I’m facing a loss of the transcription gigs I’d been using to pay the bills. It’ll likely have vanished entirely by mid-2018 and quite possibly before that. The AI breakthroughs in intelligent speech recognition have occurred sooner than anticipated; Microsoft’s R&D division has come up with an AI capable of understanding conversational context and automatically transcribing large volumes of audio with an error rate equivalent to the average human transcriber.
The best human audio transcribers are able to maintain error rates just below 4% given typical batches of audio – with overlapping conversations, and faint background conversations, muddy static or sudden jarring noises in the mic audio, and really obscure jargon, comprising most of the mistakes made by transcriptionists, and this newly announced program (a new form of Cortana) will have a consistent 5.1% error rate with similar audio. It’s close enough that it’s not worth paying humans to do the work anymore; the AI can do the task almost as well as any human can.
What this means for me: I was pulling the bulk – roughly 55% – of my income, from transcription gigs. Other scattered chunks of revenue came from unrelated freelance work (10%) and 35% from online sales of art products. As for where I was spending? 45% of my spending in the past year was tied to ramping up that 35% of my income. Repeat: The art sales were losing money, as in: 20%+ loss margin when the low average sale prices, the shipping, eBay fees, mailers, and other materials, were all factored in.
So basically: My effective total cash flow will collapse soon. And I was making well below $10k/year to start out with.
I need to figure out a promising new business option soon, ideally by November, or this web network and my creative work in general, is at risk of going under entirely. What I’m hoping for is consistently available work in the $2.50/hr range or better. But realistically I will settle for half that much.
Okay, I’m working towards offering you some ridiculously discounted items. I’ve made it clear that I’m putting a fair amount of time each day into freelancing, and that the bulk of that, the most reliable and consistent segment, has been transcription work. I also have indicated that most industry experts believe that type of work will be entirely automated by 2020. So at this moment, I’ve got a source of steady income and know it’ll be gone in a couple years, so I’m leveraging that income as a means to set up a list of things which I *hope* can sustain my online presence and productive work after all the transcription gigs are gone.
Because I WANT to finish my videos and games and creative stuff and I WANT to get it all online for you all to enjoy.
From now until Sept. 7, there’ll be a TON of new auctions posted on my eBay shop. They’ll all start at really low prices, typically in the $0.50-$5.00 range. I’d like to get my ratings on eBay, currently 195, up past 250, maybe even above 300 by the end of 2017, and in pursuit of that goal, I’m willing to burn through over two hundred dollars to get there. In other words, an average loss for me of $2 or so on every item I sell. I’m literally buying large batches of the best value items I can find across the internet, and reselling them for around 25-35% LESS than I paid for them. Less than any other vendor will sell them for.
That is, I’m ready to LOSE over $200 overall on my eBay storefront, in the next 3-4 months.
If the gambit works though, it just might propel me into a far stronger position by the start of 2018.
So I’ll benefit from this insofar as I’ll ideally gain ratings faster… further establishing my reputation on eBay. Obviously, the main upside for you is that you could get some incredible-sounding but very real bargains on items that normally would be expected to cost far more. These fall into various categories.
Category #1: Used books, some of them vintage and potentially valuable. The pricing of the currently listed books will drop even further tonight [dropping 20+% in addition to previous price drops over the past month] and some more vintage or otherwise somewhat valuable books from my personal archives, will be listed soon as well.
Category #2: Art made to order. You all might have noticed some recent works like this one, which was a pet portrait made to order, personalized for a customer on eBay, for just 80 cents:
It still amazes me how few people take advantage of auctions like these. There are some that end with ZERO bids even though the size of the item on offer is substantial [requiring 3-6 hours’ labor on my part] and the opening bid price is below a dollar with free shipping. I have a 100% positive feedback rating on eBay, which I suppose somehow makes me a risky person to buy from or something? I don’t quite get it. Maybe I’m just really bad at drawing/painting. Everybody says my work turns out great – but not many people will pay a whole dollar for it. It’s puzzling.
All the same, I’ll be posting a lot more such auctions over the next 2-3 weeks especially. Around a dozen of them, a new one almost every day!
