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Update: Aaron Wall left an epic comment here which adds significantly to the discussion. Click here to see it (it’s #55).
I remember having a conversation with Chris, sitting in Café Méliès in Montreal one time, talking about business. We had an idea for a private forum. This was a few years ago, I think– maybe even before the book.
We would base is on Aaron Wall’s private SEO community, base it on our expertise in social media etc. We’d split whatever money we made, pay any blogger who wanted to be an affiliate. The idea was simple, but good and scalable. It would make a lot of money if we did it right. So we called Brian Clark– he was doing Teaching Sells at the time. He said, “Good stuff. I’m in.”
The joke is, Chris and I never did it… at least, not in that format. :)
Much later, Third Tribe would be released– pretty much the same thing we talked about. Good on Brian for actually having the initiative. :) Aaron Wall’s forum would increase in price, from $100 to $300 per month (still a good value IMHO) and continue to grow. Chris would launch Kitchen Table Companies and other private communities of the same type.
Except I’ve been talking to Mark O’Sullivan at the exceptional Vanilla Forums, who says that big web personalities are asking him about private forums for their sites. I’ve been interviewing Brett Rogers, who funds his documentaries partially by having people come along on his adventures. And I’ve just started working with Martin Berkhan, who can’t handle the flood of questions people ask him about his workout and nutrition methods because they seem to work so well.
What is there was a solution to this? I think there is. But let’s veer off for a second.
Something big changed with the web. We could create personal brands, broadcast ourselves for free, and create a following. Except if we got popular, we started not being able to pay attention to everyone anymore. This is normal.
I’m thinking of Richard Nikoley. His (successful) experiment with not washing his hair for two years has led to articles in the Chicago Tribune and other places. He can’t handle the emails he gets anymore. Also Chris Guillebeau, who recently got 800 comments on a post he put out.
As Aaron Wall has said, popularity is an inequality between supply and demand. You solve it by raising price.
Books and conferences are price points– they are old methods that people are used to and don’t flinch at. I use both, and they work well. But there’s a problem with them.
Middlemen take over the old methods. They live as parasites off what you and I produce. Many of them do it without adding any value whatsoever.
There is something missing from Kevin Kelly’s 1000 True Fans method. It is fine for artists, for producers of actual artifacts, artists, etc. This is one reason Seth Godin’s Domino Project is so interesting. It cuts middlemen out. But it still requires the creation of an artifact… of a product.
I believe that what people want when they read your book, when they come to see you speak, or sing, or when they buy art from you– I believe that what they actually want is you.
This method has worked for authors before. Gary Vee and Tim Ferriss basically sold 1-on-1 time with them in exchange for bulk book purchases. This has the advantage of making them look big to a mainstream audience, but the end result is the same. People often want them, not the book. Same with all the people I mentioned who do amazing things.
Your audience wants to be a part of your life. Maybe, in some cases, you should let them.
Here is another assertion which I might be a bit shocking.
The web naturally creates an ecosystem of micro-stars, like television, but doesn’t necessarily have a way to turn this into a living. If you keep answering emails, forever, you become exhausted and your personal time is sucked out of your life.
The solution is paid access.
Of course, you don’t want to monetize your strong ties. That would be insane. The social norms space stays pure. You don’t pay your wife for the nice dinner she made.
But weak ties, by definition, take more than they give. They do not, as many people say, “pay in terms of attention,” except in huge masses which become unwieldy because of a new kind of demand– bug fixes, emails, etc.
Here is my theory. Once supply and demand of personal access are no longer equal, solving it through price not only helps you maintain a solid personal life but accelerates the process of popularity, by helping you free your time and do cooler shit.
A new stream of income means more freedom, which turns into a more interesting life, which turns into more popularity, which turns into more income, etc. A virtuous circle.
Of course, most of what you do is free and public. That’s one level of access. But I think that you should turn on different levels as well. Everyone in social media right now wants books and speaking gigs. You only get those at a certain level of popularity, but you could turn lesser levels on as well. Forum access, email access, Skype access– any of these could become an income stream for various types of web personalities.
But wait!, I hear you saying. Let’s say some of these weak ties become strong ties! What do we do then? Well, easy. Stop monetizing them. We could call this the dinner party rule– if you’d invite someone to dinner, then they should have free access to you. This impacts the bottom line, but that’s natural with friendships– wanted, even. Besides, friendship is more valuable than $47 a month or whatever.
Look, this post has already gotten much longer than I thought it would. I could go on forever about this– it’s so logical to me that I could argue it until the cows come home. But I won’t.
Instead, I’ll ask you what you think, and to spread it if you think the idea is interesting or worth talking about. Tweet or subscribe below.
