Episode 39 – The Curve with Nicholas Lovell

The CurveYou know about the Curve, even if you don’t think of it in those terms. You’ve noticed how successful businesses have been developing offerings at a wide variety of price points, and how they’ve been focusing particularly on giving stuff away in order to get people’s attention and engagement. You probably do it yourself – it’s the entire principle behind content marketing, in fact. But have you thought strategically about how and where your book fits in?

Nicholas Lovell, this week’s guest in The Extraordinary Business Book Club and author of The Curve: Freeloaders, Superfans and the Future of Business, explains it further:

‘The Curve comes in three parts. You have to find an audience. That probably, but doesn’t necessarily, involve free. You have to earn the right to talk to them again. It’s no good having a newsletter that you get people to sign up for if they immediately unsubscribe because your content is boring and rubbish. Then, having done those two things, found them and got the right to talk to them again, you have to let those people who really want to spend money with you, the people who love what you do, the Superfans, spend lots of money on things they really value.’

Your job, and your book’s job, is to move people along that curve. Your potential superfans will finish your book and say to themselves, ‘That was great! Now what?’ This week’s episode will help you give them a good answer.


GAMESbrief: http://www.gamesbrief.com/

nicholaslovell.com: http://www.nicholaslovell.com/

book trailer: https://youtu.be/pcyzn5oiDrI?t=1s

10 Ways to Make Money in a Free World: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ways-Money-World-Penguin-Specials-ebook/dp/B00FGUM8EU

Raj Raghunathan’s If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy?: http://happysmarts.com/blog/

Alison Jones:  Hello, and welcome to the Extraordinary Business Book Club. Today, I’m here with Nicholas Lovell, who’s an author, consultant, entrepreneur, and formerly, in a previous life, an investment banker.

He’s the founder of GAMESbrief, which is a blog about the business of games. He also works with companies of all sizes on using the Internet to transform their business. He’s written several books, but the one I am really going to focus on today is called The Curve: Turning Followers into Superfans. So, welcome to the Club Nicholas.

Nicholas Lovell:          Hello.

Alison Jones:  Great to have you here.

Nicholas Lovell:          Thank you.

Alison Jones:  Let’s start off by talking about The Curve, you know, that sort of big principle. Tell us, what is the basic idea of that? Let’s also go into how we see books fitting into that model.

Nicholas Lovell:          Sure. The Curve started from the idea that we see so much is going free in this digital world. The Curve, for me, came about particularly through my work with video games. When we realized as an industry that you can make lots of money from free, but only if you think about it carefully.

For me, the Curve comes in three parts. You have to find an audience. That probably, but doesn’t necessarily, involve free. You have to earn the right to talk to them again. It’s no good having a newsletter that you get people to sign up for if they immediately unsubscribe because your content is boring and rubbish. Then, having done those two things, found them and got the right to talk to them again, you have to let those people who really want to spend money with you, the people who love what you do, the Superfans, spend lots of money on things they really value.

One of the things which people often don’t quite grasp is how much lots of money can possibly mean. We can come back to that.

Alison Jones:  Yes, and it’s a really good point, isn’t it? Because when you differentiate, then everybody thinks about price points going down with the Internet. But actually, there’s potential to really push things up as well and just have a much broader, more differentiated range of price points.

Nicholas Lovell:          Absolutely. 10 times, 100 times, 1000 times, because we can now find that audience in a way that just was not possible in a pre-digital age.

Alison Jones:  And it’s interesting because obviously I have a publishing background, and digital publishing has been very problematic in some ways for the industry. Because they didn’t get that digital migration that we used to talk about. That sounds so naïve now, where you know, print revenues would just simply migrate to ebook revenues. It just didn’t happen like that, and I remember Richard Nash saying at Frankfurt this year that digital isn’t where the money is. Digital is where you build the audience.

Nicholas Lovell:          Yes, absolutely.

