What are the benefits of selling direct? Why might using your face to advertise your books be a good idea? What might be the future of selling direct? Steve Pieper talks about these things and more.
In the intro, ACX lowering audiobook prices, Chokepoint Capitalism, Audiblegate, Copyright valuation [Dean Wesley Smith]; courses on copyright; Happy Money; Write to Riches; Failing to predict the future [James Altucher]; Pilgrimage Kickstarter (until 5 Feb, 2023), then find it here.
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Steve Pieper is a USA Today best-selling thriller author under the name Lars Emmerich. He’s also an entrepreneur and business consultant, specializing in digital marketing and selling direct.
You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript is below.
- Reasons to write under a pen name
- Selling wide to create multiple income streams
- Potential problems with exclusivity
- Benefits of selling direct and accessing customer data
- The empowerment of controlling your intellectual property and author business
- Humanizing yourself as an author to create a more relatable brand
- Author marketing mastery through optimization
- NFTs and how they tie into the future of direct sales
Transcript of Interview with Steve Pieper
Joanna: Steve Pieper is a USA Today best-selling thriller author under the name Lars Emmerich. He’s also an entrepreneur and business consultant specializing in digital marketing and selling direct. So welcome to the show, Steve.
Steve: Thank you very much. It’s a privilege and a pleasure.
Joanna: Oh, I’m excited to talk to you today. So first up —
Tell us a bit more about you and how you got into writing and publishing.
Steve: That’s a great question. I started off as an F-16. Pilot, I was actually in pilot training the first time—I think maybe this was the first time—I read a Tom Clancy novel. And the way that he wove all of those different stories together was just fascinating to me. The idea that something is happening in plain sight, but there’s a much deeper meaning behind it, that was also very fascinating to me.
So I think that’s probably the first time I hatched the idea that maybe I would like to write thrillers like that.
It wasn’t until maybe 19-ish years later, when I found myself traveling all over the country to sit in boring meetings and needing something to do productively with my off time that I really got serious about writing books and came back to it.
Joanna: So tell us a bit more about how your entrepreneurial background fits into writing and publishing.
Did you choose the indie route from the beginning?
Steve: From the get-go, I had zero interest in the traditional publishing route, just because I looked at the contracts.
I realized this is not a terrific deal, really, at all. And of course, it’s terrific if that’s the only deal that you have available. But when I got serious about writing books, it was during the Joe Konrath Gold Rush era, you know, when there were more Kindles than books available on Kindle kind of a thing. So the opportunity space really seemed wide open at that point for independent publishing rather than trying to go the traditional route.
Joanna: So I think that that was around 2009. I mean, some listeners won’t even have heard of Joe Konrath, which is kind of crazy for those of us who’ve been around a while because he was an early adopter. But of course, I think he had around 100 books from traditional publishing or at least 50 books that he put into indie, and that’s how he kind of started. But you were starting from zero, right, back in 2009. So tell us where you are now.
How many thriller books do you have out there?
Steve: Not enough, is always the answer. I’m allegedly working on my thirteenth. I say allegedly, because these other projects keep coming up. Like we were talking about earlier, I have a few too many interests, and I’m involved in a few too many businesses. So I’m doing what I feel is a relatively poor job of juggling all of the things.
Most are in the same main series. All of them are either in the series or spin offs with some of my favorite characters from the series.
Joanna: Tell us why you wrote under a pen name.
Steve: Well, at the time, I had a day job and a security clearance, and some of my characters do some crazy things. I didn’t want to be mistaken for my characters, and so I thought that I would try to keep the world separate.
It was funny though, one time I walked into a classified meeting in a very dark room behind a vaulted door, and one of the bigwig participants said, “Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Lars Emmerich is here to join us today.” So I figured the cat was out of the bag.
Joanna: That’s great. I mean, I also find that I like writing fiction under a different name, J.F. Penn, to my nonfiction, and it’s almost like there are two personas.
Does it help you creatively?
Steve: Absolutely. I’ve come to realize that Lars Emmerich is kind of a character himself. I speak of him in the third person.
When I talk about the book business, shorthand around our house is just Lars. Like Lars earned X today, I’ll tell my wife. Or my wife will say, “How’s Lars doing today?” And so it kind of has taken on a persona of its own. It does give you a little more freedom.
