Sometimes you aren’t supposed to go with the flow
Important principles may and must be inflexible. -Abraham Lincoln
I would like to explain why I decided to go back to giving away my book, The Warrior Spirit Principles of Health, for free or a donation.
As some of you know, I had been reading Simon Sinek’s book, Start with Why, which explains that leaders inspire because they lead with WHY they do things, as opposed to WHAT they do. Even if they do ineffective things, they are driven by a purpose, and that comes across in all their actions. They maintain integrity, behaving in accordance with their principles, rather than convenience. The result is that we follow them.
Think of great leaders in history. Not everything they did was the best course of action for every situation, but they were always people of integrity, so we forgave them, believed they had the right purpose, and gave them our loyalty anyway. One of my personal role models, Franklin D. Roosevelt, led the United States through a morally complicated war. There were certainly a great number of poor decisions made by him and his administration, but he had a clear purpose, and everything he did was somehow connected to that purpose. So, for the most part, he had the country’s loyalty and he is remembered as a great leader.
Well, after I finished my book, I realized that charging $10 for it did not mesh with WHY I’d written the book in the first place. I wrote it because I believe that everyone should know as much as possible about their health and be fully empowered to cultivate their bodies. I also firmly believe that this is a natural right of being human. It’s not something that should be withheld or taken advantage of. I wrote the book to share what I know with my friends.
Once I finished Start with Why, I applied the ideas to my own projects, and it became clear that if my purpose was free and open sharing of my experiences, I couldn’t justify charging money for it. Even if my book was worth money by societal standard, that’s not why I wrote it.
So, why did I decide to sell it in the first place?
Chris Guillebeau’s $100 Startup was the book that inspired me to actually make something of this project. Before I read that, I didn’t think I could reach anyone or pull the whole thing off. So, I am deeply indebted to Chris for that. However, one part of his formula for a product launch was to put in some kind of urgency. Since my original idea has been to make my book free, the only way I could see to inject some urgency was to set a flat cost after a week.
I did feel a little insincere about that, but Chris has always led his online community with integrity and I saw no harm in following his advice.
Of course, Chris is also a strong advocate of independent thought and non-conformity (his blog is The Art of Non-Conformity). He has always approached business differently, so I don’t think he’d be too upset for one of his followers to be striking out away from his advice.
Because the price change did create a sense of urgency, I felt I owed at least some explanation for those who went out of their way to download the book within the first week. I was following advice I trusted, because I felt horribly unprepared to bring this thing to the world on my own. I adopted Chris’s recommendations wholesale to make sure I didn’t mess up, because I was more than a little worried that I would mess up spectacularly.
But after reading Start with Why, I learned how vitally important it is to trust my own sense of purpose and to follow my gut, even more when I’m feeling uncertain. If the price change didn’t feel right, it was because it wasn’t in line with my WHY. Even if my gut went against conventional (and even non-conformist) business sense, I had to follow it, otherwise I’d just be bowing to convenience and setting a precedent for myself down the road.
I’m not denying the usefulness of money, and I can make it as easy as possible for people to offer a gift in exchange for the book if they want, but I’ve decided that, based on my WHY for writing it, I will keep the option of downloading it for free.
Of course, this doesn’t mean I won’t eventually make a living off of ideas or services that I do charge for, but I’m inclined towards a different way of supporting myself, one based on reciprocal generosity and community. I don’t know how money will factor into that, but I’d like most of what I do for people to be given freely.
Photo credit: Fkret Onal on Flickr