Alison Jones:  I thought it was a really … yeah, so there’s a little bit of that in there as well, isn’t there? You have the potential to build an audience in a way that you just didn’t have, but it’s more problematic to sell the old stuff online.

Nicholas Lovell:          I think that’s right, and one of the more interesting things in my conversations, even when selling The Curve to a big publisher, Portfolio Penguin, is just how much of the conversations focused on how big my Twitter following was, what my mailing list was already like. You mentioned I published other books. All the others are self-published and the fact that I had self-published and made money already was something which made people think “Oh, that’s interesting. You have an audience, you’ve done steps 1 and 2 of the Curve. You found an audience. You’ve earned the right to speak to them again through mailing lists, through Twitter, through Facebook” to a lesser extent for me. For other people it’s YouTube or Instagram or Snapchat or whatever. Then the letting people spend lots of money on things they really value … well, as I say, I’m sure we’re going to come and talk about that. But the book fits in to that curve, it’s not the end of that curve. It is a part of that curve for me and for Penguin.

Alison Jones:  Let’s explore that a little bit more because I think that is interesting. Obviously the book has a fixed price point, in print and as an eBook-

Nicholas Lovell:          That’s right.

Alison Jones:  How does the book fit in? Where is it on the curve? What’s the step before it and the step after it, if you like?

Nicholas Lovell:          Well, I have to make a confession here which is that even somebody like me who writes about this stuff for a living can fail to do the free stuff or nearly fail to do the free stuff as well as he should. The free end of the curve is a bunch of things. I have a blog at nicholaslovell.com, which is my much more general one. My games one is GAMESbrief, and that’s very focused on designing free to play … if you don’t make free-to-play games for a living, then I think GAMESbrief probably isn’t for you.

Nicholas Lovell is a broader one. Penguin took some of the marketing budget and made what I think is a marvellous 2-minute video that summarizes the curve, which is available on YouTube, it’s on … it’s all over my websites and elsewhere. Which is obviously part of the free journey that gets people to look at that, to share it and so on.

About a couple of weeks before we launched, we suddenly realized that we didn’t have a free offering that was very similar to the book. We do have some more expensive things, obviously we came out in hardback and paperback in traditional ways. We had some very expensive things. We had an author lunch, you could buy the Curve as a poster, you could do master classes and consulting and all the other traditional, if you like, business author ways of generating revenue from a book.

But we hadn’t put enough thought into the free end. I’m not a big believer in excerpts or samples, I believe that the free thing should be a whole experience or a whole useful thing that is free. It can be a teaser, that’s fine, but the video contains all the information that’s at the heart of the curve, hopefully leaving you wanting more. Just giving out the first chapter for free doesn’t feel to me as if that same thing is true. It’s just a “Look, you’ve had a little bit.” It’s a teaser, it’s a trailer. It’s a taste of it, it’s not a whole story.

What we did, and again, this comes back to the same point about how do we find our audience. Most booksellers or book writers and sellers know that you find your audience through 2 big places: Amazon and bookshops. You need to work with those structures as much as possible. The purpose of my free book is to, if you like, take advantage of the Amazon algorithm. If you download the free book and read it, Kindle will know that you’ve read it. I hope, I don’t know all of this, I don’t know exactly how the algorithm works, but I do hope that if you see that you’ve downloaded my book and you’ve read my book, then Amazon will keep recommending that you should buy my book as the next step.

So I wrote a book called 10 Ways to Make Money in a Free World. It’s takes all of the same themes of the book but … of The Curve, the paperback and hardback and eBook, but is new content with 10 more specific examples. I just had to write that faster than I would have liked because we’d slightly forgotten to do it in the focus on getting the main book out of the door. I can’t say how well the algorithm is working, I don’t know. I do know that Amazon keeps recommending that I should buy The Curve, which is not entirely what I’m after, but obviously I do have digital copies of it.

