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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A rant: Content creators vs. parasites. Skimmers, aggregators, "curators," affiliate marketers and - real middlemen. Value added?

There's an old stone hand-dug well on my property and I thought it might be fun to put up some sort of pump on it. So I looked for antique pumps in Google and found a site called (more or less) Antique Pumps.
"Just the thing!" I thought. So I looked on the site and it said "Here You Can Find All the Antique Pumps You Could Possibly Want." But here's the thing, all it did was take me to eBay listings of "antique pumps."

Really? This is a site which has earned its slot in my search results?

Earlier today the aggregator site Thumbtack sent me (and sent, I suppose, all other vendors on the site) a harsh email saying, "from now on we will not supply the names of the people looking for your services, because you might contact them off our site (and we would not get our cut). Some rotten apples spoil it for all the rest."

Really? What value does Thumbtack add in order to justify the cut it takes? In my view, it removes value. If a bride searching for wedding music finds our site (Wedding Music in North Carolina) on her own, she can talk to me, we can agree on details and special requests in real time, like real people. And the gig is much more likely to happen.

Thumbtack, in order to preserve its business model of skimming every transaction, makes that impossible. We can send imprisoned emails through its own system but we can't talk to each other. And the cost to this bride is higher. She gets worse service for more money.

I see that people are now calling themselves "curators" - that is to say, the value they add is that they find stuff that's already on the internet. Pinterest is famous for "losing" the original creator of images which may be repinned hundreds of times.

Don't even get me started on "affiliate marketing." Really? You deserve a cut for telling me to buy something on Amazon?

There are middlemen who really earn their keep. For instance, musical agents in the old days may have taken 10-15% of the money paid for an engagement, but they may have earned that money. They may have found the gig or talked up the band or persuaded the client to pay more. Real estate agents in the old days dealt with fussy buyers and fussy sellers and sweated out compromises that got houses sold. I think matchmakers provided an equally difficult and valuable service. and other sites of that nature take hefty cuts but provide no service. If you buy something through a directory site, you are paying extra but getting nothing for the extra percent you pay.

A real middleman bravely undertakes to finds 1400 customers to buy the 1400 widgets that come in a crate. The customers don't have to talk to the scary wholesaler and the wholesaler - who hates customers - doesn't have to talk to them. That middleman earns a cut.

One of my ancestors was a middleman in the fur trade. He went tromping out in the mud in the back country and bargained with feral trappers who never took baths - he paid them for the pelts and cleaned them up (I hope) and sold them in nice tidy piles to the businesses that made fancy fur coats. He earned his cut.

If you consider yourself an aggregator or a curator in your eyes, I ask you to consider whether you are actually a parasite. What are you really adding to the world? (Please let me know in the comments.)

What the world needs more of: people who bring new things into it. What the world needs less of: people who recirculate previously recirculated bits of gossip and astounding stories about possums falling in love with armadillos.


At 3:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great perspective. I'm also not sure what value thumbtack is providing. It's not like Uber that's creating its own new market. These professionals were getting gigs before - now they're expected to pay Thumbtack a commission?!

I expect that the people you can find on Thumbtack are the ones who are either new or who aren't good enough to build their customer base through word of mouth.


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