Joanna: It’s a funny you should say that because my husband says —Morgan Sierra is one of my main characters—and he’s like, “does Morgan want to go to Vienna next month?” She’s like my alter ego. So yes, it’s funny how we do that, but I do think it helps creatively.
Now let’s get into the business side because you’re well-known now in the author community around selling direct. Why did you decide to focus on selling direct to readers?
Steve: Well, I was doing what we were all doing. I guess this was maybe 2017-2018ish, I was using advertising—I have a long history in digital advertising—and I was using some of what Mark Dawson was teaching, and I was combining some of that with the things that I had learned before, and with some degree of success on Amazon.
One day, I got an email from Amazon saying, “Hey, we’ve looked at your account. There’s something suspicious. We’re not going to pay you.”
And I was quite alarmed because, to my knowledge, I had done nothing wrong at any point ever. And I wrote them, I took a minute to calm down, and then I wrote them a polite email saying, “Hey, can you help me understand what’s happened? And what do I need to fix? And what’s going on here?”
I clicked send, I got a new cup of coffee, I came back to my desk, and the reply had already arrived in my inbox. And the reply said that we have reviewed your case, and we have decided to uphold our decision, so we’re not going to pay you.
And also it admonished me to be very careful with your account, but it gave me no clue what they were mad about. And I never actually spoke to a human.
So I sort of realized, this doesn’t feel like a healthy business relationship. I really need to do more of controlling my own destiny. So let me see if I can’t just sell these books directly to customers. And that worked.
Joanna: It’s so interesting, it feels like at the moment, and it might just be anecdotal or noise, but — a lot more people seem to be talking about problems with Amazon accounts.
And you know, things have changed every year, obviously, since the KDP was launched. But it does feel like more and more authors are having problems. And of course, when your account is closed, or there’s a problem, they don’t pay royalties. And if you’re paying for ads, that can be a real problem.
Steve: For sure. And really, for me, it was just the lack of courtesy and the response. It’s okay, I mean things happen. There are so many accounts, they have to check them algorithmically. They can’t do it by hand for every single account, I understand. But somebody ought to be available to help clarify, and that wasn’t the case.
So I realized that either they’re ill-intentioned, I don’t think that’s the case, or they’re just grown too big to really be able to care all that much about individual authors.
And so either way, though, for me, as an individual author, the result was the same, which is I didn’t feel comfortable having every one of my eggs in that Amazon basket.
Joanna: Of course, you still sell books on Amazon.
Joanna: And I think that’s the other thing, isn’t it? I feel like when we talk about selling direct people think, oh, that means you’re ditching everything else.
You’re ultimately wide. Do you sell everywhere?
Steve: I do. I am ultimately wide. And it’s really interesting because the most reliable way I’ve discovered to improve my Amazon sales is to just advertise my direct sales.
And we see a number of authors are doing this direct sales process, and we see it over and over and over again. So it’s called cross-channel effects. It’s kind of a nerdy marketing term, but it is a really effective way.
It’s kind of like bonus money. Your direct sales system makes money for you, and this big Amazon windfall comes in as well. So I was surprised, but pleasantly so. And so it’s one of the things we advise folks to do.
Don’t fire Amazon completely, keep them in your arsenal, but just don’t rely on them completely.
Joanna: Exactly. And I mean, it’s certainly been my goal over the last few years to reduce the percentage of my business income from that one company. And I mean, that’s true whether you have a job or not.
If everything is dependent on one company and something goes wrong, like many people, I was laid off in the global financial crisis back in 2008, and that shaped my own indie author journey. So I feel like that’s the same way now. A lot of people get that wake-up call, essentially.
Do you find that authors come to you because one of the services has broken in some way, or that people just really want their own independence?
Steve: It’s a little bit of both. What’s been surprising, recently, is the number of very high Amazon earners who are now very serious about direct sales.
And not speaking for anybody, my understanding for why that’s happening is that they’re seeing fluctuations in their own earnings, and they also are wanting less dependence on a single source of income.
There are account administration horror stories, people who are doing very well suddenly have their accounts shut off. So I think that that fuels the fears, also. I think it’s mainly about diversification, spreading out your risk across a number of different third parties, instead of having all of your risk consolidated in one single service that you use.
