Subscription payments in South Africa

So you’re a South African business that wants to take payments for a subscription-based service. You’re probably going to have a mix of local and international customers, and want to know what services are available.

Well, I’ve got some good news, and some bad news.

The good news is – there are ways of doing this. Even with South Africa’s relative backwardness in global economic participation there are still a few options.

The bad news is: the best options are currently unavailable to you, and are likely to stay unavailable in the long term. If you have the means to do so, incorporating and setting up banking in a major economy might be the better option.

Onwards!

Local Options – EFT

It goes without saying that local EFT is an option. If you don’t want to wait for interbank delays, there are a few vendors that offer Instant EFT solutions:

In my experience, PayFast has the easier onboarding path, but you might have a tougher time integrating it into your application. None of those solutions incorporate any sort of subscription management though – it’s on you to keep the accounts in check.

Depending on your capabilities, debit orders might be an option. If you can obtain debit order mandates from your customers (signed papers, recorded calls, etc), you can use Sage Pay’s NAEDO collection system: https://sagepay.co.za/services/debit-order-collection/

Local Options – Credit Cards

This is where it gets a bit more interesting!

PayFast allows you to accept credit cards online, and is relatively easy to set up if you’re not looking for advanced integration. They will make your life easier on one front – they understand subscription management: https://www.payfast.co.za/subscriptions/

I’ve worked with their API before though, and you’re going to need to exercise extreme patience with it in order to get anything done. I hope their systems and documentation improve over time!

PayGate also offers a subscription product, but they make it obvious that they’re geared towards larger businesses – you have to start the process with a sales inquiry: https://www.paygate.co.za/paygate-products/paysubs/

Global Options

There are too many global vendors to list, but when it comes to what you can feasibly use in South Africa, it narrows down to one pretty quickly: PayPal.

I implemented full-on subscription management using PayPal for Write500 – and it worked quite well. PayPal can accept credit cards, manage subscriptions (including pausing and resuming), and has a solid set of developer tools for integrating it into your application.

You’ll want to create a Billing Plan (your product), then a Billing Agreement (a paid subscription to it), so that Paypal can issue Invoices and settle them automatically. Start here: https://developer.paypal.com/docs/api

The one limitation: You need an FNB account to receive any of that money here in SA.

Going further abroad, you do have the option of incorporating a business remotely. It’s a ton of paperwork (depending on a ton of factors), but one vendor is offering a simple solution to it: Stripe Atlas.

For a one-time fee of $500, and a decent amount of effort, you can incorporate remotely in Delaware – including all the documentation and registration you need to run a corporation within the US. That includes a Stripe.com account, which is basically the global, golden standard for subscription credit card billing.

There’s a couple of major downsides on the administrative side, though – repatriating that money comes with its own set of tax challenges. From what I’ve seen, this is only a really viable option if you’re expecting to do a lot of subscription billing for global customers, and the Stripe fees are a more attractive option.

Other Options

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention PeachPayments – a Cape Town-based company that attempts to make all of the above easier for local companies. If you’re not keen on the idea of getting your hands dirty with integration logic and setting up subscription billing, those will be the folks to talk to.

Then of course, there’s bitcoin. If you really feel like jumping into the murky waters of cryptocurrency for your project, give Coinbase a try. They offer a recurring billing option denominated in Bitcoin. To cash those coins out locally, the simplest option will probably be to hold a Luno.com wallet, and sell those coins on the local exchange to recover your Rands.

I know that there are likely several other services out there, but if I were starting from scratch today, and wanted to be able to accept payments from a global customer base I’d probably still go with PayPal, myself.

It’s time to talk about charts

Have you ever felt annoyed that someone tried using a world map chart to visualize country-level data?

Or is that just me?

(It’s probably just me.)

Over the last few weeks I’ve been picking up more books to read (as part of my drive to write more), one of them being Content Inc – recommended to me as a good introduction to content marketing, and how powerful it can be.

The book vacillates between content production at the individual level, and the corporate level. Some of the stories focus on single-person startups, and how they tested ideas and built businesses off the back of content production. The rest of it, haphazardly, deals with how to maintain that within a larger organization (team structures, responsibilities, and so on).