Category #3: Art supplies: Dirt cheap art supply items, flipped at a loss for me, things like pastel sets, charcoals, sketch pads, paint sets, colored pencil sets, etc. These will mostly be $2-7 on my shop that ordinarily would be priced at nearly double that.
Category #4: Other one cent auction items: As in a single penny per item, with free shipping. These include DVDs of ‘House Trek’ [the DVD is almost ready to launch] and the personalized made to order museum. Even some newly 3d-modeled variants of that museum for different types of occasions are now days from release.
The one other note you should keep in mind is that traffic to my site TriumphantArtists.com has been booming over the past week. That’s no accident – I’ve been ramping up some huge ad campaigns and they’ve yet to hit anything close to the actual expected peak. By huge, I mean I’m now expecting 120,000 visitors to the site by the end of the year. The site already gets about 5000 visitors per month in recent months, but that should spike to 20-25,000/month starting with this month. So do keep in mind that there will be people looking at the site, and the auction listings. I hope a lot of these dirt-cheap items do actually sell.
Between the ad campaigns, and the active redesign of the site – the eBay page has live updated listings from my shop now, and all the pages load faster… and the articles section is being steadily filled in with some new stuff now… and ‘Another Road Taken’ goes online later this week… yeah, I’m optimistic that there’ll be some items sold, and that some of what sells will ultimately result in ecstatic ratings from buyers who are stunned at what they got for next to nothing…
Specifically, it now includes a noticeable price reduction on larger items, and a far more staggering bargain available for any order of multiple items of the same size and medium. It’s occurred to me that my biggest cost as a seller on all such listings is in the process of shipping and that if I offer listings with two or three items made to order at once, not just one, well, I can reduce the per-item price considerably for customers simply due to the fact that in such a situation, multiple items can be shipped together in a single container. So, as I add this option to all my made to order art listings during this next week, think about the prospect of purchasing three items at once, for the price it’d previously cost to buy two. Great idea especially for situations such as Christmas. Say you’d like to order gifts in advance for a long list of family members, there’s now the option of getting handcrafted gift items, personalized in nature, focused on subjects that appeal to those specific people, an order of three of them, for a single, really stunning low price. These artworks can depict nearly any subject you want, so long as it is not extremely disgusting/obscene/offensive content wise.
That said, you could certainly ask for things like, say, a portrait of a person you care about, a landscape, or a portrait of a pet, a view of your home, indoors or out, or a view of a place you once visited, an imaginative sci-fi or fantasy scene, or something silly or unexpected, maybe fun and oddly specific, like penguins playing with a soccer ball:
You probably shouldn’t ignore the opportunity to do this, as it’s a fantastic idea for holidays or other occasions, but it’s also possible to order a set of two or three items designed not as entirely individual works to split up but as parts of a larger cohesive aesthetic display – a ‘diptych’ or ‘triptych’ that can be posted together along a wall in your house, or in a set of two or three rooms, as matching decoration!
Also cool – I’ve updated a LOT of the pages on TriumphantArtists.com, but the articles section is mostly notably absent from the revised structure. Well, that’s about to change, with a substantial overhaul of the articles area, plus new content in comics and a fun minigame all aimed for release by about the end of July. And there’s also some video production effort going on lately, which is a long way from making it online but I’ve got plans to get things online, batch after batch – dozens of elaborate videos I’ve made over the past two decades, revised and uploaded. Generally speaking, sales of handcrafted art are a big key to keeping those projects moving forward, so any customers who order here are greatly appreciated.
As mentioned (somewhat incessantly) I do have nearly 200 ratings now on my eBay account, all positive, and that’s a solid indicator of my integrity as a vendor. But I’d really love to see that expanded to my Etsy shop and to this shop on HornbostelProductions, so anyone willing to take that leap will find some great deals on both and will be glad they made the decision to try out my storefronts beyond eBay.
I’ll be implementing Google Fonts on my websites, beginning with TriumphantArtists.com, as text links, with images behind them – as opposed to using images *as* the links. You know those buttons at the top of every page on TriumphantArtists.com?
