Interview with Brian Clark by Adam Fraser
This is a transcript of this podcast interview with Brian Clark
Adam: I’m delighted to welcome Brian Clark to the EchoJunction Podcast. Brian is a serial entrepreneur based in Boulder, Colorado, who is the founder and CEO of Copyblogger Media. Copyblogger comes from a blogging and copywriting heritage and is an innovative company that provides the advice and solutions that empower people to successfully grow their business through social media and online marketing. Copyblogger has been recognized as one of the most influential blogs in the world by publications such as The Guardian and Advertising Age.
Brian is a leading influencer in the online marketing world, who has been featured in books by Seth Godin, Joe Pulizzi, Chris Brogan, Darren Rowse, and Daniel Pink, to name just a few. I’ve been following Copyblogger’s work for many years, and I’m happy to disclose the EchoJunction blog and this very podcast is hosted on the Rainmaker Platform which was developed by Brian and his team. Brian, a big welcome to Australia and the EchoJunction Podcast.
Brian: Adam, thanks for having me and thanks for the wonderful introduction. I will try to live up to it.
Adam: Great to have you here, Brian. So, look. I obviously touched on a brief summary there. But maybe take some of the listeners through your backstory and in particular, I guess the Copyblogger story and how it grew to its current size.
Brian: Yeah. So, it actually dates back, I guess seven years before I started Copyblogger, more or less, I was actually an attorney and a very unhappy one at that. This was during the ’90s. So I graduated from law school in ’94, and spent about four years practicing law in a very nice, big firm and had a wonderful office and all that, and was completely miserable. I’d go home every night, and this was the beginning of the commercial web, and I’m just staring at that computer monitor going, “There’s got to be a way to make a living with the ability to reach all these people.”
Now, mind you, I’d never taken a business class, never read a marketing book. I was completely clueless. But believe it or not, that actually worked to my benefit, because I had no bad habits to unlearn. Anyway, I floundered around. In 1999, you mentioned Seth Godin, I read his book, “Permission Marketing,” and that was my first marketing book I ever read, and that’s all I needed.
I figured it out, as far as I was doing already in my first business, which failed… I was building audiences by creating content, building an email list, audience, all the things we now look at as modern marketing. But I was doing it from thinking that I would have an advertising business model, because that’s what you did when you publish content. So, when I read “Permission Marketing,” I realized that I was doing everything right, except he was speaking to people who had products or services to sell.
So I said, “Ah, okay. I need to have something to sell instead of just advertising,” which wasn’t working out at all. The only think I really had was my law degree, and I wasn’t too keen on practicing law. But I was running out of money and I really wanted to see if this would work. So I created yet another email newsletter about legal issues related to internet marketing and advertising, hoping I’d pick up a client here or there to just keep me in ramen noodles and keep the lights on.
Instead, I got a flood of clients. It was amazing. Still not wanting to practice law, so I started to turn away people. I played hard to get. I only took clients who would pay me on a regular basis, clients who would pay me the most, clients who had the most interesting work, and then meanwhile, I was trying to make the other business work. Well, the dot-com crash happened and that was the best thing ever, because it killed that first business and I’ve never tried to build a business with an advertising model again since.
But I did build two more service businesses in the real estate industry with content. That was my real entrepreneurial first success, in that it was a real business. It wasn’t just a solo practice. I was making more money than I would’ve made if I would’ve stayed with that big law firm, and it was amazing. I was doing it all with content and email, and copywriting, which I had taught myself once I figured out that the internet is a direct medium, in that you don’t need intermediaries. You can develop a relationship directly with people through your content, and then they can hire you or buy your stuff, or whatever the case may be.
So, come to 2005, I’m burnt out from these two businesses and I start looking at what’s happening in the world of blogging. I had used blogs in kind of creative ways in my businesses, especially related to SEO. But I never really blogged properly until I started Copyblogger. But I was watching what was going on with the so-called professional blogging movement. It was moving from a hobby and kind of a community thing to business.
Darren Rowse, there in Australia, was one of my big inspirations. The interesting thing about watching Darren was he’s trying to teach bloggers how to write titles and compelling content and all of these things. From my perspective, as someone who had taught myself direct response copywriting, I’m like, “No. You’re talking about headlines and you’re talking about leads, and you’re talking about calls to action.” It was a completely different vocabulary for the same thing.
