Sunday, December 11, 2011

DVD Duplicator Copy Protection No Good

You’re an independent video producer and businessperson and you want to do something about all those pirated copies of your DVD productions, suspected or confirmed, that clients are creating, distributing, even selling, cutting into your profits. Is there an effective, affordable protection scheme available to prevent people from ripping you off?

The short answer is NO.


THE REALITY OF COPY PROTECTION FAILURE

The reality is two-fold:

1.) The resources, tools and information for cracking copy protection for just about any DVD, at any level, for any commercial or independent production is out there. Two trusted associates, one relatively amateur but dedicated, the other technically very knowledgeable, were able to crack the copy protection scheme used by my recently-purchased DVD duplicator in no time.

More on that later in this article.

2.) Those who know how, often do break and copy at will, those who don’t probably will not. Copy protection at any level keeps honest people honest. Otherwise, don’t count on it.

Another “reality” if you will, when it comes to the independent producer considering investing in a DVD duplicator with copy protection, is that runs of less than 100 are simply not worth the investment premium even if copy protection did work.


WHAT I BOUGHT AND WHY

I purchased a Spartan Fortress DVD duplicator tower from Super Media Store dot com at a significantly higher premium (price) than I would have otherwise.

I spent an additional $25 for a USB 2.0 connection. The 1-to-5 duplicator has 20x units and uses DiscLock Technology/SATA and comes with a 250GB hard drive. My total purchase price was $1,004.

The same store sells any number of models, economy and premium, and without copy protection, software or hardware variety, of manually operated CD/DVD duplicators starting as low as $211 (prices current as of December, 2011) for a 3-to-1 economy unit and less than $340 for a premium 4-to-1 system with a 250GB hard drive. As far as I can tell economy comes without a hard drive, premium will include a hard drive ranging in capacity from 250GB to 500GB.

For shear duplication volume you could purchase an 11-to-1 economy line duplicator for under $500; an 11-to-1 premium line duplicator for $815. A 5-to-1 premium duplicator? $480. Yes, less than half the price I paid, making the premium for copy protection that offers no real protection rather high.

Essentially I knew this going in but still wanted a means to keep the honest people honest. To that extent I’ll likely succeed. Would I purchase the Spartan Fortress duplicator with hardware copy protection, or even a unit with a software scheme and the requisite key purchases I’d have to make from time-to-time? No. Not for that much of a price difference. I’d rather have acquired volume in my duplication for a similar price, offering me 11-at-a-time copies, than essentially useless and ineffective copy protection.

So, why did I do it? The answer is complicated.

My theory is that some of the people to whom I sell video are honest enough that if they first attempt to duplicate one of my DVDs in their home computer, and there’s a hiccough, they’ll stop trying and order additional copies from me.

This is provided my copies are reasonably priced and the packaging is of professional quality. That means the graphics, inserts, cases and production all present a sense of quality, as opposed to hand-written labeling on silver DVDs.


AS WIKIPEDIA EXPLAINS IT

CD/DVD copy protection is a blanket term for various methods of copy protection for CDs and DVDs. Such methods include DRM (digital rights management), CD-checks, Dummy Files, illegal tables of contents, over-sizing or over-burning the CD, physical errors, and bad sectors. Many protection schemes rely on breaking compliance with CD and DVD standards, leading to playback problems on some devices.

Protection schemes rely on distinctive features that:

• can be applied to a medium during the manufacturing process, so that a protected medium is distinguishable from an unprotected one.

• cannot be faked, copied, or retroactively applied to an unprotected medium using typical hardware and software.”


“I’ve read an increasing number of stories (on the Internet) indicating that, in an attempt to discourage the continued spread of these (copy protection cracking) tools, that websites containing discussion and how-to articles on how to defeat DRM on various media, including new tools to duplicate Blu-ray media, are being attacked and some even shut down. This really hasn’t stopped things, and the tools and information is all still very much out there,” one researcher told me.


So, for free or for an investment of as much as $150, maybe more, there are tools available to any individual who wants to get past my duplicator’s copy protection scheme, or any other on the market today for that matter. How then, can I, or you, justify spending as much as twice the money for a duplicator that claims to have copy protection, software and key, or hardware but doesn’t really work?

The bottom line is we can’t but there is, I believe, an argument for having something that attempts to protect our productions from being pirated. And there’s a few arguments for using whatever means at our disposal in an attempt to discourage the outright practice of ripping us off by denying potential copy sales.


AM I JUST TRYING TO JUSTIFY THE EXPENDITURE?

Consciously I’m not, but I’m also sure, to some degree, I might be sorry for not taking my research a bit further before jumping in and making the purchase. For one, instead of asking some general questions of a couple of producers whom I know are duplicating in large numbers for distribution — major band and cheerleading competition events with on-site sales in the thousands, for example — I should have inquired of several others. I should have attempted to get a broader representation over a field of professionals who have average duplication runs of 10 or less, as well as those doing hundreds, if not thousands.

The initial responses I received were that though systems like the one I purchased are not a guaranteed protection against duplication, by informing their customers the DVDs were copy protected, they observed an increase in sales compared to prior programs.

In fact, one guy who has a major success story working in the area of mass on-site production of DVDs during major competition events told me it was totally worthwhile to pay the premium.

I really should have asked for serious numbers and considered the varied factors that might or not effect that outcome. For example: spontaneous on-site sales based on notification that DVDs are copy protected might work for a season or two, until people purchasing them realize after trying to crack them that there’s no effective protection. Then sales might start dropping. Again.

Bottom line is I don’t think spending $500 or more for copy protection that is absolutely unreliable as a deterrent is a good decision economically. On the other hand, now that I’ve done it, I have to say that I’ve noticed a slight increase in orders of 3-to-5 copies of montage, memorial and funeral video productions. No difference at all in sales from work once, sell many events such as school plays, choral performances, dance recitals or other such events averaging 100 units or so.


WHAT DID MY COPY PROTECTION CRACKERS DO?

The first experiments were conducted by a guy who collects movies, “every movie DVD I get my hands on,” as a hobby. He is a serious collector but has limited technical skills.

I sent each of my researchers three DVDs: a funeral of more than one hour in length; a retirement montage and production of about 45 minutes; and a 15-minute high school graduating senior montage video. All were created from a master DVD dash-R generated in my Mac, then burned to blanks using the Spartan Fortress with the hardware copy protection engaged.

NOTE: With the model I bought, and as I understand it virtually all other hardware-based copy protection DVD duplication towers, you cannot utilize the copy protection using the system’s built-in hard drive. There’s other restrictions as well, so the ONLY way is to duplicate from your original DVD dash-R master.

The amateur tried a couple of PC and one Mac desktop systems but could get none of them to recognize any of the test DVDs. Only when using a fourth, laptop, unit were any of the three recognized, but after that and utilizing a paid commercial copy-breaking software all three were duplicated in a matter of minutes.


The tech researcher had “no problems”, using freeware, creating duplicates of all three DVDs: less than two minutes for the shortest one and a little over six minutes for the longest. My researcher went further, attacking them on both a Mac unit and a PC, using different software with similar results.

When the tech savvy researcher first opened the files nothing showed in the file system to indicate a copy protection was even applied. “I looked for files not part of the standard DVD ROM UDF specification. I found nothing,” the report stated.

After verifying with me that the DVDs sent had actually been recorded using the Spartan Fortress copy protection engaged, another look was taken at the files.

By simply copying the DVDs to a folder on the Mac hard drive it was discovered that “there appears something special about how the DVDs are written that causes the computer to go into wait state and the OS to choke.” The PC test using Windows XP failed in that a direct copy could not be created to hard drive.

It was discovered that the duplicator writes an unneeded file to the Video_TS folder of the DVDs.

This simple protection scheme did prevent my other DVD duplicator, a 3-to-1 duplicator I purchased several years ago for $1,000. from recognizing or duplicating the protected DVD. My tech researcher says this file appears, to the duplicator or computer attempting a straight duplication, to be corrupted and cannot be copied, forcing an error.


IN THE FINAL ANALYSIS

Anyone with limited knowledge of the available tools for cracking copy protection and attempting to duplicate a DVD created using the Spartan Fortress, and I would presume any other similar system, on either a computer, Mac or PC, or any available duplicator, will be discouraged from doing so.

Anyone with any degree of knowledge or experience, Internet savvy and having one or more available free or commercial cracking programs can figure it out fairly quickly, bypass the problem, create a copy on their hard drive and generate a new master DVD that can then be duplicated at will.