They all look the same except for the text, and if I separate the text from the rest of the image I can use just one button image as the base for every link, thus shaving a few hundred kilobytes off the page load times.
This – and other similar optimizations – are important because they can improve bounce rates. There are some people who visit the site for the first time, on slow connections, and immediately leave when it takes more than a second or two to load. That’s a problem!
I’m also going to compress the main page video further too, making it a bit smaller in size. The more I can make things load faster while still looking nice, the better!
Some of my fixed price listings have been sitting for a full year without any orders. It’s been just over a month since the last sale I made on eBay.
So – all of that considered – I think it’s a good time to lower prices a bit.
So if you’re interested in an original work by Matthew Lyles Hornbostel, now’s a good time to order one.
Most of the custom made-to-order art on my eBay shop is now 10-20% cheaper. So go take a look!
Also – the Etsy items are also on sale still and cheaper than they were. An automated Etsy notification was sent to me actually warning me that based on the statistics for similarly sized items in the category, “you may be substantially underpricing your work” and that most other items in my category are priced higher, and therefore able to make a viable profit.
WELL THANKS A LOT ETSY, BUT THERE IS THIS LITTLE THING CALLED A “LOSS LEADER” BUSINESS STRATEGY.
I amwell aware of the fact that my prices are low and that I may be losing money on many of the items I make. That is intentional. I did that on eBay too for the first three years or so, so I could gain the first batch of ratings from customers and establish my shop as a credible, trustworthy venue with a positive reputation! After that I could start to incrementally raise prices over time – while still keeping them lower than almost all other vendors’.
Quite frankly, I would rather make under $3-6/hr doing painting or pastel work, or visual effects, video editing/post, game art assets, etc – than make the same level of income doing long strings of tedious tasks like transcription of audio & video recordings for subtitles or other purposes, or repetitively tagging the content of image files on Mturk so people can search and sort through them easily [on various websites, search engines, etc].
And by the way, I HAVE done those things, and they’re a mind-numbing waste of the [creative] talent I have. But they do pay the bills in times when nothing on my web network is selling, and they do keep the whole thing afloat and inching forward during rough stretches. I think it needs to be clarified that such income streams, while taxed by the government, are not applicable to [paying actors]. That should have been stated in the actors’ pay post, it was a detail I overlooked… the fraction of my income generated outside of and unconnected to my web network and unrelated to creative work is not considered ‘web network’ revenue and none of that goes to cast members.
ACTORS TAKE NOTE OF THIS FINE PRINT:
This distinction matters; it means that the total revenue generated by the web network I run is the baseline that determines the size of residuals in a given year for each actor on each video or other project.
So while transcription and other similar grinding non-creative ‘in between’ work have generated around $1260/year the past three years, for me, on average… that doesn’t add onto the other income made elsewhere.
The only numbers that count for actors are the other revenue sources that now constitute the majority of my income:
-eBay sales [avg. $360/year the last 4 years but generally trending upward over time]
-Art sales I make locally at craft fairs, or elsewhere, or on this website shop, including DVD/Blu Ray releases of video collections and video games. [booming like crazy – over $400 the last 12 months locally, but no success on this website shop yet]
-Etsy sales [none yet despite a strong effort to list items and promote them there, at really low prices.]
-third party or affiliate ad revenue if ever applicable [negligible – under $5/year the past 5 years]
-Freelance work involving creative effort; i.e. videography, vfx, 3d game assets, web graphics, previz, etc. [$240/year on average, over the past 3 years.]
-printed swag like T-shirts on Zazzle/CafePress [minimal so far]
Do keep in mind that most of the art I’ve sold on eBay ‘made to order’ has resulted in enthusiasm, even ecstatic responses, and that if you buy something there you’re likely to be happy with it [judging from past patterns] but that while I am able to do fantastic pet portraits and landscapes, cityscapes, water scenes, still lifes, fantasy/sci-fi work, etc, lots of things I work on turn out well but portraits are a bit of a risky thing to ask of me as the depictions of the people involved will often look a bit ‘off’ from the real people I’m trying to paint/draw, despite my best efforts.