I kind of hope … and I think that is a key part of The Curve, is to say that sometimes it’s the direct earning. You write good content so people sign up for your email from you or for your blog or your streams on social media. But the other way of doing it is to go, “My job is to make Amazon and Waterstones and other places recommend my book. What can I do to help that?” We all know about owning the shelf. If you own a shelf in Waterstones, if you’re Terry Pratchett with very distinctive covers, or JK Rowling, with very distinctive covers, you can own a shelf and people just know that it’s your book immediately.

When you’re a new author you can’t do that, but what you can do is give something away for free digitally, because that’s now possible because it’s digital. Then you need to make sure there’s a purpose behind it. It’s pointless just giving it away because it’s expected. My purpose is, they don’t come to me to get it. For my self-published stuff, you come to my website, you give me your email address, I send you the thing you want and in return I’ve got your email. That’s how I’ve earned the right. With my non-self-published stuff, Penguin doesn’t know who my readers are. I mean, Amazon knows but isn’t telling. Penguin doesn’t know, and if they do know, they’re not telling me. I have to figure out ways to get hold of those people.

Alison Jones:  That’s really clever. What I particularly like is … it’s 2 things here. One is the kind of underlying ideology and the kind of integrity to the values of the book, which is about getting something that is worthwhile on its own terms. So not just as you say, the free first chapter. Then something else that struck me is that fiction writers can do this quite a lot. If they have a series, they put the first book of the series out. It’s like they’re sort of pushing the drugs, isn’t it? You give somebody the first bit for free and then you hook them into the rest. It’s really hard for … if you’re doing this, the one big standalone book, to do that. I thought that your book did that very well and I’m fascinated to hear the story behind it. I hadn’t realized it was such a last-minute job.

Nicholas Lovell:          Yes. I try to avoid the drug-pushing analogy, particularly for video games. But I think that … it doesn’t act … this exact technique doesn’t work for absolutely everywhere. I mention in The Curve a novelist called, I might have to remember his name, Michael Hicks, I think, who’s a science fiction author.

Alison Jones:  Yeah.

Nicholas Lovell:          Who writes genre fiction relatively fast as some genre fiction people do. He writes all of his books as trilogies and typically gives the first copy away. Which is an entire book, I mean, it’s like giving away-

Alison Jones:  Exactly.

Nicholas Lovell:          The … now I can’t remember the name of the first book in the Lord of the Rings, which is doing my geek credentials no good. So you give that book for free-

Alison Jones:  I’m not geek enough to know that, sorry.

Nicholas Lovell:          You get … yeah, exactly, sorry. You get the next one from there. I think I’ve seen a novelist called Eloise James, who was doing the same thing, but each of her books is just getting much shorter. We have a habit in our mind of thinking that a book is 300 pages long, it’s about somewhere between 50 and 150,000 words. That is the length of a book. But that’s a lot to do with the constraints and the logic of the physical distribution. There’s no reason why-

Alison Jones:  Yeah, it’s basically so you can print on a spine, isn’t it? That’s what it comes down to.

Nicholas Lovell:          Correct.

Alison Jones:  That you have a spine big enough to be able to read the title on it. Online it doesn’t matter at all. If you’re producing eBooks, they can be 5,000, 10,000 words.

Nicholas Lovell:          Absolutely, so instead of being a trilogy, write a 6-book series, but each book is 25,000 words.

Alison Jones:  Right.

Nicholas Lovell:          Instead of 50,000 words. Then the first one was always envisaged for giving away for free. If you’re being really lean startup about it, which is another book I strongly recommend-

Alison Jones:  Oh yeah, love that one.

Nicholas Lovell:          Absolutely. You don’t write the whole 6. You write the first one. If nobody likes it, then you just go “Well, that was … that world isn’t worth exploring anymore and I’m wrong.”

Alison Jones:  Go write another one.

Nicholas Lovell:          Yes, exactly. As I say, these techniques don’t work for everybody. Some people’s fiction, some people’s nonfiction, is a burning idea they want to present. Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century wouldn’t work by this kind of model.

But other people want to tell stories and they want to figure out whether or not people are interested in their stories.

