“Well. I guess I’m giving it away for free.”
I’d just gotten off the phone with a friend to talk about the marketing plan for The End of Jobs.
I glanced at my writing tracking spreadsheet and looked at how much time I had invested in the project.
Three hundred and thirty nine hours, not including the marketing or editing time.
I’d been planning on releasing the book for free initially, but a few friends had talked me out of it.
“You’ll cannibalize all the sales from your existing audience by giving it away.”
“People don’t value things they get for free.”
“It’s bad for the brand building. Everyone will think it’s really just a long ebook you slapped on Amazon without spending much time on.”
And all of those things are true.
Yet the case for free had become more compelling and aligned philosophically with many of the things I had already been thinking.
Why give away a book (or anything else) away for free?
1. The Marketing Meta Narrative
Ryan Holiday discussed in an interview something he called meta marketing or crafting meta narratives around books and other products.
Meta marketing or crafting meta narratives is making the marketing serve a proof of concept for the product. In marketing the host of the podcast’s book, Ryan convinced him to sell the book exclusively via bitcoin for a few days before releasing it publicly.
Bitcoin is a distributed currency; it doesn’t rely on traditional government institutions to guarantee it. It’s a choose-yourself currency and proof of the concept that technology has made it easier than ever to choose yourself.
The meta-ness is delicious (and compelling).
In an interview with Dane Maxwell, Clay Collins explained how his company, Leadpages, was able to do this. They used their software, a SaaS (Software As A Service) application that lets you easily set up highly converting landing pages, to (you guessed it) set up highly converting landing pages for their own incoming leads.
I’ve been inspired over the years by books like Choose Yourself!, The Fourth Economy, and Maverick, and I believe that we’re standing at the edge of the democratization of corporations and mankind’s largest expanse in the distribution of power.
While many of us get it, others don’t realize how powerful this is. Guttenberg’s printing press led to the overthrow of popes and monarchs, and that’s peanuts compared to what the internet has done, is doing, and will do.
Giving the book away for free lets me craft the marketing narrative to be the same as the book narrative.
By self-publishing a book I wrote on a $1000 laptop and giving it away for free, the marketing can serve as a proof of concept for the book.
2. Illegible Currency Arbitrage
Connections as Currency
Illegible currencies are currencies which are inherently valuable but difficult to measure—trust, connections, and optionality.
A key part of the The End of Jobs narrative is that we’re moving into the connection economy. As we move out of the end of the Industrial period, connections are more and more valuable while widgets are getting cheaper and cheaper. It’s easier and easier to manufacture in China and set up an eCommerce dropshipping store, but it’s harder than ever to establish connections and distribution.
By making the book free, it’s easier to reach out to people that I couldn’t otherwise connect with.
Asking someone to promote at .99 cent book is categorically different than asking someone to promote a free book.
In the long run, the value of the connections is far more valuable than the money to be made from a book. Giving a book away for free makes me put my money where my mouth is—if connections are so valuable, give it away and take the connections.
Optionality as Currency
There is a long-recognized, seemingly contradictory relationship importance of between planning and the uselessness of plans:
In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.
[I]t’s the process of planning that’s the most important thing to see. (The actual results of that planning are often useless.)
The uselessness of planning is accelerating. In an episode of 10x Talk podcast, business coach Dan Sullivan mentions that he used to get clients to plan in five-year time frames, and now he’s shortened it down to three. Over the course of his career, he’s seen that markets move faster and faster.
The average time a company spends on the S&P 5001 has decreased from 90 years in 1935 to 18 years today. At the current churn rate, 75% of S&P 500 companies will be removed from the index by 2027.
As the future becomes more unpredictable and outcomes are more driven by black swans, or unforeseeable events, the value of optionality is increasing. In a world where it’s harder to forecast what’s going to happen, the best you can do is to give yourself more options.
Because the book is whispering just as much as it’s saying, giving the book away for free lets me accumulate more optionality.
3. Moving the Free Line
Lest this all appear to be “frou-frou” good will, I believe long-term backend for me is larger by giving the book away for free today.
I recently went back and looked over a concept I discovered from Eben Pagan: Moving The Free Line. His experience has shown that if you can give away more for free, then you can charge more for premium services on the backend.
If you can give away something for free that everyone else in the industry is charging $10 for, then you can substantially magnify the backend. It makes obvious sense given an understanding of power law distributions.
If you have two players in a marketplace and one has a slightly better opt-in offer, he won’t get slightly more opt-ins—he’ll get ten times more. If a hundred people are choosing between two pairs of headphones on Amazon and one is slightly better, then it’s going to get significantly more sales.
The internet magnifies winner-take-all dynamics.
If you look at click through rates for Google, the top result gets over 30% of the clicks for all the traffic, the second and third result get another 30% combined, and then it takes the next 27 results to account for the next 25%.
That’s a sharp drop off.
