Jason McDonald is an author, teacher, and consultant focused on personal branding, SEO, social media marketing, and Google ads. He has an undergraduate degree from Harvard, a master’s and a Ph.D. from Berkeley, and he teaches at Stanford. He also has many bestselling books on digital marketing topics available on Amazon.
In today’s episode, we’re going to discuss why we should create digital products and publish a book on Amazon.
Jason studied at Berkeley for six years while working towards his Ph.D. For two of those years, he lived in Europe and wrote his dissertation on economic policy in Eastern Europe. Once he graduated, he began working with a computer reseller start-up to grow international sales, becoming familiar with the internet for the first time.
His first experience with the internet inspired him to start an email newsletter for design engineers which got him into SEO. About 10 years later, he discovered he was good at teaching. He had a friend who encouraged him to teach a class, and that’s when Jason began teaching SEO in San Francisco. He enjoyed it so much he eventually started teaching for Stanford and also began publishing.
Building a Skill Set
The ability to publish books on Amazon has been a huge blessing in Jason’s career.
While Jason was teaching a class at Stanford, he thought it would be a good idea to try writing a book on SEO. He already had the knowledge and just needed to learn the skills to get it published. He put in the time and research and learned how to publish a book on Amazon and get it set up on Kindle and CreateSpace. He published his book on Amazon which started to generate around $30,000 a year in royalty revenue and established his name in his industry.
“There are people who think you’re born with a certain skill, like ‘I’m born and I’m able to do the math.’ I really think that’s a terrible attitude. A better attitude is, ‘I want to have this skill, and I’m going to learn how to do this skill. I’m going to invest in the skill and get good at this skill.’ I didn’t know that much about how to publish a book on Amazon at the time, but I really dug into it. . . . I created that skill set by just saying, ‘I’m going to do this,’” Jason said.
Jason didn’t have the skill set to publish a book, so he developed it. If we want to be an expert at something, we have to put in the work. It’s not a matter of being born with or without a certain skill, it’s a matter of drive and determination.
“You have to decide you want the skill set,” Jason said. “That’s how you want to think about your skills in life. . . . It really hurts people when they think, ‘Gosh, I could never do that.’ That’s self-defeating.”
Are we willing to pay the price? Are we willing to put in the time and resources it takes to develop a new skill? We have the ability to pick what we want to be an expert in, we just have to pay the price. It’s often said that if we put in 10,000 hours into something, we can become one of the world’s leading experts in it.
One of the best skill sets we can learn is creating a digital product. While we may not have the skills naturally to create a digital product, we can put in the time and effort to learn how and develop those skills.
There is an old saying that goes, “It doesn’t matter how much milk you spill as long as you don’t lose your cow.” As entrepreneurs, there will often be “spillage” and wasteful decisions as we start trying to learn something new. However, our mistakes don’t matter as much if we keep trying. What we see as failure may not have a huge impact on the bigger picture or an impact on our revenue.
Publishing a Book on Amazon
When I asked Jason what his best monetization secret is, he said it is to create a digital product. For him, that digital product was his books.
“If you have a special kind of knowledge or if you’re an expert in ‘x’ . . . you should write a book,” Jason said. “ If you can create a digital product, which is what books are these days, you can create a passive income stream around that product.”
Books not only provide a passive income stream, but they also build our credibility. Writing a book shows our customers our knowledge. As we really become an expert in our specific field, we can write a book to establish our name. However, we need to make sure we write a book with a purpose. We shouldn’t publish a digital book just to show off our knowledge; we need to write a book that will provide value to our audience.
For example, college students will look for books on financial aid, budgeting, easy home-cooked meals, relationship advice, and more. We need to write a book that answers a question for someone or solves a problem for them. A new parent may purchase a dozen books on baby names and how to raise a kid. If we can answer a question or solve a problem, a book can really be a great source of revenue. Jason was able to do this with the topic of SEO. He wrote a book on what he was an expert on, answered questions and solved problems for his audience, and then made around $30,000 a year off the royalty revenues of his book.
It is very common for people to turn to a book when they are trying to solve a problem. According to the Pew Research Center, the average American reads about 12 books a year. If we can make our book the #1 in its category, we have a good chance of success.
“One of the things I’ve learned in business is you want to fish where the fish are,” Jason said. “Certain markets, like the book market, have a defined player (Amazon) where all the action is. And Amazon has made it very easy for people to publish and find books.”
Amazon has a system that allows anyone to self-publish a book relatively easily. All we have to do is write it. Once we do, publishing takes less than five minutes and our book appears on Kindle stores worldwide within 48 hours (Source: Amazon). Amazon also allows us to earn up to 70% in royalty sales to customers and stay in control of our prices. Instead of going through a publisher, we can do it on our own from our homes.
Amazon is a great platform to take advantage of for book publishing. “Amazon dominates the book market. It’s where people go for books,” Jason said. “Think about areas where there is a defined marketplace that you can then insert yourself.”
The Association of American Publishers filed a statement in 2019 with the Federal Trade Commission, saying, “A year ago, The New York Times reported that Amazon controlled 50 percent of all book distribution, but for some industry suppliers, the actual figure may be much higher, with Amazon accounting for more than 70 or 80 percent of sales.” (Source: Publishing Perspectives).
We can leverage Amazon to potentially reach millions of people and get our book out there. There are currently 150 million Amazon Prime subscribers, a 50 percent increase from 100 million in April 2018 (Source: VentureBeat) and even more people use Amazon without Prime.
Just because millions of people are on Amazon, that doesn’t mean we have millions of people looking at our book. In 2020, there were 48.5 million books on Amazon (Source: JustPublishingAdvice). Becoming an expert in our field and answering a problem our customers are trying to solve gives us a competitive edge in this vast book market on Amazon.
Another digital product that builds our credibility and can create recurring revenue is online courses. Online courses are a great way to provide value to our customers. We can share our knowledge and teach them how to do something they need help with. However, the disadvantage with online courses is that there isn’t one platform that dominates that platform as Amazon does with books. Jason believes that publishing a digital book on Amazon is one of the best digital products we can use to our advantage.
Thank you so much Jason for sharing your stories and knowledge with us today. Here are some of my key takeaways from this episode:
1. We have to decide what skill set we want and then put in the time and effort to become an expert in it.
2. One of the best skill sets we can learn as entrepreneurs are how to create digital products.
3. Books provide a passive income stream and build our credibility.
4. Amazon is a great platform to take advantage of because it dominates the book market and makes publishing relatively easy.
5. We should become an expert in our field and answer a question or solve a problem for our customers.
6. If we can make our book the #1 in its category, we have a high chance of success.
Connect with Jason
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