Paul McAleer

If you build it and they don't come, then what?

Paul McAleer

phonezilla.net is a domain I've owned for 14 years, and during that time it's done a lot. It was my main online presence (gah) until I finally bought my name as a domain a few years back and, well, here we are.

One of the things I enjoyed about phonezilla was redesigning the whole damn thing every three months. It was my goal to keep the content the same, add new content, and change the entire visual and interaction design. Why? It was a good challenge. I let myself experiment with things - even used Flash! - and ideas like the phlog (photo log) were born from that. For one version, I challenged myself to focus on using the color brown - then mostly unused in sites I visited.

Somewhere along the continuum of phonezilla redesigns, I decided to try selling stock photography. I have loved photography for a very, very long time and was starting to get kind of disappointed in the stock photography I was using at my day job and seeing in general. I spent some time combing over my photo archives, picked out the couple of dozen I felt would make a useful collection for WWW sites, designed a jewel case insert and cover, and put it up for sale on my site with PayPal.

I sold none.

Selling a CD of stock photography was something that seemed like a good idea at the time. I thought, well, maybe I can make money on my photos - these photos I know and love. But there were a couple of things that held me back from it, as I look back with eyes from the future.

First, I didn't promote the things. There is a fine line between promoting yourself and being Obnoxious "You Always Post About Your Stuff" Gal or Guy, and I shied away from even being in the same county as that line. But, that was a disservice. My photos were good. I knew they were good. I didn't talk about it, didn't share it, didn't really get the word out on it. I expected people to find my site (somehow?) and then just magically buy things. Not realistic. Ambitious, though!

Hand in hand with that, I had no passion to sell stock photography and might have had no passion to sell photography at all. The former is easy to admit, the latter not so much. The passion I have is in making the photos and, yes, sharing them with people. But it hasn't been in the selling part. That's where I back away.

I think back to the time in 2006 when I asked the cafe across the street from my work if I could show my photos in their space. They said yes. I was thrilled.

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I added pricing and the like to each print, but sold none. That wasn't the goal for me: I simply wanted to have other people see my photos in a public space, versus flickr. And by that measure, it was a success.

Tying it to the now and the recent past, I have of course written with audiences in mind and also written with myself only in mind. Sometimes the things I write connect with other people. I used to be driven by the number of people who visited my site regularly and read it; I checked the stats daily, sometimes more than daily. Now, I try to focus on the relationships I'm making with people and how others connect to what I do - and if they connect. The analytics and the money are two parts of that, but they are not all of it.

More importantly, it's good to acknowledge what happened, understand it, and then figure out if it's really important or valuable to you. Trying still matters; understanding why something didn't happen as you dreamed is vital; still dreaming is essential.

And now I'll conclude by saying you should follow me on Twitter.