What 10-year-old do you know doesn’t have that ability, given access to a computer and the Internet? On the other hand.

If you’re generating less than 100 copies of anything you simply cannot justify the cost for copy protection that isn’t effective, and if you’re going to be distributing thousands of copies you don’t need a manually operated DVD duplicator anyway. You’ll outsource any major commercial duplication needs.


© 2011, Earl Chessher

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Coupon for 25 Percent Off Funeral Resource Guide

Lulu dot com is currently offering a 25 percent off coupon code good for maximum savings of $50 off any of my publications. The offer is good through December 14, 2001, offering significant savings off the Funeral Video Marketing and Production Resource Book:


Simply go to Lulu and register for a free account, if you don’t have one already, and enter coupon code BUYMYBOOK305 at checkout. According to the Lulu promotion guide for discount coupon application you may use the code at checkout, but you can only use the code once per account and it cannot be combined with any other coupon codes.

They Shoot Funerals, Don’t They will be featured in the classified word ad section of Videomaker magazine beginning with the January 2012 issue and continuing through the March 2012 issue, but the current Lulu coupon code discount is a good chance enjoy significant savings off the regular publication price. The January Videomaker magazine issue is slated for release sometime in December, 2011.

After purchasing your book, send an e-mail notification to echessher@hotmail.com providing proof of purchase and mailing information to receive the accompanying DVD/CD resource disks at no additional charge.

Slated for publication between the end of December and first quarter of 2012 are new resource books in an ongoing series, including:

• The Complete Guide to Montage Marketing and Production
• The Basic Guide to Wedding Video Marketing and Production
• The Complete Guide to Website Video Marketing and Production for Small Businesses
• The Book of Blogs, featuring updated and revised articles from E.C. Come, E.C. Go since 2004

More than 20 years experience in marketing, publishing and video production support this series of resource publications, backed by accompanying DVD/CD resource disks and my philosophy that marketing sizzle should also include the STEAK! You’ll get a lot more than kisses and promises as each publication will offer solid information, practical real-life experience backed by more than just theory.

Also, coming soon to the blog is ... FINALLY ... the REAL information behind DVD duplication towers offering hardware-based copy protection. Are they really worth the extra premium? Can you depend on this kind of system to help boost client copy sales?

And another upcoming blog will focus on CISS (Constant Ink Supply Systems) or bulk ink systems for today’s available printer models.

Remember! If you market you will make it! © 2011 Earl Chessher

Monday, October 17, 2011

Create I.D. Tags to Smooth the Way

In her recent and most excellent post on the Videomaker forums, magazine editor Jennifer O’Rourke started an active series focused on “Your First Amendment Rights as a Citizen Journalist” and as such things will do the post took a life of its own, drifting on- and off-topic but essentially offering up some interesting comments, advice and stories. It continues.

“We decided to create this Legal Issues forums page because many video producers are discussing legalities like copyright and fair use, as well as access.” she wrote, noting, “There are encounters with public officials that can get you arrested.” This was O’Rourke’s opening paragraph. See the complete post and responses at the link above. And, while you’re at it, this is a great forums site to join and participate.

In the process of this series of posts active forum member and fellow independent professional video services provider Charles Shultz, Missouri, C Shultz Media, also Video StoryTellers!™ associate, suggested I post or offer an example of my video producer I.D. card, where I got it and positing it “Might be a good idea to have one.” I referred to having one during a somewhat stressful moment with local officials.

Here’s a trumped up sample I’ve often used as a template for developing I.D. cards specific to the program, project or public event in which I’m involved. I created mine using Photoshop and will often use a different image depending on the type of situation I’m in.

For example, awhile back, when my associate and I were working with the California State University at Dominguez Hills we needed photo I.D. that would allow us access to various areas of the campus and ongoing activities related to the project event. While the campus official involved with the project graciously provided for parking, we worked up an I.D. similar to the sample here and it was deemed to be acceptable for the purpose. That one had me in a suit, no sunglasses.

All this might seem to be a bit elementary but sometimes we don’t think about using something as simple as a handmade I.D. card to help smooth the way around things. I’m sure I’ve often been able to move about a bit more freely during even public events because I took the time to put something together. I’ve created these for high school grad night events, church bazaars, homecoming activities and various youth sports groups that have allowed me to produce their games. Much better if they’re “authorized” but they don’t always have to necessarily be sanctioned, so to speak. Use your best judgement based on the circumstances.

TYPES AND STYLES AND WHERE TO FIND THEM
Probably the most common I.D. card carriers are those clipped to a lanyard and hung around your neck. They’re probably also the cheapest method. I’ll provide sources for purchasing bulk but you can obtain smaller minimums at most any office supply center or sports shop. This usually involved two pieces: the lanyard (many types and styles) and the pouch, sleeve or case.

Here’s what a lanyard looks like. I find the flat and somewhat wider ones to be the most comfortable but you can get them in virtually any width. They also come in various braided, flat and rope; beaded chain, string, chord, cable and nylon.

They also come with an assortment of styles of clips and attachments from rings, to alligator clips, clamps to snaps. Take your pick. And, of course, they’re available in a multitude of colors, with or without branding or customized logos, slogans or website URL's ... my personal favorite when I decide to purchase a bunch of branded ones. I can see this useful in some way for marketing.

Many of the available pouch or protector styles allow for multiple ways of using your I.D. card. The most common includes holes or punch outs for chain-style (think dog tag chains, or the old style bathtub stopper chains), a slot to attach the lanyard clip and even die cuts that allow for insertion of safety pin-like connectors that leave nice holes in your shirts or stick you.

There are also reel-type holders that can be pulled out from their case, then allowed to rewind back in leaving your I.D. dangling from your belt. (think of those round, often silver-colored, devices security, maintenance and janitorial services employees often wear with a bunch of keys) And there’re temporary stick-on style I.D. card holders, molded rigid frames and magnetic ones where you peel the two strips apart and place one inside your shirt pocket or fabric while the strip attached to the back of the I.D. card holder magnetically clings to it from the outside.

If you’re not particularly fond of hanging stuff around your neck or putting holes in your shirts and blouses, there’re also elastic armband-style I.D. card holders.

Pictured below are probably the three most common: clip gripper, pinned and armband holder.

If you want to check out the possibilities or think you might sometime need more than a few, for a crew or special event calling for a bunch of guys representing your operation, shooting video or not, there’s plenty.

CHECK OUT THESE PLACES
for some interesting choices, prices and combinations. Lanyard Supply is a cluttered mess but has a lot of stuff to look at and I.D. Card Group is a bit more pleasing to browse. You can find cheap lanyards starting at $25 for bundles of 100; basic badge holders starting at $23 for 100.

Check out USA Lanyards, Alpha Card, I.D. Wholesaler, Lanyards Now, West Coast Lanyards and Custom Lanyards 4 All, to see more of the same but get a better idea of the range of options and pricing. There’s also ebay and Amazon. So there you are, with information on how to make, acquire and utilize I.D. cards to help you move along with the crowd at most any event.

ANOTHER POST COMING SOON!
Find out about The Book of Blogs, coming soon on E.C. Come, E.C. Go.

Remember: If you market, you will make it! © 2000-2011 Earl Chessher

Sunday, October 16, 2011

DVD Burners, Copy Protection, Inks Part II

Well, three months is a bit of a wait, I agree, but hey like you guys I’ve been busy surviving, marketing, working and taking care of business. Well, yeah, this blog is part of all that and that’s why I’ve not totally abandoned it. Nor will I ever. For as long as I live and function there will be an E.C. Come, E.C. Go blog on marketing and producing video.

First things first, however, so I want to wrap up or at least deliver on the promise of Part II, of “Burners with Copy Protection & Printing Secrets” then later you can scroll back up and read about where E.C. Come, E.C. Go is going in the near future and why it makes sense, or should, for me to offer the complete series, in publication since 2004, in a published book as well as downloadable PDF and eventually an eBook format. I plan to post that sometime in the next few days.

A recent response to one of the posts on a Videomaker Forums venue generated a valid request from fellow video producer, Charles Schultz, Missouri. Charles’ question is a simple one and I thought it might be fun to respond with information and illustrations in a blog here. More on all that later.