Alison Jones:  Yeah, and I think that probably that’s more the case for most of the listeners to this podcast, to be honest. The content thing is interesting, isn’t it? It’s sort of at the heart of your business. Why do you think it’s really important for your business to be creating content so regularly? Obviously GAMESbrief is a blog, it’s all about content. How does that work for you and why is it important for businesses in general, do you think?

Nicholas Lovell:          Well, it’s … The Curve for me started from my understanding of The Curve. Sort of came about backwards. As you mentioned, I used to be an investment banker. I left, I started doing a lot more work in the video games industry. People kept asking me to come back to do the type of work I’d run away from, the kind of spreadsheets and forecasting and business models and everything else. I was trying, in a slight grump, to figure out how to stop people from doing this. I had a detailed Excel spreadsheet which I’d figured out to explain how video games made money, to show to investors to use for your business planning. Essentially I kept being asked to redo this for people and get paid on a day rate to kind of tweak it.

I went, “I know what I’m going to do! I’m just going to upload it to my website. I’m going to give it away for free and then nobody will ask me to do that type of work ever again.” That was the kind of purpose. And it utterly backfired, it completely didn’t work. I didn’t give it away totally for free. In Curve Principles, I said you could have it if you give me your email address and permission to email you, sign up to my blog, all those kind of things. In return, you got a spreadsheet which previously I was charging kind of £1000 or £2000 pounds a day for people to work on, which I didn’t want to do anymore.

The process that happened as a result was that lots of people downloaded it, lots of people followed me on the blog, but then when they were going to see investors or presenting a business case internally, or didn’t quite understand something, there was only one person who they thought was the right person to go and talk to and ask. It was the person who’d written the spreadsheet that their entire business plan was based upon in the first place! It was a real eye-opening thing to me, that actually what I had thought of as my core intellectual property, this model that I had developed … and it’s not that sophisticated in some ways, although one of my professional skills is making the complex simple. That’s one of the things I do. It just backfired and led to me getting more day rate work, more consulting work, than I really wanted. But it led to my understanding of how The Curve can be used in that kind of business.

Alison Jones:  That’s hilarious. What I like about that is it shows how, in a sense when you hold onto things too tightly, it doesn’t happen. This only happened because you had detached, in a sense, from the content. You were able to put it out there for free, which had it been your main way of earning revenue, would have been an unthinkable step, wouldn’t it?

Nicholas Lovell:          Well, absolutely. I think that that is … I face that quite often, is people going “But this is how I make money.”

For example, I was sitting at a conference recently next to a consultant. I was just earwigging over his conversation and he was very clearly saying “This is the advice I’ll give you now, but it’s not my best advice. I’ll give you my best advice when I get paid for it.” I think that’s a terrible way of living, but it’s also … it’s kind of like going on a date with somebody and being really grumpy, and promising that you’ll be nice if they agree to a second date. I just don’t think that kind of works. But it’s also-

Alison Jones:  That is so true!

Nicholas Lovell:          Oh, absolutely. You find people not wanting to put their best stuff forward because then they’ve got nothing to keep back. What people are paying me for is my time, they’re paying for my bespoke advice to their particular situation. They’re paying for me to have to listen to them rather than them to have to listen to me, I mean, yeah, there’s all sorts of different things they’re paying for. But I will always give people the best advice I currently can.

Alison Jones:  I’m nodding furiously here, I really thoroughly agree with you. I get a few people who’ve said to me, “Oh, you know, I don’t want to put everything on my blog because then there’s no reason for someone to come to me.” I’m like “No, no, no! You can never put everything you know and are in a book.” And everybody knows that so they use the book as like a proxy to measure your value. The more value they see in the book, the more value they’re going to ascribe to the idea of working with you individually as well.

