The Great Membership Mode Challenge – Results Week 04

(While my blogging is new to Gumroad, I've been running weekly challenge posts for the last three-plus years. And this post picks us up halfway through this years, and it's refocus onto memberships.)

"When solving problems, dig at the roots instead of just hacking at the leaves.” ~ Anthony J. D’Angelo

Metrics

  • Total subscribers: 1937
  • New subscribers last seven days: 4
  • Course sign-ups: 0
  • Membership sign-ups: 2 free

Books published:

Memberships/Courses in Progress:

  • Goal Achievement ("Get Everything You Want Out of Life")
  • Reading/Writing/Publishing ("Living Stories")
  • Regenerative Farming ("Living WIth the Land")
- - - -

Analysis

Farm work continued, but I stayed out of the worst hot weather. My last overdue cow decided to deliver her calf in it, though. Found both alive and fine - and the calf is devoted to that momma. They even take pond-baths together...

Yet Another Breakthrough: Worked to get these three memberships up on my Rainmaker backend for the decent parts (indoor with A/C) of two days. Only to nearly figure it out - and finally realize it was a fool's errand. Because it's set up on Wordpress, and the plug-in that creates a membership for you is built on that WP database which has lots of stuff hanging out to trip over. I counted 12 steps that would have to be made for each and every membership. And the bottom line is that it's really only built to have a single membership per author/admin. Meaning, I was trying to get it to do something it wasn't built for. So: comparing this to Gumroad brought me to the conclusion that I needed to consume my own dog food. (More below.)

Subscribers: Continuing to lose the freebie seekers. And pushing them all out, bit by bit. Finding people who have gone inactive, and then giving them one last chance. Otherwise, they're self-deporting. So I'm a little relieved when they depart.  The list is a lot more active with these gone. Because those "ghosts" were hiding the statistics of people who were opening and clicking on things.

If those previewers (who don't count on the "opens") want to stick around, they need to click on something every now and then. And I tell them this.

Paid subscribers are the priority now. Deliver to those who bought something from you. Keep in touch with them. The rest are brought along as you can, but know that those few are the ones you really need to be communicating with. 

Mailing lists are not there to become your pen pals. Mailing lists should be influencing your sales, priming the pump for others to take the bait.

As below, I'm concentrating on those who bought through Gumroad, because I know who they are, what they bought, and what else I can help them with.

Saying Goodbye to Rainmaker - blogging is such a fond farewell.

Wordpress and Copyblogger were a good match because they are both built on blogging. Success at blogging is as tough as making a living on Amazon.

That's all they do really well. Sure, they host podcasts, and now courses and (with a lot of difficulty, memberships and selling things). But their forte is blogging.

Now, follow this logic and I'll lay out how blogging is a dead end - which is why I'm dropping Rainmaker.

You have to go back to the Content Inc model.

The first step is to narrow down to what you are good at and what your passion is, and then take a tiny sliver of what that applies to and find where those people hang out. For some, its a "social" media platform, others are into videos, and some blog and get a following. But in all cases, you have to get a following by routinely churning out great content.

Blogging then logically goes into SEO, so the search engines can recommend your content. But - people don't go to search engines to buy books. So you then have to get these people's names who come to your site and opt-in to your list there. Your first master to get approval of is Google (the monopolist). And they have long ago tied their standings to running ads. An internal tax, like Amazon does.

After you get through that hurdle, you then have to write content to get people to opt in - little ads on your own site that giveaway a freebie. Then you have to write content to those freebie opt-in's to get them to buy something.

A lot of work for authors, in addition to their work writing new books.

Non-fiction authors have this easier, because most of them write only a few books in their lifetime and use them as calling cards to get paid speaking gigs and coaching gigs. So books aren't their main income.

Podcasting is also hosted on Rainmaker. And I had several that were popular. And at the beginning and end of each episode were ads that said visit my site. Yet those who ever opted-in to my list from that route were phantoms. I couldn't track those.

Courses are a logical extension of non-fiction books. And I started cranking these out. And then found that I really needed to get these up on membership sites so I could then entice them over to my site to opt-in. A lot of dull, grinding work, for something that was worth far more than that.

Ultimately, you then get people to join a membership. And as I said above, this is a mess on Wordpress, as it's not a simple one-step set-up and load stuff. It's 12 steps. And my stuff that I sell is already on Gumroad, which is where setting up a membership (relatively new on this platform) is actually a one-step procedure.

About that time, the lightbulb went on.

In the back of every book, there's an opt-in link. A person buys the book, reads to the end of it, and signs up. And I get a few of those every week.