As this relates to moving the free line, if you get ten times more opt-ins or the first result on Google, you’ll have a far larger pool to draw from and free is a great way to do that.
Goals For The Book:
I wrote a book instead of doing what people traditionally do (guest posting, blogging frequently) because I read The ONE Thing at the start of the year and asked myself the question the author poses: “What’s the ONE Thing [I] can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”
The answer I came up with?
A book, because:
- It has a higher barrier to entry. A book will make everything else (guest posting, syndication, consulting, etc. easier to land since I can point to a book (relatively hard) instead of a bunch of blog posts (relatively easy).
- Books make bigger impacts. I’ve had relatively few blog posts that have changed my life, but quite a lot of books.
- It leverages Amazon distribution. The theory behind guest posting is to leverage other people’s platforms to grow yours. I’m not deviating from that theory, I’m “guest posting” on Amazon, which gets a lot more traffic than any blog and seems to be at a golden moment right now.
Specifically, I’m looking at:
Amazon Reviews – A hundred reviews feels ambitious yet achievable, and would give the book credibility to leverage into syndication, guest posting, speaking, and consulting opportunities.
Email Subscribers – In the final edit of the book (in progress), I’m adding CTAs directing people to a landing page where they can enter get all the resources I added based on early reader feedback including:
- Full recorded interviews with the ten entrepreneurs featured in The End of Jobs
- My 67 Must-Read Books on Entrepreneurship
- 49 Tools and Templates for Entrepreneurs
- A Ninety-Day Goal Setting Worksheet, to translate the book into actionable steps
- Access to a private community to discuss the book and get support
I want to continue the conversation with people and see how to extend the impact of the book beyond the book itself.
Books Sold – I’m planning on riding the momentum from the free giveaway leading up to the launch and the giveaway of the book (more on both of these later) with the idea that if I get enough momentum from the promotion, I can sell more copies over time. For people that have been following along and are passionate about the subject, I would much rather get a killer Amazon review and have them share it with a friend than eight bucks.
Marketing Tactics for the Launch:
The core marketing tactic is to do a free giveaway of 67 books ($1310 worth) for entrepreneurs and then giveaway the book on Amazon free for five days.
What’s even easier than getting people to share a free book is getting them to share a free giveaway of a lot of well-known, popular books.
This builds on the generosity meta-narrative around the whole book, gives me more connection opportunities (the authors whose books I’ll be promoting), more optionality, and allows me to move the free line even further.
The giveaway also builds on the meta narrative of the value of books more broadly. The list of books I’m giving away are all books that have had a real, meaningful impact on my development as an entrepreneur and I’d like to give someone else that same opportunity.
On Tactical Transience
If I’ve learned anything after four years in the internet marketing space, it’s that while marketing principles are timeless, tactics move fast and the best ROI is always on the edge.
10 years ago it was Adwords (now highly competitive/expensive).
5 years ago it was SEO (now moderately-highly competitive).
24 months ago it was re-targeting ads, product feeds, and Facebook ads (still effective, but getting more competitive).
When something is working, there’s a fairly small window to figure it out, execute on it, and take advantage.
Giveaways, right now, seem to be the hot marketing tactic.
Patt Flynn and Brian Harriss both have excellent case studies on their results from using KingSumo giveaways. The giveaway is structured so you get one entry for putting in your own email, but three entries for every friend you refer and three more entries for every friend they refer. By sharing the giveaway, you exponentially increase your odds of winning.
These tactics are always a double-edged sword—the difference being the people that use these “arbitrage” opportunities to build assets instead of making the core business model an arbitrage.
People who had Adwords-based businesses ten years ago or Adsense-based businesses five years ago got wiped out, but the people that leveraged them to build brand equity or some other asset are still going strong.
If I recall correctly, Tim Ferriss’s supplement business was built on Adwords, but he converted those people into customers and an email list which was the asset he eventually sold.
I’m trying to do that with the giveaway and with putting a book on Amazon—leverage the trending arbitrages into something more valuable.
Promoting the Giveaway, Method 1 – Podcast Interviews and Guest Posts
I’m doing a bunch of podcast interviews and guest posts to drive people to the giveaway. It’s a much more compelling offer for podcasters to have someone come on and offer their audience a giveaway, then ask them to buy a book making it easier to get on podcasts.
From a listener’s perspective, a free giveaway is a compelling offer and something worth trading an email address for.
My hypothesis is that podcast interviews will work better than guest posts because:
- It’s better for building rapport – people get more familiar with you and develop a closer relationship during a podcast than reading an article, that’s the nature of long form audio and a big reason for the recent explosion of podcasts.
- They get to listen to the full description of the book – unlike with an article, listeners will hear the full explanation of the book and won’t skim it like many people do when reading an article. Since more listeners will understand the premise of the book, they’ll be better informed if they want to read it or not.