Joanna: What about empowerment and mindset shift? Because I feel like when we all got started, or some of us got started over a decade ago, we felt almost embarrassed about being our own publishers and there was this stigma.
Now it almost feels like independent authors are more empowered. Has that been a shift?
Steve: It certainly has. It’s been a shift in my own thinking also. I’ve always been sort of iconoclastic, and I try to do my own thinking and go in the way that seems best to me, regardless of where everybody else is going.
But that has always sort of come with a bit of self-consciousness, like, what if I’m wrong, and I’m way out here in the wilderness by myself, and nothing good happens. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case.
Over the years, I think as more of us have seen more success, and the relative success per book sold is much greater because our margins are so much better as indies, I think it has made its own argument for people to really take control of their own destiny.
What comes with that, is you’re now not just a content producer, you’re a business owner. And that’s an important shift.
Not everybody wants to make it.
When you do make it, it is very empowering though. The buck stops with you, and if things aren’t going terrific, guess what, you have the agency to make a change and to experiment with different avenues with different approaches. I think it’s been really healthy.
We’ve sort of been very dependent, and our dependencies shifted from traditional publishers to the retailers, mainly Amazon.
What I think the current move toward direct sales is doing is it’s really bringing home the agency, both the responsibility and the power, to propel your own career. So I think it’s kind of combination of factors as our industry has matured, and it’s done so really rapidly, particularly over the last five years, I would say. What do you think?
Joanna: Yes, I think the last few years. And that seems to be speeding up that kind of desire. I mean, we’ve always been independent authors, and yet, a lot of people are pretty dependent on one company. But there are some more practical things.
Maybe you could just comment on the financial reason, I guess the speed, and also the customer data side of selling direct, why those are a good idea.
It’s absolutely essential that we know who our customers are directly.
And when we sell on Amazon, not only do they not want to share that customer information with us, they can’t. That’s not something that they have established as their terms of service and their rules. So what that means is, whenever you have a list of, call it 100,000 people, and you send those folks over to Amazon, some number of them will buy something from you, but you have no idea who they are.
So what happens is, when you don’t know exactly who your buyers are, it’s infinitely harder to go find more of them.
And so owning your customer data, and the way that we own it is when they purchase directly from your webstore, not only is that money deposited in like two or three business days, instead of two or three months, that’s really important as a business owner, that your returns come back quickly so that you’re not having to float your credit card debt for weeks and months while you’re waiting to get paid.
The other thing is that you can connect directly any advertising effort to the customers that it brings in. So this allows you to learn what works and what doesn’t in a much tighter feedback loop, and a much more refined feedback loop, so that you know what’s working and what isn’t, with a lot greater specificity.
And that helps you grow, that helps you scale. And obviously, it helps you to get paid sooner.
Joanna: Yes, and just to repeat that, you get paid in two to three days, sometimes like really immediately as well, depending on the payment method. Instead of two to three months, or traditionally published authors might not get paid for six months or more time.
So I think that’s super important. You did though say that if you have an email list of like 100,000 people, and I know everyone was like, well, we don’t have that.
Is selling direct only for massive authors with massive email lists?
Steve: No, absolutely not. In fact, that’s how we get those big email lists.
And there are two ways that we approach it. The first way is sort of the traditional get people hooked by giving away your first and series in exchange for an email address, after which we give them an immediate opportunity to purchase. And that was sort of the foundational approach. And so that grew our email list quite quickly.
What we discovered through testing, is that after COVID, people were much less leery of making online purchases. So we were able to profitably just advertise directly for the sale without having to give away a book in the interim in between there.
And what that does for you, is that every new person who shows up in your email service provider is a buyer. They’re not on your list now, if they’re not buyers. And if you’ve had an email list for any length of time, I think you know instantly how valuable it is to have a list full of buyers instead of a list full of mainly freebie seekers and a couple of buyers, or a small percentage of buyers.
So if you’re just starting out and you don’t have a big list, don’t worry, that comes with time. And it’s really a matter of just staying stuck in with the process and allowing things to grow.
Because they do grow.
They will grow if you feed it, if you continue to make adjustments, and you continue to optimize the way your sales platform works, that list size will come. And if you’re advertising directly for sales, that list size will come.
Every time somebody new is on your list, it means that you have a new paying customer who’s about to enjoy one or more of your books. So it’s a virtuous cycle that helps you grow.
