from the an-overnight-success-takes-years dept
I wish I could take all the credit for its stunning success, but most of Dimeword's success roots from years of reading Techdirt. Through Techdirt, I've learned from the likes of Gerd Leonhard, Amanda Palmer, Nina Paley, Jill Sobule, Jonathan Coulton, Tim Cushing... too many to count. Techdirt keeps teaching me and all too often I find my poor brain is full.
In the spirit of the "decimal" theme of Dimeword, here are 10 things I learned -- mostly from Techdirt -- that supercharged the Dimeword campaign.
1. START SMALL AND START NOW
Principle: Before the internet, authors could toil away on a manuscript and gain royalties on book sales. The internet made copies easy, and the old model was upended. The only long-term solution is to build a fan base from the ground up, and that takes time. A lot of that time is unpaid. But if you reach out to fans, and give them something they really value, then they'll tell their friends about you. Do that enough, and you hit a tipping point.
Practice: I "started small" in 2009 by creating the Infinite Distribution Panel on Twitter (the phrase "infinite distribution" is a hat tip to Masnick's Approaching Infinity). It took me a few years to really understand how best to use #infdist, but I have a good flow now and it continues to be a great way to converse with like-minded people about piracy and digital distribution news.
Because of #infdist, Mike Masnick asked me contribute to Techdirt during his paternity leave. This was a great opportunity to increase my online presence, so I immediately accepted.
One day, I realized that if I were to ever crowdfund my own feature film, I needed to have a committed group of fans willing to throw down when I asked them to. I'd taken a break doing any kind of writing to make sense of how artists can thrive in this new economy. I knew it was time to step back into the stream so I launched Dimeword with the hope that if I could just get just 100 of my friends and followers to chip in $10, I could raise a simple $1000 goal. If I did it right, I'd have acquired my first small group of paying fans.
Results: Thanks to being a frequent Twitter user, and writing for Techdirt, and doing various writing gigs over the years (including five years of blogging), Dimeword rocketed to its $1000 goal in less than 60 hours. As of today, five backers have donated $100, and one (here from Techdirt) has donated $500. I credit this response to my non-stop reaching out to new fans, chatting with them, engaging, conversing, entertaining, and learning from them.
2. SELL THE SCARCE. SELL YOUR SCARCITY.
Principle: Whenever radical new technologies come along, goods or services that were once scarcities suddenly become abundant and industries focusing on only selling those scarcities fight tooth and nail to defend the old way. Instead, they should be understanding what new scarcities are created by this new abundance and upgrade their business model to sell those new scarcities.
Practice: When I first looked at my campaign, I tried to see it from the perspective of someone trying to destroy my own industry, er... I mean, from the perspective of an author trying to compete with a better value proposition. What is scarce now that only I could sell? In one sense, a big scarcity these days is not using standard copyright protection. So I chose to release my stories with a Creative Commons License. After thinking about it, it seemed to make more sense to go further, to push my work out into the Public Domain. That was certainly something I didn't see anyone doing. That's my scarcity. Then I looked at ways to incorporate other "generatives" like embodiment (creating a limited edition hardback copy), convenience (an email with all the stories), exclusivity (being among the first to get the stories), etc. I tried very purposefully to work in as many of these elements so that the "reasons to buy" were scarcities made valuable by the abundant nature of public domain literature.
Results: It's worked. I've gotten over 50 people pledging $10 or more. Amazingly, I have 5 donors buying the paperback book for $100. Here's the cool part: at $100, the book has been paid for, so I can spend $62 per unit to print it and not bat an eye. And yes, it really is going to cost that much because I'm pimping out the book to be uber-high quality. The people who pledge big get big value. That's my scarcity.
3. MAKE FANS, NOT MONEY
Principle: Money is important, and without it, you fail. So of course you're in business to make money. But -- and this is the mind trick you must conquer -- money is not the reason you are in business. You are in business to help people solve their problems. Do that better than anyone and you will have more money than you know what to do with. If you focus only on making money, the temptation is too high to make an inferior product in favor of a higher profit margin. And mediocre products breed unsatisfied, resentful customers. Great products breed devout fans willing to champion you and your work to anyone who will listen.
Practice: The goal of my campaign was first to get 100 fans to donate $10+ so I could safely write 100 stories for them. That wasn't about the money -- that was about going to people I already knew who love my work and asking them to be my patron so I could set some time aside to work. It was about finding my first small group of fans. After that, I knew the next phase would be to find totally new fans to buy in for just $1, so I set a stretch goal for a bonus story tied to the number of fans that is triggered once I meet my goal of 100 $10 donors.