In Part I, published July 3, 2011, I noted that regardless of opinions positive and negative about using a DVD burner tower that provides copy protection (effective or not based on fact or opinion) I was going to find out by purchasing one. It took me a bit longer than I intended to make the purchase, but I did, from Super Media Store. Sadly, I’m still waiting for test results from an IT friend I know and trust who promises “great delight” in telling me “how many seconds it takes me to break it” — what would I do without my friends, right?

FIRST LET ME TELL YOU THIS ...
Manual feed DVD duplication towers for standard DVD duplication for 1-to-1 (you really need something more, trust me) start at $150 depending on source, hardware, etc. They can run much higher but let’s say you CAN get something that works well enough for that starting price. Do a search on Google.

I’ve made it for several years with my old Reliant Digital 3-up manual unit, including Pioneer burners and a hard drive, diagnostic programs and more but that unit is growing long in the tooth though it still does an outstanding job and I did spend close to a thousand for it. The RD people are now called Denver Disc and they still offer GREAT customer service and quality products. Ironically, I could have purchased a 4-up unit from them now that offers copy protection for about the same price ... currently at $995. On the other hand is is software-based copyright and compatible with Windows XP or Vista PC. I use a Mac and I didn’t want to “go there” with software copy protection, licensing fees or no.

Anyone having a need to burn/duplicate more than one copy of a DVD (most of us, probably) however can acquire a basic manual tower system for a low investment. In fact, there are 9-up units out there priced at well south of $500. Check out Super Media Store, ebay and Amazon as well as Media Supply, Pro Duplicator, American Musical, Meritline and a host of others. Again, do a search on Google. The field is HUGE!

You’ll spend significantly MORE when you add copy protection, software or hardware or “otherware” based. My unit from Super Media Store is a 5-up Spartan Fortress, balancing between budget and production needs, and ran me $979 ... at the time it was the best buy I could find in a non-software, no license or key required, copy protection system.

This system has other benefits including auto-start recording, options to record different types of DVD and CD media blanks, with or without copy protection written onto the duplicates and a hard drive for storing various projects. In my research most of these type of duplicators ONLY provide their copy protection when duplicating from DVD-R master to DVD-R blank. Duplicating from other formats or from the hard drive negates copy protection being included on the resulting DVDs.

So, I balanced the trade-offs, costs, budget, etc. and WANTING copy protection to whatever extent it might prove effective (keeping “honest” people honest, for example) I went with it. I’d also interviewed others in the industry who I knew were using copy protection either way ... software of hardware. For the most part these professionals posed no regrets and all cited an uptick in sales over previously non-protected duplication DVD productions.

BOTTOM LINE IS
I went with the non-software based units because I didn’t want to have to be concerned with the ongoing expense of licensing and key purchases, nor did I want to contend with decisions based on my computer platform. The vast majority of the software-based copyright schemes with licensing or otherwise is PC-based. Nothing wrong with that but I use a Macintosh and simply do not see going to another platform ... good, bad or ugly.

These fees can range from per project to per DVD. They can require purchasing 50 or more at a time and rarely offer an emergency purchase of one (to get the job done that you’re right in the middle of before remembering you need to acquire more licenses) ... that sucks.

And, given time, overall effectiveness of the protection being equal, I will spend as much for ongoing licensing regardless of what I might have saved up front by purchasing such a unit, as my unit cost. On that basis, if it lasts half as long as my old reliable Reliant, I’ll do better than break even. Not to mention the possible 2-to-25 percent uptick in DVD sales due to keeping honest people ... well, you know.

MY ADVICE IS TO BUY
your duplicator tower, once you’ve justified and established a real need for one (with or without copy protection, depending on the volume of sales you now generate or expect to generate in the near future, from a known dealer. Don’t dabble with weird places on the web whose creds you cannot confirm or establish.

This by no means will restrict your choices as there are a number of places such as and similar to the ones I’ve already mentioned where you can either obtain references from people you know, resources you trust, or already have an ongoing personal/business relationship with over the years.

I’VE ENJOYED DEBATE
with folks on the various forums who insist I’m mistaken about the range of speeds to record (I suggest 8X or less, plenty fast enough and safer than rushing it with today’s higher speed rated blanks, regardless of the equipment used); and also insist that I’m being ultra narrow minded when I say that nose grease and fingerprints, skin oils and other substances take away from the appearance of those glossy or semi-glossy surfaces.

In addition to practical experience from years of duplicating and printing on all sorts of stock, I’m personally and knowledgeably aware that the glossy finish blanks and even the waterproof blanks, while they might be great in defense against moisture damage with inkjet systems, do not look that great after a bit of handling. And, contrary to others’ findings, MY findings are these oily residues, fingerprints and nose grease occurrences DO NOT simply wipe off with a damp cloth. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. You’re mileage and/or preferences may vary.

While there are certainly people and those other wonderful creatures between the ages of two and 18 who mishandle, toss, grab both sides of or otherwise abuse DVDs and CDs by leaving them out to collect dust, wiping them off with t-shirts or GASP! paper towels, storing them on dashboards, window sills and anywhere else the sun shines, there’s the rest of us.

Those who keep them in cases when not in use. Handle them by the edges. Prefer to not leave them in the player tray. Keep them safe from sun, moisture and baby fingers. These people do not suffer the damages experienced by spills, sweaty glasses or hands, or play them outside in the rain. Therefore, my hundreds of clients through the years have rarely contacted me for copies due to damage of the graphics. They also don’t have to deal with unsightly smears and fingerprints that glossy surface and waterproof DVDs quickly accumulate.

PRINT FIRST OR BURN FIRST
stems from some of the same thought processes as do matte or glossy finish. Again, mileage may vary, but for me I prefer to burn, then print unless I’ve printed my blanks early enough to give them sufficient drying time ... 24 hours usually works, but sometimes depending on the humidity, it could take twice that or more.

It’s not a question of if but when you’ll begin to notice weird little striations, actually tiny cracks that radiate outward from the center hub area where centrifugal force and motion have caused problems with your pretty graphics. And even though others claim, practical experience based or theory based, that the fast drying glossy and waterproof finishes eliminate this problem, my personal experience (hands on, not theory) has been otherwise.

Trust me, it’s safer to print any type of stock after burning but also acceptable if you give your printed stock sufficient time to thoroughly dry.

FINALLY, THE BRANDS THAT IMPRESSED ME
in DVD/CD duplicator towers with copy protection include the Fort Knox by Applied Magic; Systor systems Disc Master series; Pro Duplicator systems; Denver Disc mentioned previously; and also a system from the makers of the original Casablanca standalone editor, from Gary McNally of McNally Productions, McNally’s Plug and Play. Gary carries not only the Spartan Fortress but other units that require the software licensing.

TO SUM IT UP
The jury’s still out on just how effective copy protection is on the system I acquired. As soon as that report comes in from my IT friend, there’ll be a blog article with all the details. He’s promised me a thorough report.

Burn slow and burn first, print last. In most cases this is the safest way to ensure fewer print problems or client issues. Stay with Verbatim, JVC's Taiyo Yuden, Disc Makers brand. For the record, JVC/Taiyo Yuden is rated number one on many forums, blogs and columns offering opinions on the best DVD stock and Super Media Store, mentioned previously, is named as one of the best low cost resources for purchasing this product.

WATCH FOR MY BLOG ON
Constant Ink Supply Systems, CISS, coming soon. I will provide relative current information on printer brands that use them and resources for the systems as well as the printers they serve. On average, a printer using a CISS will cost you about $125 initially, with costs of $70, given or take for replacement ink of good quality. The supplies generally equals 10-to-11 full 6-cartridge refills for printers like some of the Epson series. Do the math.

Meanwhile, I’ve got a couple other blogs to write tonight so remember: If you market, you will make it! © 2000-2011 Earl Chessher

Sunday, July 03, 2011

DVD Burners with Copy Protection & Printing Secrets

Most video production professionals, or amateurs for that matter, have an opinion regarding the positive/negative aspects of investing in and using a DVD burner tower that provides for copy protection. The number one response I usually hear is that it won’t do any good and is a waste of money because “anybody” can break copy protection. Well, the real answers are true, and not true!

What I do hear from many professionals who deal in a hundred or more (or less) real time DVD duplication and delivery per event productions is that it pays off. Many who produce multiple-day or daylong competition events such as regional- and state-level band, cheerleading, track & field and similar scholastic events are unanimous. They say that in spite of the ability of virtually anyone with a little confidence & technical prowess being able to break copy protection codes, it keeps the “honest” people honest.