Joanna: Yes, and I’ve sold direct on various platforms for years. But up until seeing what you’ve been doing and seeing what others have been doing with Shopify, I didn’t do one store because growing slowly, you do all these different services and stuff. [My store is at www.CreativePennBooks.com]
A lot of people think this is digital only, but it’s not digital only anymore, is it?
Steve: No, not at all. And there’s a large number of readers who will ever, only and always, read paperbacks or hard covers.
And like you, I’ve used a bunch of different store services, you know, Shopify, Kajabi, SamCart others, there’s a bunch of them that work for digital products. The reason that we recommend Shopify now is because it does the best job helping you manage physical inventory.
It has the best integrations that allow you to hook up with print-on-demand services.
So you can sell your eBooks and your audiobooks on your Shopify store, but also your paperbacks, your hardcovers, your large print paperbacks, large print hard covers, special editions, special box sets, all that kind of stuff. So it really does help you manage the physical copies.
Joanna: And in fact, one of your Lars books is one of the first print books I’ve bought from a Shopify store.
Steve: Oh, really, well I feel quite honored. Hopefully, you were able to slog through it.
Joanna: It was great. And what I liked was that it came with a receipt that has, I think, either your face on it, or another book, or some kind of branded material that essentially made me feel it was from your store. Whereas when I get a book in the post from Amazon, the receipt is an Amazon receipt. So that’s really interesting.
Steve: It’s a really powerful advantage that we have by selling direct is that we can be a face rather than a logo.
And we’re all nervous about how we look, none of us thinks that we’re movie stars, but it’s okay. You’re a real person, and it deepens the connection that you have with your readers.
I think it really is beneficial to include your face in your marketing because people know your work, and they enjoy your stories, but we have so much brain real estate devoted to recognizing faces. It really does help for recognition, for brand recognition, and to boost future sales.
So if you can stand to put your face on your brand, it really is useful.
I encourage everybody to do that, no matter how ugly we all think we are. We’re not ugly, we’re all just humans.
Joanna: And everyone has something interesting about their face. Because as you said, people recognize and look at faces. And in fact, I think I saw on one of your various tutorials, that you do ads with your face holding a book, or the ads with our faces in them as authors can be surprisingly effective. Is that right, or am I making that up?
Steve: No, you’re not making it up. It is right. It was very surprising to me.
So I have a bunch of different ad types. I’ve tested probably thousands of different ad variations at this point. Most of the ones that do really well, I don’t predict that they would do really well. That’s the importance of testing, we discover that we have biases that are not shared by our market.
It’s that old adage that you are not your market. One of the most surprising ones that worked the best was just my ugly mug on the advertisement. So that’s the reason I recommend, hey, if you can get over yourself consciousness, just grit your teeth and put it out there, and do you use your face.
Joanna: It’s a tough one. And I know a lot of people listening will be going, no blooming way, I’m not doing that.
Steve: And for those folks, I should say that don’t worry, there is an ad configuration that will likely work for you. So don’t feel like this is the only anything, but it’s just something definitely worth testing.
Joanna: So I mean, testing is one thing you definitely emphasize, but —
What are some of the biggest mistakes you’ve seen authors make with direct sales? And how can we avoid them?
Steve: Hmm, that’s a good question. There are a bunch of technical mistakes that you can make that end up being quite debilitating, even just down to fussy web stuff.
Like, somehow you have the wrong Facebook pixel on your landing page, or something fussy like that.
So it’s the kind of game where it really does pay to pay attention to detail. But I think authors are good at that. I think we think very closely and very hard about things. We’re pretty picky about sentence structure and the way that we say what we say, and the sentences that we use to tell our story. So I don’t think it’s abnormal for authors to sort of dig in and cozy up to the details.
Those are the main ones that I find that are holding folks back. The other part is that there’s not a single one-stop shopping solution that allows you to construct a profitable funnel. You have to put some tools together.
So that can feel intimidating. And I think it holds a lot of people back who otherwise would do very well, but they don’t have much appetite. And I get it, they don’t have much appetite for the technical. The technical lift.