I had found that applying the art of copywriting, which people think about as sales, in order to sell something, but you can also apply the same principles to regular content that’s not selling anything. You’ll get more traffic. You’ll get more readers. You’ll get more engagement. You’ll get more people to sign up for your email list, all of that sort of thing.
Now, in 2015 you’re like, “Yeah. Duh, Brian. We’ve been to BuzzFeed. We see everyone writing, The clickbait and this and that.” But in 2006, that was a revelation to people. So, Copyblogger was designed to be a complement to what Darren and others were doing. But it had a very different slant. It was you applied these copywriting principles to make content more engaging. But also sell things, don’t sell advertising.
Now, at that time, among the blogging old guard at the time, I was the devil that I would mention selling things with a blog, which is funny, when we sit here today and look at it. We didn’t call it content marketing. I’d been doing it since ’99, but we didn’t have a name for it. And it was Joe Pulizzi who convinced me in 2008 to basically adopt the term. That was a good move, because now content marketing is a 44, what is it, billion dollar industry now? It’s amazing, because in short content is what people want. Marketing and advertising are what people want to avoid. So if you can give people what they want, but also tie that to what you’re doing as a business, then you’ve got the recipe for success.
Since that initial failure, I’ve started eight successful companies and now run Copyblogger Media, which started with the blog, Copyblogger. We never took venture capital. We haven’t done advertising up until lately, and we did $10 million in revenue last year. So, I guess we teach people content marketing, but we also practice what we preach.
Adam: Now, that’s a great story, Brian. Look, just to bring the point out that I’m obviously very, very familiar with the whole Copyblogger story and history, some in the audience may be less familiar, just to emphasize the point, you’ve been blogging at Copyblogger since ’06, have never taken a penny in advertising revenue. So the business model, was it always the intent from day one to sell products and services? You’ve sold a whole range of products related to WordPress training and associate topics. Was that always the intention from day one, not to advertising?
Brian: Oh, exactly. Yes. When I started Copyblogger, I did not have a business model. I did not have a product. I did not have a service. My basic plan was, “I’m going to build an audience and I’m going to listen to them. They’ll tell me what their problems and desires are, and then I’ll figure it out,” which again, at the time, sounded very strange. It sounded like you had no plan, and yet now we had the whole lean startup movement and that, “This is how you develop products based on demonstrated demand and feedback.”
All of this kind of stuff just kind of came in line with that approach. So it was actually almost two years before we launched our first product, which was a training course called “Teaching Sells” about online education. That was another thing that, at that time, in the blogging world, everyone was like, “No one will ever pay for content. Everything will be free. Everything will be advertising-based.” Of course, I knew that was silly, and now as we sit here today, online education does $15 billion a year in revenue.
Brian: So a lot of things had to come together from that beginning point until today, and hopefully, at least on the big things, I was on the right track. I tried to bring the audience along with me so that they too could create the businesses that they wanted to, or they could add online marketing to their existing business in a way that actually worked.
Adam: Yeah. Look, online education, when LinkedIn paid $1.5 billion for Lynda, I think we can safely say it’s on the map, but that’s probably a topic for an entire other podcast.
Brian: Yeah. It still blows my mind because Lynda.com was around back when we started, and good for them. They deserve it. They were pioneers and they grew a great business. For a long time, they didn’t take venture capital either and then they eventually did. Then, of course, the acquisition by LinkedIn, I think, has really been the huge validator of commercially-driven, on-demand education. As opposed to, historically, we’ve looked to institutions, whether it be Harvard or something like the University of Phoenix.
Brian: But now, the commercial sector is the only area where people are fast enough and motivated enough to provide people with what they need. Because we’re all going to be learning until the day we die in this society of ours.
Adam: I know, absolutely. So, Brian, I was interested about Joe Pulizzi and the term “content marketing,” which I guess, at the very least, it’s a common term that’s obviously widely used. I guess there’s a reasonable understanding of what that relates to. But what’s your view on the term “content marketing?” What you’ve described that Copyblogger did, audience first, then sell products and services, is that what you observe most people currently claiming to practice content marketing are doing today?