PROBLEMS PAINTING PEOPLE
It’s well known that the human face is generally the hardest image for artists to recreate correctly by hand, due to the enormous portion of our human brains that is wired specifically for the purpose of recognizing who other people are and identifying their emotional states. Our minds are finely attuned to facial recognition of [humans] and that’s why the phenomenon of pareidolia is so common [seeing faces in randomly patterned things like clouds or wall textures] and why we can tell hundreds of people apart very easily but can’t tell individuals apart anywhere near as well when it comes to other species. If the image of a non-human subject is very slightly off, nobody will notice. If it’s an image of a person, though, the image will seem ‘wrong’.
For example, there’s this portrait of my sister Sarah and her new husband (they got married a few days ago – as of early June 2017 – and it was a beautiful wedding. We jokingly called it the Sarah-mony.). The portrayal of the couple in pastel looks a little odd and most people will say so but few can say exactly why; it simply doesn’t quite capture the appearance of the two people I was trying to depict. It’s close but not close enough to break through beyond the uncanny qualities.
So yeah – keep all of this in mind. There are amazing bargains on custom, made to order work on my eBay shop. However, there is a risk that portraits (in particular) which I make may, despite best intentions and a lot of careful effort, may not look quite like the people I am attempting to draw. But I’m generally getting better at it over time.
And to all those of you who want to see my video work, I’ll begin posting it on a little domain I’ve acquired (HornbostelVideos.com) well before the end of summer 2017. There’s also another new domain – SpiralSkiesGame.com – showcasing the new minigame I’ve been developing, and while nothing’s loaded onto either domain yet the websites will both become active soon enough with a bit of content at first and more posted over time.
The Troop 4 party went really well. Terrific food, and I got the two new videos done fairly well by the deadline, so that’s awesome. Some of the audio needed work and the animation was spotty on the cartoon, but other than that it turned out great.
With regards to two questions asked of the cast payments, yes, if my network is successful that will affect cast payouts, and no, payouts will not go up in tandem with inflation, at least not directly. $1/year/actor/video remains $1/year/actor/video [that’s the standard minimum payment] unless my income increases.
Realistically, however, my income should gradually increase over time as I gain a more extensive reputation as a vendor, better skills, more experience, etc, and my income is also likely to go up in terms of dollars as the value of a dollar gradually trends down over time. I am listing a very high income bracket in the chart below, and that might SOUND like pie in the sky for an artist like myself, but I’m not being ridiculous; I’m actually well aware that the only way I’ll ever reach $200k+ in income by the end of my career is if my career somehow gradually improves, and the value of the US dollar is collapsing during the next half a century and inflation is persistently high. Which could well occur given America’s rising debt levels. Even if inflation’s at a historically normal level, though, that still means we should expect the dollar to be worth around 20% of what it is now, by 2060. So that’s when I expect that sort of income is *possible* for me – the final years of my career, and it would be more like $40k in today’s terms.
Here’s the chart:
My aim then, is to hold the residuals or ongoing payments, somewhere just slightly below 10% of my total income, and another 10-12% in one-off pay in any given year. Residuals can be adjusted simply by adding more or less in the way of new content in any given year. If my income [after taxes] is soaring, I will make more videos that year than usual, with more cast members and locations than usual, and post them online. If not, I won’t. The numbers were revised downwards slightly with the goal of making more future video projects per year, [with larger casts] more likely to be feasible over the next half century.
Note that my plan is for 40% of my post tax income to go to making new videos & video games – perhaps 20% as casting budget and 20% as production budget. Comics and games use the same payment logic for contributing members that videos do. So if you voice acted or did FMV or simply had your name/resemblance used in a comic book or video game, that is counted as if it were a video. Then there’s the other 10% or so in residuals… which makes the total 50%. 5% is disposable income focused on entertainment or for allocation in case something else costs more than anticipated. Another 33% covers core operating costs of the network, like web hosting, and domain renewals, as well as maintaining and expanding the sale product lines on which the revenue depends. In other words, an ongoing supply of shipping materials, canvas, paints, other bills, etc. The final 18% is saved up or invested in some way so I have a reserve in case it’s needed later.