Nicholas Lovell:          Absolutely, and I’m three years on from The Curve, and I have learnt so much both in terms of just the process of writing it, and things like this realization I didn’t have the free version of the book, which is kind of inconceivable to me now. But also the clients I’ve worked with, both in games and outside of games. New topics, new thoughts, new examples. I mean, even to the stage that we added some additional case studies in the paperback that didn’t appear in the hardback. Things like, if I remember, Nespresso was one. The Nespresso coffee machine is a marvellous example of a Curve business, which is not free. Because you have to pay a minimum of 150 pounds to buy the coffee machine to start.

But it does all of the other things. You find your audience by selling them a coffee machine at a big department store, and then you earn the right to speak to them again because they need to be a member of the club in order to buy the pods. You enable superfans because they sell the special coffee that’s been eaten and excreted by Venezuelan civets or whatever it might be. That’s £5 a pod instead of 50p a pod, and some people want the most exclusive, the most expensive, the most limited edition. All of it doesn’t involve negotiating with Sainsbury’s or Tescos or Walmart for position and eye line and paying marketing money for end caps and all those other things. Nespresso has these customers directly. It’s a Curve business even though there’s no free and there’s no content. It’s still a Curve business.

Alison Jones:  That’s fascinating, to see it apply across so many different sectors.

Nicholas Lovell:          Exactly.

Alison Jones:  Let’s just pick up on… we mentioned a little while ago, something about agile and The Lean Startup, a big big book, I absolutely loved Eric Ries’s Lean Startup. Talked to Brad Cooper a little while ago as well. He wrote The Lean Entrepreneur.

Nicholas Lovell:          Yes.

Alison Jones:  There’s something that you mentioned when I saw you at the IPG conference a couple of months ago, about the F2P toolkit. I would love you just to talk a little about that because I thought it was such a great example of agile thinking in practice when it comes to writing a book.

Nicholas Lovell:          One of the nice things for me is that because people expect me to be thinking lean and thinking experimentally, I can … it’s very easy for me to experiment. I think everybody can experiment but it’s almost expected of me to experiment.

Alison Jones:  It’d be rude not to, wouldn’t it?

Nicholas Lovell:          Yeah, exactly, exactly. The Free-to-Play Toolbox, which if you work in the games industry, you almost can’t call that F2P because you just see it and it means “Free to play” to you instantly. But The Free-to-Play Toolbox is aimed at those … though it’s fair enough, if you don’t work in the industry you wouldn’t think like that. It’s aimed at people who make all of those games that you see on your smartphone or on your PC where you can download it for free. Most people play it for free, but some people spend lots of money on it. That’s games like Candy Crush Saga, Clash of Clans, Hearthstone, there’s a whole … League of Legends, which has 140 million players every month and makes about a billion dollars a year even though it’s free. So it’s a good business.

The Free-to-Play Toolbox was an attempt to take a lot of the information which I had in my blog, rewrite it, add a lot of new stuff, and present it as a book rather than as a free service on the blog. With the theory being that a bunch of people would rather have a book than trawl through a blog. They do different purposes. But I wasn’t sure about this and I self-published, so it’s not about convincing a … in the games world I self-published because I already have done a lot of the jobs of a publisher. I found my audience, I can distribute to them, I get a better royalty rate if I sell it myself, and so on. They aren’t so useful for finding me an audience, whereas for The Curve they were hugely valuable because I would never have found an audience without Penguin Portfolio’s help.

I wanted to test as quickly and cheaply as possible whether or not there was going to be a market for this book. I just put an ad up on my website. The ad said, it had a different name, but we changed the name with other research, but we’ll call it The Free-to-Play Toolbox. “Buy it now!” And if you clicked on the ad it took you to a page that said “Look, I’m really sorry, but I haven’t written this book yet. I was running a test to see whether or not people were interested. If enough of you are interested by clicking, then I’ll go ahead and write it. If you want me to write it, why don’t you give me your email address now and I’ll email you when it’s ready?” I got 150 emails within a couple of weeks, which for my self-publish model was enough to make me think there’s a market and a revenue opportunity for me here.

