Last week I accomplished a major milestone: I released the final audio chapter of Read This First, making the entire audio book available free for download. During the past year, many people have asked me why I did this, assuming that by releasing an audio book for free, hard copy sales would suffer. “Why would anyone buy a paper-based book if the audio of it is available for free?” they ask frequently.
“Because it’s my business strategy,” I answer — a strategy that I’d like to share with you today.
Competing in a Crowded Marketplace
When I started writing Read This First in the fall of 2008, the concept of “social media” was finding its way into the cultural lexicon. Instead of raising their eyebrows whenever I explained what I do for a living, normal people (those not in the social media fishbowl) began asking thoughtful questions. Throughout 2009, their curiosity grew as more and more businesses added social mediums into their communications plans.
When my book was released in November 2009, not only were bookstore shelves packed with new books on the subject, but an endless stream of social media consultants began hanging shingles on their virtual front doors. It didn’t take me too long to see Read This First as an opportunity to distinguish myself from something that my good friend Rob Shore calls, “a sea of sameness.”
What Business Are You In?
Many years ago I read What they Don’t Teach you in Harvard Business School by Mark McCormick. In it, he told a story about someone who asked Andre Heiniger, the Chairman of Rolex, for an assessment of the watch business.”
Heiniger replied that he had no idea about the watch business because Rolex was in the luxury business.
The story has helped guide many of my business decisions. So, while assessing my strengths and weaknesses in this rapidly crowding competitive landscape, I found myself asking, “What business am I in?”
I looked at the problem from a customer risk perspective. If someone wanted to mitigate the financial risk of buying my book, what did I have to offer them? Chris Anderson’s book Free convinced me to record and release a costless audio version of the book– a decision based on my faith in the marketplace. I figured that:
- if the book was good, people would listen.
- if someone didn’t want to invest the 5 hours required to listen to the entire book, they had an option to purchase a hard copy of it.
- if someone liked the audio book, they could either refer it to a friend or purchase a hard copy for them.
- and if they liked my business perspective on new/social media, they could hire me as a consultant or a speaker.
So, how is it working? Since I’ve I released the book:
- a professor at a college in Tennessee has made Read This First required reading for one of his PR classes.
- A consultant in Australia gives copies of the book to his social media seminar attendees.
- Weekly, I receive emails, tweets, and DMs, thanking me for letting them sample the book. Many tell me how they’ve since purchased multiple copies of the book for co-workers or senior management.
- And most importantly, both audio downloads and book sales have generated solid leads that I’ve converted into both consulting and paid speaking engagements.
So, What Business am I in?
I’m in the business of sharing my perspective with as many people as possible. Some people will prefer just to sample my perspective. Others will choose to pay for a customized version of that perspective. Either way, I’ve learned that the more people I have in each category, the healthier my business.
So, what business are you in?