When a person buys one of my books on Gumroad, I automatically get an opt-in.

That's a kicker, isn't it? And on that platform, I have a very precise list of who bought what. And I can email them from that platform and suggest other books they'd like which I've also published there. When their name comes over to my own list, unfortunately, that data doesn't come along. So I need to go over to Gumroad to find out what that person's data is.

Of course, if I already had my membership and blog on Gumroad, then that's a no-brainer.

The thing is to shift gears here.

Buying readers opting-in to your list is called organic growth. They bought something first. For the online book distributors, this isn't an option. Readers first buy your book and then have to opt-in. Unless they buy on Gumroad (where my books are always lower than everywhere else.) Amazon doesn't figure this out to penalize you because Gumroad isn't your usual book distributor. As well, they can't make sense of "Pay What You Want...) Gumroad is no threat to them. And so they don't then have these script bots that go out and scrape data to compare with their own massive book-price-author databases. Hah.

Do you see where this is going?

  • Memberships are simpler on Gumroad. 
  • Paying customers stay on a list longer and tend to buy again. 
  • Freebie-seekers require a lot of extra work to get them to support your writing by buying. 
  • People who buy your book on other distributors are mysteries, and you have no way to give them offers or incentives.
  • I don't need to blog - this hasn't particularly gotten me book buyers. Podcasts haven't gotten me any known opt-ins.
  • Selling books directly gets me opt-ins, and data to help them improve their lives directly.

What started this all going

I  realized that a mailing list is a free membership. I could split up the types of people there and write to these different areas every week. They break down into three categories. Then encourage those people with special offers to buy more stuff. And encourage them to become affiliates and spread the word.

But the more I tried to work that out, by setting up special memberships to hold all the data, then it got more and more complicated.

Then I saw that I kept simply going to Gumroad for solutions.

Rainmaker got me as a client in 2015 (just reminded of this.) And it's been $95 per month for those 5+ years. Yes, a thick penny dropping out of my accounts regularly. Given, that they have added more scripts and went through two management changes meanwhile. The whole thing was: yes, but if I keep going, and keep researching, I'll make that site pay for itself eventually.  But: Nope - the harder I worked at fixing it, the harder it got to fix. Blogging and Podcasting are dead-ends for writers, basically. Neither are necessary to research and write books, and generally just slow the process down.

I got onto Gumroad because at the time, there was no way to sell books directly on Rainmaker. Forward five years, and there is. But meanwhile, I've been publishing regularly, sometimes two or three times a week to Gumroad. And have over 500 books there now (with a couple of bundles).

Meanwhile, Gumroad has added blogging, and added the capacity to email your own customers from there. For a $10/month fee. Not to mention (again) that they've gotten a really simple membership scene going now.

Mailerlite has also improved its own scene by adding landing pages and mini-sites, and gizmo's like block editing and surveys.

Now here's the kicker - I can give away a book for an opt-in and deliver through Gumroad and know just who "bought" that free giveaway. Sure, maybe that dilutes the process. But if Gumroad and Mailerlite already have all that I need, then I can save myself quite a bit and get my work done faster.

Plus, I'm mostly working with buying customers, not freebie-seekers.

A Change of Viewpoint

Why not give the buying customers the best service?

Sure, I can send out these same emails to others as well, but I'm really giving priority to helping people who have some skin in the game.

Ok - presales: tried that. It doesn't work without spending on ads.

But I have some 200+ people supposedly in my ACR who like to get previews. Do I know if they ever bought anything? No. So here's an idea: make the ACR a paid effort. One dollar for every three months. Put 4-6 months worth of new releases inside there, and then delete the oldest one for each new one added. When I'm writing fiction, I crank out two books a week - one is mine, the other is a compilation.

Now, people don't really go to my site (that I can tell) from these emails. But now, I can send them to my Gumroad profile page and they'll be able to look up the earlier offers I've sent out. Because they also don't open every email. So I make a paid membership for the ACR. And invite people to it. If none of the existing ACR members want to invest, well, at least they opened the email. But the freebies are over. And that will weed people out. Harsh? Who pays my rent, covers my overhead? A lot of mystery people out there buying books from distributors.

The people I know, who like my books, should support my efforts directly.

Now, I can then upgrade that to an Insider's Club, where I'll also share the notes for upcoming books, and deliver all versions of each new book to that membership. Again, it's a 3-month renewable, and they get four-six months worth of books for that low price. Plus a direct line of new materials they can download there - which isn't available for purchase at any price. Insiders.

