What’s Going On?

February 21, 2010

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OK, I swear, this is the last article in a long time that will relate to the finances of the site (although I may announce new store offerings occasionally).

I’ve been chasing the dime a bit lately.  After nearly 450 articles, the site really hasn’t produced much revenue.  Part of the reason for this has been due to the conscious decision to avoid showing ads to regular visitors.  This will change slightly in the future.  We will still block the large Adsense ads from being displayed to regular visitors.  However, we will have some smaller ads in the sidebars.  We already have two sponsors – Irrational Family and Lazy Man and Money.  I encourage you to visit these blogs to see what they have to offer.  More information on advertising can be found here.

We also launched a store, with the help of the free Zen Cart software (reviewed yesterday, right here!).  This was my first experience dealing with shopping cart software.  Even with my background in IT, it wasn’t completely intuitive, but I was able to get answer from other folks on the internet, and the store is basically configured the way I like it now.  My fiction eBooks (PDF format) are available for purchase ($3.65 for volumes 1 or 2, $1.95 for volume 3).

There is also a tip jar for the staff writers.  I stress that there is absolutely no obligation to donate.  If you don’t donate, you will continue to get all of the features of The Soap Boxers.  If you do choose to donate, simply place the writer in your cart and change the quantity to reflect the amount of your tip, in full dollars.  If the writer doesn’t fit in your cart, I’d suggest a fireman’s carry.

We will also be adding audio versions of the stories!  I haven’t finalized details, but my thought is that audio versions of the smaller stories will be 50 cents and that the 10,000 word stories will be $4.  In between stories (such as 2-3 part stories) will be somewhere in the middle (probably $1).

We will be modifying the current loyalty discount program on April 1.  Regular visitors  should click the tab just to the right of “Home” in the blue bar for details.  RSS readers should click the eBook link in the RSS feed signature for details.

We will also have an unlimited annual pass.    This will allow downloading of any the PDF eBooks as well as audio books.  Currrently, we have about 45 written stories in our collection.  Over the course of the next 2-3 months, these will be converted to audio.  For a limited time, the price of the annual pass will be set at $9Additionally, these passes will be good for 15 months, rather than 12! This is less than the combined cost of the three eBooks – and will also allow you access to unlimited audio stories as they become available.  Essentially, you’re buying the PDFs and getting the MP3s (as well as future PDFs) for free.  Once we have twenty audio stories online, this offer will disappear – so take advantage now.

We also expect to have combo packs for sports and crime – allowing you to download several audio stories for one low price.

I’m also looking for readers for the audio versions.  I’m not able to offer any cash up front, but will pay 30% of gross sales.  This means that it’s unlikely that you’ll get rich from this work, but if a story is reasonably popular, you might make a few bucks and gain some exposure.  If you’re a longtime reader of The Soap Boxers, perhaps you’d be interested in donating a bit of your time to read a few stories, rather than leaving a cash tip.  (Note: if you choose to donate your time, the 30% share will be split amongst the other writers of The Soap Boxers).  I’m guessing that you can knock out a story in fifteen minutes.

I have a degree in accounting, so rest assured that annual passes will be properly allocated (based on a weighted average of the cost of the items downloaded by annual pass purchasers) and that everyone will receive their fair share of the annual pass fee.

I’m looking for an assortment of voices and would like to match voices to stories.  If you have a bubbly voice, you’ll get an upbeat story.  If you have a gruff voice, someone will probably die in your story.  You do need to have the ability to create a good quality audio recording.  MP3 is best, but I can work with some other formats, if necessary.  unfortunately, I don’t have the free time necessary to provide tech support.  I provide everything else – the original story, storefront, payment processing, etc.

If you’re interested in lending your voice, contact me at kosmo@observingcasually.com


We have dispatched a reporter to Vancouver to cover some of the happenings to the Olympics.  OK, maybe we found out about Joe Neuman’s trip and asked him to provide some coverage for The Soap Boxers while he is there.  You can also follow Joe on twitter.  We may try to do more of this sort of thing in the future – piggybacking on the exciting lives of others.