Results: This hasn't worked exactly as I expected. As of this writing, I have 59 $10+ donors and 12 $1 donors. This is mainly my fault because I haven't been as active as I should have been to reach out and let ALL my friends and followers know about Dimeword. On the other hand, I found five $100 backers and one $500 backer, so I suppose it balances out. My hope is that I get another 100 $1 donors by the end of the campaign. If I'd worked harder and longer at this, I might have gotten 1,000 $1 backers. Still, it's not bad for a first campaign. And my next campaign will have this campaign as part of its backstory -- word of mouth about the quality of my perks should get exponentially greater as I do more Kickstarters.
4. BUILD TRUST WITH THE CREATIVE BOTTOM LINE
Principle: "Creative bottom line" was coined by Amanda Palmer. Make great perks. Spend almost all your money if you have to. Fans will love it.
Practice: For my books, I'll be using Blurb, which offers high quality publishing options. For the $100 book, I'll likely be doing 8.5" x 11", 110 pages, super premium paper, and no Blurb logo. Per unit cost for just 7 copies? $62. Do I care? Nope. I want donors to feel like they're reading a $62 book. They're probably expecting a $30-$40 book, but it's going to feel better than that. They will like what they get for $100. On the next campaign, I'll go into it with their trust that my $100 option is sure to impress.
Results: I have no direct data on this, but I've always set a very high bar for myself creatively and everyone knows that when I do something, I do quality. I'm the dude who stayed up all night just to hunt for formatting errors on every page in my college newspaper.
5. $1 TIERS ARE PARAMOUNT
Principle: Whenever I see a campaign with their $1 tier offering just a thank you and nothing else, I wince. Amanda Palmer's $1.2 million Kickstarter gave away 311MB of digital downloads for $1. And what effect do you think that has on a casual fan? For accepting just $1, you let them legally download all your digital content (which costs you nothing to copy and send to them) and they likely become a more serious fan of your music. On the next Kickstarter, they'll happily give you more money for your $25 CD, or more.
Practice: I positioned my $1 tier to have incredible value: you get all the stories in an email eight weeks before the book comes out. If I happen to write a novel, you get a novel. Costs me nothing to copy and send, so my profit margin is 100% (well, 82% after fees and taxes). Some might argue that I'm "giving away the farm" for only $1, but my goal isn't to make money off my $1 fans -- my goal is to pinpoint who my fans are so I can more closely connect with them. Did I mention that I receive all the donor emails at the end? An email of a potential fan must be worth at least $1, no?
Results: Only 14% of my donors are from the $1 tier. I want that number to explode out to 1000%. Likely won't happen, but I really want lots of small donations by the end. I'm still thinking of ways to entice this...
6. ADVERTISE NATURALLY WITH CONTENT
Principle: "Buy now!" is a push sale. "Isn't this cool?" is pull sale. The former is seen as spam, the latter is seen as conversation. However, both promote. If you strike up conversation about your project, and keep talking about your project's value, your audience will naturally want to help you in your mission. However, it can't be disingenuous talk about value -- it must be totally authentic.
Practice: My 10 AM chats were intended to softly sell Dimeword while providing genuine perspective on Dimeword in particular, or other related topics like crowdfunding. I tried very hard to make each tweet "retweetable" by itself so that 2nd-degree readers would gain enough interest to look more closely at @Dimeword. You can't make people share stuff -- people only share stuff worth sharing. So a huge benefit was that, in addition to trying hard to connect with fans, I was also forced to create quality work. Additionally, I asked to be interviewed on Litopia, write this piece for Techdirt to be timed for the last day of the campaign, be a guest on #Scriptchat, and host a telethon. All events are opportunities for me to talk about my campaign, though I make a point to rarely ask anyone to donate. My hope is that the more others see how much energy and planning I've put into my campaign, they'll convince themselves I'm a superhero worthy of some of their pocket change, amirite?
Results: I had a little traction with the 10AM chats, but not nearly enough. If I'd started sooner, say a week or two before the campaign, then it might have had a bigger following. The Litopia interview went well and was perfectly timed at 6 days before the deadline. The #Scriptchat is happening concurrently with this Techdirt post and my telethon (psssst: right now!). If my hunch is right, all the heat will converge at once and push Dimeword up, up, up...
Principle: Delight your fans. However much money they give, give them so much more value in return that they'll feel they got a bargain. They'll brag about you to others, they'll be repeat customers, they'll become avid fans.
Practice: I felt that $1 to buy all the stories in an email would be a great bargain to many, especially since they'd get it 8 weeks before the book's official release. And $10 for an email, PDF and the opportunity to be an author's patron was also not bad value, especially when you consider how much time collectively goes into all the individual parts. But I'm adding more to all that. I'm including extra things, many of them small (see "8. Offer Gratitude") which, together, should make the donor feel really appreciated. And for the higher tiers, I plan on going the distance to make the book look truly awesome. Here's the part everyone overlooks -- the packaging is as important as the perk inside. Even if I ship in a plain USPS box, I'll write cool and fun stuff on the outside of the box and I'll wrap the perk inside with special paper, etc. As Marshall McLuhan famously said, "Medium is the message." First impressions matter a great deal. Apple knows this, which is why opening a new Mac is a near religious experience I always look forward to.
