Contentions: Poor Charlie’s Almanack, Stripe Press, and why it all works

A good friend of mine recently showed me Stripe’s new book, Poor Charlie’s Almanack. One of Stripe Press’s tactics is to republish old works with new packaging, and this one was a great choice. 

The original book was made nearly two decades ago by Peter Kaufman, who compiled quotes from Charlie Munger’s speeches, and put it into a print book which has become difficult to find and purchase over the years. Stripe Press didn’t have to take much risk here; its contribution is in the redesign, recontextualization (co-branding, etc.), and the new marketing moment for a new audience. 

My friend and I discussed Stripe Press’s impact on readers, and how it has contributed to Stripe’s brand. I wondered out loud why there weren’t more brands doing what Stripe Press was doing. As I dug into it, I came across Morgan Mahlock’s post on the topic, that summed it up nicely:   

I believe Stripe is on to something here. The company is focused on more than just marketing. In the same way Apple built its brand around design, Stripe is building a brand that advocates for intellectual curiosity and for technology. Stripe’s brand as applied to publishing brings a freshness to a legacy industry, and prizes the unique perspectives and personalities of authors….

Through these efforts, Stripe goes beyond surface-level marketing. It has identified creative ways to add value to its community through resource guides and tailored content. Stripe charges 2.9% + 30 cents per successful card charge. Stripe wants its customers to thrive. It grows when its customers grow. Educating customers in non-traditional ways is Stripe’s competitive advantage. The more transactions run through Stripe’s platform, the better. As it builds its ecosystem of entrepreneur, business, author, and tech-first tools, Stripe’s rising tide will lift all boats.

Similar to how Nike honors athletes, Apple honors people who think different, Stripe honors people with intellectual curiosity who are passionate about technology with Stripe Press. That’s the marketing strategy behind it. (I’d previously written, “When self-promotion is done right, it never looks like self-promotion.”) 

People with intellectual curiosity value interesting, challenging, and provocative ideas, conveyed through objects like printed books. In a world where printed books feel like a relic of the past, and we all spend more time on the internet, the decreased popularity has imbued the book as an object with a sense of sacredness. (You could say books are sacred objects that unify the community of intellectually curious people.)

Stripe has made a big, multi-year swing in building a competitive advantage by out-teaching its competitors, rather than outspending them. The advantage shows in the brand values that are associated with the authors of and subject matter in the books, the incredible designs of printed books, and the artifacts of inspiration. The books work because they are objects that people with intellectual curiosity will value. (From a dollars perspective, Stripe’s CEO Patrick Collison has also described Stripe Press as a way to cheaply increase the number of successful startups in the world.)

Of course, people with intellectual curiosity aren’t the only people who appreciate ideas, beautiful printed books, and thoughtful authors.

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