Then, slightly unhelpfully, I got a contract with Penguin to write The Curve and it took me 3 years to get on with finishing the Free to Play Toolbox. I didn’t feel I could run the experiment again without actually having delivered on it. But I have now delivered on the Free to Play Toolbox. I think it’s probably made in the region of 50,000 pounds over its lifetime as a self-published book, which is enough to have justified writing it. Plus of course, you learn … as your readers know, you learn so … your listeners know, rather … you learn so much through the process of reading a book that the process of writing one is invaluable in its own right.

Alison Jones:  Yes, absolutely. And what I love about that as well is that I’ve done lots of market research before thinking about publishing projects, but in the past what we did is we went out and talked to people and said “Would you like this product? Would you buy this product?” Maybe it’s the cultural thing of being nice and not wanting to say “No” to somebody’s face, but people go “Yes, absolutely. Yes, I would absolutely buy that product.” Or maybe they genuinely mean it, but actually when you measure “Will they click through to spend actual money on it,” that’s a whole different question, isn’t it? It’s a much more reliable indicator.

Nicholas Lovell:          Absolutely. I haven’t done this myself but I’m aware of companies who go much further down that line. With live products, they’re trying to figure out what the price points are. They show a bunch of different price points on the website and see if people will click through and purchase. Everybody gets charged the lowest price at the checkout, they get … so if somebody, let’s say, is selling a mug and some people see “Click through for £4 ” and somebody else clicks through for £12, everybody gets charged £4 at the checkout so that nobody feels hard done by, because this is a test. This is not price discrimination, it’s a different thing. You need to explain to people why something is more expensive and where the value is in something being more expensive.

But what it does do is you come back and you go “Okay, so let’s assume that everybody who clicked through was going to empty their basket, complete the transaction,” which is a slightly dangerous assumption. But let’s assume that. If most people click through at £12, and a few at £3, we can definitely sell this at £12. If it’s half and half, we still might choose to do £12 because the margin’s so much better that that’s just the price.

I think there are a lot of things .. I dislike the process of asking people what they think. In our world of video games, we say “Listen to what your audience says in the forums. Realize that they are correctly identifying problems but ignore every one of their solutions because they know nothing about video games.” So-

Alison Jones:  But see what they do, watch what they do in the games?

Nicholas Lovell:          Then, exactly. What we now can do with … that used to be our only, the audience feedback. We used to have two inputs: the designer’s instincts, which we would call the author’s instincts, and then what people said in reviews. Those were the two bits of feedback. For video games, we now have a lot of data that says “Well, look. They’re spending, they’re playing. They’re coming back every day. This feature they say they hate, they’re all using. So maybe there’s something wrong there but that doesn’t mean we should take it out.”

Of course, in your market research you pick the people who will answer your questions. Which are not necessarily the people you’re targeting. I’ve never been asked my opinion on a business book and I am a voracious reader of business books. They say the people who answer polls in the US for political polls are people who are at home during the day and answer unsolicited landline phones. You can immediately see the demographic difficulty with polling in the United States on that basis.

Alison Jones:  Yeah, let’s not go down that path at the moment. We’re doing this pre US presidential election by the way, so you’ll be listening to this afterwards. We’re just going to leave that hanging, I think.

But yeah, absolutely fascinating I think. It’s really interesting to me as well how many principles from the gaming world map over to publishing the book with others that have always sold theirs. It’s fascinating. People talk about books being like music, I’ve always thought they’re actually more like games. That kind of immersive experience.

Just pulling it back to generally and books, what if I had to poke into your head and say “Give me one bit of advice for a first-time business book author.” What’s the one tip that you would give them if they knew nothing else? What should they take away from this?

Nicholas Lovell:          I feel like the old piece of advice, the unhelpful piece of advice you’re given when you’re asking for directions, which is “Well, I wouldn’t start from here.” I think the answer is have an audience, so I think … well, let’s go back a little bit and think a little bit about the Curve. Because one of the things about the Curve is that there are multiple curves that different people are journeying upon.

