Recently I posted a product survey to ask readers what they thought I should create next. The survey included questions about topics, formats, and delivery methods for new personal development products. Now I’ll share the results, insights I learned, and how this affects plans for the road ahead.
I wasn’t sure if I should even write a post like this since it took a lot of time, and part of me felt my time would be better spent diving in and doing what I plan to do instead of explaining what I plan to do. Part of me still wonders if writing this was a good idea. I mainly wrote this post for two types of people: those who like it when I’m very transparent and want to know the behind-the-scenes details, and entrepreneurial readers who like it when I share insights into how I run my business. In the end, I did feel this post would provide enough value to enough people to justify taking the time to write it.
That said, this post is disgustingly long, so only read it if you think this kind of information will be worth your while.
There are 1,451 completed surveys so far — more than I expected. I’ll keep the survey running in order to collect even more data over time. The aggregate results appear to have converged though, so I don’t expect them to shift much, but I still learn new insights from the text comments.
As many people guessed, I did put a lot of time and effort into crafting the questions, so they would give me good information. I used Survey Monkey to conduct this survey and bought their gold membership ($299), so I could get access to some advanced features I wanted to use. For example, I randomized the answer order for certain questions to eliminate order bias. I did this for the list of potential product topics in question #2, so each person would see those topics listed in random order.
In addition to lots of raw data that I can view in different ways (charts, graphs, etc.), the results also included more than 3,000 text comments. When I saved them as a PDF, it was 225 pages long. I spent many hours reading through every comment, taking notes as I went along.
Why a Survey?
The reason I conducted this survey was to get some hardcore data about what people would like to see next. How can I do a better job of helping people grow?
Some of the survey comments suggested that I should just keep doing what I love and not worry about what other people think I should do, implying that it was a mistake for me to even conduct such a survey. I think they misunderstood my reasons for doing this.
I’m currently in a situation where I have many options that look wonderful to me. I would enjoy doing more blogging, podcasting, workshops, writing books, making videos, creating audio programs, etc. I also have many different interests, and I can be just as passionate making a product about entrepreneurship as I can about subjective reality… or any of a few dozen other topics.
However, I can’t do everything all at once.
I can’t create products on 25 topics in 5 different formats all at the same time. I can’t even write articles on all the topics people want to learn more about as quickly as they’d like. The demand for more content on certain topics is far greater than what I can satisfy. And there’s also clear demand for other media forms — especially audio.
Since I enjoy sharing ideas on many different topics, and since I also enjoy expressing myself through a variety of different formats, I think it makes sense to figure out where the greatest demand is for topics and formats, so I can focus my efforts where they can benefit the most people.
If I want to share something simply because it interests me, I always have the freedom to do that. But if I see that 3x as many people want help with problem A vs. problem B, then I’ll be more inclined to explore problem A in greater depth. And if I see that people prefer one format vs. another, then I’ll use the most requested format.
I think it’s reasonable to focus my efforts where they can have a greater positive impact. To me this is simple pragmatism. Giving people what they want is entirely compatible with doing what I love. It’s not either-or. I can do what I love and still work on doing a better job of serving others.
This Community is Certifiably Insane
As I reviewed the survey results, especially the text comments, one thing became abundantly clear: Y’all are crazy!
I mean that in the nicest possible way. Let me ‘splain…
When I started looking over the survey responses, in the back of my mind, I was trying to answer the question, What does this community want from me?
I soon figured out that this question has no real answer. Or at least it seemed that way initially.
It’s not just that people want different things. It’s that what one person wants, another person wants the exact opposite of that. Some people are actually bothered when I attend to someone else’s needs. There’s almost a form of sibling rivalry at work here.
One commenter says I should write more about topic A because it’s obviously my strength, and they lose interest and tune out and maybe even get annoyed whenever I write about topic B. The next person shares essentially the same feedback, except that topics A and B are switched. There are dozens of pieces of feedback like this.
It wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration to choose any two random topics and fill in one for topic A and one for topic B, and I could probably find a survey comment that said something close to that.
Some people say that subjective reality is nutso and that I should stop writing about it and get real. Others tell me that subjective reality is obviously my unique strength and that I should devote a lot more time and energy to it.
Some people said I should write more about relationships, and “don’t neglect the sexy bits.” They find traditional relationship models unfulfilling, and they want me to keep exploring and sharing what I learn, so we can compare notes (if only in a virtual way) and figure out how to experience deeper levels of unconditional love. Others say I should stick with what I know — which is obviously productivity — and drop all the fluffy relationship writing because it turns them off.