What struck me about the individual stories though was the relative simplicity of the focus. One person wrote about writing – another, about real estate. A third simply wrote about how to get more value out of your camera. All of those, over time, became profitable businesses – the key ingredients being effort, and no small amount of passion for the target subject.

It got me thinking about an idea I had years ago, when first starting to work with Domo. Without going into too much detail, one of the things that intuitively clicked for me during the first few weeks was the brightline relationship between business management, and data visualization.

Borderline-buzzword sentence, I know.

The practice seemed to hit at the intersection of a few of my interest areas – complex systems, data and numbers, and visual communication – and it wasn’t very long before I was already planning out an enormous series of content on how to get the best value out of different data visualization options.

That content never materialized. I had put it on my internal roadmap; to develop “added value” in the form of training content that our consultants could use to help plan best-practice dashboards.

In the end, Domo themselves reached a new level of maturity on their operating models, and that filtered through to the training we got. For that (and quite a few other reasons) that content was never built.

Reading Content Inc made me dust that idea off again. I know for a fact that I can produce useful, actionable content on this topic, having done it before. I’ve also learned, somewhat accidentally, that this is a passion of mine.

In retrospect it might be obvious, but the revelation really came to me on a recent customer project. We were planning out a series of dashboards, and someone wanted to include a world map chart where there didn’t need to be one. That led to a long (and I want to use the word “vibrant”) discussion on whether or not we should include it.

Afterwards, reflecting on that conversation, I realized how deeply I had internalized the principles I had been learning since 2013 – and how naturally they seemed to fit in with the rest of my thinking.

So between that, and my desire to write and publish content more frequently, I’ve decided to take a stab at maintaining a data visualization blog, with a specific focus on practicality: There are amazing interactive visualizations out there (Jer Thorp in particular will always be in my pantheon of data deities), but most of the visualizations we use in daily life are much more basic.

Software has, I think, tricked too many people into thinking charts are easy. I’ve seen so many presentations, Excel workbooks, and “professional”-level reporting that ends up being hard to get any sort of good understanding from.

Simple rule: If your chart is accompanied by a “how to read this chart” helper, you haven’t built a good chart.

And I think this might be the thing that I tackle next: A bit of theory, but mostly practical advice on how to construct good charts. And there are a lot of scenarios to consider – more than enough to build a solid resource for the “everyman” visualization work.

So I’ll be building out plans and content for this over the next few weeks, and hope to launch a new site before the year is out. If there’s one thing I’ve learned so far, is that good data visualization is timeless.

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In particular, we’ve had stacked bar charts since as far back as 1780.

Once it goes live, I’ll be posting about the site here. If you want to be alerted when that happens, consider subscribing to my blog – widget’s on the top right.

Rise of the Machines

Right now, we’re living in one of the most momentous times in human history, and it could end up being one of the best (or, possibly, worst) things to unfold: our inevitable transition to what Maurice Conti calls the Augmented Age.

Computers have become part of mainstream life in every advanced economy, and basically all major cities around the world (into which people are packing in ever-greater numbers). The resulting efficiency gains have either been a huge boost to creativity and opportunity, or the death-knell of industries that employ tens of millions of people.

I’d like to share two different perspectives on this – both, conveniently, delivered as excellent TED talks. The first is by Maurice Conti, on how advances in computing have changed the way design could be done.

The most remarkable thing about the computer-derived inventions is how biological they look. It took nature millions of years to evolve a structure that their computers can do inside of a few days (referring to the drone chassis), and in future, could do on demand.

I think this is the best insight into how the leading edge of computing might change the way we design cities, vehicles, infrastructure, and the machines that help run our lives. It’s encouraging to note that human designers are still very much a part of the process, but will be able to do a lot more in a lot less time.

Which is a factor leading into the next TED talk – what happens when you centralize that amount of power (and consequently, the financial gains) in the hands of a relative few? People who are skilled at these technologies are able to create enormous value in a short space of time, relative to someone still doing the same task manually.

So what happens when you no longer have a need for the manual labor?

Another excellent talk that takes an unbiased view of Unconditional (I prefer Universal) Basic Income. It raises some good points, but misses at least one point I need to make a note of:

While it’s true that the top 5 tech companies are enormously valuable and employ relatively few people, the platforms they create have in turn generated opportunities for millions more. There are companies, products, services and entertainment channels that could not have existed were it not for the infrastructure and tools that Facebook and the like provide.