By the way, I don’t know if it’s something I personally want to do– although I’m pretty sure I could. Maybe you could too, once your audience reaches a certain mass. Wouldn’t that be easier than trying to get a frikkin book deal or becoming a social media expert? Besides, I suspect there’s only enough of those to go around.
I hear a McDonald’s franchise costs over a million dollars to buy.
When you buy one, though, it basically starts to print money. They have the system down so well that you can plop a McDonald’s down anywhere and tell ahead of time how much money it will make. Likewise Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, and all those places. A franchise is essentially a business in a box– a machine.
Other businesses, the unique ones, are machines too. As I sit here at my local coffee place by the canal, I realize suddenly that the gears beneath it are identical to the place I go to downtown. Different owners, different staff, different food– same business. It’s a formula, and that means that there’s a lot of it you can predict.
The only part you can’t predict is the human element. Can the staff upsell you their lattés, or make you show up more often? Once you’ve got it running, though, that too is mostly math. You know how much you make any day of the week under most circumstances.
If you’re a freelancer and you mostly work with clients, you may never understand this, because your business doesn’t work this way. You have low overhead because it’s basically you and your work, but it also can’t be automated. You can’t let your success work for you as much, unless you use existing infrastructure. (It’s why singers release perfumes.)
I bet if you run enough businesses, you start to see the machines inside every business. If you know real estate, you can walk into a building and see how everything is going to work 5 years from now, and tell the risk of the tenants from how they greet you.
By the way, we here online should be able to do the same thing with websites. Can you?
Montreal is the capital of the North American telemarketing industry.
As the second-largest French-speaking city in the world, with a cheap labour force and low cost of living, Montreal is the ideal place for telemarketing companies. This means that many of us, the people you know that live here, have worked these kinds of jobs when we were young and broke. It let us get up late, make our own schedules, and make a decent wage. The only downside is the feeling of crushing defeat that comes with every single call we had to make.
Telemarketing is one of many reasons why we feel that sales, like marketing, is dirty. But we forget that, in some ways, we are selling all the time, to everyone.
We sell to everyone, about everything. We sell our worldview and our politics. We convince them what we want to eat for dinner. All of this puts aside what we actually do for a living, which is often to actually sell a product or service to someone for a living. But we don’t get a feeling in the pit of our stomachs when we do it. Why?
Sales is antithesis to the way we behave as human beings. We have to be pushy and sometimes bother people. We have a lot of discomfort to break through. It can be tough and most of us quit. But we also find new ways to sell what we do:
We use these ways to avoid going through the feeling that we had while doing the door-to-door, telemarketing type. But there’s another way to deal with this feeling we get. Some people push through it. Some people keep going and become successful, while others push through it and become cynical.
Which ones are right?
When I think about it, part of the idea of the way we sell to ourselves now (including what’s written in Trust Agents) is to avoid stepping on other people’s toes– not for them, but for us. So we can avoid that feeling that we’re intruding and being dirty.
But those that push through it sometimes become some of the most successful people in the world.
Who’s right, and who’s wrong? You tell me.
(Written as a complement to Mitch’s Life is Marketing post, here.)
Just a quick thought.
Bloggers receive commission via affiliate links if they choose to. They are influencing a sale. They are salespeople. Companies see value in that, so they gladly pay that percentage.
Newspapers influence people too, so why don’t they receive a commission? If they influence someone in selling an iPad, why shouldn’t the newspaper get paid?
You might answer that it would result in undue influence to the journalist in question. Not so.
A journalist could write what he wants as usual, and another department (advertising, etc.) could insert affiliate links after the fact. As long as we keep the divide between departments, the reporting remains pure. No problem.
Newspaper websites already receive a ton of traffic. Any newspaper that decides to do this on their website makes a extra cool million a year, easy.
What is your price point?
We used to have very few options: work a job, start a company, be unemployed. Now there are a million options in between, especially on the web. Choosing where to price yourself will show people what you’re worth.
I just bought Ev Bogue‘s The Art of Being Minimalist for $17. By choosing that price, he shows me his work has value, but he could’ve priced it at twice that and I probably would’ve still bought it with no regrets. But would he sell as many copies? Would he have to work harder? Everyone needs to decide this for themselves.
I think of all of these value points as being a kind of filter. If you want to reach more people, you may want to bring the price down, but that will impact how seriously they treat your work. The barrier to entry (including price) impacts the value of your platform and show people how to treat you.
I learned this important lesson from a friend of mine a long time ago: You show people how to treat you by where you draw the line. If you let people walk all over you, they start to believe it’s ok to do that. If you show people high value and demand a high price, people will believe in that, too.
You decide what you’re worth. Once you believe it, others will too. It’s circular.