Joanna: I think that’s true now of self-publishing and book marketing, in general. You can still do this stuff offline, you can still go to fairs and sell books at conventions and stuff. And some people do really well with that. So that’s one option. The other option really is online. So I mean —
Do you think it’s possible to be a very successful indie author now without trying some of this technical stuff yourself? Or can you just outsource the whole thing?
Steve: I should say that it’s not economically feasible to outsource the whole thing in the beginning.
Web marketing, it’s a profession, and people who do it for a living expect to be paid as professionals, for good reason. It’s a marriage of art. It’s a marriage of data science. It’s a marriage of web developer stuff. And there are some technical things that go into it. So it is a profession, and those folks, you’re not going to find them on Fiverr.
So if you want to make a go of it, I do think you need an effective and profitable online presence. We have folks in our community who do very well at conventions, but there’s only so many conventions that you can go to. You can’t go to one every day. And when you’re at a convention, or even a great weekend, you know it’ll be a significant amount of money for the weekend, but there just aren’t enough opportunities over the course of a year that you can really make a living off of just selling in person physical copies. At least if there’s somebody doing that, I haven’t met them.
The folks who are selling boatloads of physical copies every single day, are doing that mainly digitally.
They’re mainly using the advertising marketing principles involved in direct sales and aiming them at physical copy sales.
So if there’s a test case for somebody who’s doing that very successfully at scale with physical copies and only in person appearances, I haven’t met them to pick their brain on how they’ve done it.
Joanna: Yes, and it’s funny because, to me, sitting at a convention all day is more terrifying than trying to build something online.
So I mean, we all have the things we have to do to sell our books. And I mean, I have a degree in theology, and I learned how to do this. So I think that over time, you either learn the skills you need to learn, or you can outsource all this to a publisher and go the traditional publishing route.
I mean, you basically pay the publisher up to 90% for them doing all this.
We have to remember there are tradeoffs as authors, and you have to choose your trade-off.
Like you can’t just write your books, you have to do something else. You have to figure out what you are willing to do for this career.
Steve: Yeah, I agree. It dawned on me at some point that there really is no career that is just an author, just a writer, right now.
And there might have been in the past, for a small number of very talented, but also very lucky writers who did win the traditional publishing lottery. Not only did they get published, but really sold, but that’s a small number of folks.
That opportunity still exists in the same sort of probability spaces of like becoming a lottery winner, right? You know somebody’s going to win the lottery every year, but that’s probably not going to be you. So that’s not a model that we can try to replicate.
And then everybody else, well, we’re in the position of needing to create really excellent books and also to create an excellent business that puts those books in the best light in front of the right readers.
So I think it’s different sides of our brains. It’s hard for me to switch back and forth.
I have to devote entire days to one type of work: creative or administrative marketing detail work. It’s a much different headspace for me than creating stories.
And also, I create music as well. Same kind of deal, it’s hard to flip back and forth.
I don’t know of any other way to do it successfully right now. And I think it’s been that way for years. We’ve needed to have some business acumen and some skills that we wouldn’t—like we wouldn’t wake up dreaming, “Gosh, I really wish I understood my ads manager more deeply.” But we just sort of picked these things up along the way as necessary skills to move us forward.
Joanna: And you have a course on this, you mentioned there your community and also test cases, and I’ve watched some of your videos, and you have some really interesting information that I think is different to some of the other courses out there because it does cover this direct sales process. So tell us a bit about that course.
Steve: Well, thank you. Yeah, it’s called AMMO – Author Marketing Mastery through Optimization.
I came at it applying other principles and skills I learned from other online businesses. I aimed those processes and adapted them to book selling. So I knew I was on pretty solid footing, what I didn’t know is if I could make the whole thing work with enough profit margin to be useful and to be profitable. It turns out that with some optimization, which just means testing to find out what works, that it is quite profitable.
That process is not terribly obvious or intuitive, so it does help to have a bit of guidance. And over the years, I’ve seen thousands and thousands of tests, I’ve worked with hundreds of startups in all sorts of different industries, doing basically the same thing. There are a hundred true and accurate ways that you can describe your book, or your service or your product, but how do you know which of those ways resonates best with your audience.
So that’s just the process of testing to help discover what that is, put your books in the best light, in the most relevant light for your audience, and good things happen.