Google basically pulled the web development industry up out of the ground when it became clear to businesses that having a well-built site was a competitive advantage. I’m not sure anyone can count the amount of new jobs created in web development, creative design, copywriting, SEO optimization, consulting and education as a result of the platform Google built.

(Yes, I know Google didn’t build the internet. And yes, I know all these websites run on the internet that Google didn’t build, but everyone who’s ever been paid to build one has done so at the request of a customer who believed that being discoverable online would be beneficial to their business, and Google is still the king of discovery on the internet.)

Same goes for the use-cases enabled by Apple hardware, Facebook’s networking, Amazon’s fulfillment infrastructure, and the productivity tools released by Microsoft. Those companies themselves may employ relatively few, but they have empowered millions more.

Moving on.

I think UBI is feasible not so much because of productivity gains due to automation, but because of the ever-declining costs of providing an acceptable standard of living. An excellent, recent example of this is Apis Cor’s house printer.

On the one hand: This technology might end up putting a lot of construction workers out of jobs. While you’ll still need workers for big buildings and the like, simple 1-2 person houses can probably be built quickly, and very cheaply, as a result of this innovation.

But on the flip-side, the cost of houses will plummet. You may not need to work for 20 years to pay off a mortgage for a house that only costs $10k to build. While construction workers might be worried about this, the people who should be a lot more worried are ones with heavy investments in residential development companies 😉

I like to imagine a future unconstrained by urbanization. Cities are where the opportunities are – the best jobs are in cities, the best entertainment, the best healthcare, and overall, the best opportunities to live a good life. This is because it’s a lot easier, with the current limitations, to pile a lot of services into one place.

I don’t believe civilization needs to be so centralized, though. If you could get the same quality of food, healthcare, entertainment and job opportunity in an area 200km outside a major city, plus it was cheaper to live there – wouldn’t you?

And there may come a time when we have to. Most major cities (and by extension, most of the world’s population) are located relatively close to a coastline. Historically, cities were founded and grew near coastlines because those afforded the best opportunities for global trade.

Well, that’s under threat. Depending on who you believe, climate change is either a myth, or it’s a reality already underway – and one of the most dire consequences will be the rise of the ocean level. Which, if that happens, will start to make the large, coastal cities unlivable.

We will be forced to start again – massive inland migrations, the design of new cities, infrastructure and services to support the population, while simultaneously ensuring people have a shot at an acceptable standard of living. With the lessons we’re learning today, I imagine those cities (and societies) will look very different.

Between the work of engineers like Maurice and researchers like Federico, I’m optimistic that we’ll be well-equipped to meet those challenges in future.

The Rooms Are Made Of Death

Many years ago, in a Game far far away, I had a bit of cash to spend (and absolutely no idea what to spend it on), so I wandered over to their discount bargain DVD bin and started poking through it. As I recall, I bought exactly 3 DVDs that day. Two of them are forever lost to me – because that was the day I discovered the Cube universe.

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Seriously, what teenager sees a cover like this and ISN’T curious?

At this point I think I’ve seen just about every trope there is, retold in hundreds of different ways. I have yet to see Fast and Furious: Middle Ages, with horse-drifting and choirs of singing inn-wenches though, but that’s probably something Hollywood would do if given the budget.

What I haven’t seen though, is something so beautifully executed as Cube. And I do mean “executed” literally – Cube Zero opens with a man getting sprayed with acid, then melting into a pile of bones right on screen while two remote operators watch it happen.

The idea behind it is fascinating to me. The world of Cube just exists. Three movies have been made, with no apparent connection between them, other than the existence of a giant cube that kills people.

Usually, when three movies are made about the same thing, the writers will strive for some semblance of continuity – world-building, rationalization, or something thematic to tie them together.

I know I’m guilty of this – whenever I think of a scene, character or technology that would be awesome to write about, I find myself stuck on trying to rationalize exactly how or why such a thing would exist.

But not Cube. The first movie was released in 1997, and apparently had no direction other than “hey what if six people woke up in a cube full of cube-shaped rooms, and some rooms have deadly traps in them”.