Many people requested that I share more personal details of how I live. They love in-depth illustrations of how I apply certain ideas on a practical level and what the results are, and they also like it when I share my emotional journey as I figure things out. Others said they really don’t care to know any details of my personal life; they just want the facts and how-to info in short, easily digestible formats; personal stories are fluff. The latter opinion was a definite minority, but it still goes to show that there are different points of view.
What I found most interesting on a personal level is that each person needs/wants me to be something different for them. Everyone defines my primary role relative to what they need, and they all have different ideas about how that role should evolve over time.
Some people want me to help them get out of an unfulfilling career situation, start a business of their own, and make it successful.
Others want me to help motivate them to set bigger goals, to help them focus, and to improve their self-discipline.
Some people want me to write about fewer topics and focus on what they believe I do best (and my “best” topics are different for everyone). Others want me to keep exploring and write about new topics that I haven’t covered yet.
It’s obvious that everyone is a unique individual with different problems, challenges, goals, and desires. If I try to look at these results as if they’re coming from a community that speaks with a singular voice, then that voice is clearly insane.
I’ve known for years that it’s impossible for me to please everyone. But these results took that realization a step further. In order to please, satisfy, or delight some people, I actually have to frustrate, annoy, and potentially piss off other people who think I’ve taken a wrong turn. In fact, pretty much anything I might do is going to have this effect.
Some people were frustrated by my focus on live workshops last year because they decided in advance that they would never come to a workshop, so all the time and energy I invested into those workshops was worthless to them. It was as if I turned my back on them during this time. Other people were delighted to attend these workshops and registered as soon as I announced them. The experience was transformational for them — and now they keep telling me to “Please do more workshops!”
Perhaps my only recourse is to apologize for not being everything you’d hoped I’d be… and for my apparent inability to ever become that. Sometimes I may delight and inspire you, but at some point I will probably frustrate and annoy you (if I haven’t already done so multiple times). Even though I can’t always serve you well, I do hear you, and I still care about you. My writing flows where my attention goes, and sometimes my attention won’t go in the direction you’d like.
It’s a bit strange to accept on a deeper level that no matter what I do or don’t do, I’m always annoying some people while delighting others — and that it’s impossible to prevent that. Even this post will likely fascinate some people who enjoy hearing these kinds of details, and it will annoy others who couldn’t care less about this topic.
No matter what I do next, some people will shout, “OMG! That’s awesome! Yes yes yes! I love you!” while others will curse, “You frakkin loser! You obviously don’t know what the f— you’re doing. I’m outta here!”
Despite all of this, I still find some value in imagining that this community is speaking with a single voice. It’s a collective with lots of different parts, and those parts aren’t harmonious. Doesn’t this describe us as individuals as we strive for inner harmony? If we do what pleases one part of ourselves — Mmmm… sleeping in late, that feels very restorative, and I love the extra dream time — another part is upset by that choice — WTF, you loser! You wasted your whole morning lying in bed!
I think the point here is that even when you can receive high-quality feedback from intelligent people who are on a similar journey, in the end you still have to follow your own inner guidance. To attempt to satisfy others’ desires for you would only make you crazy. You can gain a lot by listening to others and by caring about what they have to say; however, at the end of the day, their feedback is only useful if it helps you get in touch with your inner truth. Other people’s opinions cannot serve as a substitute for your inner guidance.
Ultimately this is how the survey results affected me — by further validating the path I was drawn to take and by giving me some extra clarity about the details.
Let me share some of the specific results now.
What Are the Most Requested Topics?
The most popular topics for new products are, in order:
- Success & Achievement
- Life Purpose
The most popular topics were all packed pretty closely. Success & Achievement at #1 had about 55% strong interest, while Habits at #6 had 47% strong interest. Most people expressed strong interest in multiple topics.
The suggested topic with the least interest was Blogging, but even that topic saw 1 in 6 respondents saying they had a strong interest in it, which is still a very sizable group of people.
Self-discipline was the early leader in the survey as the first few hundred responses flowed in, but it was later overtaken by Success & Achievement. I can see why the early responders might have a bias towards wanting extra help with self-discipline, especially if they caught the survey early because they were web surfing as a form of procrastination.
There were a lot of text comments expressing interest in products about subjective reality. As far as the aggregate data goes, however, that topic was near the middle of the pack. Same goes for the Law of Attraction. There’s definitely enough interest to justify making products on these topics though.
From the comments I also saw that a lot of people want help setting a direction for their lives and moving forward with action. Many people feel they’re currently stuck (dead-end jobs, unfulfilling relationships, unsupportive friends). They want to get moving forward, and they may already have a good idea of what to do, but they’re having a hard time getting themselves to do it. It’s clear that people don’t just want more information and advice — they also want me to play a bigger role in helping to motivate and push them to do what they feel they ought to be doing. This was one of the most important insights I picked up from the survey — that people actually like it when I push them as opposed to merely suggesting or informing.