The multiple sales category would include dance recitals, martial arts reviews and demonstrations, youth sports game videos, school and community drama and/or choral performances, band reviews and more. This would be any event where you work once with the anticipation of selling many.

There will always be consumers, young and old alike, who will attempt to break the copy protection of a commercially produced DVD or the limited-run duplications offered by independent professional video services providers. On the other hand, while the percentage of these folks is small and the overall effect on your sales of copies of productions is not always huge, it can have a significant effect on your bottom line (profits) over time.

This is more than a personal opinion
Again, when asked, a number of professionals have said that the additional $200 or so increase in the cost of a tower DVD duplicator with hardware or software (more on THAT difference later) is “well worth” the investment. They tell me the difference in total sales of any given multiple orders DVD production MORE than makes up for the original duplicator investment. All confirmed a noticeable increase in total orders received per event.

Why? Because, on average, the above-mentioned exceptions notwithstanding, honest people are, well, honest. If it proves more challenging to simply make a copy of your production on a branded silver blank with hand-written titles using a blank DVD marker (and not always a DVD marker ... there ARE markers they shouldn’t use as they can and will effect playback) or purchasing your reasonably-priced professionally packaged duplications, they’ll opt for buying from you!

A TRUE STORY
I lied to some of my past clients.

During a “test” period some while back I started putting a small “This DVD is copy protected” notice on some of my productions. When asked by my clients if they could make their own copies, I would say: “Sure, if you can figure out how to break the copy protection.” Yes, my orders increased significantly during the “test period” once or twice by as much as 30 percent. Then some kid took up my challenge and discovered there was no copy protection and called me on it. I stopped testing.

WHAT SOME PROFESSIONALS SAY
is that they “get around” the issue simply by making their copies ultra-cheap ... I’m talking about $10 or less, printed, packaged and using commercial or custom color inserts. Or, in the case of single sales events such as weddings, birthdays, anniversaries and other celebratory events, simply giving away a number of copies, avoiding the issue of pirating altogether. Ostensibly this also generates “good will” some claim.

They also claim to have “factored in” the cost of this. Question: how do you “factor in” these costs when most of you have not factored in all the other relative costs of doing business? There are insurance premiums, pens, pencils, paper, meals, rent (even if you operate out of house) and the other variables that virtually NEVER see their values subtracted from the bottom lines of independents’ P&L sheets.

I beg to differ. Good will, repeat and renewable business, return clients and referrals are generated by quality production, reasonable turnaround times, reasonable but fair pricing and professional decorum. Rarely does good will, and never does loss of profits by giving product away, generate healthy business levels. Loyalty is not earned nor received by giving product away. Loyalty, unfortunately, is also not something upon which most of us can depend ... sad to say.

These approaches, my friends, do not constitute good or profitable business practices, and they dilute the value of the product and our industry. Like it or not, that is a verifiable fact. Whatever happened to the marketing adage “never give away something you can sell”?

There are real costs you must cover to survive
At best, depending on the grade and quality of the media used, the variety of price levels from various resources, ink, your time and all the other cost factors, you’ll spend somewhere between a couple of dollars and possibly a whole lot more, for the blank, the case, the insert, the ink if you design/print your own, and the wear and tear of your equipment. I don’t know what your time is worth, but I have to make something when I’m working.

Or maybe you also invested hundreds of dollars (often $1K or more) on an automated burn-and-print device, saving time, but still with ink, materials and wear-and-tear costs. Somewhere, somehow, you need to recoup your expenses. Selling below your actual costs, including labor, equipment investment, replacement and other variables, or giving the product away WILL NOT generate profits.

To be continued ...
In Part 2 I will talk about my personal research into various model DVD duplicating towers offering copy protection. I will share pricing information and point out the differences in software- and hardware-based protection and why I will pull the trigger on one over the other.

I will also offer some real life experiences in the world of duplication regarding speed of dubbing, whether to use the hard drive or a direct-from-master-DVD duplication, and whether to print first or burn first.

I will share information from others who have found ways around some of the print or burn first issues and what my personal experience has been both ways even using their approaches.

And I will provide links to the various companies and resources for any readers interested in moving into DVD duplication either of their own productions or the home productions of their clients from other services. I do not plan, however, to share or divulge information regarding how to break copy protection code of personal or commercial productions. That information is readily available for those who wish to engage in pirating.

For now remember: If you market, you will make it! © 2011 Earl Chessher

Friday, July 01, 2011

If You’re Not Working It’s Because You Don’t Want To!

Anyone with a decent camera and a few essential, basic pieces of equipment, and a general understanding of how to use them to create video, and isn’t working, doesn’t WANT to!

It’s summertime folks! I know many of you want to go out and play, put the boat in the water, prepare the skis and jet-skis, maybe do some golf, surf if you're close to waves, party, barbecue, toss flying sports disks, attend car shows, county fairs and other community events. It’s human nature to want to enjoy the moment, have fun and live a carefree life, but hey, most of us also have bills to pay ...
... unless somebody gifted you with that boat, those skis or the dune buggy you ramp over the local dunes.

There are actually ways to do both: enjoy life and make money, and I’ve casually referred to it as guerrilla marketing. Take your equipment with you when you attend these events, functions or go to public places to soak up some summer sun. With today’s lightweight rigs and portability, there’s few places where you can’t take advantage of opportunities.

Here’s a short list, but I just bet most of you could add another two or five ideas of your own:
• Car shows
• Volley ball tournaments
• Bike (bicycle) club tours, competition, runs short and long
• Bike (motorcycle) club ... see above
• Kite flying competitions
• Hot air balloon excursions
• Surfing competitions
• Skiing competitions
• Youth baseball
• Youth Soccer
• Equestrian (horses ;-) events
• Parades
• Fourth of July fireworks exhibitions
• Skateboard events ... competition or impromptu (there’s some great boarders out there who love acquiring GREAT video shots of themselves)
• Golfing events (get in good with course management and you’ve picked up awesome ops)
• Open public exhibitions & activities
• Martial arts demonstrations
• Those live band performances at malls and pavilions everywhere (ask first)

It takes a will to work and some gumption to approach some of these, but I’ve shot something to do with pretty much all these categories over the years. Some will require a bit more finesse while others are wide open to walking on and cranking up the equipment.

Avoid turf wars with other guerrilla marketing video strategists. Sometimes I’ve actually been able to work alongside a competitor, one shooting primarily for one soccer team, me the other. There’s usually always compromise. The coaches, most vocal parent on the sidelines or the guy who pretends to know what he’s doing with that palmcorder waving around in the air are good people to connect with.

By the way, picked up more than 20 orders from yesterday’s car show, and will likely get more through the mail or via e-mail. This brings to mind another strategy that a lot of companies already do but that is going to eventually be important to all of us who shoot a lot of events:

Developing a website where people can order backyear event DVDs from a website catalog or listing. Easy, virtually free, money for a work once, sell many approach to marketing. My article on doing JUST THAT coming soon to E.C. Come, E.C. Go.

Remember: If you market, you will make it! © Earl Chessher 2011

Friday, June 10, 2011

Fear It! Or Embrace It!

Hello, Video StoryTeller!™ Associates! And those who would, are thinking about or hear of this awesome global branding and marketing program focused on the sharing and preservation of people's personal stories and memories.

Just in case you’re wondering about the potential, viability and popularity of our worldwide branding program, I thought I'd share a link to a TV station feature with you. Interestingly, this is one of three senior communities fellow VST Associate Jim Nicholson sent information to last year during a marketing drive introducing his VST program, the brand, and offering his professional production services.

While Jim didn’t manage to gain entry to these particular prospects, they certainly seemed to like the idea, taking it and doing their own thing for the residents ... getting local television station coverage of the drive to preserve people’s stories.

We can fear this, or we can embrace it!

I think such situations are “embraceable” because they validate our program to the max! This is why I’m sharing the link with you and urging you to share it with your fellow video producers and prospective clients. To inspire you with the prof and knowledge that there is a massive, broad interest in the sharing and preservation of people’s stories. Our slogan is so true: EVERYBODY HAS A STORY!

It is especially invigorating to realize that VST is the catalyst behind this Lancaster group’s thrust to preserve community resident’s stories. And, while their interest is self-serving, to the extent they’re doing this ONLY in their local community, it means WE can utilize the reality of this small news channel special to underpin our own programs ... not only to other senior communities, using the clip to support the fact that people desire to preserve their histories, stories and memories, but with countless other clubs, groups and individuals as well.

