[PMC] TPM: Working in public

Quick tophat: I haven’t abandoned the 100in35 experiment. I’ll get back to it with a different hopefully better approach in a week or two. Hear my friend Liston Witherill and I riff on this here. And bonus points to anyone who can tell me what semi-famous photographer Liston is related to!


As you probably know, I’ve been working on the next version of The Positioning Manual for Technical Firms. As you may not know, the changes to this version are many and significant. It’s not a small update.

Some of these changes reflect how I’m thinking about using brand marketing vs. direct response marketing in my own business. I’ll likely have more to say on this at a later date, but generally I worry that direct response marketing–at least done the way I’ve done it in the past–makes my business look cheap and less trustworthy than I’d like. This is a blunt statement that needs to be wrapped in a lot of nuance and context, but I’ll save that for later. For now, just know that I’m not throwing rocks at those who use a direct response marketing model, I’m just not 100% delighted with my usage of this model.

One specific manifestation of direct response marketing is the “3-tier info product pricing model + self-published distribution model”. This is the model I introduced with version 1.8 The Positioning Manual for Technical Firms (TPM) and have used to date.

Make no mistake: this approach can produce impressive revenue. There were many months where the revenue from TPM paid the rent on a house in the San Francisco North Bay Area and the lease on a BMW 3-series car. There are plenty of people who have earned a lot more than that with the aforementioned self-publishing + 3-tier pricing model, but I’ve been told that the average business book sells around 200 copies, and compared to that weaksauce level of sales, I think TPM has done pretty well since I sold the first copy in January, 2015. In case you’re interested, lifetime sales of the book are as follows:

  • Lifetime unit sales of TPM: 1991 (8 more sales and I can party like it’s 1999, because–for a moment anyway–it will be!)
    • Sales of book only tier: 1314 (66% of total unit sales)
    • Sales of Complete Bundle tier: 633 (32% of total unit sales)
    • Sales of Complete Bundle + Strategy Session tier: 36 (1.8% of total unit sales)
  • Given away vs paid: 422 given away, 1569 paid for (21% of total readers got a free copy)
  • Total lifetime direct revenue: $97, 426.35 (if you’re doing the math here you’re going to be stymied by the fact that I have routinely discounted the book by 20 to 30%. Also… holy crap is that close to the magical “six figures” bragging rights point! Direct revenue is not the whole picture, by any means, but it’s amazing to be able to say I’ve generated 6 figures in direct revenue from a book. BRB, trying to reduce the size of my head so I can leave my office and get some lunch…)

I really loved having that revenue. But, I believe the pricing model–both the relative costliness of the lowest tier of the book at $49 and the “smell” that the 3-tier pricing + self-published distribution model emits–limited the reach of the book. $49 is a shit-ton of money if you live in an emerging nation, and a 3-tier pricing model can have a certain untrustworthy “scent” (again, this is a blunt oversimplified version of what needs to be a more nuanced exploration).

I believe deeply in the message and mission of TPM, and so over time I’ve become increasingly bothered by the limited reach. I want more people to benefit from this book.

Looking again at the model I’m using for selling this book, there are two levers I can tweak to get more reach:

  1. The distribution model. There are many options here: self-publishing, throw it on the Internet and forget about it, or working with a traditional or hybrid publisher are 3 of the options, and I’m sure there are more.
  2. The pricing model. Tiered pricing, pay-what-you-want, and no tiers at all are 3 options for pricing.

So as I work on this update to the book, I’m going to change the pricing model but leave the distribution model alone.

This is because I literally can’t afford to change the distribution model right now. I can afford to give up revenue, but I can’t afford to give up access to book customers. Marketing to them has been and continues to be my best client acquisition channel.

As my business further matures, this constraint will also change. Eventually, I will be able to give up direct access to book customers if I want to (even then I may not choose to). But right now I need that access because it provides effective, low-cost marketing.

That’s why I’m not changing the distribution model. Working with a traditional or hybrid publisher would deprive me of direct access to book customers. I know I’m giving up credibility by not working with a traditional or hybrid publisher, but that’s OK for now. Maybe at a later date I’ll make that tradeoff. It’s a tradeoff that works marvelously well for some, and maybe it will for me some day.

But with a change just to the pricing model, I think I can broaden the book’s reach, and that is a wonderful tradeoff for my business right now. I’d happily give up some revenue if it allows the book to reach 5 or 10 thousand readers instead of the 1991 that it’s reached thus far.

Once the book is published it will be available:

  • 100% for free on a book microsite, with an email opt-in enforced when readers get about 1/3 of the way through the book’s content.
  • As a DRM-free EPUB, MOBI, and PDF for $19. I’m hoping this price makes it much more accessible.
  • As a print-on-demand book priced at whatever makes the economics work. I’m still looking into this, so my guess of a ~$39 price for the PoD version is just a guess at this point.
  • Maaaaaaybe as an audio book.

As always, existing book customers will get a free update (electronic, not PoD).

This pricing model is inspired by Blair Enns. I loved how in the early days his Win Without Pitching Manifesto was priced and packaged in the same way as TPM v3 will be.

So, those are the changes to the pricing model for the upcoming version 3 of TPM.

Here’s the next change:

I believe deeply in working in public. I think it’s an incredibly powerful expertise accelerant. It creates productive discomfort, and I think that is also an incredibly powerful force for good.

Sometime last year I think I finally quit a bad habit I had. That bad habit was mostly-but-not-always practicing what I preach. Mostly delivering advice I have tested myself but not always. I’m done with this bad habit (I hope… and if you catch me falling back into this old habit you have my full permission to call me out on it. Be nice about it, please, but do call me out.)

So, consistent with my fundamentalist belief in working in public, I’m going to work in public on version three of TPM.

You can see me do that between now and the time the book is actually published at this URL. The entire draft of the book is there right now, warts, CSS that isn’t quite dialed in for mobile devices, and all. And trust me, there are many many warts on this draft. When it’s done, I’ll leave just one as a “Zen flaw”. Or to drive spelling fundamentalists nuts. 🙂

As I update the book, I’ll ping y’all via this list, either with a tophat like today’s email has, or a more full length update in the email body.

-P

PS: Graham, thank you for nudging me in this direction!