Brian: Well, I think there’s two things. So, content marketing will work for an existing business. I used it in the most kind of traditional state, businesses of legal services and real estate brokerage services. So that’s one thing. The other concept of building an audience first before you build a product or service is really just starting to catch on. There was a case study in a book called “The Lean Entrepreneur” about Copyblogger Media and that approach. So, I think that is a legitimizing factor to getting to more people.
Speaking of Joe, his next book is about to come out called “Content Inc.” and it’s all about building an audience first. I had the pleasure of writing the foreword for that.
Brian: Yeah. That aspect of it is catching on. As far as the term “content marketing,” we begrudgingly accepted it, because we don’t think it’s the greatest term and sometimes it’s confusing to people. You see in the world of journalism all the time, people confusing native advertising with… You know? It’s just a big mess. So I tried to explain it starting, I guess, a little over a year and a half ago, with the term “media, not marketing.” That really seemed to set off a few light bulbs when people understand what content we’re supposed to be creating.
Adam: Yeah. Look, that’s a great segway, Brian, because I actually wanted to talk about the podcast series you did, which I’ll link up in the show notes, “Media, Not Marketing” which really, I agree. It cut through for me, as a listener, and you talked about a great case study in there or just a historical example of Proctor & Gamble and soap operas in the 1950s. Do you want to just elaborate a bit on that? Because I think that’s a really good sort of marker for people to understand the media first approach.
Brian: Yeah. That is a great example. It actually dates back, I think, to the 1930s. I love to tell this story, because there’s a little bit of misdirection involved. So, you say that you’ve got this soap company and they need to reach a certain demographic, which is stay-at-home housewives. They’re not sure how to do it, so they turn to this new technological medium to transmit content instead of just advertisements in order to make these women raving fans, instead of just prospects and consumers that you market or advertise at.
Then, everyone’s like, “Oh, this is a great internet story.” No, this was Proctor & Gamble, a soap company out of Cincinnati. It’s the 1930s and the new technological medium is radio, and the content is the soap opera. That’s why it’s called that. They invented these serial dramas basically about families and strife, and joy, and cliffhanger endings every week, and all of the kind of stuff that we’ve come to associate with the televised version of soap operas, which Proctor & Gamble moved to in the 1950s. They moved “Guiding Light” and “As the World Turns” to the new medium of television.
Now, the interesting thing here is they weren’t a sponsor or advertiser supporting these shows. They were the producer. They created these shows. They were doing content marketing. The more interesting thing… I always try to drive this home, because it’s not just about marketing. By the 1970s, the soap opera was the most lucrative form of television on the planet. So, as you can imagine from an intellectual property standpoint, Proctor & Gamble was sitting on a goldmine of content. In the meantime, they also turned into one of the biggest conglomerates in the world and also one of the biggest brand advertisers in the world, because in those days, mass media advertising worked really well. Nowadays, not so much.
But content marketing actually dates back even to the 1890s. John Deere, the tractor manufacturer, has been publishing a magazine for farmers since that time, and they still do it to this day. It’s not new. It’s always been effective. But now, it’s kind of all that really works really well, because online, again, the surfer, or the prospect, or however you want to term it, has all the control. They go on their own journey. They use search engines. They use social media to figure out what they want. They’re not going to be sold to necessarily, until they’re willing to pay attention to you in order to receive an offer. That is done by delivering the right kind of content that’s engaging and holds attention at the right time.
Adam: Now, that’s a great example. I just wanted, Brian, to dive into the Proctor & Gamble case study for a couple of sort of sub-questions. Look, it illustrates a great point, and really fast-forward to the Copyblogger story, build your audience first, then find a way to monetize it and you’ve chosen to sell products and services. I guess, following that framework through, in the early days, P&G were using product placement as a form of marketing. So is almost product placement a form of content marketing when it’s sort of placed into content that attracted an audience in the first place?
Brian: Yeah. I think, yes. Product placement is a kind of content marketing, except when you’re not the content producer, it’s advertising. Right?
Brian: So there’s an entire industry built around Heineken… Or here’s a good one. Red Stripe paid money to be the beer that Gene Hackman and Tom Cruise pull out of the fridge in the movie, “The Firm.” Right?
