Saturday, December 1, 2012

Underpromoting Information Products For Fun And Profit

On the night before Thanksgiving, I released an ebook on Rails, covering how Rails breaks with traditional OOP theory, where I think that creates problems for Rails developers, and where I think that reveals flaws in orthodox OOP thinking.

In the past I've aggressively promoted my information products, with cheesy titles like "Secrets Of Superstar Programmer Productivity," hype-generating moves like preview videos, countdowns to product launch dates, and trolltastic rants, plus artificial scarcity tactics like only offering my products for sale during a brief window (e.g. one weekend).

With this product, I wrote Peter Cooper a brief email, telling him I'd written an ebook -- but not what it was about, or even what it was called -- and did nothing else to promote the book except offer free copies to people who I had quoted in the book, and retweet people who praised the book. Peter included a link to the book in his newsletter Ruby Weekly, but since I hadn't actually told him anything about it, or given him a review copy (something I've since rectified), the blurb in the newsletter basically just made fun of me and said "there's a book, I don't know what it is, but it's got something to do with Rails, and Giles wrote it."

This minimal and even somewhat embarrassing approach to marketing still sold around 100 books -- I think the exact number is 94 -- while I was enjoying a Thanksgiving vacation in New Mexico at my parents' Earthship. I'm pretty sure I spent more time exploring the art galleries of Santa Fe's Canyon Road and creating a pair of simple paintings in acrylic on small 6"x9" canvasses (which I gave to my parents) than I did promoting the book.

I will of course market my book some more in the near future, probably in a much more serious and energetic way, but I want to recommend underpromoting your information products for the feedback factor. Word-of-mouth marketing is the best kind; when people tell their friends to buy your stuff, you know you've got something worthwhile. It's kind of like the Google Ads market research phase which so many marketers recommend, but with income.

When you sell with hype, your sales tell you how good your hype is. When you sell via word of mouth, your sales tell you how good your product is. This is of course a massive oversimplification, but as long as you remember to take it with a grain of salt, it's true enough that you can feel a little extra proud of your product when it sells without hype.

I also want to say that if you're building on ideas which you got from other people's work, giving them free copies of your product is a great way to not only get tweets and mentions from them, but also to find out if what you said actually makes any sense in the first place. I think the latter benefit is more worthwhile. Any time you create a book or a video or whatever, you're participating in an ongoing conversation, and the more you contribute to that conversation, the better off you are, both in terms of verifying that what you want to sell is worth paying for, and in terms of karma.

(Finding out if your product is worth paying for is harder than it sounds, because a good book has to enlighten the ignorant, without boring the well-informed.)

Anyway, expect hype in the future, because it works, but for now, just check my Twitter favorites if you want to see some hype of the classic, Web 2.0 flavor.