Take a look at http://www.wgal.com/video/28102497/detail.html?af=lan and share with me, and our other VST Associates, what strikes you about the movement we helped generate, how we can utilize this movement to the mutual benefit of our VST program, and for those who join us in perpetuating the brand around the world.

Nicholson is currently our Pennsylvania VST Associate. He continues to promote and market Video StoryTellers!™ throughout his service area, as well as among his fellow video production and independent business contacts. He is a true and very active VST disciple. It is through his personal marketing efforts that the Lancaster group kicked off its own effort to pursue story/memories preservation.

Jim is working toward developing a way to take advantage of the community’s “in-house” attempt and generate interest with other communities, clubs, groups and families in the VST Program approach. Nicholson also “discovered” this human interest feature, and another that he’s trying to locate so it can be shared with the rest of us.

Thanks Jim!

Remember: If you market, you will make it! © 2011 Earl Chessher

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Three Steps to Making More Money with Video

MONTAGE PRODUCTION IS PROFITABLE!

I average $300 a week producing music/photo video montages.

I’ve been doing these for years now and have honed the process down to the point where, if I had three of them a day, I could easily create these productions and still have time to take care of other business, enjoy getting out, reading a good book or even occasionally going to bed early.

I have three basic creative montage levels, each of them offering a different approach to the standard montage production, or a mix of one, two or all three, depending on the number of images used and music selection length.

The GREAT thing about producing montages and offering a range of creativity is that I can start with a really GREAT product at an affordable and popular price level, then ramp up with other elements that many clients are willing to pay extra for.

The Complete Guide to Photo/Music Montage Marketing and Production will be released this year. Watch for announcements here, and on Twitter and Facebook, as well as several video related forums where I participate.

FUNERAL VIDEO PRODUCTION IS PROFITABLE!

I average $500 a week, spread out annually, in Funeral and Memorial Video Productions. After quite a few months of developing direct-mail letters, DVD samples and direct-mail post cards, I’ve managed to generate good relationships with a number of funeral/mortuary/cemetery establishments, funeral officiants and church officials. Many of these now use my services as their preferred/referred vendor for end of life, celebration of life and memorial video production needs.

While developing this business program can be a challenge, it is absolutely a do’er and anyone putting some effort into developing a valid funeral and memorial video production service can average $25,000 or more a year. Combined with memorial photo video montage production services, an independent video services provider can average $40,000 or more a year, working alone and full-time.

The book that tells you how: “They Shoot Funerals, Don’t They” is now available and has received solid reviews for its quality and content. It truly has everything you need to know, including real-life stories, forms, direct-mail examples and more. Check it out today at http://lulu.com/spotlight/Earl and order this resource publication that will help you approach a seriously under served market with confidence.

BASIC WEDDING VIDEO PRODUCTION IS PROFITABLE!

I average $10,000 a year with easy-to-produce, basic wedding video productions that don’t eat up all my spare time, weekends and holidays or make me pull my hair out during a 60-hour editing marathon.

You can be a video artist or essentially an independent wedding video businessperson and make good money without having to work as hard as some in the wedding video production business do. You just have to learn how to keep a firm balance between your Michelangelo and “Business-angelo” sides, focusing on good shooting, editing and production techniques that don’t take you 40 hours, several weeks, months or years to deliver.

There are many in the 80 percent wedge of the bridal community pie who don’t even WANT a wedding video, who could be convinced if the price, services, turnaround time and quality were more in line with their budgets, their expectations and their real video production needs.

Instead of fighting over the 20 percent or so group of brides who are sold on video and want it, and sometimes will do whatever it takes to get it, take a stab at convincing that HUGE other source they might like to have a video production of their wedding event after all.

The Basic Guide to Profitable Wedding Video Marketing and Production will provide you with some concepts that are already in play but either over used or under delivered, along with several approaches that are overlooked by many in the wedding video production industry. This valuable video business resource will be released this year. Watch for announcements here, and on Twitter and Facebook, as well as several video related forums where I participate.

Remember: If you market, you will make it © 2011 Earl Chessher

Another GREAT resource for video ideas, tools, marketing hints and suggestions is In the Viewfinder, a video business blog by Jay Michael Long of JML Multimedia, Mississippi. Check him out at http://intheviewfinder.blogspot.com

Also, check out Bill Mecca’s popular Video Quick Tips series, a LOT of good, easy, quick and affordable approaches to improving your video production abilities.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Why I’m a Video StoryTellers!™ Associate

by Jim Nicholson

When Earl invited me to write a brief article for his blog about Video StoryTellers!™ (VST) I immediately wondered if it would be possible. I know I can type a few lines but that would be the challenge. He made it perfectly clear the article had to be objective, unbiased, truthful, and for my sins it was to be written using proper grammar.

All kidding aside, I knew I would have a hard time with the “unbiased” condition. Having been involved with Earl on the ground floor of VST makes it very hard to be unbiased but I’ll try my best.

I first discussed VST with Earl some time ago. As a newbie at that time in the video profession I found myself turning to Earl often to learn and gain lots from his years of experience both as a business person and also in the field of video production. We tend to talk too much on the phone but for me that’s OK because I feel I always come away with more from the conversation anyway.

We happened to be speaking about one of my usual issues with video and after I was done beating myself over the head for missing the usual easy solution that Earl was always willing to provide me with, we got off on a side conversation, as we do many times. It was about VST and Earl was in a groove for sure. As we talked I started to envision possibilities for my company if I were to give VST a whirl, and like we often do, we fed each other many scenarios about what a VST business could do for someone like me. I was trying to build a video business in a down market and it looked to me like VST would fit right into a need I had to get something rolling. I agreed to give it a whirl.

I may be a little different from others looking at VST because I may not be the sharpest tool in the shed. I will let my love of video lead me, and although I know I need to earn with my business, when something comes along like VST that I feel strongly about I tend to let my love for video take over. That being said, I jumped in with all three feet. From the beginning I knew I was going to take VST through a wide range of possibilities, utilizing a number of different marketing formats. I tend to always see the big picture and find myself focusing in on specifics later. VST was no different and I compiled a long list of situations where I could present it to the public.

Nursing homes were the first because I think that was Earl’s first thoughts and I agreed. Having been around nursing homes since my wife works at a very large one, it was very clear to me that the residents love to talk and tell stories. I can remember one Halloween, we took our two-year-old grandson to the nursing home for trick or treat. Every year they go crazy for the local kids with dressing up and handing out candy. The whole complex is into it. This one is roughly 100-plus acres so that is loads of candy, but it relates to a ton of residents too.

As we made our way through the halls and candy stations that were set up where the residents were sitting in full costumes with boxes of candy, handing it out, it became clear to me these guys love to tell stories. It was impossible to stop for candy and not have to stand and listen to several stories the residents would share from tales of their trick and treating as kids, to little tales of what happened that day as “Joe was trying to get his mask on and scared his cat with it.” These were all their important personal stories, and believe me we were not leaving that area until we listened and acknowledged we understood that.

What’s my story?
My story is that VST has some teeth in it. The older population is a great place to start. I did run into a few hurdles trying to get past those dreaded gate keepers when I tried to set up a VST session in this very same nursing home. I thought I was a shoe in since my wife worked there and was a trusted employee for 11 years. This is when I found out that people responsible for these residents are very cautious because so many scammers have robbed this population. It becomes part of the social director’s job to protect the residents.

At first I was a little bummed, thinking I was looked upon as a possible scammer, but if you think about it they really do need to protect these folks. My next move was to find a way in, a work-around for the gate keepers. It became a challenge for me to accomplish this. I know Earl has tips for this but I can share how I did it. I used a “side door” approach.

This nursing home has many separate clubs for the residents. I found one that I was familiar with, a train club. They have weekly meetings and a public open house once a month. I chose to attend and I sought out the head honcho and just being me I started talking about the trains. I wonder if you can guess what happened next. In case not, this guy started telling me one story after another. If I’d had my camera I could have shot those stories and completed a session right then and there. We did talk about VST and when I left I had the contact number for the president, and all it took was a call to get the word to them.