And that’s the entire movie – six characters, speculating about why they’re here, with no answers or resolution in sight, slowly going crazy and eventually trying to kill one another off.

Cube offered no answers, no rationalization, no explanation. The characters existed, were filled out somewhat, and were then killed off in various brutal ways, with only one (the weakest in the group) apparently managing to escape the cube – but even his fate is unclear, and the movie ends with no resolution.

A few years later it was followed up with Cube 2: Hypercube – a movie that succeeded in answering absolutely nothing about its predecessor. Same basic story: A bunch of strangers, stuck in a cube with cube-shaped rooms, and some of the rooms have traps in them.

Except: this was 2002, and the cube existed as a theoretical experiment (Military? Corporate? Who knows?) – a confusing mix of looping time, folding space, parallel realities, and the perfect end to any of the three movies: An ending that answers absolutely nothing.

It turns out that one of the people in the cube was actually working for some shadowy organization, and had to track down someone else inside the cube, even though this organization is supposedly the one that put everyone in the cube in the first place.

This person had some sort of storage device on them unlike anything else in the world, which was on them when they were kidnapped. At the end, it turns out that the experiment itself has an expiration date, and through a confusing sequence of events the last surviving character reappears in the real world, hands over the recording device, and is promptly shot in the head.

Perfection.

What was the experiment? Why were these people chosen? What was on the recording device? Why shoot your own agent? How do you even create something like this hypercube? No answers.

The latest movie, and the one I watched first, was the prequel – Cube Zero. It’s set before the events of the first Cube, and attempts to offer some sort of rationalization for why the cube exists – it’s either a highly-unethical experiment, or a government program, or some sort of secret military project.

Or it’s a public works project gone wrong, or it’s an elaborate execution facility, or something else entirely.

For no reason at all, random people are brought to this facility, given no instructions, and are left to figure out the rules before they all die (and they inevitably all die).

And this includes the people in charge of the place – the wardens are prisoners, and the people on the higher floors (to which you must never go) have some sort of threat hanging over them too. It’s never ultimately clear who’s in charge, or what’s actually being accomplished here.

Which makes it one of my favorite movies of all time. Nobody in the movie seems to know what’s going on, and the only person who does seem to know is either a plant, or crazy.

It’s a perfect, nightmarish machine – the love child of malice and incompetence – efficient, brutal and fundamentally irrational.

Despite all of that (or maybe because of it), on some level, it just works – it’s captivating to watch, it raises more questions than answers, and leaves the viewer to fill in the blanks. As compared to most Hollywood movies nowadays, which trip over themselves to explain what’s going on, Cube is a rare find.

If you enjoy movies that don’t have clear endings, raise questions about human morality, and leave the reasons for their existence wide open to speculation, you’ll enjoy these.

Charting the Amazon Sci-Fi jungle

Probably one of the more inspiring books I’ve read lately is Chris Fox’s Write to Market – it’s practical, grounded advice for building a writing career in today’s landscape. The principles contained within are solid, the first being: find an under-served market you can target your efforts on.

It makes complete sense from a supply/demand point of view – if you know ahead of time what readers are interested in buying, and they happen to align with what you enjoy writing, you can build a much clearer picture of what you’ll need to do to succeed. Modern content production has changed, after all.

The book got me thinking about how I might apply it to my own ambitions, and it became pretty clear that I’d have to take a very detailed look at the Sci-Fi book market on Kindle. Amazon accounts for a solid portion of global eBook sales, and should serve as a fantastic indicator for what’s trending.

So last night, I worked on exactly that – first, acquiring a snapshot view of the Top 100 books in each of the 21 sub-genres of Science Fiction, and how they relate to the global sales rank. I’ve got some information to share there, as well as some related insights on the composition of the market.

The Theory

The theory is relatively simple: Amazon lists over five million eBooks on Kindle (depending on what numbers you trust, I guess), and they’re all globally ranked on what Amazon calls their Best Seller rank (I call it ABS for short).

One book can exist in multiple categories – it can have a rank in the niche it serves (for instance, Science Fiction about Genetic Engineering), as well as a global ABS rank. The relation between these tell you how active a niche is.