The video channel itself, launches in a few weeks. It won’t contain much initially, and mostly the cast will just be me, but it marks the start of something bigger.
I’ve toyed with the notion of simply bypassing cast members I can’t reach and posting videos anyway [in a space where they have no way to generate revenue of any kind] but it seems there’s no legal benefit to doing so. I might as well run ads for my services, with the content, and hold the actor’s earnings in a safe place until they finally come out of the ‘woodwork’ and become reachable again – at which point I’ll immediately offer them the money their video earned, hopefully pre-empting the question of ‘why did you release this without my explicit written permission and make money off of it?’
My rule now is as follows: I will go ahead and post videos over time, even if one or two random people in it are inaccessible and cannot be reached by phone, email, or any other means. I will tally up all actors’ earnings on every project annually and pay them. If they are unreachable, I’ll hold that cash in an organized folder or envelope somewhere secure, marked with the actor’s name. If and when I find them, I will ask them to sign and will pay them. They may ask for the video or alternately their scene in the video to be pulled – I’ll remind them that it will upset the audience that likes the video and the other actors who did sign, and who do want the content online, but that if they insist the content be pulled, it will be.
What about the signatures? Legal documents?
I am debating how best to handle that; I like the idea of the digital signature, but the document was way too complicated and long last time and I’m trying to pare it down and make it clearer and leaner for future use. I’m using eSignGenie for this.
My production pipeline is emerging from crisis stronger than before.
A few quick notes: much of the cash I raised from the Crafts Fair, etc, has gone to a new video card for my PC (The old one was the source of long-running random crashes) and a few extra plugins for Unity. I’ve also made a concerted effort to wrap up some local projects for Boy Scout Troop 4, as the troop looks to be on its last legs and will be unlikely to survive beyond 2017. One of the scouts is leaving for the navy at the end of the spring semester so I wanted to give him a good send off. I’m trying to complete Troop 4 TV Seasons 2 & 3 during the next 15 days for that event.
Other things I’d tried to get done prior to this I couldn’t, including the video channel, etc. The computer being down for about 10 days had a lot to do with that. In broad strokes, my production schedule is like this:
MAY 2017 – Troop 4 stuff screened for Troop 4
JUNE – AUGUST 2017 – Work on some interactive-media stuff like the Redeemer Virtual Tour, Spiral Skies, and also finally launching the comics and video channel, which I’ve devised a clever, or maybe just stupidly deranged and risky, plan to deal with. This plan involves having the videos/video channel all on a separate domain with no links out of it, but various links in, no real way for me to profit [even slightly] from any of the videos if they take off or prove popular. I will pay out residuals from other sources unrelated to and not in any way benefiting from the video channel. These residuals will be kept extremely simple: $1/year per actor per video released that they were in, plus a one-off $5 payment for any new project they participate in [a payment for taking the role] and a second one off $5 payment when the project is finished and goes online. The math on this works out fine by me; if all my projects end up online over next three years, it could add up to $1500+ in payments to actors by the end of that time… and over $12k after 20 years [distributed among all actors].
If one actor tries to sue me [cease & desist] I’ll pull the video in question offline quickly, and attempt to avoid legal conflict, so just keep in mind that videos might go offline at some point if somebody complains and if they cannot be convinced by me or the other cast members, to allow the video to go back online then it’ll stay offline. I know I’m taking a risk of screwing myself over massively and that even if that does not happen, I’ll still lose a lot over time, but it is worth it to me to have the videos online, because I like people to be entertained, darn it, and it bugs me to have this gigantic backlog of awesome stuff that nobody is able to view!
As for Fall 2017, I will try to wrap up some of the family stuff – 1999, Globe, and Fortress Siege 2. That’s basically it, that’s the plan.
Items such as the kitten artwork [colored pencil, faved a lot on Etsy but not bought by anyone there] and the Easter chick sold, so it seems my depictions of animals were well received as usual.
I’ve also sold a spectacularly large item on eBay, made to order for a customer there.