So again, the course is called AMMO. It is open for enrollment at the moment. If you’d like to check out the first video in a series, it walks through the structure that we use, and it gives some examples of some successful advertisements that I’ve used over the years. You can sign up for that at AMMOauthor.com, Author Marketing Mastery through Optimization.
Joanna: And I’ll put the links in the show notes. But I think that’s the video I watched that had the example of your ad in. So yeah, I think it’s like an hour, isn’t it? That video is really useful.
Steve: It is, I think, about 55 minutes or so. And obviously, there’s an opportunity to enroll in the course. But as I go through that sales process, and also sort of with a wink and a nod, I’m telling you what I’m doing from a sales process as I’m doing it to give you a sense for how you might apply that to your bookselling business.
Joanna: Fantastic. So let’s change tack a little bit because we share an interest in blockchain and NFTs. And you recently minted The Incident with book.io.
Why are you interested in NFTs and how does it tie into selling direct?
Steve: Oh, this is such a great thread. I know lots of people, their eyes are glazing over, and they’re thinking about all sorts of online scams and craziness, and there is some of that, for sure.
But the way that I came at blockchain was through Bitcoin. I was thinking very deeply about what is value, what is money? How do you store it? How do you keep it from disappearing while you’re storing it? And I was doing this in the process of writing a trilogy that sort of explores the fragility of the financial system and what some kind of consequences might be.
What I learned is that the blockchain technology is actually a terrific way to make hard money, so money that’s very difficult for governments to just print at their will causing a lot of inflation.
And this gets into financial and global politics and whatnot, but it’s important stuff that I think if we’re not already paying attention to as the general public, we will be before too long.
So I’ve been watching this technology advance, I’ve been participating in it. You know, my participation in Bitcoin over the years has certainly changed our lives. And then as the non-fungible token thing became a thing, at first, I didn’t really understand that people were paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for a picture of a monkey or something crazy like that. But I knew something is happening here, I don’t know what it is.
NFTs allow digital property.
You own a cryptographically, unique copy of the books that you buy through book.io on NFTs. You actually own it, you can sell it again. And if you sell it again, you will reap the profit when you sell it. And you can give it away, you can lend it, you can do whatever you want with it.
This is different than the agreement that we have, say as an Amazon customer, or a Barnes and Noble customer, when we “buy a book”, we’re really just buying the right to read it. We don’t own any other rights.
And in fact, when those companies exit markets, or when they delist books, they disappear from your reader automatically, so you don’t actually own them. But NFTs are a way, and the only way that I know of, to avoid the copy and paste problem with digital property.
It sounds a little bit esoteric, but you can think of it in terms of when you go to a bookstore and you purchase a hardcover, that’s yours. You can sell it at a garage sale if you want, you can give it to your friends, you can do whatever you want with that copy. Well, you now have that ability digitally. And so it’s quite revolutionary. Even though it sounds obvious and kind of simple, I really do think it’s a game changer. So it’s something to watch.
Joanna: Yes, me too. I mean, listeners will know, I’ve been very interested in this space, and I’ve minted, and I think it’s super interesting. I do wonder whether by the time the general public, even most authors, use NFTs, we won’t use that word anymore or those letters anymore.
It will be like nobody knows that they’re reading an ePub file when they get a book on their Kindle or their Kobo or their phone or whatever.
It’s like the word is almost too technical, and perhaps it will just be “digital assets” or another word that will get rid of the scammy connotations that have happened because of the last year and the crypto crashes and all of that kind of thing. What do you reckon?
What do you see coming in the next few years?
Steve: I share that view that what we’re seeing right now is sort of the hood of the car or the bonnet is open. And you can see the greasy engine in there spinning and it doesn’t seem like anything that you want to be a part of.
There will come a time when we have tools that make it far more transparent. And one of the tools book.io is developing right now, which is a reader for your handheld device. So it’ll be a lot more like current eBook purchases and reading experience will be in the future. The major difference being that you own the property.
This is interesting because it puts books in the category of digital collectibles. So as an author gains notoriety, and as an author’s work becomes more popular and valuable, the copies that are owned by individual people will also become more valuable. So it’ll be sort of like investing in fine art, if you will, where it holds value over time, rather than the opposite. So that’s an interesting and neat idea.
Joanna: Yes, I mean, I always say to people, oh, well, you could buy a Charles Dickens eBook—well, you don’t even need to have to buy it—you can get a Charles Dickens eBook for free right now on your Kindle or your Kobo or whatever.