Brian: And that’s often used as an example of one of the most lucrative product placements ever, because Red Stripe was an unknown Jamaican beer that became, all of a sudden, hip and trendy, and everyone knew what it was. That’s successful. BMW and other car brands have done that quite effectively. But that’s really a form of advertising. As far as with Procter and Gamble, they were the sponsor of their own show. To bring that to an example of what we do, so we started a podcast network called Rainmaker FM. Rainmaker FM, the site, is built on our rainmaker platform. So it’s a demonstration of the platform and it’s the sponsor of all the episodes. See? It’s very similar to what Procter and Gamble did, in just an updated modern context.
Adam: I guess, Brian, when people hear content marketing, they may think about – and this is all good stuff – educational marketing, white papers, how-to guides, YouTube videos, sort of directly related to their own product or service. And I think – tick – that’s okay. Again, just thinking about the Procter and Gamble example, are you suggesting enterprises, many of whom are listeners to this show, should almost think about entertainment as almost pure entertainment a la a RedBull? Or should Coca-Cola be making documentaries? Should Google be making movies? Should enterprises be thinking broader than content directly related to their own product and service?
Brian: Yeah. For someone like us who sells software and training, the marketing is directly related to the education that you provide. You’re educating people to the point that they can do business with you. Now, you brought up RedBull, which is one of my favorite examples. They’re a media company that happens to sell nasty, sugary energy drinks, right? And they’re killing it because they media first – media, not marketing. So they’re, effectively, their own sponsor. They really push it, obviously. Felix Baumgartner, is that his name? You know, he did BASE drop. Red Bull is an amazing example of someone taking a media first approach to selling something that really doesn’t have anything to do with it. But what really does an energy drink have to do with anything? You’re really selling a lifestyle.
Coca-Cola has announced that they have very ambitious plans in regard to creating the whole lifestyle around Coke and all this kind of stuff. Again, you’re selling brown sugar water that’s just not all that good for you. You get the idea. I think that consumer brand level, you’re really creating a lifestyle content, which is entertainment. I’ve used the example in the past, if Google News has been accused of destroying newspapers when they actually send newspapers traffic. So I never understood that. But with Google’s resources, why don’t they just go into the newspaper business? They can actually afford to get into journalism, which is a big problem because right now our newspapers are dying.
That’s a big societal issue that we have to face. How do you subsidize real investigative journalism and yet not turn it all into content marketing where you’re worried about bias and everything? Apple could make movies. You start thinking about the logical conclusion of this, and it may not turn out to be the case as with these hypothetical examples, but it’s definitely what’s working. With the budgets that are spent on advertising and the declining and diminishing returns that people are seeing due to the fragmentation of media, what other choice do we have?
Adam: It’s interesting, when you talk about print media, again, one of the reasons I love the media not marketing approach, it chunks down almost the value chain into – step one build audience with engaging, entertaining, educational content. And then very separate decision step two: how do I commercially exploit that? Given the world of pain traditional media’s been in, and let’s focus on print in particular, but TV and radio, we could also talk about, why do you think they’ve never looked in any serious way beyond advertising as a business model? Because as you’ve shown, there’s a number of ways you can monetize an audience, yet particularly print media just seems to be stuck in this “We have to sell advertising. They’re playing with native advertising and things that margin, but I don’t see any widespread use of training conferences, products, and services.
Brian: I think it’s a legacy issue. They still see all of these businesses that have to somehow reach an audience. And they have an audience, so why wouldn’t advertising be it? And yet, I think in the digital space, you’ve seen a much more willing and aggressive move, specifically into conferences, research, and other forms of premium content behind a member wall, beyond the typical metered approach to “you can read five articles and then you have to pay” kind of thing. I think there’s a lot of experimentation going on, but everyone is afraid to go to radical. You’ve got shareholders. All of these people have watched how mass media worked and how advertising worked, and they’re just saying, “Well you’ve got to find a way to make it work,” instead of thinking “You know what? We need to tear this down and start looking at it differently.”
Now, there’s some hope here, and I think you have to adapt or die here. I know that the Dallas Morning News, which was spun off from Belo Corporation, now owns marketing services firms. So instead of just accepting advertisers and for these type of businesses that need services, instead, they actually own the service providers. I think you’ll see more and more of that as people get over, number one, the illusion of objectivity that is actually a recent thing.
