Goal setting (and a discount)

Goal setting (and a discount)

Sometime on Tuesday, February 17, Amazon is clearing out the inventory of Zig Ziglar’s goal planner.

The 4-pack is here.

The discount, when it’s live for four hours, will be here. For about $3 a copy, less than $12 for the four pack. The current plan is for it to be an active discount from 7 pm to 11 pm NY time.

When these books are gone, we won’t be printing any more.

This is a book you write yourself. What Zig did was codify many of the steps, and Alex, Michael and I re-designed and rebuilt the idea into a more modern, accessible, sharable format.

It works.

I’ll go way out on a limb and say this: I have never met a person who used a goal planner properly and regretted it.

You might discover some truths that disappoint you or make you uncomfortable. You might decide that a dream is actually better than a realistic action plan. Mostly, you will discover just how much you can achieve when you get in sync about how you invest your focus and your time.

If you and your team aren’t delivering on your dreams and promises, the first question to ask yourself is, “have you written it down and followed the steps?”

Setting a focus, however you do it, is worth the trip.

PS thank for reading this far. If you visit yourturn.link to check out my new book, $10 off any order if you use the discount code ‘tony’.

The bestseller effect

The bestseller effect

There are two markets for books (and music).

The first market are grazers, collectors or omnivores. They make the market happen. They read a lot of books. They visit the library often. They have 2,000 LPs in their collection. They listen and read around the edges.

The second market consume in response to the market. The average American buys just over one book a year. When I was in college, the typical dorm room had just 40 LPs stacked up. (Even today, when students have 100,000 mp3s, most of them don’t listen widely).

This second market is almost always the market that turn a book into a bestseller. Bestsellers are the books that people who don’t buy books are buying.

Back to those college dorms: The typical women’s collection included Joni Mitchell, Dan Fogelberg, Billy Joel and Carol King. Not because these were demonstrably better records, but because they were bestsellers, the regular kind.

The same effect is responsible for all those copies of Harry Potter and The Davinci Code… they become bestsellers because people who don’t buy a lot of books are buying them.

So, consider the trap that the bestseller effect sets: the publisher and the author want a bestseller, so they spend a lot of time and money on mass media, on storefront promotion, on even writing a book that feels like it will appeal to the second group. But! That’s not what the second market wants. What they consume (read/listen to) is what their peers demand they consume. They are protective of what they buy and consume, because they don’t have many slots for new books or new music.

Which means that if you try to reach people who aren’t shopping for what you sell, who don’t think about what you sell, who aren’t even in the store for what you sell, you’ve got a tough road ahead.

The way around the trap, it seems (and I think this is true for many of the bestsellers that have broken through) is to obsess about delighting a critical mass of readers in the first group. To create a book and a marketing plan that captures the energy of this group and let them bring the work to the rest of the market.

Critical mass is a key part of this. In the era of weird, there isn’t one bestseller list, there are a hundred. There’s the bestseller list of political tracts (two, actually) and one of edgy rants from bloggers, and one for romance…

The sales for my new book just surprised me: Today’s sales were more than yesterday’s, which was a little more than the day before. That’s extraordinarily rare for a book ten days after launch, one with no retail distribution, particularly if there’s no big media or retail promotion going on. People are starting to read it because other people are reading it.

That’s a really simple sentence, but it explains Buzzfeed, Thomas Piketty, Psy, and a thousand other cultural hits.

Maybe yours.

It’s all backlist now

It’s all backlist now

The secret of every book publisher’s success is the backlist. To Kill a Mockingbird, Stretching, Dune… these are books that sell, day in and day out, long after they’ve earned out their advances.

The distinction between the backlist and the frontlist (the new books, the promoted books, the books that publishers focus on, ironically) is based on two forms of scarcity that publishers have long dealt with:

1. There was scarce shelf space. The local bookstore could only hold 10,000 or 20,000 titles, and most of those slots (and virtually all of the merchandising and promotional slots) went to the new books. Book of year! is a category reserved for the new.

