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Do pirated info products increase overall sales?

In the discussion of my pirated products, Steve Remingon posted some good points to my Facebook page.

…  you are assuming that the all 202 people who have downloaded the audio version of your book will not like what they hear, realise this information will be useful to have around and then go out and buy a paper copy. Alternatively they may like what they hear and then contact you to pay you for a services in another way.

Second, the people who do not subsequently buy an audio or paper copy of your book were never going to spend the money in the first place so you or the publishers in fact have not lost any money.

These are good points. Right now, I only have a couple of products, so increasing awareness by giving one of them away for free won’t lead to many additional sales because there’s not much else for them to buy. One of the favorable reviewers on the pirate board has already suggested they have someone sign up for my next paid program, record it, and post it on the board. I suppose I should be flattered?

While the meme of “lots of awareness will turn into increased sales” is a popular one, I suspect for every Cory Doctorow, there are 100 people like me who haven’t succeeded with that equation. The difference is that almost by definition, Cory’s grassroots popularity also spreads the story of grassroots success, while the absence of grassroots success doesn’t spread the story of “what a crappy strategy.”

I’ve been giving away free content for eleven years. The magical tidal wave of potential customers that is supposed to result never materialized.

“They wouldn’t have bought anyway” may be true. If that’s true, then unless they’re generating follow-on sales, I would rather they not have my material at all. If it’s not valuable enough to them to pay for it, and they don’t want it badly enough to buy, then they shouldn’t have it. That’s how an economy works.

“It’s OK to steal because I wouldn’t have bought the thing I stole” is not a defense that works in any legal, moral, or ethical system I’m aware of. And if a single one of those pirates would have purchased a program and now didn’t, then I’m out money.

Cost to Copy is Only One Piece of Cost

People confuse incremental production cost with total production cost. I attended MIT, Harvard Business School, and Deming’s “Total Quality” college. Then I applied big chunks of that to developing personal productivity products. The cost to me of that production is well into the six figures , not to mention several years of my life. Even the audio production of the MP3s takes time, effort, and cost. The fact that the final step in the chain—copying an audio file—has no cost attached to it doesn’t mean that it was somehow free to produce.

I don’t know. I’m just frustrated. I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing for now, but if I have a wonderfully huge underground following that doesn’t translate into enough sales to pay my mortgage, at some point I’m going to pull the plug and go do something that makes money.

Please don’t steal my products.

A friend just forwarded screen shots from a forum where the audiobook of my book has been posted by thieves. It’s been downloaded 202 times. I wish I could say I’m flattered, but I’m not. I’m just pissed. Two years of my life, tens of thousands of dollars of PR (not to mention lost income from time I spent writing Get-it-Done Guy’s 9 Steps to Work Less and Do More), and 161 Get-it-Done Guy episodes available for free, and people think buying one tiny little book (however magnificent and astonishingly useful) is just too expensive.


If I save them 5 mins/day, it pays for itself 100 times over. I may sick Europa and Thomas on them… 🙂

Please remember that it takes incredible amounts of time and effort to produce a quality information product. If you steal and redistribute it, you’re just removing the incentive for me (and others like me) to produce more. I have to make a living, and I’ll find another way to do it if necessary.

If I’m really lucky, I may actually see royalty income in a couple of years. If I’m really, really, really lucky, I may even make enough to pay for the book launch.

“Information wants to be free” is stupid. Quality information is expensive to produce. Crappy information is free to produce. By paying nothing for information, you gradually select only for the crappy information produced by people and organizations who can do it for free. In other words, hacks and shysters.

You wouldn’t walk into a stereo store and take one home without paying. Don’t do it with an audiobook, or an online program or an electronic program. Ease of theft does not translate into the right to steal. And when people steal, ultimately they simply drive the quality producers out of the marketplace. (Or at least they will for me, since if I can’t make a decent living at this, I have no intention of producing more content. If there’s no income that comes from my podcast, it makes no sense for me to continue.)

Establishing a new habit

Today’s Get-it-Done Guy episode deals with how to form a new habit. Becoming more productive, setting new years resolutions, brushing your teeth differently … any sort of behavior change involves, well, changing behavior. Unfortunately, humans aren’t very good at changing behavior.

I’ve been fascinated for years by psychology and the human brain. I read research into cognitive and social psychology, behavioral finance, brain-based science, and so on, always looking for stuff that works to help develop new skills or change old ones.

I do all this because I love learning, and really enjoy anything that helps me do it better. One of the most effective models I’ve found for understanding how humans think is NLP or neuro-linguistic programming. Developed in the 70s, it’s considered a pseudo-science and not taken seriously.