Anyway, this blog is free. That might give people the impression that it’s just like any other blog, and that it’s replaceable. That’s one reason to write a NYT bestselling book– to show your value.
But I suspect that many of you actually like this blog a lot. I feel this because I see your comments, but also because I’m really picky, and I’m very proud of the work that I do here. This thing holds some of my best work, stuff I’m very proud of.
So if you like what I do, please tweet it out, link to me, spread the word, or invite me out to speak. I enjoy communicating my ideas and improving someone’s life a little every day. It’s a lot of fun, and I think I’m pretty good at it.
My price is low but the value, for me at least, is immeasurable. Let’s keep at this. We’re going to a good place.
I spent the last three days in New York at Tools of Change, a book conference, talking with people in the publishing industry. I did this mostly in bars, which are the places you are most likely to hear the truth, especially late at night.
Only now, back home, do I realize: On the web, we have technology change what we do all the time. But other industries are not used to being threatened by it- having their whole business models be devoured by it.
Perfect example: The Kindle 2 is out, and it reads books out to you. “Sounds great,” you may say. But the Author’s Guild of America disagrees. It calls the technology illegal, a breach of copyright law. Follow the link to understand why this is insane, in case it isn’t clear.
Now, let’s say you and I are running a company on the web, and this happens to us: Google demolishes our business model, somehow. Would we resort to lawsuits? I suspect I would just roll over and go “ok, time to do something else,” because we knew this time would come, right?
We expect it to happen because we’ve adjusted to the rate of change of the modern world. It’s expected. But technology has not always done this to business; only recently is it starting to be felt, and companies are resorting to their usual tactics. But this time the enemy can’t be fought that way, because it isn’t another company. It’s something else.
Their enemy is progress.
Think about that.
Update: The part about Scoble leaving Podtech appears to be false. Sorry about the gossip dudes. My sentiments remain unchanged though.
I don’t know anything about Podtech (I don’t think anybody does), but I just read on Andrew Baron’s blog that Podtech is in sinking and Scoble may be out (the original tweet-based rumour being here). Who does this leave as the premiere audio/video content company? Podshow. Who’da thunk it.
If this is true, it means there’s going to be a lot of doubt going around the content-creation space (audio, video, etc.) in the next little while. Maybe less money, who knows.
The individual creators, on the other hand, are in a stronger position than ever. As the networks fail, the creators can continue to do their work for less money than a company ever could, getting little sponsorships along the way to keep them alive. They’re f’n cockroaches, and can thrive in the tiniest of niches with no problem.
I’ll be offline for the next fourteen hours (on a ferry in the middle of the Atlantic), so I won’t know how this will pan out, but I bet there are interesting times ahead for folks like us.
BTW, I’m calling it right now: Scoble, next evangelist for Facebook.
If you’re irritated about the way influencers seem to be jumping from one web app to another, you aren’t alone. Dave Slusher just renounced ‘the search for the newer and shinier,’ and I suspect many others will follow after Facebook becomes passé.
What Dave doesn’t realize is that it is in the nature of early influencers’ attention to be transitory. The reason they jump from one app to another is precisely because they are early influencers, and people pay attention to them precisely because they try things before anyone else.
In fact, I could even go so far as to say that, if they stop trying the new and shiny, attention to them will dwindle.
What Slusher has done (by unsubscribing) is exercise the power he does have, which is attention. If attention is what causes these web apps to become popular, it is also the thing that causes early influencers power to expand– attention is the very nature of power on the web.
So if you’re waiting for your web app to get picked up by Scoble, Arrington, or anyone else, I wouldn’t hold my breath. Even if you are the new Facebook, it is in their very nature to drop the old as the new and shiny comes along.
It happens in Hollywood, it happens in electronics, and it happens on the web. One day, you and your app, your weblog, or your podcast, will be over.
Start working on your next thing NOW.
I met with a girl yesterday who basically laid out to me that my business strategy was non-existent. She’s right, of course. I don’t have business cards, my website doesn’t tell anyone what I can do for them, nothing. She was totally right, and it’s kind of embarrassing, now that I think about it. So I have to figure that all out.
In other news, I’ll be at the Podcast Expo this weekend hanging out with CC Chapman, Anji Bee, Canis Lupus, and anyone else that will have me. Thanks very much to Mark Yoshimoto Nemcoff for helping ensure that I don’t end up paying 100 dollars for a cab into
stupid sunny Ontario, California.
I had a chit chat with Mark and Bob during the ride down to PodCamp where we talked all about social networking and why influencing the text-based web matters a great deal. Take a listen if you want to learn a thing or two about how to promote yourself as a podcaster on the web.