Behind the Scenes of a DIY Book Launch
Part Four: Attention in Action
Another, rather innovative way to approach profit by focusing traffic has recently surfaced. Admittedly, the details are somewhat confusing, but the model has turned out to be so lucrative, that its legality is currently being debated in court cases. Futurephone was a service which provided free international calling for the price of a long distance call, something most cell phone users could access for free on evenings and weekends. Here’s what was said on Lifehacker.com on October 9th about the Futurephone service:
Make free international phone calls sans Skype with Futurephone, a company that’s just got to be bleeding money.
The service doesn’t run ads or ask for personal information. They simply provide an access number based in Iowa – so domestic long distance charges apply – that you call with any old phone and then dial your international number through.
At first, nobody could figure out exactly how Futurephone was making money.
But several months later, according to the February 7th, 2007 entry on Gigaom.com:
Guess who got stuck with a big bill for all those “free” international calls touted by outfits like FuturePhone? None other than AT&T, which has filed a lawsuit in Iowa claiming that “deceitful and unlawful schemes” like FuturePhone’s caused a jump from $2,000 per month to $2 million per month in the fees billed AT&T by an Iowa rural telco.
Filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa, Central Division, AT&T’s lawsuit seeks to stop FuturePhone as well as the telcos who provide local infrastructure from continuing with their operations that use regulatory-fee arbitrage and VoIP to provide international calls for only the price of a long-distance call to Iowa.
I’d recommend looking through the rest of the entries on this case at Gigaom to get the whole story, but it boils down to this: by partnering with a rural telco, and spliting the profits on the abnormally high-disconnect fees that telco was able to charge thanks to local regulations, this website not only was able to offer a free service to anyone who wanted to place an international call, they were able to generate a huge amount of money because of the traffic. AT&T states that if the federal courts don’t do something about this, they’re due to be paying $250 million dollars this year to Futurephone and its clones. While it remains to be seen if Futurephone will get all of its money and Futurephone’s website still has a legal letter asking its users to provide proof of their cellphones having been disconnected in the 712 area code so they can challenge AT&T with legal action, this remains one of the more interesting and recent examples of both affiliate marketing, (the dot com and the rural telco spitting profits), and network marketing (the use of Futurephone spread through network marketing and blogging sites, rather than through a traditional campaign.)
Another service that sprung up around the same time was a cluster of free teleconferencing sites also affiliated with telcos out of Iowa, with a similar business model. The more users, the more chargebacks they could charge, and the more money they made. There’s no longer any need to charge for teleconferencing (and in fact with a bit more ingenuity actually paying people to use your system might not be too far off.) Instead, suddenly there is a system in place where basic teleconferences can be hosted by anyone with a cellphone, and elaborate ones with question and answer sesssions and line muting and unmuting can be perfomed by anyone with a web browser. And I admit, having personally come out of years of running teleconferences myself, I was somewhat overjoyed to see this little stab at the company I worked for flower, knowing it was devaluing their services. So in addition to this little freak nexus of regulations, affiliations, and word-of-mouth buzz, my friend was able to find a way to host free teleseminars with all of the expert speakers he’d befriended over the years he’d spent working in traditional advertising and working with direct marketers and internet marketers. Being able to record these sessions and provide the audios as bonus features or products on their own also helped create a secondary line of media.
Prior to the Iowa free conference calling services, teleconference fees for things like recordings, or Q&A sessions, or multiple speaker lines was a substantial part of the overhead on any information marketing venture that took place across phonelines. Having a free way to do that allowed for the last piece of the zero-cost marketing model. Sure, with email lists, once you hit the 1,000 person mark free services like YourMailingListProvider might not be enough, and you’d need to upgrade to Aweber.com but having the ability to direct the attention of a large mailing list to free information, teleconferences, and affiliate promotions can generate a nice and steady profit with minimal work. My friend’s goal wasn’t necessarily to generate profit, but to focus attention and traffic on his book as it launched, maintaining enough sales along the way to reach the Bestseller list on Amazon as it came out. And he did it. He did so by having his friends throughout the infomarketer community promote both his books and the larger product packages he constructed of Book/DVD or Book/Audio Teleseminar, teleconference access, one-on-one training. He developed a tiered pricing structure for different consultations, and affiliates who sold his consultation package recieved half the profit from the sale, creating a powerful motivation to spread the word about his book.
And of course it worked. Leveraging affiliate networking from the top generated exactly that kind of attention. Hundreds of thousands of people were emailed about his book, which translated into thousands of book sales through Amazon the week of the launch. And everyone who purchased a book online received free bonuses in the form of audio teleseminars simply by signing up to his list. He’d created an email list out of the first launch, when the first ebook went out nearly a year previously, and to this he combined his new list of people who purchased the physical copy. In an attention economy, having a list of people who are interested in reading what you write, of learning what you have to teach, might be the most personal way to take charge of one’s own reputation. The richest people in the attention economy are, by definition, those who can direct the most attention. Growing out an email list is possibly the most lucrative thing that could happen to an author. It goes beyond simply having a readership out there, because that immediacy of information transfer is a power once only available through the top-down distribution. The ability of the individual to create their own fans, their own marketing, their own specializations outside the traditional media network is the new American Dream. It’s more than that, though, as the network trully is global, and the attention economy quite obviously ignores any nationalistic borders, butting up only against language barriers and cultural differences.
If you have ever signed up for an email newsletter, you are essentially opening yourself up for impersonal mass communication. Obviously. And very very few newsletters aren’t monetized in some way. And while they differ vastly in terms of their effectiveness in relation to the monetization, they all seek to direct your attention. So who, anyway, is this roommate of mine who’s book on Branding, with no marketing budget or overhead went to hit #1 on Amazon’s Business Bestseller list? Who used email lists, teleconferences, seminars, and Google videos to coordinate a book launch under the nose of the very big name advertising agencies he once worked for?
Well shit, go sign up for his newsletter at TheRelevantTruth.com and find out for yourself.