People think that the separation of advertising and editorial has been this sacred thing going back for hundreds of years. But really, it’s only the 20th century where that happened. I don’t know if you remember, the whole beginning of the subscription model in newspapers was a reaction to yellow journalism and sensationalism where the paper was sold on the corner by someone yelling out the most sensational headline they can get. BuzzFeed is not an anomaly, we’ve just come full circle.
Adam: That’s right. The old click-bait was a guy…I remember in London, people screaming evening standard headlines.
Brian: Absolutely. Everything ebbs and flows, and we adapt to changing circumstances. And yet, I think the anomaly that we will look back on as mass media will be seen as an aberration for the short period that it existed. And yet, it was so powerful, and enterprises make so much money. Procter and Gamble’s a great example. They may have been a pioneer of content marketing, and yet, it was so easy to buy advertising and make a truckload of money. That worked for a period of time. And people want that back. That was awesome. But unfortunately, I don’t think it’s going to happen again.
Adam: That pesky internet thing de-fragmented and blew the whole model up.
Brian: And the 500 channels on cable. Everything has fragmented, which, when you think about it, is a very natural thing. There’s no going back, so it’s time to accept reality. And we may discover that there are better models once we let go of our irrational desire for the past to return.
Adam: Sure. Got it. Look, Brian, I just want to shift gears a little bit, still in the sort of content, broad topic but moving more towards the social media end of things. One thing I must thank Copyblogger and yourself for is the term digital share cropping, and education around that, because that’s really helped me frame up some of my thinking on the social media space today. But again, for those listening that may not be familiar with that term, do you want to just talk through the concept of digital share cropping?
Brian: Yes. This is a term that we have adopted pretty wholeheartedly. It was actually coined by Nicholas Carr. He is a very strident critic of the internet and some of the things that we’re dealing with in the shift towards a digital existence, and I think he’s playing a valuable role. But in this context, he was talking about the platforms. Facebook is the best example because they’ve lived up to the fear that digital sharecropping is supposed to invoke just like clockwork all the time. It’s not like an empty thing.
But basically, you have these Silicon Valley VC-funded platforms. They don’t create content themselves; they’re providing a mechanism for publishing conversation, networking, all of this kind of thing. And then they’re relying on you to provide all that content. That’s fine if you’re talking to your high school friends or your relatives or you’re sharing photos, whatever the case may be. But you saw this big movement perpetuated by so-called and self-proclaimed social media experts that “You don’t need a web site, just build a Facebook page.” Bad idea.
The number one rule of digital sharecropping is, you own your own property. You own your home base, on your own domain, your website, because that’s the only thing you can control. Now, that doesn’t mean you don’t use Facebook to drive traffic back to home base – Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, whatever the case may be. But so many people are always looking for the shortcut. So many people want to believe that if you just go where the people are, you don’t actually have to do marketing or provide value or anything like that. I can tell you right now, even years ago, it was just as hard to build an audience and convert it into paying customers or clients on Facebook as it would be on your own website. But what happened was, business pages started getting shut down, with no reason given, and it’s gone. You don’t control that property.
The more recent revelation where, even I think at the enterprise level, we’re seeing…people are fed up. They’re just done with this approach of buying likes and engaging, trying to build a “community” on Facebook. And now Facebook wants you to again pay them for the privilege of reaching the audience that you’ve built. And why not? It’s their property. They can do whatever they want. We’ve been preaching against this for at least five, six years.
But it’s starting to come to a head. There is a force to report that is making the rounds and getting some traction about enterprise-level companies leaving social media and creating their own branded communities. Not leaving social media but basically just doing what we’ve been advocating all along. You can be on social media but the goal is to bring them to you. Back to a place where you can control at least the terms of how that place is run, but also you’re building a true community of people as opposed to feeding Facebook perpetually. That’s, in a nutshell, what one would avoid in the digital sharecropping realm.
Adam: It’s interesting, Brian, this sort of Fanz Kafka horror story is now panning out in a predictable way. The recent deal with instant publishing where even people like The New York Times are now publishing content directly onto Facebook as opposed to the even yet linking from Facebook to their own intellectual property. What are your thoughts on that? It seemed like quite a marker for major publishers to be putting stuff directly onto Facebook.