Results: I have no data yet on this, or how well received my perks will be. I shall report back.
8. OFFER GRATITUDE
Principle: You can definitely file this under "connect with fans". Gratitude costs nothing but a few seconds, but it can really mean a lot to someone to let them know they made a difference in your life. I went to NYU film school and my teacher, Thierry Pathe, made a comment that sticks with me to this day: "When you send your film to the lab to get it color corrected, in the comments section, write a thank you. It doesn't have to be anything more than, 'Thanks!' but it matters to them. They don't get paid much, so a 'Thank you' goes a long way."
Practice: At about half-way through the campaign, I emailed all my donors one by one to thank them. At a minimum, every perk will also have a "Thank you!" written on the outside of the package, and probably again on a special note inside. When possible, I ask for feedback, which is an interactive way of showing gratitude. This shit matters, yo. It sets you apart from everyone else. Plus, it's just good karma.
Results: Who knows for sure if the "personal touch" worked, but after my individual emails, one donor upped their donation from $100 to $150!
9. HAVE FUN
Principle: When people see you're enjoying yourself, it's contagious. People respond because it's an invitation to connect.
Practice: I had fun on this campaign because in part, I did it to learn about crowdfunding. I didn't have to worry about missing my goal because the goal was set so low. I could try many new things to see what worked. One day, I did a Flash Story by inviting others to sift through my tweets ("Count back 10 tweets. Find the 10th word. Add the 10th letter of the alphabet to create a new word. What is it?"). For the last 10 days of the campaign, I've done twitter "mini-lectures" every morning at 10AM and opened it up for questions afterward. As of right now, I'm doing a telethon on YouTube... for 10 hours. See how it's playful?
Results: I gathered 55 followers on Twitter in just a month, which is a high response rate. The @Dimeword account wasn't set up to be an engagement account -- i.e., equal followers to followed -- just a "push" account for news, but I still use it to chat with others. Whenever someone asks a question, I try to get back to them asap. I ask questions back. I jibe. I try to be serious, but stay playful. My fans seem to respond well to that.
10. EDUCATE WITH TRANSPARENCY
Principle: One business strategy is to reveal more inside information than your competitor with the hope that it shames them into revealing more information so that consumers can then choose the competitor with the slimmer profit margin, i.e., you. Because transparency instills honesty, it puts you way ahead of the pack.
Practice: I've made little secret how much each of my perks cost, but I'm also going to release a spreadsheet that details ALL perk costs (in money and time) and the exact profit margins. My 10 AM chats are an insider view to me as a person, but also an insider's view of Dimeword. I'm also going to use the telethon today to write a story live, and then explain how I write a 100 word story. How's that for pulling back the curtain?
Results: I've always been in favor of transparency because it's a mark of respect to your customer. Rather than dissuade customers from your product by letting them see exactly how much money you make, transparency tells them that you think they're smart enough to see the numbers and recognize that well-earned profits are well deserved. Everyone knows Apple has a 90% profit margin, but we keep buying their computers because we get such amazing value out of their products.
The overall take home message is that one hell of a lot goes on behind the scenes to make a campaign successful, much of which happens years beforehand. And some stuff isn't as obvious or as measurable as we would all prefer. For example, how much impact does a written "Thank you!" on a perk package make in helping to forge a stronger connection with a fan? For the indie artist without marketing resources to track the minutia of customer relations, we may never know.
What I do know is that, without Dimeword, I might have never found my highly dedicated fans. If there's one lesson that should linger here, it's this: the heart of business, the heart of providing solutions to customers and, indeed, any interaction with anyone for anything, is about connecting. Artists aren't in the business of making art. They're in the business of connecting with others through art. You can connect with others 1000 different ways -- Techdirt is rife with examples of exactly that -- but they're all essentially a variation of being human enough to discover what you have in common with others and then allowing them a chance to converse with you about it. From those connections, sales happen naturally.
One of my favorite quotes is from The Big Kahuna. The veteran salesman tells his young sales associate:
It doesn't matter whether you're selling Jesus or Buddha or civil rights or 'How to Make Money in Real Estate With No Money Down.' That doesn't make you a human being; it makes you a marketing rep. If you want to talk to somebody honestly, as a human being, ask him about his kids. Find out what his dreams are -- just to find out, for no other reason. Because as soon as you lay your hands on a conversation to steer it, it's not a conversation anymore; it's a pitch. And you're not a human being; you're a marketing rep.
Or, as someone put it to me years ago, "People like to buy from warm and fuzzy."Ross Pruden is a writer-filmmaker behind Dimeword, a crowdfunding campaign to fund new literature for the public domain. A live telecast is happening now until 10PM PT, and details are listed at Dimeword.com. Today is the last day of the campaign, and the lowest tier is just $1 -- the best value of all the tiers. Sacrifice today's latte and make Chris Dodd cry!