- It’s a lower time requirement – a good guest post usually takes me in the neighborhood of 10-20 hours, whereas a podcast takes more like three to four (that includes preparing one to two hours before the show).
How to Put Together The Partner List
- Brain Dump everyone in the industry that you know would be a good fit off the top of your head and put them in a spreadsheet.
- Use Open Site Explorer to find all the sites linking to those people – a lot of them will be sites they guest posted on or were interviewed by. Add everyone from that list to the spreadsheet.
- Sort those by opportunity, prioritizing people you have better relationships with as your hit rate with someone you already have a relationship with will be 10x someone you’re cold approaching. Use some discretion as to who is accessible. The New York Times probably isn’t a good target unless a specific reporter is covering the beat that you have an established relationship with.
Promoting the Giveaway, Method 2 – Email and Twitter
The next step is to put together categorized lists of everyone that would be interested in the giveaway and come up with a relevant and thoughtful way of approaching them.
Here’s the lists I have, how I put them together, and how I’m planning on using them.
- Friends/Acquaintances – Close personal friends who I know care about the message of the book.
- How to Get the List: Download your contacts from gmail, then manually sort through them and list everyone’s name and email in an Excel or Google Sheets file
- What to Do with It: Email them a thunderclap.it link the week before the giveaway goes live to share the giveaway and include a copy of the final book (PDF). If they’re interested in the book, let them know it would be greatly appreciated if they read it and wrote an honest review when it goes live.
- Early Readers – People who read an early version of the book.
- How to Get the List: I sent an email to existing readers, asking if the would be interesting in reading an early copy of the book. I asked them to fill out an application in Google Docs, including their email, if they were interested.
- What to Do with It: I invited all of them to the Facebook group where I’m giving away all the bonuses early and getting their input on the book writing and marketing process. I’ll be giving everyone in the group an early copy of the book for free and asking them to enter and share the giveaway and leave an honest review of the book.
- Influencers in Book Giveaway – People whose book I’m going to give away.
- How to Get the List: I took all the books I read in the last four years, sorted them by GoodReads stars, and then took four-star and above books and had a VA categorize them. (I was inspired by Josh Kaufman’s 99 Best Business Books post and basically decided to niche it down to books specifically for entrepreneurs as opposed to more general business).
- What to Do with It: Tweet all of them when the giveaway goes live and point them to a review of the book and the giveaway. If they all retweet it, I’ll get a lot of exposure to audiences highly relevant to the topic of the book.
- Influencers Mentioned in the Book
- How To Get the List: Hire someone on UpWork (formerly oDesk) to go through the book and put together a list of people mentioned in the book, their twitter handle, and why they are referenced
- What to Do with It: Tweet all of them when the book goes live—if they all retweet it, it gets a lot of exposure. This is easier when the book doesn’t cost anything, and that’s part of the reason I’m doing it free.
- Relevant Udemy Courses
- How to Get the List: Hire someone on UpWork to go through and compile a list of courses relevant to the topic.
- What to Do with It: Udemy course instructors can email their students with announcements with what’s basically an email blast. I can approach all of them to email their lists about the free Giveaway.
- Relevant Facebook Groups
- How to Get the List: If you’re already in a few Facebook groups relevant to the topic you can go to “Groups” in the left hand sidebar, then pick “Suggested Groups.” It will put together a list of groups similar to ones you are already in.
- What to Do with It: Join all the relevant groups, send a message to the moderator explaining the giveaway and free book, and ask if it would be alright with them to post the offer in the group.
- Blogs/Podcasts in the Space (but not in the book giveaway or mentioned in the book)
- How to Get the List: This is everyone whose audience would be relevant but isn’t mentioned in the book or included in the book giveaway. These were people that I brainstormed to ask for guest posts or interviews, but they either declined, didn’t respond or I ran out of guest post pieces I could use.
- What to Do with It: Tweet all of them when the contest goes live.
One of my most reliable heuristics when making decisions is: when in doubt, pick the one worth talking about.
As humans we’re more loss-averse than gain-prone. We all have a tendency to underestimate ourselves and limit our upside. I assume this is the case and compensate by picking things that feel a bit too risky.
Counter intuitively, it seems to be safer. No one faults you for being over ambitious. You can’t really make fun of Elon Musk if he doesn’t get to Mars—it’s just too ambitious.
Biggest downside is you get a good story. Let’s see if we can make this worth talking about. 🙂
P.S. If you’d like to download a copy of the spreadsheet I’m using to organize the giveaway to do your own giveaway or promote a product launch, enter your email below.
Last Updated on July 30, 2019 by Taylor Pearson
- “The S&P 500® is widely regarded as the best single gauge of large-cap U.S. equities. There is over USD 7.8 trillion benchmarked to the index, with index assets comprising approximately USD 2.2 trillion of this total. The index includes 500 leading companies and captures approximately 80% coverage of available market capitalization.” Source