Sunday, December 21, 2008

SL Fashion Business/Economy/Glut/Marketing/Freebies Omnibus post

Let's talk business, you and I. Suppose you are a designer and you want to make a Beeeelion L$. Everyone does. I do. Anyone got a Beeeelion L$? I've always wanted a Caledon Duchy and Willow Packs of every hair Elika makes...and a pony.

Back to my point, if some new designer came up to me and asked for advice about starting their fashion business I would say:

1. Don't. There's a glut of stuff on the grid, so much stuff that it's overwhelming, and if your stuffage isn't as good or better than the stuff that's already out there you WILL get lost in the glut. For example, as much as I respect Eloh for releasing her skin PSD's into the wild and making it easier for budding skin creators, she created the skin glut of skin makers looking to make their beeeeelions selling skin.

2. Wait for the shakeout. I'd lay odds some of these new creators won't be able to keep going for too long.

3. If you still want to release your stuff, why not partner with another small content creator or an already established business.

4. You'd better have very very good ads and marketing.

5. Don't get caught in the freebie race. Discounted budget items/lines are fine.

6. 200L$ is the magic number, most transactions are that or below. 200L$ represents for me the impulse vs think about it for a while purchase point. In fact the number of people willing to spend even that much is small. The SL fashion economy is sustained by a relatively small number of people because relatively few new folk become part of that economy in a major way.

Gwyneth Llewelyn has a blog post about this

Here's a citation of her major train of thought:

At this stage, I have to formulate my own theory though. Based on my own perception of the numbers, I boldly claim that the number of people willing to spend money in SL is about hundred thousand, and this number hasn’t changed since at least early 2007.

The second bold claim is perhaps even more surprising. The number of service providers (content creators, event hosters, and land managers) is about hundred thousand. This basically means that about one in ten active users is a producer of content, while the remaining are pure consumers.

And the third bold claim is definitely shocking. This number will NOT change in the immediate future. Unless, of course, things change dramatically (which is always possible), but the change will be only a positive one, ie. more users in this group, not less.

The fourth claim is perhaps not so surprising then: The number of informed people in Second Life (those that read and write blogs or e-zines, participate actively in SL-related issues, work for RL companies providing content and services in SL, etc.) is about a hundred thousand.

And the fifth should not come as a surprise either: They are exactly the same people. Sure, I’ll allow a margin of error, of, say, 20-30% in either direction. But I’d say that it’s extremely likely — mmmh 95% or so — that if you’re reading this article, you’re very likely a Premium Account resident, or an owner of a private island (or a set of them), or a content/service provider (these are inclusive “or”s, so you can be all of those). If you’re none of those cases (ie. a Basic Account user who never spent a single cent in SL, live from freebies, and never organised a single event in SL…), you’re probably writing regularly about SL.

Some personal stuff:

I think she's close to the mark. I'm a Basic account holder, and have no intention of going premium. I have a SL Lindex budget that I limit myself to each month, about 3000 to 5000 L$. I ought to unsubscribe from EQOA again, I joined it to see how it looked and played on my PS3, and cut down my SL spending a bit to compensate, that would add another 3000 or so sometimes (but not every month), but I try to keep it as small as I can. Now back when I was working for Linden Lifestyles, that gig paid a bit of L$ so I spent more. I'm not a content creator, I can't design clothes, or build and my LSL scripting skills are minimal, so I can't make money that way. I'd love to have a way to make more L$ in SL to finance a 512 or 1024 in Caledon, but right now, if I was to get a spot in Caledon it would mean much less shopping since I'd be feeding Desmond Shangs cute little meter L$ every week.

In fact, I write these infrequent blog posts these days basically because I don't have a regular commentary writing gig with a "Big blog". I'm thinking I'm one of the few remaining fashion bloggers from 2006 who aren't content creators that is still writing. I'd be tempted to apply for that Second Style Magazine editorial assistant post if I felt I could devote the time to it the job deserved, and of course to fill out my Hat Trick. So far I've worked for 2 of the old "Big Three" fashion blogs: PXP and Linden Lifestyles, Second Style would finish the hat trick. Of course since PXP is on defunct and LL pretty much on permanent hiatus, that might not be a good idea. I'm the kiss of death.

Back to the fashion business:

Here's another citation from Gwyneth:

But these days it’s insanely hard to launch a new brand. It’s not only making sure that you’re well-known enough by all fashionistas and fashion bloggers and magazine writers — which is hard and takes time. It’s not enough to have the best quality products available in your collection. The problem is that there is a limit on how much the 100,000 can spend. They’re stretched thin across the dozens of thousands of brands in SL already, and every week a new designer pops up and wants a share of the market — another market which is also saturated! Put it bluntly: there is no room for more designers except if you’re willing to drive your competitors out of business. So there is no time to use soft silky gloves for fighting; the only way to survive in the fashion world is to eliminate the competition. The Armidi brand is trying very, very hard to do that, and perhaps with some success. Many others have understood that the market has stagnated — but still working under the wrong assumptions! — and are starting to put up a serious fight. Long gone are the days where you put up a shop and would have increased sales just from “being here”. Even long gone are the days where quality defined success, or marketing and promotion helped you to find out where all your potential customers were shopping and open your shop there. These days, we’ve hit the limit on how many different brands are able to survive in SL, because the market is only 100,000 people and they have a limit on how much they spend.

