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Yes, I DO have a good word to say about Vocal. In fact, here’s 1,265.

Despite its shortcomings, there’s still a lot to love about Vocal+

By Jon McKnightPublished 3 years ago 6 min read

Anyone who’s read my 2,400-word Open Letter to Vocal CEO Jeremy Frommer in which I question the business model and his motives might well be wondering if I have a single good word to say about the platform.

Perhaps surprisingly, I do.

While my reservations still stand, and Vocal has done nothing to dispel them, the fact that Vocal published my hyper-critical story about itself without censoring a single word of it is either a sign that it’s a little lackadaisical in the moderation department or, as I prefer to think, it’s big enough to take my criticism on the chin and appears to have a commendable belief in free speech.

I wrote the piece fully expecting Vocal to reject it, but hoping it might answer my concerns privately (as I’d been asking it to), yet it sailed through moderation and went live on the platform.

Would Jeremy Frommer sue me, I wondered? But only for a moment.

Even in the USA, the land of litigation, it would be hard to convince a judge you’d been defamed if you had to admit that you, the alleged victim, had seen the words you’re complaining of in advance, approved them, and then published them to the world yourself, on the publishing platform you own and control.

The complaints I made were many (do, please, give the story a Heart if you agree with any of them), and they seem to be widely-held concerns if the reaction on the Facebook group The Vocal Creators’ Lounge is anything to judge by.

But I, and others who are yet to be convinced that Vocal+ isn’t taking us for a bunch of fools, continue to write for it, give hearts to other writers’ stories, and share them whenever we can.

In that respect at least, Vocal is a writing community - though most of the action seems to be taking place off the platform in places like the Lounge and the equally interesting Vocal Media Creators’ Hub.

That’s because Vocal offers no chance to comment on stories, other than giving them a Heart or, if you feel so generous, giving the writer a Tip, in real dollars.

“Who on Earth’s going to do that?” I thought, cynically, finding it impossible to imagine that anyone reading one of my stories on the platform would dream of digging into their hard-earned and actually giving me money for a story they’ve already read for free.

But i was wrong.

Two people - people I’d never even heard of - have given me one-dollar Tips, and one’s even given me five dollars.

In all the years I’ve been writing professionally as a journalist, copywriter and screenwriter, no-one’s ever given me a tip of any sort, and neither would I have expected one.

So those seven dollars mean the world to me - not because they will change my life in one fell swoop, but because someone out there liked what I’d written enough to actually pay me something when they didn’t have to.

Their generosity has vastly exceeded Vocal+’s so far, at least in terms of payments for Reads, and the $6,000 a month income trumpeted in Vocal’s Facebook ads seems like an impossible dream, bearing in mind that even those of us who pay to subscribe to the platform need a million reads a month to reach that.

Some members do report a healthy income and a large number of Reads, so perhaps there’s hope for us all.

But, even allowing for them being far better writers than me despite my 40 years’ experience, it looks as if they have the secondary skill of knowing how to promote their work on social media.

Vocal itself is hopeless at that, and expects us to bring our own audience along. I’d rather hoped that, with 900,000 people contributing to the platform, that Vocal could have attracted more than 5,812 followers on Twitter, as 900,000 Twitter followers sharing links to stories would be fantastic for our visibility as creators as well as Vocal’s own as a publishing platform.

With 900,000 creators signed up, why does Vocal only have 5,812 followers?

There is a knack to going viral on social media that I simply don’t have (perhaps it’s because I’m an old bugger of 60 and have become out of touch without realising it), but it might also be that other people, like me, are less likely to read a story if you have to click on a link and go off-platform to read it.

If I published the stories directly to Facebook, I’d like to think a lot of people might read them, but if I merely tease them that there’s a story they might want to read on Vocal+ and offer them the link, they probably won’t bother, just as I usually don’t, either.

A former colleague at the BBC writes great teasers on Facebook for his blog, but my gut reaction is “Why don’t you just tell us here? I don’t want to go to your blog.” which isn’t going to help his blog ratings despite that being the whole point of him posting.

Likewise, so far as I know, casual readers who might follow a link to Vocal from Facebook can’t give the story a Heart unless they first sign up to Vocal, which is going to put 99 per cent of them off, I should imagine.

That’s not Vocal’s fault, but how do we creators get traffic to our stories?

Facebook is full of novelists who dutifully post links to other novelists’ e-books, and maybe buy each other’s books out of loyalty or sense of obligation, but no author’s going to get rich if he or she has to buy a million other authors’ books in order to sell a million of their own.

The secret is to get a million people to buy your book without you having to reciprocate - not because you’re mean of spirit, but because that’s the only way to be a commercial success as an author.

Vocal’s lack of audience does still worry me. My first contribution was chosen immediately as a Top Story and had pride of place at the top left of the home page - it doesn’t get better than that - but it still only clocked up 147 Reads, with another five since, netting me 91 cents in Reads payments so far.

It was probably expecting a little too much for my Open Letter to Vocal’s CEO to be chosen as a Top Story, too, I suppose, but if we creators don’t have optimism, who will?

Vocal has helped me surprise myself in another way, too.

My mother told me half a century ago that “a good labourer is worthy of his hire”, meaning you should expect to be paid properly for your work (unless you’re volunteering), and even the implosion of the newspaper industry and the growth of so-called citizen journalists hasn’t made made me want to offer my talents (such as they are) for free, to anyone.

Yet here I am, writing my eleventh story for Vocal+ and I’m even paying a monthly fee for the privilege.

Almost more stories than readers, so I must try harder!

There may come a point when I decide enough is enough and give up, but another part of me wants to see if it really is possible to get those million reads a month so I can thank Jeremy Frommer, 12 times a year, for the $6,000 dollars he’d have to pay me.

And wouldn’t it be just wonderful if my Open Letter to him was the first to cost him that?

But that, of course is up to you!

Tempted? Here it is:

product review

About the Creator

Jon McKnight

I have left Vocal.

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