Or you could go and buy a first edition print copy, and that’s going to cost you I don’t even know how much, thousands of pounds. And so that’s kind of what we’re saying, right?
We all value our digital world and our digital life.
Like my website, your website, these don’t physically ‘exist’ in the physical world, but yet they’re worth money.
Why shouldn’t digital assets be worth money? I mean, it almost feels to me like authors are forgetting that digital things are worth something.
Steve: Yes, absolutely, but I feel like it’ll be almost like anything else. It’ll seem to most people that it never has a chance until it’s just a part of everyday life. And then it will seem like it was always an inevitability.
Like it’s this weird kind of social phenomenon that happens where it’s hard for people to project into the future and to understand conceptually what a thing might become until it’s already become that. And then it feels like it’s always been there, just like the sunrise or your furniture. You know what I mean?
I think we’re on that kind of trajectory with these things. And I think it will be not but a couple more years before they’re much more mainstream.
Joanna: I agree. And I mean, you mentioned earlier that you’re a musician. And in terms of looking into the future, the music industry is always ahead of the publishing industry, the book publishing industry.
Is there anything else you see out of the music industry that might be reflected in the author industry over the next few years?
Steve: I think so. I think, like you say, the music industry is a harder business, by far, than the book business. And the book business is not easy, as we all know. So there are a lot of really motivated, intelligent, scrappy people in the music world who are looking for innovative new ways.
I certainly have my own ideas and I’m in the beginnings of a project that feels quite ambitious now, but hopefully will be a marriage of the best of music, and storytelling, and video production using AI art in the videos. Now, that’s another topic entirely, but there’s really amazing things happening right now. As you know, Jo, in the AI art world, where AIs are generating really incredible graphics. So that’s exciting.
The idea is to create an asset worth having, and something that people want to collect and can enjoy or get some utility out of in the process of collecting them. So it’ll be interesting to see where all of this lands, and it’ll be interesting to see how the technology develops. These are really, really exciting times.
Even if this kind of stuff is not really up your alley, you know, technically, I think it’s still worthwhile to start getting an idea, conceptually, of what’s happening. Because I do think it will be a major economic force here, certainly in the next decade, probably in the next five years. What are your thoughts on it? I know you’ve spoken about this in the past in the updates.
Joanna: Well, it’s funny. I mean, one of the reasons I went with Shopify—and you know, it was quite a big deal for me, I had a lot of different products.
And I mean, it’s almost easier to start a Shopify store when you’ve only got a couple of books. And it took me a lot of building, but one of the reasons I did it was because of NFTs and cryptocurrency, because Shopify has this functionality in beta right now, this token-gated commerce.
And I’m encouraged that they enable a lot of things that I think are not mainstream right now, but are going to be mainstream.
So I can really see that I’ll sell my NFT editions, next to my special hardback, next to my audio book, and next to a mug, you know, a journal. And so that’s how I see it, it’s that selling direct can be all kinds of digital collectibles and physical products and everything.
And I guess that’s why it’s so great to talk to you, because I feel like you have that vision too.
The author is the brand, right?
In the future—I mean, it should be already, but by controlling your ecommerce site that is much more truly a brand and a business than it is now. Instead of having all these different things, I mean, we’ll still have all the different things, but we’ll also have our hub.
Steve: Yes, absolutely. Very, very well said, I think the doors are really wide open for all sorts of opportunities.
And when you have a brand, rather than just a series of products, it really allows you to increase your profit margin. It allows you to sell more things to your fans and superfans. And it’s a virtuous cycle where you can have a more profitable and enjoyable business, and you can deliver a lot more value to the people who really value what you produce.
Where can people find you and your books and everything you do online?
Steve: Thank you. If you want to check out the thrillers, I’ll say they’re a little edgy and not for everybody, but you can do that at Lars.buzz.
I don’t know what you’ll see when you get there because I’m constantly testing new configurations, but the best deal available at any moment is at Lars.buzz. And if you are interested in checking out what we’re doing in the direct sales department, that website is AMMOauthor.com.
Joanna: Brilliant. Thanks so much for your time, Steve. That was great.
Steve: Thank you so much, such a pleasure. And thanks for all that you do for us as indie authors.
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