Nicholas has a … me, I have at least two different curves. I have my GAMESbrief curve, which is my video game one, where I give away my blog and my spreadsheets and I sell books. Then I sell consultancy and so on. I also have a Curve curve where I do the same sort of thing but for my book The Curve. I’m also interested in cross-promoting between the two so people who already know me from games will buy The Curve and so in another directions.

Amazon has an entirely different curve. Amazon simply wants to know that if somebody buys and reads Nicholas Lovell’s book, what other book does my algorithm say they’ll most likely buy? It will immediately recommend that one. So Seth Godin is next, or Tim Harford is next, or Malcolm Gladwell is next. They won’t try and sell my next book, they’ll try and sell the next book that their algorithm says is most likely. Their curve is “How do I get as much money as possible from these customers, get them to sign up for Prime?”

Apple for music, the iTunes business, that has a curve of its own. But it is not interested in the slightest in trying to help an artist be more successful. It’s interested in making iTunes sell more stuff. They’ll use their own curves.

For that matter, Penguin doesn’t care about me. Sorry, Penguin. It cares about selling books, and it wanted my book to be successful. But if the most useful thing for them is for them to take all of the readers they found for my books and funnel them into Malcolm Gladwell’s next book or whatever, I think they would do it in a heartbeat. And probably should! I mean, I’m not cross with them for doing that.

My job, therefore, and the aspiring business author’s job, is to go “Whereabouts do I sit in the curve, and how do I move people around? If my book is the type of book which will end up in Sainsbury’s, it’s going to be discounted and I’m never going to know who those customers are. I need to get people from being anonymous customers in Sainsbury’s to somebody I can talk to again.” You’ll never get all of them because they … most of them have no potential to become your superfans, the people who will definitely buy your next book, who will want to come to author dinner, who will want to do a crime tour of Glasgow in advance of your next gritty crime thriller with you, the author, turning up for one meal. But other people taking them round the locations you’ve been to. You know, keep doing that stuff, but that would only be a subset of people.

My one bit of advice is two bits of advice. Have an audience already. Obviously the main thing you want to do with your book is to build an audience, but I think books that amplifies of an existing audiences. So you do need to be on social media in some form, or have a blog, or be an avid Youtuber, that’s why we’re seeing so many YouTube books coming out.

At the other end, the book is a non-interactive medium. How do you use the book to get people to come to a place where you can talk to them again? Not just by releasing the next book, which is a perfectly valid strategy, but we’ve been doing it for decades and centuries. We know how to do that one. But to a place where you can choose to talk to them again. That might be no more than “Why don’t you come to my website?” It might be … I’ve seen a marvellous book recently, it’s about happiness. I’m just trying to look at my shelf because I can’t remember its name. It’s by a chap called Raj and his surname is long and difficult to pronounce which is why I don’t have it in front of me.

He was running a course at I think either Harvard or the Wharton School on happiness for MBAs. All the way through it, every single chapter, he says “This chapter is based on the work of this academic. Here’s the video interview I did with this academic. It’s on this site. Here are the happiness exercises which you can run through, come to this website.” And now he’s built a Coursera course, which is a massively online course provider, to draw people in. While his book may have reached hundreds of thousands, so is his online course. In that case, he knows who they are.

Alison Jones:  Yeah.

Nicholas Lovell:          He can talk to them again and so on. The two bits of advice: have an audience, okay, that’s easy to say, isn’t it? But if you’re going to build the audience using the book, it’s no good just putting the book out there and then letting go of the audience. Make sure within the book you have a mechanism of getting 5-10% of people who, particularly for a business author, are the ones who have the potential to go on to be your consulting clients, your master class clients, your additional content clients. Whatever else it might be. You need to move them to a place where you can speak to them again, because a book isn’t that. That’s not what a book is good for.

Alison Jones:  Brilliant. Absolutely superb advice. It’s about that balance, isn’t it, between the offline and the online. And bringing people from the offline into the online where as you say you can start actually to have a dialogue and start to know who they are.

