It’s funny. Almost everywhere I read and listen, people are talking about the passive income that can be earned selling books and e-books online. Speakers at the National Speakers Association meetings speak about it; magazines such as FastCompany and Wired write about it, and Tim Ferris even wrote a New York Times Bestseller — The Four Hour WorkWeek — about it. Yet almost everyone who actually writes online products (and speaks honestly about it) says the same thing: there’s really very little money in it and it takes an awful lot of time and effort.
Truth be told, I haven’t found my blog or any of my books to be directly profitable. The first two (BrainDarts and New Design: Miami) were coffee table volumes published through Rockport Publishers and only produced a little bit of money. The third (Building Brand Value) was self-published and has produced real dollars but mostly because the people who invite me to speak at their conferences often buy 300 or 3,000 copies at a time to give to their attendees. Believe me, the hand cramps I get at the signings are a welcome price to pay for the privilege of distributing my words.
It seems to me that book publishing is like speaking is like blogging is like painting is like recording music, and so on. Lots and lots of people do it and lots and lots of people do it well but very few make any money at it. However, since a small number do cash in, that carrot keeps the rest of us donkeys moving forward and snapping at the end of the stick. We read that Mike Arrington sold his five-year-old blog, TechCrunch, to AOL for ±$30 million and we believe we all can do it — and so thousands and thousands of people keep cranking out millions and millions of words, hoping to get their bite of the apple. Ironically, what many of the bloggers are writing about are occurrences such as Arrington’s big hit and that just fuels the fire further.
But the online world continues to grow and develop and lots of people keep trying to figure out where they’ll find their own big opportunity. It’s similar to almost every other craze that came before Web 2.0 — from 1627’s Dutch tulip mania to new world exploration, cyclical real estate booms, and Web 1.0. Except now thanks to today’s burgeoning 24-hour news cycle, we hear about it all the time.
So what is the real value of all of this democratized data distribution?
There’s choice, of course. We no longer have to read just what the established publishing juggernauts think we should read. Instead, we can open our minds to opinions from all stops on the spectrum. Conversely, we can choose to limit our input to our own narrow viewpoint (conservatives getting all their editorial opinions from Fox News and The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, for example).
Then there’s the fulfillment of genuine expression — thanks to the Internet we all posses the means to have our voices heard — regardless of whether we have something worth saying or not. And there are the advantages and disadvantages of unfettered access to information — WikiLeaks’ outing of State Department secret correspondence is the timeliest example of this phenomenon.
As my friend, author and copywriter Susan Greene points out, becoming a published author can position you as the authority on a particular topic. Your writing can also help build your brand more quickly and cost-effectively than many other forms of marketing.
To Susan’s point, I find that the real advantage of publishing is the credibility that it produces. My blog reaches almost 9,000 people every week and many of them (you?) are favorably disposed to what I write about. At speaking events and agency presentations lots of people comment on what I’ve written and most of them wouldn’t know me from Adam if they hadn’t read my words. And while my published books don’t produce direct income commensurate with the amount of work they took to create, they do produce oodles of credibility — they’re great to send to prospective clients and to demonstrate that we have a unique process and a strong opinion about building brands and selling our clients’ services. The monetizable bottom line is that the notice and credibility result in speaking dates, consulting gigs and agency contracts, which in turn produce hard dollars and continue to provide additional opportunities.
But perhaps most importantly, it makes my mom happy that her son is a published author. Who knew all this new technology would lead to that?