I tend to run into things, and if I’m alert (to the possibilities) I grab onto them and run with them. This is what happened when I was shooting a demo for my website. I have a friend in his 70s who just happened to work at Three Mile Island atomic power plant in Pennsylvania, back during the meltdown scare. He was actually on shift when it happened. I’d heard many stories from him in the past about it, so when I needed a demo I naturally asked him. He jumped at the chance to tell his story and I shot my demo.

When I had it all ready and on DVD, of course I gave him a copy. He watched it with his wife that night and the next morning my phone was ringing. Ron was so excited. He could not believe he was on a DVD. You might say he was star struck. He wanted to know if I could make him a number of copies for his family. I told him I would have to charge him for the copies and he was totally OK with that. Here’s where I ran into another idea for VST.

I was joking with him because he was so excited. I said Ron, now that you’re a star you need to sell these videos. He came right back and said, “I know. I wanted to ask you about that.” Here is another opportunity for VST stories. If you run into one that is out of the ordinary, and you will, it can be sold and your business can make a tidy little profit. You can offer marketing help in the form of a marketing package where you charge a fee for getting the production out onto the Web and either you can package deal a shopping cart or help them do it if they’re computer savvy. This is not confined to older people. This can work for anyone. Ron has sold hundreds of copies, all that I duplicated for him. What started as a demo turned into a tidy sum for my business.

Since I started with VST I tend to listen for stories and I’ve not had any trouble finding these special ones. I just found one last week while talking to a painting contractor appraiser. He was writing my estimate and in general chitchat he started telling me of his home in Brazil, and proceeded to tell me a story of how eight of 10 people at some point in their lives there are robbed by drug or other gangs. He told me of the time he was robbed in his house with his wife and kids there. To skip right to the end, one of the robbers seemed very bothered by the deed, he told me. The homeowner said to him if he did not hurt his family God would forgive him.

Later on, roughly a year later, he met this same person in a church. After talking to him, he learned right after the man had robbed him he’d remembered the statement about being forgiven. He sought out a church and now was a beneficial member helping other gang bangers to give up crime and seek the church. The whole story was very moving. This is a true VST story. One that can easily be sold and could be targeted to a church-related market.

The biggest thing you need to come to grips with is you MUST LISTEN to people when you talk to them. I think so often we’re in such a hurry that we converse with people to be polite but we do not really listen to them. If you listen, VST will gleam with possibilities and that equates to profits for your business. I can fill this blog with ways to make VST work for you. The key word is “work”. You must work it for it to work for you. It is a two-way street and does require commitment. If you’re like me and love to talk, or listen to other people’s stories, VST is just part of who you are. It can be an extension of your personality. If you’re alert (to the possibilities) and if you listen, the rest falls into place.

There are so many possibilities with VST I’ve not touched on. Fairs, libraries, schools and veterans. One of my passions is the fact that so many veterans from WWII, Korea and now Vietnam have so many stories to tell. Their stories are really bits of history and as they pass away their part of that history is lost forever. I have run into many of these while doing other work and I see they are VST stories. There can be a link made to schools and education too.

I had an editing job before VST was known to me. I had a client that had made a video of a friend who was the owner of the business he worked at. This fellow was a WWII veteran and he was retiring so the office staff decided they needed to get his story on videotape and turn it into a nice video for him. I was hired to produce it. I guess you can say this was a VST job before I started with VST. I edited and cleaned up the footage the best I could since I did not shoot it, and produced a DVD.

While the project was at the duplicators, I got a call and was asked if Charlie, the WWII veteran, would mind if his DVD was used by a local school for history class. The teacher who was a friend of the fellow who duplicated my order at the time asked if she could use the DVD in her history class. I duplicate my own DVDs now, but you can see where this was headed. Not only is VST a story for the owner but can be marketed to any organization that deals with history. I guess you can tell I like this side of VST.

I promised Earl I would be brief but I find it hard to be brief when there are so many possibilities with VST. I have not even scratched the surface yet and I think it would be a long time before I could exhaust every way I can make VST work for me. Darn, that nasty word again: “Work!”

Editor’s note: Jim Nicholson is the owner and operator of Nicholson Video Productions, www.nicholsonvidproductions.com and is an independent professional video services provider operating throughout the New England region, as well as the southern states, including Florida. He is an original member of the Video StoryTellers!™ associates group.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

How Much Do You Love Doing Weddings?

Tell me again, how much you LOVE doing weddings. Tell me how “easy” they are to market, videotape, edit and produce. Tell me you NEVER experience frustration, burnout or other cycles of mental fatigue as a result of too many (or too few) weddings over non-specified periods of time.

And tell me again why it is that you focus all your energy (part time or full) on marketing, acquiring, bidding or begging for them; spend hours of your lives each year preparing for, schlepping equipment to and working weekend bridal fairs; buying vendor, DJ, wedding planner or photographer lunches; constantly revising and updating your website, website samples and related marketing materials such as business cards, brochures, full-production demo DVDs; why you spend all that time, energy and money to produce (what? maybe?) a couple of $2K wedding events a weekend?

Why are you working 10, 12 or more hours on a Friday, Saturday and/or Sunday, attending pre-event rehearsals where absolutely NOTHING that is rehearsed happens the WAY it was rehearsed at the actual event? Why are you bargaining with the bride and groom who KNOW they WANT a wedding video (some of you call it, your productions, “film” even though not one second of your work is actually produced on FILM) but do not value it enough to not haggle with you on price, or attempt to get you to “match” a price given them by their cousin who just got a consumer camcorder for Christmas?

Why are you putting in 20, 40 or 100 or more hours editing what has become a “labor of love” (REALLY?); spending time devising replies as to why the production hasn’t been delivered as promised? Why was it promised (in some cases even I used to make a four-week delivery guarantee “or your money back” to set me apart from my competition.) in weeks, months or years, only to take months, years or NEVER to get done?

Why are you taking on more, advertising and marketing for MORE business when you cannot even begin to reduce your current backlog; when you fight that endless vicious cycle of burnout, frustration and LIFE, juggling a REAL or full time job, family, illness, and all that beautiful, warm, wonderful and fabulous wedding video editing with all those kind, considerate, loving, patient, unassuming brides breathlessly waiting for months, even years, to see their video? Why all this, at no profit whatsoever; all this expense and work for an underpaid, under-appreciated production that has created ulcers, caused prominent headaches and sometimes divorce or failing partnerships?

Why are you putting forth all this effort, money, time and uncompensated hours of fast food, dirty coffee cups or empty RedBull cans, and battling against a HUGE, HUGELY competitive market where EVERY person with a camcorder, if nothing more, is attempting to claim a sniff, a smell, a touch, much less an actual TASTE, of the roughly 22 percent wedge of the bridal community pie that actually WANTS a video (er, uh, “film”) of what so many of us remind them is “The most important event of your life!”?

Diversify! Expand your focus. Even if you’re ONLY a weekend warrior (or “worryier”) putting in evenings and weekends in an effort to get your productions delivered, there’s millions more birthday, anniversary and milestone event celebrations held on a daily basis than there are weddings. The pie is much larger and I can assure you that the size of the business pie wedge of people who will pay reasonable fees for quality audio/video productions is is HUGE compared to the roughly 22 percent wedding video business wedge.

And if you’re full time. WOW! Think of the shorter, quicker, easier, less complicated, higher profit generating events you can now market and acquire!

Wedding video production is BAD?

No! But a part time or full time independent video production business based on a blend of wedding gigs you WANT and can be selective about accepting based on profitability rather than bargain basement competition (yes, YOU accepting instead of the other way around), combined with the awesome amount of potential event video production business held OUT THERE on a daily basis is a much less severe and overwhelming crunch on your bottom line and the life you try to live between gigs.

Remember: If you market, you will make it! © 2000 - 2011 Earl Chessher

P.S. Well, saw where my Marketing Challenge had no takers. Good to know that business is booming for everybody but me ;-)

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Marketing Challenge for ALL!

This is nothing I’ve not written about before, here or elsewhere, but as all of you who follow my articles know by now I am a strong believer and proponent for low volume (small batch) special interest postcard direct-mail campaigns.

This time, however, I’m issuing ALL WHO READ THIS A CHALLENGE! I want and expect commitments of 30-, 60- 90-day, six months or one full year from each of you. I DARE you to do this and at the end of your exercise tell me you gained nothing from your participation. That you failed to get one phone call, e-mail inquiry or website visit. More, that you failed to get at least one gig from your campaign.