That was a colossal 5′ by 8′ item on canvas, I’ve shipped it and it’s on its way to the customer. It cost them $108.
So – all told – I’m in good shape to push things beyond where they were before. I’m ordering a new GPU (video card) for my computer and will try to set that up soon. I’ve also acquired a few other smaller things that I need, and much of that is related to a virtual tour of the former Church of The Redeemer meeting location. That’s one of a handful of Unity 3d projects being developed in tandem, so any shaders, plugins, etc, used for this will also be useful elsewhere.
The Redeemer DVDs were generally very popular and the Blu Rays less so even though they look amazing on a high-def TV. 1280×720 video may not be flawless resolution but it’s well above 720×480. If you’re online asking for a copy, keep in mind that aside from a teaser for the virtual tour, pretty much everything on those discs is church service footage only of interest to the aging people who attended the church prior to 2011.
It’s not exactly a seat of your pants, high octane thriller.
But – it may well lead to some exciting videos making it online, ones that are shorter but way cooler looking and faster-paced, than a church service.
Right now I’m slashing prices on all of my Etsy listings by 20-35% (until May 10) so that’s worth a look. The eBay listings also have mostly dropped by 5-10% as sales there have slowed down slightly lately. A lot of that kind of stuff ebbs and flows. Sometimes I see 3 or 4 people all commission unique artworks in a single week, other times I can go a month with nothing much selling. So it’s hardly consistent and right now I’m expecting a boost in activity, partly due to the sales and reduced pricing, and partly because I have launched a bit of advertising this week. So if you like an item I made, that you see on Etsy, buy it before it sells to someone else.
Okay – a few notes. One is that after a great deal of frustration I’ve gotten my PC working again. I backed everything up and then it went from bad to worse, from ‘blue screen of death’ to ‘black screen of death’ in which I could not even reach the command line. Fortunately I found a way to get back to BSOD, then from there I wiped the C: drive and reinstalled Windows, followed by copying the backed up data back onto the C drive.
The day or two after that? Mostly spent reinstalling a long list of utilities and software packages. Then and only then, could I resume work on a range of projects that had been unfortunately on hold while the computer was screwed up. This has been a huge hassle and I’d like to replace the aging video card as I’ve long suspected it as the root of my PC issues. I know what other better cards are compatible with my desktop, and I am planning to get a replacement, as soon as I’m able to factor it into my budget. To that end:
I’ll be attending a crafts fair at 5700 Lawndale, Houston, TX, this Saturday April 22nd from 9 am to 3 pm. This is the Redeemer Lutheran church buiilding and they’re hosting the event and organizing it, plus some Redeemer Episcopal and Missio Dei Houston members are also involved and participating.
Anyone who wants to meet me there can do so, I’ll have a booth and will be selling handmade art and will also have some great freebies available. Some of those free items may run out quickly so it’s advised to show up on the early side of the event, ideally during the first hour or two.
There’s a massive crafts fair there, plus garage/yard sale and bake sale, bbq, etc. It’s basically one of those huge fundraising deals, which I’ve attended in the past. The booth fees are $25, which gets you an 8 foot table, although it may be too late for anyone else to sign up now.
The vendors keep whatever’s raised, generally, and I am hoping to sell a few handcrafted artworks at this event. I will also have some other stuff like stickers, pencils, prints, push pin buttons, and DVDs/BluRays which are going to go fast it looks like. I’m still agreeing to hand them out for free on a ‘pay what you want’ basis. My dad says they should cost $20 but I’m fine with just handing them out.
Those are mainly of interest to people who have been a part of the Redeemer Episcopal community, but the handmade stuff has much broader appeal.
I have sold a set (triptych) of three artworks at one of these old events, at a price of $90, which was later appraised at $150 by an art dealer. You might find similar bargains here; many items will be marked 15% lower than on Etsy, given the local nature of the event and the fact that they won’t need to be shipped, so shipping isn’t built into the pricing.
What is? Well, materials, plus a rate of about $3 per hour for my creative work on each item. Some items are a bit more if new, or less if old.