Some topic choices will likely be more popular than others, but most topics have enough strong interest that I can justify taking the time to create products on all of these topics and more. In the short-term I might be better off focusing on the topics with the greatest demand, but in the long run, I can pretty much create whatever interests me most, and there will likely be plenty of people who share my enthusiasm for the subject. From a business standpoint, following my inspiration is quite justifiable, especially since inspired products can be completed and released faster than uninspired ones, and at a higher level of quality. In other words, I can develop products in much the same way that I write new blog posts. I just need to start catching bigger waves of inspiration and riding them further.
For a typical blog post, a wave of inspiration lasts a few hours. To create a larger work, I may need to catch a wave that lasts for days, weeks, or perhaps even months. I’m excited to focus my attention on bigger waves this year as opposed to smaller ones. If you think that implies I’ll be doing less blogging this year so I can spend more time creating larger works, that’s true. After writing more than 1000 articles, I want to tackle some bigger challenges. This is important for my own path of growth. If I stick with what’s easy, life loses its edginess.
What Are the Most Requested Formats?
The most requested formats for products are, in order:
- Audio Programs
- Home Study Courses
- Print Books
- Video Programs
There’s no overwhelming favorite here. Ebooks have a plurality of strong interest at 48%, while most other formats are in the 20-40% range.
Teleseminars are the least popular format at 9%. That’s interesting to me because many of my friends in this field love doing teleseminars. From a creator standpoint, it’s very easy to put on a teleseminar, but the feedback says that people often find it to be a rambling, unfocused format, and they don’t like having to call in at a set time. This is especially bad when potential listeners are scattered across different time zones. No argument there.
Even so, with 1 in 11 people having a strong interest in this format, that’s still enough to justify doing a teleseminar, but clearly it shouldn’t be my main focus for content delivery. One potentially good use of a teleseminar would be that if/when I decide to put on a new live workshop, I could host a teleseminar for people who are on the fence about registering, so I could share more details about what to expect and to answer people’s questions.
Ultimately the format feedback suggests that it’s a matter of individual preference. Some people prefer to read. Others want to hear my voice. Others want to see and hear me. Everyone has good reasons for liking what they like.
Given these results, I think the best approach is to choose the most appropriate medium for whatever message I’m trying to express. Every format has its strengths and weaknesses. If I’m going to invest the time and energy to create a new product in a certain format, I want to play to that format’s strengths.
Since I’ve already done so much writing and since I’ve already had a book published, I’m not as attracted to doing more of the same when it comes to making new products. I’d rather see what I can do with other formats.
Presently I’m feeling most drawn to audio. It’s more emotionally expressive than text, and being able to hear tone of voice is especially important for content that’s intended to motivate or inspire people to take action.
Audio is very accessible. You can listen to it on your computer, iStuff, cell phone, CD player, etc. Audio is also very efficient to digest. You can listen while driving, exercising, making dinner, going for a walk, flying on a plane, etc. Audio listening doesn’t require a big time commitment.
I’ve listened to many audio programs in the past 20 years, and it’s one of my favorite formats. I especially like it when the author expresses his/her passion and enthusiasm for the ideas being shared, as opposed to merely reading the content in a near monotone. I not only learn new ideas, but I also get infected by the positive vibe of the author. Sometimes understanding the author’s vibe is even more important than absorbing the content.
A really good audio program can provide more value with each repeated listening. I own some 6-hour audio programs that I’ve heard more than 50 times, such as Earl Nightingale’s Lead the Field. If you’ve ever heard Earl speak, you know he has a one-of-a-kind voice. Quite often he takes a long time to express the simplest of ideas, but it’s hard not to become fascinated by the subject matter simply because he’s so fascinated by it.
I listened to hundreds of hours of audio programs while I was going through college (about 2 hours per day on average), and it made a huge difference for me. Since I didn’t have a big budget for these programs, I mostly listened to the same programs over and over, or I checked out new ones from the school library.
Looking back with the benefit of hindsight (and a lot more experience), I can see that content from those old audio programs was pretty basic. Sometimes the author had a valuable lesson, but he picked a bad example. For example, Earl Nightingale raved about a particular business’ great customer service, holding them up as a model of excellence, but that business was later found to be cheating its customers. Despite some shortcomings in these programs, I was infected by the authors’ positive vibes and can-do attitudes. I learned how to stay strong when dealing with brutal setbacks. I learned to think outside the box and tackle problems creatively. I learned to trust myself more and not worry so much about what other people thought of me. And I learned that success is more about the journey than the destination. These were all pretty basic lessons, but they were important ones. It was the repeated listening of those audio programs day after day for years that indelibly etched those lessons into my mind. They still serve me well today. Because these ideas are so ingrained in me, I forget that many people have yet to internalize them, especially those who’ve had the opposite lessons ingrained into them from a young age.