I found, however, that I could use it and get effective, repeatable results. To this day, I teach elements of it to clients and friends and get demonstrable, measurable results.

Over time, various areas of science are independently discovering elements of NLP. Just this month in the January/February 2011 issue of Scientific America Mind, there’s an article discussing how we talk and think about the world in ways that correspond pretty directly to our bodies. In NLP, we call this “organ language” (I am shouldering a burden). Another NLP phenomenon called “submodalities” suggests that we speak literally about our internal world. “Things are looking up” would suggest that the speaker is making a mental picture and positioning it in the top area of their mental field of vision. I suspect submodalities will be next on the rediscovery agenda.

This Get-it-Done guy episode is the NLP “new behavior generator.” When it was developed 35 years ago, no one knew about mirror neurons, and sports psychology was in its infancy. Today, visualization is established as producing measurable results in sports performance. I’ve attempted to capture the essential elements of the actual behavior change technique, while augmenting it somewhat with poisoned apples and the occasional lesson in introspection and emotional self-management.

How do *you* stay motivated?

A listener recently wrote in asking how to stay motivated at a really undesirable job, especially given that are job hunting and ready to bail the moment a good opportunity comes along.

How do you stay motivated when you have to do something you don’t like on an ongoing basis? (Even something like taking out the trash weekly.)  Please note that I may use your answers/suggestions in the episode based on this question.

How to Write an Audio Ad

It’s fascinating having an ad-supported podcast. I’ve developed a good sense for what does and doesn’t work in audio, and for how people respond to the spoken word. Every word counts. Word order counts. Phrasing counts. And looking over some of the scripts that would-be advertisers have proposed suggests some of the copy-writers would benefit from knowing how human beings process spoken information. With audio, work less and you’ll get a bigger result.

Brevity—not length—is what’s important! People only remember the last 5-10 seconds, so a 30 second ad is useless unless it provides actual value to keep people listening. Some ads try to tell a multi-minute story or just try to jam as many features into the ad as the dialog can handle. Listeners want benefit to them; they’ll fast-forward, otherwise. Start with your benefit to the listener and make your ad short. People will be willing to listen, and they’ll get the message.

Your last few words are key. If people only remember the last few seconds, then whatever you want them to remember belongs at the end of your very last sentence. End on your call to action. Phrase it so your very last word is the URL you want people to visit. In a podcast, people listen on the run, so you need to make it easy for them to remember that one thing when they get back to their desk. If you say your URL and then keep talking, your next sentence will knock the URL out of your listener’s short-term memory!

Simple, simple, simple. People don’t remember multiple points. We want people to remember our ten key features, or our three requests. They won’t. One message is all you can do in a spoken ad.

Short. Repeat. End on action. Short. Repeat. End on action. Short. Repeat. And end on action.

Affiliates piggy-back on your brand! Beware!

I use a special email service that lets me create a unique email address every time I sign up for a mailing list. I sign up for Amazon as “amazon@specialdomain.com.” Bill’s Bait Shop knows me as billsbaitshop@specialdomain.com. If one day, ads for body part enlargement powder starts arriving in my amazon@specialdomain.com mailbox, I know that either Amazon sold my email address or their list was stolen.

A few months ago, a friend of mine whose newsletter I subscribe to did an affiliate deal with a company we’ll call TalkTalk, Inc. I don’t even remember what joint product they were pitching, but at the end of the day, I was supporting my friend by being part of his program.

Unfortunately, TalkTalk, Inc. is run by professional marketers. Or at least, by people who believe themselves to be professional marketers. They’ve flooded my inbox with missive after annoying missive. Each one has arrived at the inbox previously reserved for my friend’s materials.

TalkTalk sends so many messages that my friend’s messages get buried beneath TalkTalk’s, and his decision to partner with TalkTalk would have me doubting his judgment and the judgment of his affiliates. Since I know him, I know he would never do this to his own list, but still… TalkTalk’s behavior reflects on him.

And therein lies the lesson: if you have an affiliate marketing arrangement with a partner, make sure you know how each of you will present yourselves to the other’s list. Affiliate relationships can be very powerful, but they tie your brands together in a way where your brand is now affected by their actions. You may wish to negotiate up front how many messages your partner can send to your list. Have your partner invite people to sign up for their list, but don’t let them simply piggy-back on yours. Your subscribers didn’t sign up for TalkTalk, they signed up for you. Honor them and feed your own sense of self-worth by giving them you, you, and only you.

Are people good or bad? It just might be a self-fulfilling prophecy!

