On businesses publishing books

If you’re a business targeting the small group of people who still read—maybe 2% of the American population (a number from Seth Godin (17:00))—you are deciding to target one of the oldest fandoms in the world.

For example, you may be inherently selecting people who are interested in intellectual matters. Or, they’re ambitious enough to do the hard task of reading non-fiction in order to learn something. If that aligns with your brand—if you’ve ever said something like, “Our clients are ambitious companies”—it’s a really good investment.

The approach is simple (but not easy): make, promote, and sell good books. When you put a price on your work, you’re generating a possibility for people to get excited and to buy into your enthusiasm and expertise. They must decide: are they going to take your work seriously? It’s the ultimate measure of brand engagement. You also have to make something people want.

This small group of people is extremely enthusiastic about books; both as objects, and as experiences. This enthusiasm translates into them following your work closely, showing up to events with good energy, and sharing it with their friends without you asking. 

They also respond very well to simple details executed well: a good book cover, good typography, good design. If you want to offset the risk of making something new, just repurpose a classic with a new design.

Your publishing arm has the potential to be profitable while promoting your brand, which means your marketing is making you money. There’s no such potential with typical marketing spend—like paying for ads, sponsorships, etc. The money is gone after the ad goes up or somebody clicks.

If you want to test this out, you can start with one book, like Ableton’s Making Music.

If you’re curious to see the end goal, check out Stripe Press (more here), Patagonia Books,  and the MICHELIN Guide.

You can also make graphic novels, such as Soho House’s documenting its first 20 years, or Postman’s API First World.

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