I still frequently listen to audio programs, even those I’ve heard many times before, because the benefits are so powerful.
Another reason I’m leaning towards audio for new products is that it’s very accessible to me as a content creator. I’ve already created many podcasts, and I have everything I need to create quality recordings. The process for creating audio is fairly fast and efficient, even when you include the editing time.
I’ve received lots of positive feedback about my podcasts, and there were many comments in this survey asking/begging me to continue doing them. I can appreciate the demand for more audio content, but podcasting isn’t quite the right medium for the kinds of ideas I’d like to express through audio. Podcasting seems well suited to bite-sized or episodic content, but I’d rather go much deeper into a topic, and I wouldn’t expect that a 6-hour podcast would be well-received.
Audio isn’t such a great fit for content with tons of detailed how-to steps where you end up taking a lot of notes. But I rarely produce that kind of content anyway. I tend to favor content that helps people shift their thoughts, perspectives, and behaviors, and that kind of content seems very well suited to audio.
Video is a possibility too, but it’s not as good for reinforcement through repetition, and it requires more time and effort from the viewer. Video is more expressive though, but I expect I’ll favor audio for now and only go with video when I feel it’s the best format for what I’m sharing.
Physical Products or Digital Delivery?
One thing is clear. My readers overwhelmingly prefer digital delivery for products they might buy from me. This doesn’t surprise me. If you read my blog, you’re probably fairly Internet savvy.
Only 2% of respondents said they only want physical products and that they won’t buy anything digitally delivered. But most people would rather have products delivered to them instantly over the Internet as opposed to having something physically shipped to them, even if both options are available.
There are some good reasons for this. People from all over the world read my blog, and physical shipping isn’t practical for everyone. It can be very expensive, and it seems lame that some people have to pay more for shipping than the cost of the product. In some places the postal system is unreliable or corrupt, and people can’t trust that their products will actually arrive.
Also, some readers are travel sluts like me, and digital products are easier to digest while traveling. You can receive them wherever you are instead of having to wait till you get home, and they don’t weigh you down.
Many readers would not like to see me get into physical products because of the negative environmental impact. Why produce more dead tree items and plastic packaging and then expend more resources to ship it all over the planet, especially if the value is in the content?
On the other hand, some readers say they appreciate having a physical product, especially one with high production values. I can understand the importance of thump value to certain people, although they’re clearly in the minority.
The only format situation that even came close to being contentious was the ebook vs. book question. Some people really like having a physical book to read. They’re still in the minority, but they’re a bigger minority than for any other format. For audio and video, it’s clear that the majority of people don’t want CDs or DVDs. They’d prefer to receive that kind of content digitally.
This feedback makes some decisions easier for me. There clearly isn’t enough demand to justify the added work of producing and shipping physical products, not even for books. To create physical products would add tons of extra work in terms of design, packaging, production, inventory, shipping, returns, and so on. This means a lot more complexity for my business and higher prices for you. It would also mean that fewer products would be created, and you’d have to wait longer for each one to be released. I don’t have that kind of patience, not after years of instant publishing.
So in this case, I must tell that 2% that I won’t be able to serve their needs. I intend to go with digital delivery only. To deal with physical products seems like an enormous waste of time, energy, and resources.
After a product is digitally delivered, people can still print an ebook on paper, burn CDs, or burn DVDs. So if they really want the physical media for some reason, they can produce that at home or use a service to do it for them. It may not be as snazzy looking as something that’s professionally produced, but they can still have their products in physical form if it’s important to them.
My book is published by a publisher, so they still do the physical publishing thing. But based on my last royalty statement, it appears that my book is now selling more Kindle copies than physical copies.
If it sounds like I’m glad the survey results here turned out the way they did, that’s true. I expected this kind of result, so it wasn’t a surprise, but I also wanted to know how many potential customers I might be turning away if I don’t create physical products. This survey suggests it’s around 2%. I can handle 2%. I could probably handle 10-15%, but it would sting a bit more.
To Steve from that 2%: You frakkin loser! You obviously don’t know what the f— you’re doing. I’m outta here!
To Steve from the other 98%: OMG! That’s awesome! Yes yes yes! I love you!
Download or Access Online?
Regarding how the content is accessed, most people want to be able to download it to their computer or to some other digital device as opposed to consuming it online. The one exception was video — people are okay watching a streaming video online, but for ebooks, audio, and other types of content, they prefer to download and save it.
