subscriber had bought a paper copy. I know Optimizing Windows was available for a while as an e-book; one quarter its e-book sales actually outsold the paper copy by a pretty wide margin.

I really don’t expect this initiative to succeed long-term, but maybe I’ll be surprised.

Frank noted a conspicuous absence of Windows titles in the e-books selection. O’Reilly’s trying to de-emphasize their Windows books, and they may pull their Windows lines altogether due to slow sales. I talked to a marketing wizard I know about this. Books aren’t his thing. Food packaging, banks, and churches are–odd combination, I know, but this guy is one of those people who never meets expectations, but rather, exceeds them beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, so I listen to him. I took him a copy of Optimizing Windows one day and asked him if he had any idea why it didn’t sell. He gave it a really funny look, so I explained to him what the book’s about.

He said it sounded like an outstanding product. He said he had an aging PC at home and his kids were bugging him for a new one, but he’d rather wait another year. I told him that’s probably feasible–the machine’s only a couple of years old. He said there must be a million people in his boat, so why can’t you tell that this product is a solution to that problem by looking at the cover? I explained O’Reilly’s history as a publisher of Unix books and how they came to put animals on the cover. “So you’re telling me they’re selling this like a Unix book. But this isn’t a Unix book. Is your target audience Unix guys, or is it people like me? I wouldn’t buy this book because I have no way of knowing what’s in it. And Unix guys won’t either, because it’s not a Unix book. It just looks like one.”

I thought about that observation for a long, long time. Animals on the cover of Unix books works, partly because there’s such a dearth of good Unix books. O’Reilly could have come along when it was getting started and printed plain brown covers with the word “BIND” or “Sendmail” or “Perl” in block letters on the cover and spine and it would have sold. All you have to do to succeed in the Unix market is exist with a halfway readable and halfway correct product, and you’ll own it (that’s harder to do than it sounds). Plus, animals on the covers of Unix books appeal to the warped sense of humor of the Unix sysadmin.

But Windows is a different audience for the most part, and should be a different product line with a different approach. It’s consumer-driven. It’s pop. Sure, pop’s less sophisticated than AOR, but pop potentially makes you more money. “Your cover should have, I don’t know, two window washers cleaning a computer monitor.” Or the great new logo that Shopper UK came up with for my “Optimise Your PC” series for next month–what looks like a bottle of glass cleaner with the words “Maximum optimisation” sprawled on the label. Brilliant. It gives you the same “what the heck is this?” reaction that the animals on the cover of a Unix book give, but require less thought to figure out what it means. You see the glass cleaner, then suddenly it hits you: “Oh, this is how I clean up my PC!”

I told him about those great designs that Shopper UK comes up with. “Can’t you get one of those guys to design you a new cover for your book?” he asked me.

I told him that wouldn’t be the O’Reilly Way.

Mailbag:

Windows 98 in a Ram Disk

%d bloggers like this:
WordPress Appliance - Powered by TurnKey Linux