A flexible architecture
The process is constantly evolving, says Blair. "Bandwidth is becoming cheaper. There are new players and new codecs that give you higher quality at lower bit rates."
Zappos can incorporate new technologies fairly easily. "We've been able to lay down a pretty scalable infrastructure that allows us to change and adapt," says Blair. "However, we still run into challenges, such as maintaining a balance between image resolution and quality."
The company keeps the videos short to avoid affecting Zappos' SEO value with pages that take too long to load, says Blair. "Plus, we have customers all over the place with different broadband connections, so we rarely want to go over a 5MB limit. This ensures the videos will play quickly no matter what type of Internet connection you have."
Initially, the small staff assigned to do the videos would pick and choose products to feature, but now the goal is to provide a video for every single item sold on the website, Blair says. "Anything on the site without a video means we simply haven't gotten to it yet."
Since 2009, Zappos has uploaded over 250,000 product videos, including 104,000 produced by the video team this past year alone. Company spokespeople would not comment on what proportion of its overall product portfolio that total represents.
The biggest response to the videos comes from those featuring shoes, says Blair. Customers can see the shoe on a model's foot and can see how far up the boot is on the leg, for instance. "One woman was about to purchase a shoe and saw on the video that it had mesh on the side, which she did not want, so it helped us avoid a return," Blair says.
The videos have been a sales success, Blair says. "Although we can't share the figures, I can say that products that have videos tend to sell better than those without videos."
Music to their ears -- and now eyes, too
Longtime Guitar Player magazine subscribers may recall issues featuring instructional articles that offered an 800 number. Readers could dial the number for an audio version of the lesson that appeared in the print publication.
Readers would then use the keypad of their touch-tone phone to rewind, fast forward and otherwise control the playback of the audio lesson courtesy of Notes On Call, an interactive phone-lesson company founded in 1991.
Flash forward to today. After collecting thousands of audio guitar lessons, Notes on Call changed its name to TrueFire in 2000 and began offering lessons using video. "We now call them video guitar courses," says Zach Wendkos, online media director for TrueFire. Customers can take the courses as well as practice rhythm tracks via MP3 files.
"Once we realized there was this great demand for video, we focused our efforts on that," explains Wendkos, who says videos are now the company's core business.
TrueFire's video guitar lessons can be streamed or downloaded from the website for $15/month or $149/year. Lessons are also available on disk for Windows and Mac computers, from $9 to $49 per course, or as apps for iOS-based mobile devices for prices ranging from 99 cents to $9.99.
Now with over half a million registered members from over 200 countries around the world, TrueFire's 12,000 video guitar lessons cover virtually all musical styles and techniques. "Video allows students to see the action [of your hands on the guitar strings] as well as hear the audio," says Wendkos.
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