2. There were scarce review slots. The highest-leverage way a publisher could promote a frontlist title was to get it on Oprah, or reviewed in the local paper.

Backlist titles are noteworthy because of their profitability, but they also don’t depend on shelf space (people happily order them) and they don’t depend on reviews (the word gets out horizontally, or in a teacher’s assignment, not from the core of the media machine).

You’re probably ahead of me here, but:

There is now infinite shelf space. Infinite because the online booksellers carry just about every single book. And infinite because independent local stores carry relatively few books so that all but the hottest titles end up being ordered anyway.

And there are no more review pages to fight over, instead, there’s only the long tail, the countless peer-to-peer recommendations that aren’t bounded by place or time.

Launching a frontlist title using the old method makes no sense at all, because you will not capture these two scarce resources. Instead, as we saw from the gradual launch of the original Harry Potter and (in a totally different way) in the launch today of my new book Your Turn, success comes from whispering to the tribe, not from yelling through media amplifiers. Your Turn has already sold 32,000 copies, which would, if it were in a channel that bestseller lists tracked, would make it one of the top-selling books in the country. We did this without any shelf space and without any media other than talking to people who had already signed up. This takes patience and a willingness to focus on the long run.

Some people launch with the backlist in mind because they have no choice. I think it’s worth doing it because it’s the most direct and effective way to create a backlist success story.

The future belongs to this approach: Write for your readers, don’t try to find readers for your writing…

Pursuing horizontal publishing

Pursuing horizontal publishing

I’ve explored a variety of ways to get to market with the books I’ve created over the last thirty years. I’ve self-published, worked with most of the major NY publishing houses, did a partnership with Barnes and Noble and another with Amazon… All as a way to solve the problem of discovery. How do we get books into the hands of people who want to read them?

Tomorrow, I’m launching a new book, and I thought I’d explain some of my thinking about my approach and the format.

Looking at my personal book consumption as well as what I hear from readers, I’m seeing that people are getting ever more impatient about the traditional format we expect from books… more than I would have guessed. If you’re reading an ebook, there’s a huge temptation to skip to the next book on your device, or if it’s an iPad, to check your incoming email and then down the rabbit hole. We tap our foot while reading, rushing the author to get to the good part, fast.

Words on paper still have impact, but again, I’m seeing more people who would rather read a tweet (“a guy hunts a whale”) about a book than work their way through it.

Since my last book (two years ago), I’ve wondered a lot about what sort of book would be worth the journey. After all, through this and my main blog, I can reach more people with an idea than a book ever could. What’s the point of all the scarcity and printing and risk if it’s not going to engage people? We write books to make a difference, to spread an idea, to educate… and if the format can’t do that, we should find a new way.

My new book, What to Do When It’s Your Turn, is in a totally new format, for me and for most authors and readers. It’s printed in full color, heavily illustrated and in quality-magazine format. New digital presses from Heidelberg permit an individual to be able to do long or short runs in this format.

But the discovery issue still remains. So I’m hoping you will consider taking a chance as I ask my core fans to sign up for a pre-order of multiple copies. Three or eight or even more copies, the first off the press, sold at a radical discount, to readers who also become passionate distributors. Fans who will hand-‘sell’ the book to colleagues and friends. Individuals who will use them to teach or inspire, to get everyone on the same page. Horizontal movement, side to side, person to person, not top down.

I wrote the book as a tool for people who want to help other people change.

We see this happen in digital media daily. An idea we believe in, a change we’d like to see, arrives and we share it, hoping to spread the word. I’d like to replicate that, but with the power of print.

I’m doing a pre-launch now because I’m trying to print the right number of copies (but not too many) and then, in December, we can simultaneously discuss the book widely. At that point, like all books, it’s on its own.

The end of the independent bookstore (and a new golden age for books)

The end of the independent bookstore (and a new golden age for books)

ACT 1: The Book of the Month Club.