Brian: Yeah, especially for the times, it’s just a desperation and lack of, I think, autonomy that the newspapers are desperate, even The Times, which is probably the only newspaper in the United States that’s in a fairly solid position compared to the local daily. I don’t know. I do not like Facebook. I do not think Facebook is good for media or democracy or take your pick. Because their interest and ours are not aligned, but they’re dangling these billion people in front of you as if that’s a separate internet and like they can’t click over and go to where something enticing is. People will actually click and go visit something that’s worth their time. It just seems like a shortcut in thinking that is going to turn out badly for them. Because I don’t care if you’re The New York Times or Joe Blow publisher, Facebook has all the power in that situation. So what’s the incentive for them to treat you fairly?
Adam: Because in a similar lot, Brian, I was interested…In fact, the technology sector, we all love the next big thing and we get excited. Meerkat and Periscope was the latest thing. But I’m sure you recall six or seven months ago, Ello launched with great fanfare and it got a real buzz for a good two or three weeks and then seems to have faded away somewhat. But what I was interested about was the business model that we’re trying to pursue, which was you, the user – and this is the individual user, and I guess the enterprise user as well – would share the advertising dollars generated from the content.
So almost the antidote to the digital share cropping issue. It made such intuitive sense. It was such a logical win-win, if you like. It doesn’t seem to be getting a lot of traction. Can we almost sadly conclude individual users don’t seem to care? They’re blindly, happily handing over the crown jewels to Facebook? Or do you think models such as LO may eventually come good?
Brian: Well, it’s interesting. Of course Ello was largely based in Boulder, so it was kind of like the hometown team. But I didn’t have a lot of hope that it was going to take off but all of us flock over there because, remember at the beginning of Twitter, everyone thought that was stupid. And then it turned out “That’s a thing.” I think everyone sets up their handles and establishes their little beach head just in case it takes off. But when you think about that, that’s no way to actually get…that’s not enthusiasm, that’s covering your bases.
So I think that was the whole Ello thing. And you’re right. It seemed like it was three weeks and it was over, the speed at which new ideas die. I think, as opposed to something like Ello, which is really just another broad social media network and never had a chance, I think what’s going to happen is, you’re going to see social networks that splinter off by interest and affinity.
Everyone’s on Facebook because everyone’s on Facebook. I don’t know anyone who likes Facebook. You feel like you have to be there. And to me that’s the only hope we have of Facebook falling. Nobody thought MySpace was gonna go away, and of course, it did. I will give Zuckerberg credit. He’s making some very, very smart acquisitions with that. It’s basically play money to go buy Whatsapp. We reel at the billions that are spent. Instagram. Beautiful move. That’s what’s really where people…I know my kids love Instagram.
They don’t want anything to do with Facebook. They have made some smart moves because I think Zuckerberg lays awake at night thinking about becoming MySpace, and he’s protecting himself. But whether or not the core Facebook platform endures, it sounds terrible that I have my fingers crossed. But I think it’s the way of the network world. People will always migrate to something more compelling and where they have true enthusiasm, and I don’t see a lot of enthusiasm for the core Facebook platform. It’s almost like “I wouldn’t even check in there, but everyone I know is there.”
Adam: Look, Brian, I could dive even deeper on that topic but there’s just a couple more questions I want to get to before I let you go, and I want to talk podcasting. A very meta topic even though we are on a podcast doing so. I’ve listened to your individual podcast, Brian, for many years. And recently, you launched a podcast network. I guess, again, just for those in the audience that don’t know what on earth a podcast network looks like, can you just talk through that and then maybe some insight into your thinking as to why you broadened from individual podcast shows to a broader Copyblogger network?
Brian: Podcast network is just, in my mind, a collection of many shows that are topically related. On Rainmaker FM, we talk about digital marketing, digital commerce, all the topics to add to our interest to our general audience but also people who would eventually be interested in the Rainmaker platform. Thank you for being on it, by the way. Because that platform is on your own domain and it is your own property that you control. So we’re really trying to say, “Look, here’s the alternative to getting screwed over by whomever Facebook or whatever the next case may be. You’ve got to build your own audience. It’s the most powerful thing that you can do. It’s what I owe every successful business that I’ve created. It’s what I owe being able to start a company from a blog, and then do $10 million dollars in revenue last year.”
