Update: Aaron Wall left an epic comment here which adds significantly to the discussion. Click here to see it (it’s #55).
Pay attention. This will be on the test.
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.
This is now old news. Or is it?
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.
I think you can lead an exceptional life, market yourself correctly, and the life itself will help pay its own way.
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.
What if YOU were the 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 future of the web personalities is the monetization of weak ties.
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.
Help me out here.
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.