There were several comments asking me not to use DRM in my products (digital rights management). This would mean locking the content to a certain device, like offering an ebook that can only be accessed in Kindle format or an audio program you can only access via iTunes. I prefer highly accessible content formats myself, so I’m in favor of letting you transfer the content to whatever device you prefer, including devices that may not exist yet.
For ebooks I’d favor PDFs, and for audio I think MP3s would be the most sensible format. There are other audio formats I could use, but for spoken voice content, I think they’re overkill. Listen to one of my podcasts, and you should be able to hear me just fine. It’s certainly better than AM radio.
There were also some requests to provide ebooks in other formats like Kindle and Nook. If I make ebooks, I’ll look into these other formats and make them available if it seems reasonable to do so. It’s not a big deal for me to make content available in multiple formats and put them all in the same ZIP file. Then you can choose whichever version you’d like to use, and put it on your favorite device of the moment. I simply want to avoid the craziness of trying to support dozens of formats for everything I release. If there’s a lot of demand for a particular format and if it seems reasonable to support, I’ll do it.
Since I expect to go with audio for my initial products, I think it makes sense to package the content in a format that you can download and save to your computer. Then from there you can put it on whatever device you desire — your iPod, iPad, Kindle, cell phone, burn to CDs, etc.
The most important insights on content length came from the text comments as opposed to the multiple choice questions. The aggregate data told me that people didn’t have a strong preference for any particular length. Lots of comments essentially said, “The exact length isn’t a big deal to me. Create as much content as you need to cover the topic thoroughly. Don’t add filler fluff, but don’t leave out important information either. Quality is more important than quantity.”
I liked seeing this kind of feedback, and I agree that it makes sense to allow the content itself to dictate the length.
With digital products I don’t need to worry about engineering the content around space limitations. I can put the integrity of the content first. I don’t have to design audio programs around a 74-minute CD, and I don’t have to worry that longer books will be more expensive to print. I’m used to having unlimited space when I write articles, so this suits me well.
Some people expressed concern that I might be planning to take my old blog posts and repackage or rehash that same old content to create products. People, please! Repackaging old content would bore me to tears.
A few months ago, if you searched for my name in the Amazon Kindle store, you’d have only found one item listed — my book. Now that same search shows about 30 items listed, and I didn’t add them. It wouldn’t surprise me if there are hundreds by the end of the year. So clearly I don’t need to repackage my old content in other formats because there are plenty of people already doing that, now that my blog posts, podcasts, and newsletters are uncopyrighted.
How would it help me grow if I went back and rehashed my old content in different formats? Is that how I’d want to spend my life? Heck no. I’m not the kind of person who’s capable of completing projects like that.
One of my motives for getting into product development this year is so that I can conduct a deeper exploration of certain ideas. A deeper exploration doesn’t mean revisiting the past though. Even if I make a product on a topic I’ve already written something about, the product will be based on my best insights at the time I create it. That’s the only way I can create products that are meaningful growth experiences for me. I can’t force myself to remain loyal to what I’ve written in the past. I have to stay centered in the present and create something that’s a complete and integrated work, not something that’s slapped together from different pieces created from different paradigms.
In many cases, blogging isn’t the right medium for what I’m trying to share. I can’t adequately explain subjective reality in a dozen blog posts written over a period of years. This only gives people a glimpse into it, and if they put all those articles together, it won’t quite make sense because each article is written from a slightly different perspective. Between articles my understanding evolved, and at each point, I wrote from my current level of understanding.
However, I could explain subjective reality pretty well with an elegantly designed audio program. Then I could ensure that the whole program uses a consistent framework that matches my best understanding at the time of publication.
The same is true of many other topics. Blogging isn’t the right medium to do them justice. I can only give people one small slice of the big picture in a blog post, but I can’t share my complete present-day understanding of that big picture.
In practical terms, it’s really just a matter of taking enough time and space to do the topic justice.
I’ve written some serial blog posts to cover certain topics in more depth, but that feels like I’m trying to stretch the medium to do something it isn’t well suited for. To me it makes sense to use a better medium for longer works.
This year I intend to invest most of my work time creating these longer works. I’ll still do some blogging throughout the year, but it’s not going to be my top priority.
One thing I learned about content length is that many people like receiving content in easily digestible chunks. I can certainly understand that since I’m the same way. If I create a lengthy audio program, for example, I can divide them into modules of about 30 minutes each. Each module would be a separate MP3 file. This makes it easier to go through the program on a device like an iPod. I’ll also use filenames that make it easy to see which module is which.
This was the trickiest part of the survey for me to construct. What I really need to know here is what kind of pricing model will work best for my readers overall. Are some pricing models more favorable overall than others?