She's absolutely right on this one. I've reached my limit and most others have too. If you want to survive you have to convince me to spend my money with you and not them. You have to be absolutely ruthless. Jack Tramiel used to say: Business is War.

Say it with me, "Business is War." Find out who your competitors are and take them down...hard. You've got to be agile, mobile and hostile. Know them, know their weaknesses, know yours. If they do something, you have to do it better. If their customer service is good, yours has to be better. Your job is constant improvement. You need information and lots of it. Information in SL is one of the most valuable things ever. "Information is ammunition." Know your market, know theirs.

Sounds harsh, I know, but it's the only way to survive the glut.

Gwyn has this to say about Freebies:

In despair, designers tried to give their content away as freebies, hoping to make themselves more popular (and show themselves as politically correct towards the “poor newbies”). Nothing could be worse. As Prokofy Neva put so bluntly several years ago, we’re flooded with freebies. Fashion comes and goes — nobody wears non-sculpty heels these days — and you can rely upon consumers to pay for new, fresh, innovative content. But you can’t fight freebies: they accumulate. Unlike content creators who retire products from the market (when they don’t sell, are out of fashion, or are replaced by better and improved products), freebies never disappear. And to worsen that, while in 2004 and 2005 wearing a freebie was considered hilarious — because they were of such poor quality! — the freebies of 2008 are of insanely high quality. In fact, whole communities have been popping into existence to help people to pick the very best among all freebies in the world — Fabulously Free in SL being perhaps one of the best examples. All these sites, these notecards, these people explaining where to get free things in SL are just increasing the magnitude of the problem. (And I know they mean well, that’s besides the point; none of them are Evil Communists Trying To Bring The Downfall of Laissez-Faire Rampant Capitalism in SL, but just happily giving out tips and ideas, to newbies, non-consumers, and even the 100,000, who are often amused at how good those freebies are these days)

I think Freebies are moderation, but the Freebie glut on the grid nowadays is no moderation. Problem is a lot of folks aren't even willing to pay 10L$. It's hard to become integrated in the SL economy unless you create. It's only recently that more businesses in SL are hiring CSA's and I think most of those get paid in items and not L$, though I may be mistaken on that. I have no skills and am in the economy only because of the Lindex. If I wasn't buying on the Lindex I wouldn't be shopping. It's not like The Sheep or Millions of Us would want to hire me, and most of the major fashion blogs are bankrolled directly or indirectly by a content creator.

So instead of freebies I recommend budget lines, "clearance rooms" and "Everyday low prices". Every L$ a consumer spends with you is one they haven't spent with someone else and you want as many avatars as possible spending with you.

Which leads in to marketing:

A lot of notecard copy and vendor/notecard ads suck. Sometimes the items are sucky too, but sometimes, sadly, the items are great but the ads aren't. I've pointed to this post by Alaska Metropolitan before. And yes, sometimes I think some content creators would be better off getting someone else to model and do their ads for them. Some months ago I bought a really nice gown, from an ad with a really sucky vendor picture. I had seen someone else wearing the gown or else I wouldn't have bought it, the vendor picture was that unflattering. So while I was there hobnobbing. (there was a lucky chair attracting shoppers), I decided to take a few pictures of myself in the gown and my pictures turned out better than the vendor ones. But frankly, my SL image skills both in and out of SL are not very all. To put it in the vernacular, my pictures suck, they just suck less than some of the vendor pics out there. There's people out there willing to help with marketing and ad making but creators are reluctant to use them.

I've been thinking about organizing some kind of fashion blogger summit held via FashCon Cafe or something. Sabrina Doolittle was planning on doing so, but her RL got in the way. I really should keep in better contact with my "colleagues".

Saturday, December 20, 2008

CC wears Fleur, everyone knows this. She is their #1 fan.

I say the title of this post all the time. I have worn Fleur, formerly Tete a Pied, skins almost exclusively since August of 2006. I am probably one of the "oldest" Fleur fans on the grid (though not the oldest) and did end up being one of the Fleur Insiders. Don't ask me how many Fleur skins I have, I think I have 12 or so of the new Allure's, at least 54 or so of the Vivants.

Why does CC wear Fleur? It's the faces. I need classic pretty makeup and Fleur gives it to me, lots of it, and at good prices. That means I can change my skin to match my outfit and have tons of skin for various purposes. Also, Fleur is redhead friendly skin. There are skins I simply can't wear because they don't come with red or red-brown brows that I can wear with my favourite ETD Mahogany hair color.

So let's take a pictoral look at the evolution of Fleur, with more nudity than a Second Life Herald Post Sixx post! This isn't a review, CC is biased towards skin that makes CC pretty, passes the bald and naked test, and is made by Roslin Petion and CJ Carnot. I am, after all as I say, their #1 fan.

We start with the oldest Tete a Pied skins, the ones now commonly referred to as the Une's.

