Why I gave away 2,000 books: connection is king, content as calling card

Marketers must evolve from advertisers into storytellers. Advertisers interrupt consumers with messaging that are overwhelmingly “me” oriented: my product, my service. Storytellers attract, beguile, entertain, and inform. They are sought out and revisited. Often, they’ll enter into dialogue with their audience. They’re attuned to nuanced reactions and will adjust their narratives accordingly, whether a shift in tone of voice or a deeper dive into what was originally just a backstory.

Thus reads Altimeter’s (founded by Groundswell author Charlene Li) latest report, Content: The New Marketing Equation.  This explosion of storytelling into the traditional “messaging” industry of marketing and PR, is one reason why I’ve become so busy.  Just this week, 1,550 people downloaded the Kindle edition of my book in a 72-hour period.  They acquired this content for two reasons: (1) it was free; (2) because an influential voice told them to do so.  I’m ok with both of these because expansive reach such as this fulfills my objectives in writing the book: (1) to spread the gospel of storytelling within organizations; (2) to provide a cohesive thought piece that furthers my credibility as educator and thought leader (thereby boosting interest in the graduate program that I direct — so much more useful than just a brochure).

This eyes-wide-open use of cheap/free content to further one’s influence begins with me in this instance, but I’m just the outer layer of this onion that merits further peeling back.

(1) Amazon.com: Last year, I made the electronic edition of Storyteller Uprising widely available — through Amazon, Smashwords (which aggregates books on multiple platforms such as iTunes, Nook, Sony), and even as a free PDF.  But as I continued to add chapters to this book-in-progress, I realized that it was finally reaching completion.  I wanted to extend its reach, beyond my students and clients.  So after much deliberation, I gave Amazon a 90-day e-book exclusive under the Kindle Select program.  In what some may consider a deal with the devil (including the founder of Smashwords), my book might be read by more people on the most popular e-book platform.  That’s because Amazon would make it free to its Prime users to “borrow it” (and I would receive some unpredictable compensation based on this strange library system).  Also, I could choose 5 days out of the 90 to sell the book for free on Amazon’s site.  Certainly, I had the freedom to set the price to zero on Smashwords, but Amazon has so many more customers with one-click shopping.

What does Amazon get out of giving away my book for free?  Well authors such as me just add to the utility of the Kindle.  It brings more customers to their site, to purchase their devices, to browse other items for sale.  My content is the lure to a deeper, potentially sustainable relationship between customer and retailer.  And my book ended up hitting #1 in both the “Social Sciences” and “Computer & Internet” categories, peaking at #249 in the top “free” Kindle books for a brief shining moment (it’s hard for “free” to compete with so much other “free!”).

(2) Sreetips:  But you know what?  In the digital age, with so much free content readily available online, it’s actually an effort to even convince folks to take your content to begin with!  I had run a similar promotion for 48 hours just after I had returned from the Consumer Electronics Show in January (and was appearing on a number of Seattle TV and radio outlets).  I gave away 450 downloads thanks to those appearances, and my social media channel promotion.  But this was still very much connecting to my world — both intellectually and geographically.  I needed a larger megaphone to reach further out.  So I asked my old friend, Sree Sreenivasan, social media guru (before social media even existed) and Dean of Students at my alma mater — the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism — to share my next free promotion with his considerable number of contacts around the world.

I fully expected Sree to e-mail and maybe tweet about Storyteller Uprising.  But little did I know that CNET had just hired Sree to create a social media advice column. In a flash of inspiration, he realized that he could announce his new gig through a fresh piece of freely-available content!  We both benefited at this next layer of the onion: Sree had a potentially relevant giveaway to stake his new claim, and suddenly Storyteller Uprising was reaching far beyond any network that I could muster.

Meanwhile, back in my corner of the continent, the payoff for all of this content as “calling card” is ongoing applicant interest in the MCDM.  I host a monthly TV show that has hundreds of thousands of viewers (and will be the showcase of Husky Fest at our university in April); I emceed a Seattle Metropolitan Chamber’s social media conference on Wednesday; I will moderate a conversation at KCTS 9 with astrophysicist Adam Frank next week; I will do the same for the Pacific Science Center’s Foundations of Science Breakfast with Nathan Myhrvold on April 3rd —  all for free, and all to promote interest in our graduate program as the currency of our connections continues to gain interest.

p.s. Sneak preview: I’m headed to Internet Week in NYC in May

MCDM students discuss their program at IN-NW

1 comment

  1. You wrote this article as a case study. That´s very good. I downloaded the book as soon as I saw the recommendation of Sree. I am working with content in social media networks to bring awareness of media leaders to my company´s properties and services and it has so far served enormously to foster great media relations. My main focus is in the US Hispanic Market where there´s a lot of work still to be done.

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