For instance, if the top 5 books in a niche also exist on the top 10 ABS list, it means there’s a large amount of demand there. If books #80-100 in that same niche are in the high-thousands, that indicates under-served demand: People are buying books in that niche, but for whatever reason are not spending money on some of the lower-ranked books currently available.

This is the fertile ground – you know you have people heavily interested in a particular niche, and they are likely ready to buy anything new and interesting that might land in that category.

If the top 5 books in a niche are in the high-thousands, that means there’s very little demand for that niche. But if all Top 100 books in a niche appear in the top 500 ABS rank, that’s most likely an impenetrable market – and a wildly popular niche.

For the time being, anyway – the ground here shifts constantly as reader tastes evolve. Just like fashion, trends come and go. So despite all the charts I’m showing you in this post, they could be out of date as little as six months from now.

The Niches in Sci-Fi

I’m interested primarily in Sci-Fi, and so focused my analysis there. Things might look different in the other markets, but since I’m not likely to get into Suspense or Young Adult any time soon, I figured I’d give those a miss 😉

Amazon lists 21 niches (or sub-genres) under Sci-Fi:

Adventure Alien Invasion Alternative History
Anthologies & Short Stories Classics Colonization
Cyberpunk Dystopian First Contact
Galactic Empire Genetic Engineering Hard Science Fiction
LGBT Metaphysical & Visionary Military
Post-Apocalyptic Space Exploration Space Opera
Steampunk TV, Movie, Video Game Adaptations Time Travel

For each one, I set about gathering specific data:

  • The list of top 100 books in that niche, based on the niche’s own performance
  • For each book, what the global ABS rank is, and who the merchant is
  • Timestamped for once-a-day retrieval

 

Throw them all together in a chart, and you end up with something like this:

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Enlightening, right? Let’s rather go by genre, starting with the most hotly-contested one right now – Adventure:

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This is the dashboard of a very healthy sub-genre.

The top 20 books all have ABS ranks below 1000, with the top 5 being below 100 – these books are selling very well, and there is clear demand for this sub-genre right now. The market is also being very well served at the moment – none of the ABS ranks are above 10’000, so it’s unlikely that a first-time author, or someone without major existing traction, will be able to break in here right now.

Now let’s look at a less-contested genre – Hard Science Fiction.

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This is more like it! The Top 20 books are all under the 2000 ABS rank, and the book sitting at #40 is double that. The category bottoms out at over 12K, so if you’re looking for a place to start, this could be a good sub-genre to do it in.

Finally, the most uncontested sub-genre at the moment – LGBT.

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There are no official numbers for this, but the #1 book being at ABS rank 1973 would suggest that it’s selling around 100 copies a day. By comparison, the #1 book in Adventure should be doing around 6000 copies/day. This is according to TCK Publishing’s calculator.

100 copies/day on the top end is not much in terms of demand, so while you could almost definitely rank in this sub-genre, it probably won’t be worth the time investment right now.

All the charts above are looking at the total market though, regardless of whether or not titles were independently published. Let’s get into that next.

Independent publishing on Amazon

I published first versions of these on the Dragon Writers group, but now that I have updated information and time to properly process it, here’s a snapshot of how the Sci-Fi genres break down as of today.

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The vast majority of Kindle titles in the Sci-Fi genre are independently published – “Amazon Digital Services LLC” is the business name used there.

A word of warning on this: That same business name is used by Amazon itself on occasion – so far I’ve seen it used for special store listings of old, republished books. Unfortunately that’s just the nature of a project like this – the data is not going to be 100% accurate.

Other than the LLC, there are a few big names in this space, but they account for very few of the titles published.

But then there’s the quality-vs-quantity argument. Are independently-published novels doing better (or worse) than those published by traditional houses?

This one’s a tricky question to answer, so it’ll help to look at it in parts.

Let’s go with all titles under Sci-Fi with an ABS rank of 1000 or higher. At 1000, you’re selling around 185 books/day – it’s an arbitrary number, sure, but we need to start somewhere.

For each of the sub-genres that have books in that ABS range, what proportions were published independently vs traditionally?

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It’s no surprise that Traditional is dominating the Classics sub-genre – since that’s literally the genre in which Traditional companies re-package existing traditionally-published books.

But look at the rest – entire sub-genres are being dominated by independently-published titles! This is the encouraging part – on the largest eBook retail platform in the world, it’s possible for independently-published authors to dominate entire sub-genres.