To big companies, that’s a drop in the bucket. But for us, that’s pretty remarkable, without VC, without advertising. The podcast network, in our sense, is a way…because Copyblogger was very focused on writers who tended to be readers. I am a primary reader. I can watch a great television show or a great film, but when I’m trying to learn something, I am not a person who learns from video. And even audio can be challenging to me. But I’m not normal in that regard; I’m in the minority.
Our idea was that podcasting has really become a legitimate form of consumable content for a large amount of people who do prefer audio. But even for people who prefer video or text, what other format can you get on demand, take it wherever you go, not have to look at a screen and still digest it while you’re driving, running, working out, whatever the case may be? That was our thinking with starting the network, which was we want to expand our audience beyond our core group of people who prefer text content.
Adam: Brian, coming from the blogging copywriting, almost the art of writing heritage that you do, clearly you yourself acknowledging the growth in audio with your podcast network, ever can see the growth in video inventory with Pinterest and Instagram and even now live broadcasting with Meerkat and Periscope. Do you fear for, on a decade long view or longer, where’s the written word heading? Does anyone want to read anymore? Where do books go from here? Where does long-form written content go from here?
Brian: Statistically, it’s pretty grim, and it has been for a while. The average American reads one book a year. I read at least one a week. So, again, I’m a big weirdo. But it’s interesting because of course video and YouTube has transformed the internet. The podcasting resurgence and revolution has added a completely different dimension. But if you look at the history of the internet for 21 years since the commercial web really emerged in ’94, all text. It’s almost like we’ll look back at the first 20 years of the internet and go, “Wow! That was strange.” But if you look at the first 20 years of TV, or the first 20 years of commercial radio, it was the same thing.
Remember when they developed motion pictures and they filmed stage plays? Because the concept of editing and narrative being told visually, no one thought of that, right? I always say that the last 20 years, again, down the road when we’re old and grey, we’ll look back and go “Wasn’t that funny? That first 20 years?” I don’t know what will happen. I want to say maybe the percentage dwindles but there will always be readers, but there’s no doubt that audio and video will be the dominant content formats. All you have to do is look at television and radio to understand that.
Adam: Look, Brian, final question before we just jump into the quick firing round, pulling together all of the above. We’ve covered some broad media landscape themes. Where do you see things panning out in the next 12, 24, 36 months? Are you in the broadcast TV’s dead camp? What are your thoughts on social media? Where are things heading, in your view?
Brian: Wow. I try to look out about 36 minutes. We’ve been online for this long. Interesting questions, and it’s just fascinating. On one hand, I’m saying the last 20 years were our dumb period, and yet, the transformation of the media that’s happening, if you’re interested at all, you cannot help but be fascinated. I’m a fan of Game of Thrones, as well as many other shows. Mad Men is done. Breaking Bad is over. Better Call Saul ended for the season. I’m basically down to Game of Thrones. That’s the only TV show I’ve got left right now, and it airs at, I think, 7 o’clock, my time, on HBO every Sunday.
And every Sunday, I forget to watch it because, wait, what are they doing playing it on their schedule? A lot of times, even if I obviously have access to cable TV, I’ll buy the iTunes version of a series because they’ll notify me when it’s available and then I watch it. With Game of Thrones, I always remember, once it’s over, and I’ll watch the replay, or I’ll watch it on demand. My kids can’t even understand, whether it be terrestrial or satellite radio, why daddy can’t replay the song they just heard again. I’m like, “That’s the radio.” They’re like, “So?” I think there’s a lot of indications that broadcast television, I don’t know that it’s going to die but I see some real stress there. Don’t you?
Adam: Absolutely. As you say, we’re in the on demand economy. And again, 20-odd years time, people will look back and go, “What do you mean you had to wait till 8:30 on Thursday to watch ER?”
Brian: “You had to show up at a certain time?” It’s kind of alien to think…but I think, 20 years from now, again, it’s just going to be so much fun. I’m trying to keep myself in decent health just so I can live as long as possible to see how much things change and how everyone scoffs at us silly Gen Xers [SP] or Baby Boomers or whatever the case may be. They’ll be like, “You had to do what?”
Adam: That’s right. Now, look, absolutely fascinating times if you’re interested in the media and tech landscapes. I agree, it will be interesting to see where it all heads. Brian, thank you very, very much for your time. Really enjoyed the chat. Before I let guests go, I do hit you up for a quick fire round. Are you all set?