Now my books on authorship are also in there, because people who know what good writing is will get more out of their reading.

Something similar can be done for my other two memberships, as I'll also be building up these areas with new books on goal achievement and farming, respectively. Those are the other two areas of research and publishing. By writing new emails to these buyers every week, we all have skin in the game.

Yes, my veteran readers will still appreciate the free emails they get if they don't keep some quarterly skin in the game. That won't quit. Because those newsletters are a by-product of my talking to paid and paying customers as priority. Those I want to keep very happy with what I do, and get feedback from them to improve my future works.

What does this mean for authorship?

Mainly, this is all a hard-edged test of stuff that is insanely practical. The core principle is minimalist - focus on the really important stuff. Let everything also go. If' it's important, you'll find it raising its hand for attention. And then put it in rotation with the other important stuff. But only some 3-5% is really important. The rest is noise.

Authors don't need social media. Authors don't need Amazon, really. Authors don't need to blog - but they do need to communicate to their buyers. Ads and promotion are best run on the email newsletters like Bookbub. That's where they real avid readers are. But giving away a bunch of stuff just gets you more freebie seekers on your list - who are very difficult to train to buy your stuff (even though it costs you everytime you send an email out to them.) People who buy your stuff to get on your list think you're worth investing in, at least once.

Authors need three things: 1) Mailing list (Mailerlite), 2) Direct sales outlet (Gumroad), and 3) a way to promote (I'm missing this last one, other than David Gaughran's list of newsletter sites who take ads.)  With this major shift, that should carve out time and income to invest this way.

Those three are the only vital necessities for any author - in addition to producing professional and riveting books, whether fiction or non-fiction. All the rest of the advice is at least "90% crud."

Why I also quit listening to Copyblogger long ago

This company was founded on blogging about copywriting. The trick to learning copywriting is to get the true classics in this field and distill them to their natural principles. (Plus a lot of practice.) And there are maybe five books total that have anything unique to say. And some (like Rosser Reeves) only had a single concept to base his whole shlock on.

Most people have never heard of these guys, so this was all new stuff to them.

I quit listening to more than one, maybe two people at Copyblogger. They were original and practical. The others only re-hashed stuff with different terms and comparisons to rock stars or pop  trivia. Once you have Schwartz, Collier, Sugarmen, Schwab, Wheeler, and Hopkins down pat, then there's nothing new - it's all rehash. Different lipstick on the same pig.

(And at least that one blogger quit her pink-hair dye.)

The other irritating approach they are using is to put their own ads for services at the top and bottom of each of their articles and emails. Yuck.

All this below is subject to refinement

All those free courses on my Rainmaker site are going away, with everything else there. But only one student ever took advantage of them there. (Sigh.) So I'll have to package them up into these other Gumroad memberships, just as planned. Once I have them all set up, then I can get back to posting them to the marketplaces.

Courses courses started out as a simple syndication from non-fiction courses, and creating income-making lead generators. These then went to Memberships as a way to organize this data. Setting up memberships was complicated, but now simple. Which lead to the lightbulb moment of shifting to prioritizing work with paid and paying customers as a priority over training free opt-ins how to buy. And this means giving people more opportunity to buy my stuff and subscribe - which goes back to improving income. (Also, by meeting higher perceived value on my books and materials, people who want to pay more for quality stuff will raise their hand.

Very, very, very simple.

The Golden Age Space Opera Tales will keep being published every week. And I'll also get back to my fiction even faster. I do need to get those courses up on Gumroad, right after I build all those memberships (just a handful, actually.) So maybe by the end of August I'll have everything ready for me to get back to fiction writing - and expanding my work with both farming and goal achievement. Because I'll be getting paid to do what I most like to do.

Massive Changes

And that means that my LiveSencial site will be shifted over to Gumroad as a custom domain. (Update: it's now here as https://shop.livingsensical.com)

Everything that is up on that LiveSensical site right now will disappear.

And today, as well as half of yesterday, I spent most of figuring out what I needed to save. (And thanks to BlogBooker, I've been able to work them up as PDF's. Everything from 2015 up to August 2021.) All so I can mine these for data and create future books if they are needed. I'm also considering recreating the LiveSensical site as a self-hosted website, for archival purposes. 

Last weeks to-do's:

  • This analysis & emails - Yup
  • Keep the farm running by priorities - Yup
  • Take a step back and work out what I really want to do and accomplish. - Big Yup

This week's to-do's:

  • This analysis & emails
  • Keep the farm running by priorities.
  • Implement the above plan, getting key paid memberships up and running.
  • Continue my homework on Gumroad.

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