I think it’s really valuable to have a discussion about how the market is shifting and changing. There’s no doubt that’s the reality we all face as entrepreneurs; we need to be able to shift within our own markets and adjust accordingly. So why don’t you talk to me about the “Domino Project” and your new book, Poke The Box.
Well, the question is “Who is your customer?”
If you’re an author like me, your customer is the publisher. Who is the publisher’s customer? Well, if you’re a major publisher, your customer is the bookstore. And, if you’re the bookstore, who is your customer? The answer is the reader.
That’s a lot of steps! And one of the reasons that book publishing is broken is that readers are demanding that people talk directly to them. And what makes a bookstore happy, or what makes a publisher happy, might not make the reader happy. For example, should a Kindle book ever cost $19.99? The publisher might be able to justify that, but the reader can’t!
So what I decided to do is to stop being a hypocrite (and take my own advice) and to write for my readers – to build a company that publishes directly to the readers.
Our job is to help authors find and connect to their readers. And we will win, as a company, if we’re able to earn the privilege of permission, of talking to the people who want to be talked to. We’re fortunate that Amazon is powering and backing what we’re doing so we have an easy way for people to find and buy and transact with us. We have the ability to find people who have shown interest in similar stuff in the past, and we can then create a relationship directly between us and the people that read our stuff.
You pretty much only have two choices if you’re going to write books. One choice is to write for the very few who buy a lot. They tend to be women, but there are also business people in that group and they have broad interests. These are people who love to buy books, who buy a lot of books. If you make a book that makes them happy, you can do OK.
The other kind of writing you can do is for people who don’t buy books – people who buy The Da Vinci Code, and Eat, Pray, Love. You know when one of those books becomes a major bestseller, it’s because it’s the ONE book that lots of people bought all year. Those books get sold at Walmart and other places as well.
My thesis is that the people in the first group – the people who love to read books – also love to talk about them, and they love to share them. Now, if you can make it easy for people who buy books to spread, talk about them, share books with people who DON’T buy books, you can actually grow the market considerably.
And so, our books come in a 5-pack, in a 52-pack, or they come individually. They come in a collectable edition, they come in lots of different ways – different books for different readers. And the beauty of it is, if you read a book and you love it, and you can buy additional copies of it for six or seven dollars to hand out to your friends, you might. And I don’t need very many people to buy multi-packs for it to be important. I mean, it looks like 30-40% of all the sales we make are going to be from the people who purchase books and give them to other people.
I’m just laughing to myself because I’m definitely in that market about gifting knowledge to other people!
Well you know, I’ve never written books to make a living – it’s really hard to make a living off writing books. I’ve written them just to spread the ideas. And for me, success is when people start talking about these ideas even though they haven’t read the book. When you hear people talking about building a Purple Cow, or being a Linchpin, and they don’t even know there is a book – that means I’ve succeeded in getting the idea off the page and into the real world.
What is it that you’re most afraid of – or does that not exist here?
Well, I experience fear all the time, the difference is that I’m rarely paralyzed by it. It would have been easy enough not to do the book at all, and just post it on my site. But it’s more important to ask myself,
“What’s the scariest thing I can imagine doing?” – Because, that’s exactly what we’re here to do…work that matters.
I’m not worried about people not liking the book. I hope that some people don’t like the book – that means I’m pushing somebody. I am worried a little bit about sort of “disappearing” because we didn’t do things that were bold enough, but I’m hopeful that so far, what we’ve done is interesting and worth talking about.
Well, it sounds like it’s coming from an authentic place…and so people will talk! What was it about this particular topic that was so valuable for you to share? What are you hoping resonates with people?
Well, you know, how is it that people like you can come out of nowhere and start a magazine that touches tens of thousands of people and have an impact and make a living at it and other people just whine and are stuck where they are? What is it about some organizations, like Amazon and Nike and Apple and Starbucks and Jet Blue, that permit them to do noteworthy things while other ones, I dunno, like Nokia, find themselves going backwards?
It’s not that they have dumb people, it’s that there isn’t a culture of initiation. There isn’t a culture of starting; of raising your hand, and speaking out, of leaning forward and screwing up and learning and doing it again.
So I wrote Poke The Box, a very short book, and its intent is really simple – it’s saying this is the asset of our future. You can be in the magazine or book business without having a printing plan, you can be in the shoes business without actually making shoes, and you can be in the computer business without making computers, but what you can’t do, you can’t do anything unless you initiate it – that’s the asset of the future.
And, did you come to any conclusion about whether that’s a genetic thing or a cultural thing or…? I mean, I’m always fascinated by entrepreneurs and it seems to me that there’s that spark and that flame that gets fanned into an inferno and you’re right…it starts with initiative. Why do you believe it exists for some but not…
(Interrupting) Go spend some time in kindergarten. What we notice in nursery school and kindergarten is that a whole bunch of people seem to have initiative. A whole bunch of people think that they can draw. A whole bunch of people think they’re capable of erasing the board. A whole bunch of people are happy to volunteer. And sometime between being five and seventeen we intentionally burn it out of almost everybody.
There are reasons for that but we don’t need to worry about them now, only to know that it’s true. And so the question is, “If we have burnt it out of you, is there a way that you can get it back?”
And I think the answer is, “Sure you can”.
Look at people who have initiated through history, they’re not divided by gender or race or age or culture, it’s just that along the way, they’ve decided to get back into doing it.
I wish you all the success in the world and I’ll be thinking of you March 1st when Poke The Box is launched. And despite what happens, you took the initiative and you took the challenge and in the end, it doesn’t really matter right? Off you go to keep moving it forward!
5 Brave Questions To Ask Yourself No Matter What Market You’re In:
- If I don’t do anything, don’t start anything, don’t make a ruckus, what will happen?
- How important is forward motion? Do the people who succeed in my field succeed because they make things happen?
- That quiet little voice in the back of your head that’s always worried – what specifically is it afraid of?
- Who goes out of her way to support me? How can I spend more time with her? On the other hand, who’s always quick to criticize and predict doom? Perhaps it’s a good idea to move on…
- What are you waiting for?