Nicholas Lovell:          Exactly.

Alison Jones:  Brilliant, I love that.

Nicholas Lovell:          You can move in both directions.

Alison Jones:  Yeah, great. So who do you think … now you know what the show’s about, who do you think would be a really good guest for the Extraordinary Business Book Club? Somebody who has something interesting to say?

Nicholas Lovell:          I’m a huge fan of Tim Harford, who is also known as “The Undercover Economist” from Radio 4.

Alison Jones:  Ah, yes.

Nicholas Lovell:          I love his book Adapt, which is his book before last. He’s just this moment released a book called Messy, which I haven’t read but it says that messy people with untidy desks make the cleverest and nicest people. Or something like that, I’m holding-

Alison Jones:  I saw that, I was hugely heartened by it –

Nicholas Lovell:          Exactly, exactly. He knows that, he knows what he’s selling. His previous book Adapt was about … it’s nothing like The Lean Startup in that it’s not Silicon Valley-centric in that way, but it’s the same principles of making sense of an uncertain world. I have been described as somebody who’s unusually comfortable with uncertainty, and I think Tim describes in Adapt why that is valuable and how this lack of … the world isn’t certain, we just pretend it is. Therefore sometimes just accepting that it isn’t and knowing how to deal with it is a very, very useful skill in life.

Alison Jones:  That sounds absolutely fascinating. Well, I shall … I’ll try and get him on, I’ll drop your name and hopefully we’ll be speaking to him soon. Brilliant.

Nicholas Lovell:          He has the book out, it’s always a good time.

Alison Jones:  Yeah, it’s always a great time to approach them, isn’t it? “Would you like to talk about your book?” “Of course!”

Nicholas Lovell:          Exactly.

Alison Jones:  Brilliant. So Nicholas, if people want to find out more about you, maybe more about GAMESbrief, maybe there are more geeks here than I give credit for … certainly about The Curve, where can they get it?

Nicholas Lovell:          The best place to come is nicholaslovell.com. As always, I struggle with my own advice. I haven’t updated as much as I should because I’ve been so busy. This will prompt me to go and write more interesting stuff on my blog. It’s useful to have that feedback.

Alison Jones:  You’re welcome. This is all part of the service.

Nicholas Lovell:          Thank you!

Alison Jones:  We’ll put the Nicholas Lovell link up on there and I know The Curve, the website is excellent. It really does model … I mean, Nicholas has been very self-deprecating about the lateness of that free eBook. But it’s a really good model of living out what the book is about, and you’ll get some really good ideas for things that you can do about marketing a book on the one hand, but also bringing people from the book onto the site and giving them some useful resources. And places to go, as you say moving along that curve, is a good example of that.

Nicholas Lovell:          Absolutely.

Alison Jones:  Brilliant.

Nicholas Lovell:          What happens is you start seeing it everywhere. Once you start reading the book, you start seeing “Oh, that’s a Curve business!” And you start-

Alison Jones:  That’s very true.

Nicholas Lovell:          Seeing that one’s using free differently, or that one’s paid, like Nespresso. I didn’t notice that Nespresso was a Curve business because the entry price isn’t free.

Alison Jones:  Yeah, it’s so true. We’re so used to thinking of businesses as doing one thing, and suddenly when you open it up and see it as just that one spot on the curve it changes everything, doesn’t it? It’s like you can’t unsee it.

Nicholas Lovell:          Exactly. And of course downloading 10 Ways to Make Money in a Free World means that hopefully Amazon harasses you forever to buy The Curve. That would be another very good place to start, from my point of view.

Alison Jones:  That’s something to look forward to. Brilliant.

Nicholas Lovell:          Exactly.

Alison Jones:  Thank you so much, Nicholas. Absolutely fascinating.

Nicholas Lovell:          Thank you for having me.


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  1. Pingback: The Curve - where your book fits in your business « Birds on the Blog

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