This skin was entirely hand drawn. They have non-fuzzy nips and that cute little heart shaped bush, which has become a Fleur tradition. The shading is minimalistic, which meant that TaP Une's made my boobehs look smaller and cleavage less resplendent than other skins so back when I wore them I knocked the knockers up to 66. The face is demure and sweet looking in a sort of retro way and has those TaP Une slightly glossed lips which were something of a trademark. This shape I'm wearing I didn't actually wear much with the Une's since it came after.

I still have my special scripted Tete a Pied makeup box which let you buy skins in your favourite shade and brow color at a very significant discount. It sits on my vanity table in my skybox. I'd love to have a new (non scripted) Fleur branded makeup box to sit along side it. I have nostalgic feelings for the old TaP builds at Ear and Pyrina. These were nice skins and I loved them...then in August of 2006 came the Deux:

Time changes in SL, and so does skin, and the TaP Deux's showed Roslin and CJ's progression in mad skin skills. The body has more shading and definition and look at the boobehs! The faces while still having a classic look were more modern looking and seemed more detailed to me.

There was one problem with the Deux's, the brow color. You could not buy your choice in brow color from the vendors, so I had to get me a custom 4 pack of the Deux Sophisticates. Later on, Roslin and CJ released 4 packs just for us redheads. I loved the Deux's and consider the Deux's as when I started looking like me because I finally had a face I liked. I sometimes describe my shape as looking like Alaska Metropolitan's catalog model sister compared to her runway model look since my shape is a modded version of a freebie shape she made. I did all sorts of futzing with the face and eventually the body (to make it shorter and a bit less supermodely) Now one thing that TaP had in those days was shapes, and one of those shapes came with a brow shape that became my default hair base for a year...until the TaP Vivants came out. Ahhh, the Vivants.

The Vivants were hybrid skins, though Ros and CJ had experimented with touches of photosourcing in some of the later TaP Deux skins. Putting it blunty, the Deux were good, but the Vivants were better. Thanks to the new cleavage shading I even knocked the knockers back down to 60. I was pretty in the Deux but the Vivants made me a glowy glamazon. A glowy glamazon with brows that always matched my hair. Those Vivant brow and kitty packs were the best thing ever. All Vivant skin was redhead skin, woo hoo. That was a good thing, because Roslin and CJ made lots of Vivant skin with lots of makeups to choose from, which means I bought lots of skin. lots of freaking CHEAP skin, because if you bought them in the 3 packs it came out to 400L$ a skin. Almost as cheap as the old TaP Unes were with the special makeup box discount. Roslin and CJ wanted people to think of skin as an accessory to be changed to match the outfit so they changed their pricing strategy. It worked, because it seemed like everyone was buying Vivants and you always saw green dots in the Nouveau sim.

Then came the branding change with a new sim, which surprised me, but was probably a good idea since Fleur is snappier and easier to spell than Tete a Pied. Ahh I loved the train station, that lovely man CJ rocks as a builder, though I love to poke fun when he's in TaP Shepherd dressed like Roslin. Now Fleur looks like Manhattan, and there's the new Premium luxury line of skins, the Allure's.

CC wears the Allure's now, and it would take Wild Zontars and a Blingon Warfleet from Vulgaria to get me to switch skin makers. Though I do wear other skins on rare occasions, and I freely admit there's lots of great skin out there. It's just that, CC wears Fleur.

The Allure's are also hybrid skins. The body now, the body, oh that beautiful body. The body that's good enough for the dance pole, or burlesque, or just simply being nekkid at the Allure launch in. The feet are great, the hands are great and the nips are awesome. The faces are even prettier than the Vivants. Weirdly enough, the Allure's actually make me look more like Alaska Metropolitan than I did before. That's one of the Kitten makeups in the Truffle skin shade. I looove the winged eyeliner. I'd kill to be able to do it that well in RL. Since Allure's are premium luxury skins, they come at a premium luxury price......1000L$. Ha ha ha ha ha ha, that Roslin and CJ, such comedians, they're a steal at that price for the quality you get. Oh okay, originally at launch they were 1200L$ each (with 3 packs at 3000L$) and even currently at 1000L$ each (with 3 packs unavailable) they do cost more than the Vivants (which they supplement, not replace), but not really. You see, if you buy the Fleur gift cards in the larger denominations you can get them at a discount, either 33% or 50% for the 3000L$ card. So if you buy the 3000L$ card you're actually paying... 500L$ per skin and you can pick and choose and don't have to buy a specific 3 pack to get a discount. Ha ha ha ha, they're practically giving these beauties away. Roslin and CJ, I love them so, they make lots of pretty skin for CC. Now if only they would name skin after CC, or a dress, or put a shrine to CC on the sim. Hey, I can dream.

Fleur skins blog is here
The store is at the Fleur sim of course, right next to Nicky Ree's Tropical Orchid.
My hair, is Maaliyah in ETD Mahogany (the 2008 version of Mahogany), Eyes are from Miriel Enfield, Vivid Naturals in Strong Green. The earrings are also from Miriel.

Fashionista Transparency: yes, I'm a Fleur Insider and member of the regular Fleur group.