Ignore what you’ve previously experienced, read or heard (except here, of course ;-) about direct-mail marketing. Open up your minds, engage your willingness to suspend disbelief, and THINK about what I’m asking you to do ... fairly and objectively. Then, let’s see how many of you are willing to commit to a specific period of time by responding NOW in “comments” below, and occasionally for the duration of your exercise. Let’s see how many will seriously accept the challenge.

Then, bring on the comments! Let’s share and learn from your individual experiences by either e-mailing me direct reports, or posting comments here. I will commit to providing blog updates as the program grows and continues. Let’s hear the results, positive, negative or neutral.

WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?
Any of you who’ve read my articles know I’m a firm believer in small direct-mail postcard campaigns focused on specific areas of interest: dance schools, school events, youth sports groups, and other clubs, groups and organizations from community playhouses to community center activities.

What I mean by “focused” and “small” is less than 100 units per campaign and as mentioned above, postcards designed to appeal to a specific area of interest.

HERE’S THE CHALLENGE!
Do a Google search or use any other method of identifying ANY facility, school, organization, club or group(s) of interest within your service area. Get addresses and as often as you can GET NAMES! Someone to address that postcard to: the counselor, owner, director, choreographer, events planner, organizer, pastor, etc.

DESIGN A POSTCARD with minimum wording, a call to action and a promise you CAN keep: special price, introductory offer, no minimum sales, etc. — something that appeals to the ever-present question “What’s in it for me?” EVERYONE you try to sell something to will ask, and not always aloud.

COMMIT TO MAILING a minimum of ONE postcard a day, on average, (that’s right JUST ONE, although MORE is better) and stick to the commitment. It takes just a few minutes to come up with 30 or so viable addresses, and often names, for most active events. Ten minutes, or less, a day if you ONLY look for one, identify it, address the postcard, stick a stamp on it and put it in the mailbox.

KEEP A RECORD of what happens. What interest group(s) you select. Who you mailed to. How many you mailed. How many responses you get. How many sales, gigs or opportunities you received. Then come here and share your “updates” with the rest of us for the duration of your commitment.

YOU WILL ENJOY a better than five percent response. I’ve been doing this for years and I’ve averaged an eight percent or better response to each and every direct-mail campaign and batch. I’ve ALWAYS done better than break even when factoring in my costs and time, always getting MORE business income than what I invested. Yes, a REAL R.O.I. (return on investment)

THE SECRET TO SUCCESS IS
Persistency, consistency, commitment WILL generate responses and business. You ARE gaining eyeballs, and TELL yourself this until you believe it, even if you DON’T receive even ONE response over a 90-day period. People WILL read your postcards, many of them will save them for reference purposes because even if they don’t perceive a need today, they will want to keep it as a resource for tomorrow’s, next week’s or next month’s special party or event. They often find themselves in need of a replacement vendor either because they’re displeased with them or they had one flake out on them at the last minute.

These reasons and more have resulted in my getting gigs over the period of many of my direct-mail postcard campaigns.

Keep records, because you WANT to repeat mailings, either with the same direct-mail piece or a new one, but still with your prominent business name and branding present so you continue with the association, visibility and linkage, and familiarity that comes from repeated exposure.

DON’T however overdo it by getting rambunctious and saturating your address lists with something akin to SPAM or JUNK MAIL. That is counter-productive, guaranteeing a negative return and 100 percent direct-to-trash response.

Make your postcard content simple, compelling and ALWAYS include a call to action: “Call NOW!” or “ACT NOW!” or “E-MAIL TODAY!” or “BOOK TODAY!” so on and so forth.

Just do it! And share your results with the rest of us. I personally look forward to many glowing reports of positive limited run, direct-mail postcard, special interest campaigns over then next 12 months.

Remember: “If you market, you will make it!” © 2004-2011 Earl Chessher

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Preaching to the Choir

This post isn’t for everyone ...
... well, yeah, I guess it IS for everyone! Me included. It’s about marketing and what drives us, what compels us, what moves us into action. It’s also about what prevents us from doing what it takes, going where we need to go to accomplish success, make positive things happen not only in our personal lives, but our business lives as well.

Throughout this blog, over the years, I’ve focused on aspects of business ranging from new concepts, tried and proven new ideas and programs, with emphasis on marketing and “working the program” to accomplish something, anything, in your personal business. Specifically, my articles have primarily focused on these subjects as they pertain to video — marketing, production, development, creation, sales, promotion, business.

Generally, the blog articles that have been published here since 2004 contain principles that, while specific to video, can be applied to not only ANY business but to our personal approach to life as well. I often refer to a calendar my late Mom once gave me as a present, one of those with the pithy sayings and encouraging comments shared daily to help inspire the reader to new lofty goals. The ONE page that stuck with me more than any other said: “Great ideas won’t work unless you do!”

And this is true! Sadly, it is counter to human nature to follow through with the actions necessary to make those “great ideas” work. Many of us stop just after having a Great Idea, satisfied that we’ve managed to have one at all, but not willing to go the distance needed to carry such an inspirational thought to fruition or success much less existence. And this tendency, my dear readers, is what today’s article will focus on.

Great ideas truly will NOT work unless we do. A rare few humans in the world have the determination, self-motivation, belief, drive, ambition, energy or personal stamina to pursue a great idea to the point of accomplishment. We are victims of fad diets, temporary inspirations, fleeting ideals that kick up our adrenalin levels momentarily before we slip back into our safe comfort zones and relax in a state of stasis.

There are literally thousands of self-help publications, Internet articles, make money, lose weight, get healthy and more sources of information that inspire yet languish. An idea or concept gets hot, goes viral and millions (sometimes) invest, copy or borrow from the latest craze only to peruse the cover, delicately test the waters, then save it to a file or place it on a closet shelf or in a junk drawer — never again to be sought out, read or referred to.

Our general lethargy and laziness makes success difficult for the majority of us. Our tendency to find good, even GREAT ideas, concepts and programs, then begin to justify why we do not pursue them is overwhelming. So many of us spend MORE time avoiding than confronting.

I have a son whom I often accuse of expending more time and energy to figure out how to NOT do something than he would if he simply DID it! To a degree the vast majority of humankind is of this nature. We work harder to avoid than we ever would if we actually took on a Great Idea and tried to make it work. We all spend a great portion of our time seeking get-rich-quick schemes, lose-weight-fast fad diets and diet concepts, and spend-a-little-to-make-a-lot concepts, and proportionately very little time, effort, energy or money actually developing an active, aggressive approach to such accomplishments.

MARKETING
The single, most affordable and simple solution to business success is marketing. Specifically, direct-mail marketing. When was the last time you mailed a postcard, letter or sample DVD of your work?

When was the last time you sent more than one? One a day? For three months, six months, a year or more? Thought so. I even lapse into periods where for no logical rhyme or reason I slack off doing this persistently and consistently, and when I do business falls off rapidly and sharply.

When was the last time you updated your website, checked to be sure all the links and connections still work, added some new materials and removed old, outdated content? I recently researched a boatload of websites where the “last updated” or latest copyright notification was as long ago as 1999, many in the 2004 range and a huge number haven’t been changed in any significant way, based on update or copyright notice since 2007.

In this day and age of multi-level marketing and Internet, along with social network options, a day is often too long between adding fresh, new materials, updating and removing old, outdated content, or simply establishing a new sense of vitality to your business presence. I plead guilty to the same ... look how long it has been since my last blog post on E.C. Come, E.C . Go. At minimum I should have something weekly, but I’m a long way from that reality. With the current load of personal and business marketing, production and program development I do good to post monthly.

Consistent and persistent focus is difficult to sustain ... human nature.

I promote and offer two vital programs for folks wanting to get into the video production business — “They Shoot Funerals, Don’t They” a book on funeral and memorial marketing and production, and a global branding and marketing program called Video StoryTellers!™ (VST) as well as a host of other and forthcoming resources, along with a huge number of informational articles on this blog.

Many have inquired, a few have purchased or invested, none ... well, other than Artis White, Flex Media Productions, and probably Nishi Dias, both self-motivated professionals who have purchased the funeral and memorial marketing and production book ... have taken their efforts to the next level.

Pamela Dahlgren of Michigan, John McDaid of Arizona, Fred J. Claus of New York, Mike Schiedermayer of Wisconsin, Jim Nicholson of Pennsylvania, Heidi Mueller of Canada, Luis O. Maymi of Puerto Rico, and others have invested money, time and/or energy into developing Video StoryTellers!™ both individually and as a brand and program for new independent professional video services providers (IPVSPs). They all are at one stage or another in pursuing and developing their VST marketing and production strategies.