Brian: Wow, okay. I’m ready.
Adam: Okay. Brian Clark, founder and CEO of Copyblogger Media, if you could only use one social network for any purpose in the next 30 days, which would you choose and why?
Brian: Twitter, because I like it the best and I have the biggest following there because I like it the best.
Adam: Kind of meta and circular! But I’ll…that’s a good answer. Which came first? The audience, or the fact that you like it? Good stuff. Now, Brian, question two, good question. If you read a book a week – so probably a tough one for you – if you could only pick one, what’s the most influential and impactful business book you’ve ever read?
Brian: Wow. That is a hard question. I’ve been asked it before, and I don’t think I can come up with an answer except I would have to go with the one I already gave you, Permission Marketing. It is just as relevant today as it was in ’99. I know that’s hard for people to believe. But it’s the fundamentals that you have to get right. And email is not dead. Email is still, by a huge margin, the largest transactional online medium. Nothing else is even close. I’m going to go with Permission Marketing.
Adam: Look, don’t tell Seth, and it’s very unlikely he’s listening to this, but I only read that for the first time in 2014. I think I tweeted at the time “Still as relevant today as it was in ’99.” It was amazing. I kept on “Wow, this was written in 99?” So, yeah. The names of the platforms and the tech had changed, but the principles absolutely still relevant.
Brian: It’s absolutely true. But for me, it literally changed my life. If I wouldn’t have read that book about that time, I may have been back at that law firm job.
Adam: Great. I’ll link that up in the show notes in the unlikely event people aren’t familiar with that book. And the last question, Brian – I’m not sure you’re going to like this question – who are the top three influences you yourself follow on social media?
Brian: People in our industry that are influencers, I’m happy to say are my friends, so I can’t, with a straight face, call them influencers. We all give each other too much of a hard time. I tend to look beyond the industry for that. Even for ideas for content, I’ve always advocated that read random things. Read just for the sake of learning and you’ll find the intersections that allow for you to make great content. Henry Rollins, which we had the privilege of having do the closing keynote at our conference last May, or last month I should say. If you’re not familiar, he was the lead singer of Black Flag. He’s a spoken word artist, author, radio and television personality, a film star, but a guy who did it DIY his entire career. He’s a huge inspiration to me. His integrity is impeccable.
William Gibson, science fiction author, or he’s broken out of the science fiction mold. But if you would have asked me what the most influential book in general was to me, I would say Neuromancer by William Gibson, where he coined the termed cyberspace. I read that book in the ’80s, and never owned a computer. I went through college and law school without owning a computer. I didn’t buy one in until ’94, when it was easy to get on the internet, because I was waiting to get online. That was an act of foreshadowing there, I would imagine. It just fascinated me. I gotta come up with three, huh?
Adam: I’ll let you off with two.
Brian: I’ll go with Godin. Godin’s always going to be there. Even when I disagree with him, I still have to give him the credit of being the mentor, first through his books. But then also later, he actually puts up with me calling him every once in awhile.
Adam: Great stuff, Brian. Look, absolutely fantastic having you on the Echo Junction podcast. Before I let you go, where would you like to direct people that may want to learn a bit more about you or Copyblogger Media?
Brian: Our home base remains at Copyblogger.com. Our podcast network is at Rainmaker.FM. The Rainmaker platform is at rainmakerplatform.com. Just on a personal level, non-commercial, nothing for sale, I have an email newsletter called [email protected] It’s a curated project where I basically just share the books that I’m reading, in a non-marketing sense, as well as other kind of personal development stuff, in my attempt to grow in ways that don’t involve business.
Adam: Brian, great stuff. Thanks so much for being with me.
Brian: Thank you for having me, Adam.
Adam: There we go, ladies and gents, Mr. Brian Clark from Copyblogger Media. Hope you enjoyed the interview. I certainly took a lot out of it, as I always do when I listen to Brian’s thoughts. He really is a font of great knowledge on the media landscape. Time ran a little longer than scheduled, but I’m sure you can hear why it was great to have Brian’s perspectives on the show. If you haven’t had a chance to check out his Media Not Marketing Podcast Series, I’ve linked that up in the show notes and I would certainly encourage you to do so.
Here are the show notes for this interview with Brian Clark of Copyblogger