I’m going to put a lot of work into the new products I create, so I think that a direct exchange of value is a reasonable way to offer them. I’ve experimented with a number of different business models over the years (advertising, affiliate programs, joint venture deals, workshop registrations), and they all share one thing in common — ultimately someone buys something. A sale is made. Either I got paid for the advertising that led to that sale, or I got a commission on the sale, or I generated a direct sale.
This year I want to give more attention to direct sales instead of using more indirect methods of generating revenue. As with any change I make, some people won’t like it, while others will find it to be a very positive change.
If you’re only looking for free content and you feel certain that you’d never buy any products from me, then you may not like this change since I don’t expect to create as much free content this year. Fortunately, according to the survey, less than 2% of people say they’re in that category. The vast majority expect they will probably or definitely buy something that I create, as long as they’re interested in the topic. For obvious reasons it’s good to know that a critical mass of people will be receptive to this. Otherwise it wouldn’t make much sense for me to try to create and sell my own products.
The truth is that every day, people are buying products from my website. Most of those sales are currently going to affiliate or joint venture partners. I can see what the sales are because I receive sales reports and commission checks every month. Often this site generates more than $100,000 in monthly sales, sometimes a lot more.
I understand that some people will resist anything with a price tag, but I have years of data to show me that people are definitely coming to my site and spending money on products and services that interest them. Otherwise my existing business model wouldn’t be working so well.
In the survey comments, some people suggested that I could rely primarily on donations, making all of my content and products free and then asking people to donate to support them. I agree that this model sounds wonderful in principle, but I put my faith in real world testing, and my years of testing don’t support this model as a viable one. Although thousands of people have donated, and I continue to receive new donations each day (which I very much appreciate), the income from donations doesn’t come close to other sources.
For whatever reason, it’s abundantly clear that my readers would much rather buy a product or service than make a donation. The difference between sales and donations is roughly a factor of 100. Sure I could try to optimize donations, but I can’t see those optimizations increasing the results by 100x. So as far as primary business models go, a donation-based model isn’t a serious contender. I think it makes more sense to focus on business models that allow me to provide more value instead of spending my time trying to squeeze more revenue from existing value.
I also considered alternative pricing models such as “pay what you think it’s worth,” but I don’t have good reason to believe those creative models will work as well as a more standard pricing model. In my view a cutesy pricing model can easily create more problems than it solves. I like being creative, but I also like being effective.
Another result from the survey is that my readers are looking for a great value. Most of them are not so price sensitive that they want me to cut corners, but nor do they want me to overengineer the quality if it would significantly increase the price. For most people it’s the quality-price ratio that matters, so in terms of setting prices, that’s what I really need to get right.
I’ve seen this with my joint venture partners too. When they can offer a sweet deal that’s a great value for the money, sales are significantly higher. When a temporary discount is offered, we might see triple the normal sales during that time. My readers know a good deal when they see one. They’re savvy buyers.
In terms of pricing my products, I have many options, and the truth is that I could probably make all of these options work for my business.
One option is to create premium products and sell them for premium prices. Lots of Internet marketers do this. They might sell a home study course for $500 or more, and they usually write really long sales pages to explain why it’s worth that much. Many people won’t spend that much on info products, but at $500 per sale, you don’t need a lot of sales to have a thriving business. If you make 38 sales a week, you’re earning $1 million per year.
I believe I could build a thriving business with this model, but I don’t plan to go this route. Many of my readers couldn’t afford my products if I did this. Millions of people read my blog, coming from all over the world. Why set prices so high that I prevent most of them from becoming customers? I’d rather have more customers and serve more people, even if I make a lot less money per sale. I cover topics that are of interest to a great many people. I don’t serve a niche audience. I’m used to getting my content into the hands of lots of people.
What about the opposite end of the pricing spectrum? I could sell products at very low prices, so that just about everyone could afford them. I don’t have a particular price in mind here, but for the sake of argument, let’s say I keep everything below $20.
Now the interesting thing about digitally delivered products is that the costs for each sale are very low. For online sales you have to cover transaction processing fees, customer support costs, and fraud-related expenses. But if you could scale it up well enough, you could build a successful business with lots of small sales, as long as you have a large enough customer base.
Digital bits cost very little to send. The truth is that my fulfillment and processing costs would be nearly the same for a 30-page ebook or a 20-hour video program, as long as I can deliver everything digitally. The larger product will cost a little bit more in terms of bandwidth, and it will probably generate more customer support costs, but the difference shouldn’t be that great. Of course there’s a big difference in the cost to create each product, but after that’s recouped, the per-sale costs are very close. This means that as far as my costs are concerned, I could justify selling even a monstrous home study course for under $10, and I’d probably still make a profit if enough people bought it and if it didn’t require too much customer support.