I’ve noticed that underlying a lot of political discussions is a fundamental belief about human nature. Some people believe people are fundamentally self-interested. They won’t work unless paid, and helping the downtrodden is something one does to impress one’s friends. The other side believes people are fundamentally generous. They help each other and will sacrifice their own good for the sake of others.

My recent theory is that both of these viewpoints are true. Literally, they’re both true. There are psychological mechanisms that make each of these a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Self-interest usually manifests in turning everything into a transaction, monetizing as much as possible, and tracking things closely. It turns out that when you introduce money into a conversation or transaction, literally the brain areas involved in altruism, helping, and asking for help all shut down. So if you expect everyone to treat you as if they only want transactions from you, you’ll mention money or exchanges or act in ways you would act when putting together a transaction. Those actions will then actually trigger the same impulse in others. You mention money and the people you’re dealing with become more self-interested and less likely to be collaborative. So a world view where everyone looks out for themselves and everyone is greedy becomes self-fulfilling to the person who holds it.

Similarly, the social psychology reciprocity principle shows that when you give a gift that someone perceives as freely given, they feel obliged to respond by giving back, often in greater amounts than the original gift. So giving provides a self-fulfilling mechanism such that the person who gives freely and believes others are generous will trigger exactly those impulses in others.

What’s important to note is that this isn’t just psychological blinders, where both people interpret the same events differently. This is literally a self-fulfilling principle that plays out in behavior. If you act as if people are greedy, you’ll do things that prime their greedy impulses. If you act as if people are generous and worthy of help, you’ll actually activate reciprocal behavior on their part.

Be careful the world you wish for. You just might get it.

How do I manage my brand/content given my forthcoming book?

I’m coming out with the book, “The Get-it-Done Guy’s Nine Steps to Work Less and Do More” in August 2010. I’d like to build a business around the book that’s sufficient to support me. My theory is that step one is building an audience. I want to build my audience as large as possible between now and when the book comes out. The question is: which audience? With which content? How? And is there any money attached (I have mortgage payments to make)?

My content and expertise spans three largely independent areas. While there’s some overlap, the markets and products are pretty much different. I have blogs and newsletters in multiple areas and keeping all of it going for the next year is a huge amount of effort. Right now my priority is purely to build enough of a following to make the book a big hit. Here’s all the stuff I’m doing:

Personal productivity (2 blogs, Facebook page, newsletter, show website). The Get-it-Done Guy. This is the weekly podcast that I host, but do not own. We’ll be adding a tip-of-the-week newsletter as well. There’s a Get-it-Done Guy blog that belongs to me (you’re reading it), a website for the show (http://getitdone.quickanddirtytips.com) with episode transcripts and archives, a Facebook page for the show that has episode transcripts, and someday a book website. I have an email overload audiocourse “You Are Not Your Inbox” but sales are low enough that I’m not sure it’s a viable product.

Entrepreneurship and Leadership (website, newsletter, blog, prior reputation). This was the focus of my coaching business, which I shut down to work at Babson College (#1 for entrepreneurship in the world, 15 years running) last year. My former professional brand is around entrepreneurship and leadership. I’ve been an expert columnist in Entrepreneur.com and on Harvard Business School’s Working Knowledge, appeared in all the major publications (NYTimes, WSJ, etc.), etc. I have a website (https://www.steverrobbins.com, with its own entrepreneurship subsection), a ten-year newsletter that’s been dormant for about 6 months, and a business-oriented blog. This seems to me to be the “highest status” area, but I’ve been doing it for quite a while and am in the mood for a change.

Career development (product ideas, but no “official” brand here). This came about after I had been volunteering as a career coach for Harvard Business School’s career coaching staff for several years. I saw many students making assumptions about careers and career planning that were flat out wrong. While I’ve never done much with this in terms of professional offerings, it’s an area where I have something to add, at least in terms of creating a product or two. I have a free resource page I used to give students who were working on cover letters: https://www.steverrobbins.com/coverletter

My quandry

My immediate quandry is where should I focus my online and social media presence, brand, and efforts? Maintaining two newsletters (leadership and Get-it-Done Guy), multiple blogs, and developing products in multiple areas is a lot of work. Is there some way this can all be combined? Should it be? Should I simply say adieu to some of my offerings? Should I continue to take coaching and consulting clients even though I’m not promoting that part of my business? Keep in mind I don’t own the Get-it-Done Guy brand, so anything done with that brand and trademark must likely be done in conjunction with Macmillan.

What are your thoughts? I’m less interested in branding issues right now (my ultimate brand will be Stever Robbins, an umbrella for everything I do), and much more interested in where to focus my efforts. Should I restart my business/entrepreneurship/leadership newsletter? Should I shut it down completely? Should I blog everywhere? Should I keep only one blog? etc.