WORK THE PROGRAM
There are possibly two approaches toward life, business and success in either — make it happen or let it happen. A large number of people in the world fall into the latter category ... they “let” things happen, then react, or not, and see where it gets them.

It is my personal opinion that those who operate from this perspective find fewer satisfying moments in their pursuits. I strongly believe that folks who work hard, invest time and money and energy into “making” things happen, to take the initiative and establish the directives that get something going, get something done, achieve a higher, more consistent and satisfying level of success than the others.

Even an on again, off again approach to “making” it happen is better than a full-time philosophy of “letting” things happen. Action vs reaction — there’s something awesomely powerful in taking action and seeing your focus, your efforts bring fruition.

Anyone remember former John F. Kennedy’s “Ask not ...” speech? Well, the same can be applied to programs purchased, resource materials borrowed and read, investments made and efforts expended. It isn’t so much what these elements can do for you, it is what you can do to make them WORK for you.

Whatever it is you desire. Whatever it is you believe in, work at it — make it happen! When you make a decision to purchase “They Shoot Funerals, Don’t They” don’t simply buy it and read it, then put it on the shelf. Take this valuable information to the next level and TRY some of the proven techniques offered, LEARN from the real-life experiences shared by the author.

And when you run into a wall on your first try, don’t stop there, accepting defeat. It is a proven fact that consistency, persistency and tenacious application of proven techniques and approaches DO work, but ONLY if you stay with it. Repetition, visibility and linkage are the secret to success.

Kenny Rogers sings “you gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em ...” but there’s a HUGE chasm between an effort in futility and the futility of further effort. What’s that saying? The cliché? “No pain, no gain?” Well, it doesn’t necessarily have to HURT, but you should feel some degree or combination of exhaustion/exhilaration in the process of reaching for success in any program or adventure — most especially in business as an independent.

When the information from which you’re working is solid and based on proven facts and strategies, then working the program will ensure that the program works for you. After all, Great Ideas won’t work unless you do!

Remember: If you market, you will make it! © 2011 Earl Chessher, CorElAnn Video Productions, Video StoryTellers!™

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Delivering Video on Thumb Drives

There are a number of ways to present your video on a thumb drive instead of a DVD, Video CD or on hard drive. Your method will depend not only on what operating system you use, or want to provide your product for — linux, PC, Mac, etc. — but what type of playback quality you want to deliver.


Many clients are still satisfied with standard definition. Others will want, desire or demand high definition or Blu-ray capabilities. Some will have the means for playing from a thumb drive on their computer via an available USB input. Some will have one of several choices of systems for playing from their computer and viewing on their television. And, of course, many televisions are beginning to come equipped with an USB input.


There are also a number of players capable of utilizing thumb drive playback ability, one of which is the WD TV by Western Digital that converts your USB drive into an HD media player. Again, this is not the only choice. Some clients and video producers will have higher needs and expectations, others ... well there are choices for playback and compatibility and it is beyond the scope of this article to address all the specifics and specifications of delivery for USB or thumb drive on video.


Many who have already developed an approach for ripping DVD content to a hard drive using one of many available programs, such as Mac the Ripper, HandBrake, etc. Being Mac centric myself, I will basically provide general information here for preparing DVD content for presentation on a USB thumb drive. Similar, even identical information is available for other computer platforms, formats and operating systems. Just be aware that it can be done, and the most popular formats are platform universal. People just need to download the preferred player for their computer.


Other programs include VLC Media Player, DVD Shrink and DVD Decrypter, all creating a VIDEO_TS folder and a number of files ending in .vob. Programs are available to then generate the more compressed formats you might want to try using. Again, it all depends on the quality and capacity of your USB drive. For purposes of conversion from one video format to another Wondershare Video Converter Pro is an affordable commercial alternative.


For quite sometime now companies like Disk Makers have provided not only duplication services for creating branded thumb drives for content delivery of more than just video. Disk Makers and others also offer multiple USB drive duplicators much like the older DVD tower duplicators, making in-house duplication of video and other digital product a reasonable, but still way more expensive, alternative for independent product developers and video producers.


Thumb drive delivery is still expensive when compared to the cost of DVD duplicators and blanks, the USB thumb drive has continued to grow in use to the point that virtually anyone with a computer knows what a thumb drive is, uses or owns at least one or more of varying capacity. It was inevitable that this media would find its way into the delivery mainstream for video and the video production market. There are even companies developing, or who have announced technology that they hope will enable commercial movie download and delivery to not only thumb drives but SDHC flash memory cards. Naysayers, however, predict that this unique delivery system is far from being commercially viable, or practical. But for the independent producer, it is easily done now.


To provide product on this media you will need to decide how you plan to deliver. There’s a wide range of format options from MP2, MOV, AVI and more. For my clients who are Mac users I can simply save a QuickTime movie file to USB and voila, done! At least for computer playback. Would that all could be that simple, right? Not gonna happen.


Larger capacity thumb drives can handle bigger files. Of course you know that, but one-to-two-hour productions and movies can fit on a USB drive as small as a gigabyte (1GB) if compressed to MP4, variations of H.264 or AVI. The length of your production is key to quality playback success.


Everything depends on factors such as desired playback quality, storage capacity of the drives (more expensive) which calls for bigger budgets on the part of your clients. And while it is nice to have branding of your company name or logo or website, etc. that too will increase the costs for delivery. If you have, or can develop, the market you can work out the cost issues based on your client needs and their ability to pay. For a fortunate few, cost is no object.


Using HandBrake, for example, pretty much all you need to do is rip the contents you want to install on your thumb drive. Convert to MP4, if that’s what you desire, by selecting the iPod option under presets. You select your USB drive as the destination and the video will save to the thumb drive.


There’s a lot more to it, if you want there to be a lot more to it. You’ve got decisions that include development of product from Flash (FLV) files and a host of compression ratios that can factor in, as noted earlier, depending on drive capacity, program/video length, desired playback quality and cost considerations.


What you deliver on a thumb drive, product-wise, is more of a concern than how you deliver on one. When you’ve decided on the variables just know that there’s an even chance of finding a suitable compromise between quality and costs, convenience and compatibility if you want to consider delivery on flash drives.


Delivery on USB, thumb drive, flash drive, whatever you want to call it, can be as simple as exporting a movie to MP4, saving it to your USB drive, plugging it into a compatible television or auxiliary player/converter, or properly connected computer, finding and selecting USB from the source command and hitting play.


In my humble opinion, however, while delivery of video product on a USB drive can be novel, convenient, perhaps even desirable, it still is not economical. And not really all that convenient compared to DVD delivery, or the widely-available capability of conversion to any number of formats for storage and playback access on everything from a cellphone to a popular game product such as the XBox.


Economically speaking: you spend a half-dollar, or less, for a DVD blank, and burning Blu-ray now comes in under a couple of bucks, both with significantly greater capacity than a comparably priced thumb drive. Even if, or when, thumb drives get to the buck or less per gigabyte cost, that’s still way more than what you pay to deliver on disk, notwithstanding all the other elements to consider — duplication, branding, and the fact that these puppies are a whole lot easier to lose than a DVD or Blu-ray disk in a nice library case that not only carries your branding (easily done in-house for pennies) but some pretty sophisticated custom graphics personalized for the client as well.


So, if for whatever reason you want to do it, by all means go with a minimal “wow” factor with branded (or not) thumb drive video delivery, but if you’re still looking at quality of presentation, value and cost-effectiveness, a printed case containing a quality product with printed graphics is still the market and delivery king. You can either be miles ahead of your time with something that isn’t guaranteed to be universally adaptable, and can result in client complaints or other problems, or be assured that you’ve got many more years and good mileage left in your disk delivery system.


Oh, and keep in mind that it’s usually going to take you longer to get the product ready for thumb drive delivery and ready to hand over to your client than the more conventional and universally accepted and player friendly DVD disk. I have to say, however, that today’s systems and thumb drive quality, notwithstanding costs, will often meet or beat the time it takes to burn the same video content onto a disk. How much sweat and experimenting went into getting the files ready, and of the desired quality, however, might be the tie-breaker.


Regardless of your purpose or intent, or media selected for delivery, remember: If you market, you will make it! © 2011 Earl Chessher