After World War II, a wealthier, better educated country started engaging in more culture, more often, in a more widespread way. We were more likely to watch the same movies, more likely to listen to more music, and much more likely to want to read the books others were reading. Paperback books really came into their own, making reading portable and cheap, and the Book of the Month Club began to dominate.

It’s difficult for us to imagine just how influential the board of the Club was. If they picked a book to be a main selection, it would be read, by default, by millions of people, discussed at the dinner table and at bridge club and instantly become part of the dominant culture.

This doesn’t have a lot to do with bookstores, except for the fact that as the Club faded due to the long tail of choice and the fracturing of the monoculture, the stores were there to pick up the slack.

ACT II: The magic of the dominant bestsellers.

Here’s the magic formula for a successful bookstore industry: Every month, a few new hardcover books are hand-sold, recommended by the local store. A few catch on and become bestsellers. Within its own cultural pocket, each book becomes a must-read, with the only source being the full-price local bookstore. The result? With a 40% profit margin and full return privileges, the local store can thrive. They don’t need to carry every book, just the books that sell. And in the early 1960s, it wasn’t unusual for a book to be a bestseller for a year or more.

ACT III: The New York Times bestseller list and Barnes and Noble end this magic moment

The insight was pretty clever—give up the juicy margins on the bestsellers and make up the profits in volume. Barnes and Noble had more inventory than just about any independent bookstore, but they needed traffic. So, they announced that if a book made the Times list, they’d sell it at 40% off (basically, at their cost).

This was a nuclear bomb for the independent seller. Suddenly, their core source of profit was in danger. Barnes and Noble was able to make juicy profits on the other stuff you’d buy in the store, and aided by the Times list, they bifurcated the market. Most people, most of the time, bought only the books on the bestseller list (the average American was buying and reading just a few books a year), but that’s okay if you’re the dominant player in a given town.

Harry Potter was the last gasp for many independents. They made that book happen, following their tried and true hand-selling approach. The word of mouth kicked in just as it was supposed to. With a profit margin of $6 or more on every book sold, the upside was nearly a hundred million dollars—but they got almost none of that, because Barnes & Noble (and the big box stores, which stole their strategy) sucked all the profit out of the bestsellers.

My mom used to run the independent bookstore she helped build at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo. I met sales reps when they came to our house for dinner, and saw the workings of what we think of as the ideal bookstore. Even during the pre-Amazon days, this was never a good business–without bestsellers sold at full price (and how many art books become bestsellers) it’s almost impossible to sell enough volume to make a small bookstore work.

THE END: Amazon and infinite selection, better service, more information and better prices, too

If you love books, it’s hard to see Amazon as a villain. More books sold to more people for more reasons than any other retailer in history. More cross-selling, hand-selling and up-selling too. The web pages of Amazon, on average, are better informed than many bookstore clerks.

Before Amazon and the web, we were on track for the bestseller inventory to totally dominate bookselling. Wal-Mart and Price Club and B&N had figured out how to dump huge quantities of certain books at really low prices, and there was pressure to avoid the long tail, and to guard shelf space zealously. I was new to the book world then, and there was just huge pressure to be on the right side of the bestseller line–everything else didn’t matter. Amazon fixed this, by embracing the long tail and carrying everything. If you love books, Amazon was a dream come true.

But if you love bookstores, Amazon is the final nail. In fact, it was the clumping the Times enabled, combined with the discounting that B&N started that did the stores in, but Amazon’s work in getting more books to more people meant that the discounts and selection they brought to readers removed the last bit of opportunity the stores had left.

Great independent bookstores deserve to thrive, and I hope they will. But they won’t thrive as local substitutes for Amazon. They will make it if they become hubs, connectors and gift shops. The book-as-gift concept is just now entering an important stage, and we don’t have to dumb down our local store to get there. More important, though, is the idea of a local place where smart people go to meet each other and the ideas they care about. We shouldn’t have that because it’s the last chance of the local bookstore, we should have that because it’s worth doing.

Vilifying Amazon, though, makes no sense. More people can read and write more books today (ebook and print) than at any other time in history.

I miss the magic of the local bookstore, but I would miss books more.