What does the top end look like? Let’s take the top 100 books across all Sci-Fi sub-genres, sorted by ABS rank. The #1 Sci-Fi book is ranked 4th on the Best Seller list, and the #100th book comes in at rank 1429.

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That’s the most encouraging chart I’ve produced yet. Across the top 100 titles at the moment, 88 are independent titles – but more than that, there’s no clear bias attributable to the publishing method.

Or in other words: It doesn’t matter if you’re independently or traditionally published – both methods have a chance of reaching the top, and ultimately reaching customers.

Conclusions

None of the data above looks at sales or revenue – a lot is being inferred by the limited ranking information that Amazon makes available. For the most comprehensive report that actually looks at sales, AuthorEarnings is the best place to go.

The intention of this post wasn’t to dive into the industry as a whole, but rather to illustrate two things:

  1. There is opportunity here, possibly more so than via traditional publishing channels. The markets are wide-open to new entrants, and the opportunities might change over time, but they are always there.
  2. In the eBook space, it doesn’t matter whether you were published by a big name, or under your own name – both books will have equal treatment, and customers end up making the choices.

Publishing is definitely changing, and I’m excited to see where it goes next.

The importance of publishing regularly

You know the difference between theory and practice, right? How you can know something in theory for years, but never actually apply it? I’m spectacularly guilty of that.

One of the many side-effects of modernized content publishing (under which I’m lumping radio, TV, video, podcasts and comics too) is the rate at which consumers now expect new content.

If you’re just getting started today, and you intend on building any kind of career, constant output really matters.

I’ve known this for years (and have ignored it for those same years), but if you’re planning on being a professional content creator in today’s hyper-connected, hyper-accelerated world, you need to create and share with some frequency.

By “professional” I mean: “earning a living doing this”. Not “professional” as in “the best possible output from the most skilled individuals”, or even “certified or qualified” – those barriers have long since been obliterated.

If your intention is to build a career on this, then quality is almost secondary to constant output. Especially if you have an inner critic that’s harping on at you about how bad your work is.

There’s an excellent example of this on YouTube. One of my favorite creators is a guy by the name of Bill Wurtz, who has a channel filled with short clips in his very unique style. A few months ago, he published a new video – The History Of The Entire World:

Excellent video, extremely information-dense, and enormously painstaking to create. That 19 minutes of footage took him over 11 months to produce (according to an interview he did later), and at many points during the project, he felt like dropping it completely – which I sympathize with!

It’s a solid creative achievement, and I’d always want to see more work like this make its way to the world.

But if you’re trying to build a career as a content creator, a schedule like that is a death sentence. As of today, the video has over 25 million views, which means it’s accumulated a flat average of around 470k views/day. And that’s already slowed down to a crawl:

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Public statistics from the YouTube video

Creators on YouTube can earn advertising revenue (with the possible exception of the recent adpocalypse that’s still evolving), and beyond that, popular creators often spin up secondary revenue streams – things like merchandise, club memberships, and Patreon pages.

But all of that starts with views (or reads, listens, downloads, whatever your metric is) – more is better, and consistency is better.

There’s another YouTuber that I’ve recently sort-of started watching – Felix Kjellberg, better known as PewDiePie. He started in April 2010, essentially just recording videos of himself playing games. In the 7+ years since then, SocialBlade reports that he’s uploaded over 3200 videos.

There are only 2555 days in 7 years, meaning that he’s uploaded an average of more than one video per day, every day, for over 7 years.

The man is a Swedish meme machine. I don’t know how he does it, but he does.

That consistency built him an audience, ended up landing him contracts and other opportunities, then turned into a solid (multi-million dollar) career. It took a knock when the Wall Street Journal went after him, but that’s a whole other story on its own. Right now, he’s sitting on 55 million subscribers – possibly 56 million before today is out. Not bad for a kid that used to sell hot dogs!

Fun fact: PewDiePie has 55 million subscribers and can drive upwards of a million views to a new video the day it comes out. The WSJ is the largest newspaper in the United States, with a circulation of only 2.4 million print copies, and 900k digital subscribers.

(No wonder they went after him!)