This side of the spectrum doesn’t feel good to me intuitively though. If I use lowball pricing, then I’m basically saying that the content I’m producing is barely worth more than its digital bits. It’s disposable. Buy it on impulse. Consume it and be done with it. That isn’t the kind of content I wish to create. If people buy a product from me, I want them to have some pride of ownership and to be willing to pay a fair price for the value that I offer. If they don’t believe my content has much value to them, they can support someone else whose content they prefer.
Good content certainly has value to me, and it’s obviously worth more than the transfer costs of the bits. I’m happy to support good content creators, and I believe they deserve to be paid well for creating excellent content. If I feel the publisher and/or content creators deserve my money and if I feel their asking price is fair, I buy. If not, I do without and spend my money elsewhere. I don’t download content illegally (my computers contain no illegal software, music, movies, etc).
When I see content being digitally delivered, I know the transaction costs are probably quite low. If I’m buying something directly from the content creator, then I can guess that a significant percentage of each sale will directly benefit that creator. To me this is fine if I want to support that creator. If their product is of high quality, and if they charge a reasonable price that gives me a lot of value, then it’s a fair exchange from my perspective. This kind of purchase feels good to me.
With most personal development info products, it’s hard to quantify the value in financial terms. To say that an info product has any particular value seems silly to me. Marketers will sometimes tell you you’re getting $5000 worth of value for $1000, but I think you’ll agree that this is just a sales tactic when you’re talking about info products, especially those that are digitally delivered.
The truth is that the value of an info product can’t usually be quantified in financial terms. What is the financial value of doing work you love vs. work you hate? What’s the financial value of discovering your life purpose? What’s the financial value of increasing your self-discipline? We could try to come up with some kind of formula to put a price tag on these, but I think you’ll agree that this is a lame approach.
So I can’t really put a financial value on the products I sell. I don’t know what they’ll be worth to you. I believe they’re worth a lot more than the mere transfer costs for the data bits, but I can’t say exactly how much more.
What I can do is consider relative value. I’ve digested a ton of info products over the years (quite literally a ton if you were to weigh them), so I have a good grasp of what’s out there. I think that one aspect of an intelligent pricing strategy is to price my products at a level that makes them an extremely good value relative to what else is out there.
So if I create a $500 product, I want it to be one of the best $500 products you’ll ever see. If I create a $10 product, I want you to feel it was among the best $10 you’ve ever spent.
This is how I price my workshops. I figure out what I believe is a good deal, and I price on the low end of that. I make them as affordable as I can while still feeling good about the income they generate.
So this is how I intend to price my products. First, I want to set prices low enough so lots of people can afford them. I want my products to be highly accessible. I don’t want people holding off because they can’t afford them or because they’re concerned about the financial risk. Fortunately I can afford to keep prices low because with digital delivery, my costs are low. I already have access to a sizable audience, so there are a lot of people collectively supporting it. I’m not limited to a niche audience, so I don’t need to set prices super high.
To further reduce the risk, I can offer a money-back guarantee, and I can also use try-before-you-buy. For instance, I could release the first segment of a new audio program for free (like a podcast), so people can listen to it before deciding if they want the full program.
The next consideration is that I want to set prices high enough so that I feel good about each sale. I have no desire to be paid more than I deserve, but if I’m going to put a lot of time and effort into each new product and do my best to deliver outstanding value, then I want to feel that these efforts are appreciated and supported. I’ve given this a lot of thought, and I really like the idea of shifting to a primary business model that relies on direct sales as opposed to the mostly indirect models I’ve used in the past. This will help me better gauge to what degree people appreciate and value the work I’m doing… and which parts of it they value most.
I also want to continue to expand the work I do, such as by building a staff to help me deliver workshops in other cities, not just in the USA but internationally as well. If product sales are strong, this goal becomes much more accessible.
Lastly, I want people to receive an outstanding value for the money they spend. I want them to get such a good deal that they wouldn’t hesitate to buy from me again. I also want them to feel good about recommending my products to their family, friends, and co-workers. I’m a prolific content creator, so I expect to release many products over time. Consequently, I expect that the bulk of my business will come from repeat sales. Just as writing a good article can turn a one-time visitor into a long-term reader, I want to make sure my products provide so much value that when someone buys one of them, it’s even easier for them to make another purchase.
So what does this mean in down-to-earth practical terms?
Because value is the main consideration, it means giving you good deals on pricing all the time. It also means favoring a price range that’s highly accessible.
In the survey results, the most frequently mentioned cut-off price was $100. People said that below $100, they could easily buy what I was offering, but above that amount they might have to think about it.
