Over the Summer of 2015 I was living the dream. To summarize this period of time I had just finished one of the most challenging projects I had encountered in my professional life, started brewing hard cider and I was in love with the Minneapolis’s bike scene.
I had recently purchased a shiny new Surly Disc Trucker and had been grinding 150 miles a week along Minneapolis trails. I was the guy in the office that would harass and tell you that you should bike to work even if the only reason was that you wouldn’t be sitting in rush hour traffic during the few months out of the year that the ground wasn’t covered in ice.
I was also helplessly addicted to tracking my mileage. Turning on Strava and tracking my ride allowed me to start detailing out how much money I was saving on my daily commute.
After some quick napkin math told me that if I was commuting 125 miles a week too and from work and that if the mileage rate the IRS was paying was $.56 cents a mile I was saving about $81 dollars a week, and over the course of the Summer I saved almost $1000 -- and if you’re insane like me and bike through the winter you’re saving almost $4000. Seeing those numbers my jaw dropped a little bit and I was committed just that much more to riding my bike every day, it was like I had gotten a raise and all I had to do was ride my bike to work, enjoy the outdoors and listen to podcasts. Pretty good stuff.
In addition to the monetary incentives there are the health benefits. In 2010 I was topping the scale at around 350 and after adding a daily biking regimen and changing some other dietary habits I lost over 100 pounds in a year.
Being the crazy bike guy, evangelizing the lifestyle and sharing the other useful tidbits, most people were more concerned with some of the logistical challenges of commuting by bike -- like where did I put my clothes, where I showered and so on which got me to thinking about creating some online resources where I could put all of my thoughts together and point people to it.
My first thought was a blog -- I was a web developer after all. It would take me a couple hours to spin up a simple wordpress site and write a couple of articles. The downside was that then I had to maintain another website and I would have to update it after a couple of years just to make sure that it was up to my own standards.
Not good. I wanted this to be a one and done type of thing where I could release it into the wild and forget about it.
I thought about guest posting on a blog -- but then I would be generating traffic for someone else and they would either get ad revenue or leverage it to pump up some affiliate marketing links to amazon.
That wasn’t going to work out either. If this was going to make any money I wanted that money in my bank account!
So after doing some research about affiliate marketing I found out how easy it was to publish through Kindle Direct Publishing. Write your book, submit it with a cover and boom -- you have a book that people can buy on the kindle.
There it was -- I was going to write an eBook.
With a plan in motion I started putting together all of my research and anecdotes and compiled them into the Beginner’s Guide to Bicycle Commuting. The entire process of writing took me a couple of weeks but was full of new challenges.
Where to marketing a niche book is always a conundrum, and I was working a full time job at the time so I wasn’t able to spend as much time as I would have liked to get it in front of people. So my marketing plan was simple -- give it away for a week so that I would get ranked in the categories that I was targeting on Amazon and then let people find it organically.
Kindle Direct Publishing allows you to give your book away for free during a promotional period so I set it a couple days after publishing -- which is great for posting on social media. The areas I focused on were Biking related subreddits, Free eBook Facebook pages and Twitter.
A trick I used on reddit was to post the day before the promotion went live so that people could “prepare” -- this led to about 10 sales the day before the promotion even started -- score!
Once the promotion went live -- the downloads started rolling out. Around 1000 people downloaded the book during the promotional period which was quite a shock, and a major demographic was in England and Germany -- which I hadn’t even considered, but I let the promotion go on too long -- I think if I had a shorter promotion then I still would have had the visibility from social when it went from free to paid -- lesson learned!
I tried some paid advertising a couple of times during key times of the year. Early spring and summer
Price is tricky -- Amazon sets some constraints on you and takes a cut of your sales. The pricing structure is kind of weird. For instance selling a book for $9.99 nets you more money per book sale than if you sell it for slightly higher. Kind of wonky but whatever.
I set the initial price of the book to $2.99. Since then I have bounced the price from $9.99 to $1.99 to the current price of $.99. After a few years of collecting data I think I’m going to bump it back up to $2.99. I don’t see a bump in sales when I drop the price and anything over that seems to really tank my sales.
Over the years I end up with between 10 and 30 sales a month -- which depending on the price point is a nice little bump to my bank account -- and funds some of my bike expenditures.
After releasing the book and seeing some ( minor ) success an individual starting a kickstarter campaign approached me to see if I would be willing to help with their kickstarter campaign. They wondered if I would be willing to sell them the rights to my book so that they could give it away in an email campaign.
I jumped at the idea and they sent me some prototypes of their product -- a backpack specifically engineered for the bicycle commuter in mind which retailed at over $300. The backpack was pretty slick and I wrote a review which they featured within their kickstarter campaign which went on to raise over half a million dollars.
I still use the backpack today -- so it was a great deal for me!
This eBook has turned into a source of passive income for myself. Not a ton of money, but if I were to really dig down and start cranking out content, and if I dedicated myself to marketing them a little more heavily - I might come across a few winners with some minimal effort.
Some things to consider
Length - Whenever I tell people that they should write an eBook they respond that it would be too hard to come up with all the content. The average eBook can range between 10,000 and 80,000 words -- which might seem like a lot but that boils down to about
Marketing - Writing for a niche is tricky, posting to a few dedicated subreddits and giving away content worked well for me -- if I were to change anything I would have set the promotion for a single day rather than the block of days.
Price - Playing around with the price of your digital asset when you’re leveraging someone else's marketplace is easy. Try testing different price points to find out what works best for you.
Partnerships - If you can find someone who could use your eBook it might be a great opportunity to generate some extra income from a non-marketplace source.
Passive Income - eBooks might be a neat way to generate some passive income if you can find the right niche and market it appropriately.