The videos themselves, if I’m honest, are not great – something that he acknowledges in a very funny and self-deprecating way. They’re mostly just him in front of a webcam, talking into a microphone and browsing the web. The comedic timing is excellent though, and the use of effects is hilariously cheesy.

The most recent uploads are usually around 10 minutes in length (partially to take advantage of YouTube’s advertising distribution algorithm), and probably take a few hours at most to record, edit, and upload. But he does it every single day, and has done it consistently for so long, that this is how the daily movements across his channel look today:

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Stats from SocialBlade.com

His back catalog of 3200+ videos cumulatively gains new views in the millions, every single day. And all of those views are potential ad revenue, new subscribers, or merchandise customers.

This principle applies everywhere in the modern content business. The more content you build up over time, and the more frequently you’re able to do it (even if it’s not your absolute best work on every single publish), the better off you’re going to be in terms of audience size, and the corresponding revenue opportunities.

Constant publishing creates an audience, and constant consumption creates opportunity.

There’ll always be space for the big, heavy, long-running creative projects in the world. Those are the ones that will go on to have enormous cultural impact – a great recent example being American Gods.

The book was originally published in 2001 (that’s sixteen years ago, in case you weren’t already feeling old). It’s getting a television series as of this year, and two ambitious claims have emerged: That this will be a series on the level of Game of Thrones, and that the content in the novel itself could keep the series going for several years without needing much modification.

 

American Gods took Gaiman several years to write. I think I read somewhere that it was (at least) 5 years. I can’t source that right now, but I could certainly believe that, given the scope of the work.

I’m convinced that American Gods will go on to have a huge cultural impact, win multiple awards (the book already won awards back in 2001), and inspire thousands of new creators.

But not all creative work has to be on the same scale, and there’s just as much place for the people who produce entertainment on a much more regular basis. Especially now that there are so many formats, the cost of entry is lower than its ever been, and you can probably find an audience for even the narrowest of niches.

It’s just down to overcoming your inner critic, and making a start!

You should probably invest in crypto

Obvious upfront disclaimer: Don’t take financial advice from the internet, least of all me. And don’t sue me if you make a bad bet and lose – like I’ll point out below, this is still an extremely volatile space.

I have “mixed” opinions on cryptocurrencies. On the one hand, I’m enormously frustrated with the quasi-religious evangelism that tells people how crypto is the future of literally all money, and their pooh-poohing of simple technical concerns like “how do you scale to hundreds of millions of concurrent real-time transactions”.

Crypto as we know it today won’t replace money as we know it today. Some future optimized version of crypto might, but it will be unrecognizable as compared to the algorithms of today.

On other aspects, I’m a lot more positive – the technology behind it (blockchain) is the real revolution, and a completely new way of thinking about storing, processing and ensuring the integrity of data. New applications built on blockchain technology have enormous potential, and it’s all open-source.

The reason I put “mixed” in quotes is that these positions seem inconsistent to fans of crypto (“how can you not believe it’s the future of money if you think it’s so cool?”), which is an argument entirely on its own, and more than I want to get into right now.

So what are cryptocurrencies? As simply as I can explain it: digital gold.

A bit more complex: A shared ledger, secured by a mathematical algorithm, calculated across tens of thousands of computers which will reach consensus on whether or not a single transaction on it is authentic.

In other words – it’s impossible to forge, and it’s impossible to steal (short of actually forcing someone at gunpoint to transfer coins to you). It is possible to lose, however (as the upcoming BIP 148 hiccup might end up demonstrating), and of course it’s always possible that governments might decide to regulate or outlaw it altogether.

It’s also impossible to devalue by manipulating volume – each currency has a set upfront limit of how many coins will ever be issued, and free markets are entirely responsible for determining the value. I’m sure this is one of the more attractive aspects to the folks who deeply distrust any government, bank or other institution.

Which is where the volatility comes into it. It’s very unlikely, but it is possible at any point that one of these currencies (and there are many) could simply stop operating.

Their existence depends entirely on the network of miners (networked computers) that agree to process transactions for that currency, and at some point, regular external market forces could make some of the smaller currencies untenable.

There’s also the regulation aspect hanging over this. Apart from the obvious criminal uses of a nearly-untraceable cryptocurrency, there’s the wildly unregulated speculation going on right now.