Random thoughts

I’ve been running low on sleep lately 🙁

Pitchers and catchers have reported to Spring Training

I was really bummed by Erin Hamlin’s poor performance at the Olympics.

This looks nifty diamond when I’m composing in WordPress, but is a bunch of jumbled paragraphs to you

Don’t buy gold coins, silver coins, or “state dollar bills” from magazine or TV ads.  The have negligible value to collectors.

Sarah Palin and The Family Guy are having a spat.  Interestingly, both part of the Fox family.

There may be an upcoming recall of Toyota Corollas.  Not a good year for Toyota so far.

I’m glad that Tiger Woods is sorry.  It would be disturbing if he wasn’t sorry.

Dude, that was quite the crash in the Super G.

Product Review: Zen Cart

February 20, 2010

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I recently got consumed with the idea of getting a storefront online. The store will have my fiction eBooks and and, in the future, some audio versions of those books. There will be a lot more about the store tomorrow, so I won’t dwell on the details.

I asked for some advice on how best to go about this. I received good suggestions about working with web sites that routinely sell eBooks for people. Unfortunately, the setup fees were more than I wanted to deal with – I wanted to keep more of the money in house, so that I could afford to charge a lower rate to customers.

This led me to a product called Zen Cart, which was advertised as a “one step install” on my web host, Dreamhost. Let’s look at the good and bad of Zen Cart,

What Zen Cart did right

First of all, Zen Cart is free. How does the company manage to stay in business? They sell a manual, of course. I’m a big fan of this business model. It’s possible to use the product completely for free if you can Google to find the answers to your questions (as I did). If you like it well enough, you can always leave a donation later.

The installation itself actually was pretty easy. A big chunk of the praise goes to Dreamhost for this, though. All the necessary databases are set up by invisible hands, and Dreamhost sends you an email cheat sheet to guide you through the installation screens. I stumbled through the screens a bit because I wasn’t paying attention. Once I actually read what was written, I did much better.

The product is actually pretty feature rich. More features than I needed, really. It has support for multiple tax structures (for each state, for example), allows various payment methods (including pretty cool PayPal integration), digital products (the files are stored within the Zen Cart installation), coupons, and much, much more. I’ve barely scratched the surface, since I had fairly minimal needs.

What Zen Cart did wrong

Setting up downloadable products was not very intuitive. I finally figured out how to do this by Google’ing for the answer. It involves setting up and “option name” and “option value” and configuring this option to point to a file. I was expecting to perhaps just check a box for “this product contains a download” and be prompted for the file location.  There are a lot of people interested in selling their intellectual property on the internet.  A quick-to-setup solution would gain a lot of fans.

On the subject of downloads, when you configure the product, you type in the file name, rather than using a dropdown box to select it from the available files. The greatly increases the chance of making an error.  (Oh, hey, make sure you actually TEST the process).  Setting up a multi-part file was even a bit different.  In the end, I was able to set this all up, and the downloads enable after the cutomers finished the checkout process successfully.

By default, the customer registration screen asks for the person’s physical address. This is completely unnecessary for me, since all I’m selling are downloads. I really don’t care what street you live one. This fields were also set up as required. My fear was that some potential customers would say “aw, screw it” when asked for that much information. I just wanted them to enter their email address and password.

It took a bit of searching to find the answer to this. Finally I stumbled across the perfect solution from a helpful forum member (this guy) who outlined a five step process that involved editing 3 PHP files. It was very effective – but, seriously, I need to edit a PHP file so that people buying my PDF books don’t have to type their address and phone number?

Along the same lines, I had to edit PHP in order to change the default text on other screens, notable the main page for the screen.

I suspect that a manual would have come in handy – or even a step through the tutorials. Of course, I didn’t have the time for that ☺

The verdict

I do like the product. It’s not the simplest thing to configure, but once you have it set up, it does work very well. If you need a virtual storefront, give Zen Cart a shot. If you’re selling products that sell for less than $12, you will also want to sign up for PayPal’s micropayments option. This is a different fee schedule that charges for 5% plus 5 cents for each transaction instead of 2.9% plus 30 cents. At the very low end of the price range, this can make a lot of sense.