For most digitally delivered products, I expect to price products between $40 and $100. By keeping them under $100, they’ll be more accessible. But I don’t really want to go below $40 because that means I’d be creating products that are worth less to people than a new video game. If I was going to make a product for only $20, I’d probably just release it for free and not bother trying to sell it. I want my products to be significantly better than my free content. And there are already people creating sub-$20 products from my free content, such as Kindle books.
Whatever I feel is a fair price for a new product, I’ll probably set the actual price at around half that amount or less. So if I create an info product I think I could sell well for $300, I might price it just below $100. I can afford to do that with digital delivery, and by consistently delivering great value, I expect that my business will thrive on repeat sales. Basically, I want to make it a no-brainer for people to buy products that I create; I want the value of my products to be high enough relative to the price that people can easily figure out it’s a very good deal for them and that missing out would be worse.
This is really just a variation on the model I used to build a highly successful blog. I provide lots of value at a cost that can’t be beat (free). I can afford to do this because I keep my business lean and efficient, and I leverage technology to get quality content into people’s hands for almost zero cost. So the result is that my blog gets tons of referrals with no marketing costs. My trick, if you could even call it that, is to provide more value at lower cost than others can.
Borders Books recently filed for bankruptcy, and they plan to close 200 stores. That’s the price of failing to keep a business lean and efficient. Most of a book’s value is in the content, not the physical packaging. But most of the costs are incurred when physical books are printed and moved around.
I don’t intend to play any pricing games with you, so don’t expect me to jerk prices around at different times of year such as with special sales or coupons. I don’t plan to do time-limited discounts at launch time either. I want to build my business on long-term repeat sales and a win-win relationship of service to you, not on marketing tricks. If I felt my regular prices weren’t a good enough deal, I’d set the regular price lower to begin with.
When I release each new product, it’s fair to expect that whether you buy it that day, or 30 days later, or a year later, the price and the package will most likely be the same. The only disincentive to waiting to buy is that you’ll miss out on the benefits of having the product while you postpone the purchase. I don’t intend to use artificial time pressure to push you to “buy now” as opposed to waiting. If you’d rather wait, that’s up to you. While you wait, I’ll either be off traveling to sharpen the saw after an intense period of focused work, or I’ll be back at work creating the next product.
As I shift my business in this direction, it’s very important to me to do what feels right. If something doesn’t feel good to me, I simply won’t do it. What feels good is inviting you to become a direct customer of mine and to cultivate a long-term relationship that’s a win for us both. I get to grow my business, keep doing what I love, and expand in new directions. You get a stream of new products that will provide significantly more value than my free content, and they’ll be of higher quality and less expensive than what you’ll find elsewhere. Some products won’t appeal to you, but others surely will.
No silly marketing tricks. No risk to you since everything will have a money-back guarantee. No need to even believe what I’m saying at this point (although hopefully you can see the logic of it). Just wait and watch it unfold.
Order in Chaos
Although at first glance the survey data appeared somewhat chaotic (particularly the text comments), ultimately I was able to discover plenty of order within that chaos.
By trying to figure out what others wanted from me, I learned new truths about what I wanted from myself.
I realized that within me are many seemingly conflicted interests… so many voices telling me where to go next. And in a way, all of those voices are valid. They’re all worthy of a yes.
I can’t say yes to all of them at once. I can’t even hear them all at the same time and have it make any sense. However, I can pause and listen to each one and say yes one by one.
I can focus on one interest at a time and fully immerse myself in it. I can also share what I learn from these explorations since that helps me internalize and make sense of each discovery. Then I can come up for air, let it go, and take some time off to relax a bit and have a life.
This doesn’t mean I have to say no to all the other voices. It simply means I must say, “Not yet.”
Most of the waves of inspiration I’ve been catching in the past have been fairly small waves — an article, a series of articles, sometimes a 30-day trial. But some have been larger waves, like a book and a workshop.
While I still enjoy the smaller waves, I want to spend more time this year riding bigger waves. But when I’m riding a big wave, I have to give it my full attention. I can’t distract myself with all the other potential waves to ride.
So if it seems that I’ve disappeared for weeks at a time, it doesn’t necessarily mean I’m dead. It doesn’t mean I’ve lost interest and abandoned my blog. It just means I’m busy riding a wave of inspiration, and I’m giving it my full attention. When I resurface, I’ll likely have something to share with you, perhaps something even bigger than this insanely long blog post (that was a joy to write).
Whatever you do, just don’t ask me about release dates or how long things will take. Anyone who’s ever asked me when I’ll be done writing a new article can attest to how meaningless my replies are. If you want to know when my next product will be released, go consult a psychic. 😉
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