As of today, Bitcoin alone has a USD-denominated market cap of over $40 billion. What this means in practical terms: A good couple of investors (in the hundreds-of-thousands range by now, at least) have bought Bitcoins in exchange for real money, likely in the hope that it’ll appreciate in value over time.

That’s a really big roulette wheel, and so far (for the most part) it’s paid off quite handsomely. It has a lot of the hallmarks of historical gold rushes: Someone’s found something of value, and people are tripping over each other to get in on the action.

That value, though, is likely to only ever exist in the realm of financial speculation. Bitcoin is a desirable, limited-edition asset, which in and of itself is enough to drive speculators and gamblers to it. At $40bn, you have to assume there’s a lot of interest in keeping the entire system propped up, almost entirely for its own sake.

Which is not necessarily a bad thing, and it’s why I’m optimistic about crypto. $40bn is technically a tiny market cap, compared to assets like gold ($7 trillion) – but it has proven itself over the last few years to be stable and growing.

And it can only grow. Sure, getting into Bitcoin today is hard. If you’re planning on buying hardware and setting up as a miner, you better hope you can get free electricity – otherwise you’re losing money the moment you turn that machine on.

The market can always expand, though, and this is the main reason for my optimism. Bitcoin is the largest, oldest and most well-known, but it’s by far not the only cryptocurrency that can be traded for fiat. Here’s the top 10 by market cap, as per coinmarketcap.com:

chrome_2017-06-30_19-58-03.png

Each symbol there represents an entirely different blockchain – a different asset. And while a single currency has a set limit on the amount of coins it can produce, there’s no limit to the amount of currencies that can be set up.

Unlike gold, wine, art or land, cryptocurrencies can be forked and spun up infinitely. As an asset class, it can expand to soak up every bit of market demand. Every person in the world, theoretically, could have holdings in at least one cryptocurrency.

So why the title of this post, and why do I think it’s worth investing in? Simple: It’s still early days, and it’s still got lots of room to grow.

With the amount of interest and investment going into the underlying systems, and the value of owning some cryptocurrency (both inherent and perceived), they’re all likely to continue to grow in value over the long term.

Today, a single Bitcoin costs around $2’500. There’s no reason to believe it won’t hit $10’000 someday. The same is true of most of the currencies in that screenshot above – whatever the cost is today, there’s a good chance it’ll be a great deal higher in a few years.

My quick anecdote on this: In January I moved R800 into a local crypto exchange, then found out they wanted to do KYC processes over unencrypted email, got annoyed, asked for a refund, and was denied. So in frustration I just cut my losses and forgot about it.

Until a few days ago, when I remembered the whole saga and logged in to see if anything had changed. And one thing had: In around 5 months, my R800 investment in Litecoin had turned into R4’720.

That’s a return you’re not going to find anywhere else – which is what makes it simultaneously alluring, and incredibly risky. There could just as easily have been a crash that wiped out my R800 forever.

Which is why I started small, and would advise anyone else interested in this to do the same. I’ve got accounts on three different exchanges, and holdings in two different cryptocurrencies. Every now and then when I get a bit of spare cash left over that I can afford to save, I move some of it into (what I now consider) my cryptocurrency portfolio.

Between all that spare cash, accumulating over time, it’s added up to very decent growth. As of today, that rate is sitting around 35%, and I’ve been doing this less than a year. That’s an absolutely insane growth rate as compared to other investment options.

And it could all disappear tomorrow, leaving me with absolutely no recourse. Which is why, as tempting as it is sometimes, I’m not gonna bet the farm on this just yet.

What it is, though, is the single riskiest position across all my investments, and the one that’s most likely to yield big returns in a short space of time. I’m expecting (and somewhat hoping) that this growth trend will continue for the next few years, too.

But I’m also expecting that at some point, all the valuations might just evaporate overnight, and I would have done no better than slowly setting that cash on fire. Tempered expectations are pretty much a requirement if you’re gonna ride this roller-coaster – at least, in my experience!

If you’re a South African and you want to get started, Luno.com is your best bet. Otherwise, Coinbase.com and Kraken.com are good options.

Nothing in this post should be construed as financial advice. Please consult a professional before making incredibly risky investment decisions.