Sell Your Soul: Make it Once. Sell it Forever.

October 11, 2016

Perhaps the most important concept when it comes to the idea of making great content is that you only have to make the content once, but you have the ability to sell it forever.

This is antithetical to the mindset of most creators, who try to find the cheapest way to make something so they can save a bit of money in the short run, foregoing the prospect of selling it for the next decade.

This is a dangerous mindset. Short term planning is only part of the equation of building a career. The true value of creating things is in the long term ability to sell it for the next thousand years.

Take something like Alice in Wonderland. Lewis Carroll’s famous book was released in 1865. I have read that book multiple times in my life and owned several editions, yet I was born over 100 years from its release. It’s produced so well that it’s still printing money for publishers over a century later. That is the power of making the best product you can and then selling it forever.

Another example from the consumer product space would be the Big Mac from McDonald’s. The Big Mac was created in 1967, and is still sold to this day with the same “two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame-seed bun”.

McDonald’s spent millions of dollars testing, researching, and perfecting the Big Mac, and it only cost a couple of bucks to buy.

Why would they do that? Because of long-term planning.

That an initial investment of millions has led to billions of income in the ensuing decades since its release. They wouldn’t have created the Big Mac if they only thought in the short term, they knew investing in a slamming product could pay off forever.

That should be the philosophy we taking with our own content. Creators that cheap out on hiring artists, or book covers, or paper stock for their prints, or website design will always have trouble selling their content comparatively to those who don’t, and in the end they would not have saved much money, at least in the long run.

Let me give you an example with some hard numbers. If you don’t like hard numbers, just skip to the next section now.

The difference in paying an artist $50 and $100 a page in the short term is the difference of a few thousand dollars. On a 100-page book, the cost of a $50/pg artist is $5,000. The cost of a $100/pg artist is $10,000.

Upfront that seems like a huge difference, and initially it is. But that is short term thinking.

You see, the $100/pg artist will usually increase your sales by 10 times. So if that $50/pg artist can sell 100 books for you a year, the $100/pg artist can return 1,000 books a year.

On a $10 book, in one year that would be $1,000 of revenue versus $10,000 in revenue. Which means after one year on the market, the $100 artist has paid for themselves while the $50 artist still needs to recoup $4,000 to make your investment worthwhile and earn out of what you paid them.

That’s a dramatic difference, but on an even longer term time horizon there is an even more dramatic difference.

If we plot these two books out for ten years, the $100 artist has returned $100,000 on 10,000 sales while the $50 artist has only returned $10,000 on 1,000 sales.

Yes, they both have earned out, but the $100 artist cost you $1 per unit sold ($10,000 initial investment/10,000 units sold) while the $50 artist cost you $5 per book sold ($5,000 initial investment/1,000 units sold).

Isn't that incredible?

The more expensive artist is actually 5x cheaper on the long term time horizon than the cheaper one, which is something Marvel learned decades ago.

Now, I’m not saying every artist is worth their price, or that you can expect to get 10x more from every book you do, and you should certainly price compare everything, but I will say that the difference in sales is astounding when you invest in your product up front.

You see it with prints, and blog posts, and sculptures too. If you spend a little bit of time and effort investing in your product on the front end, your payoff can be dramatic. 

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