I love to read books. Not just articles, but full-length monsters. Sometimes I read fiction to escape into another world, other times I read business nonfiction to pick up on some new skills and knowledge – then share the best insights on this blog. Regardless of the topic, when I read a book, I don’t want to be a part of someone’s sales funnel.
What am I talking about?
Two examples of books designed as part of a sales funnel stick out in recent memory.
Both ran heavy Facebook ads and partnered with industry influencers to promote their books.
The promotions drew people in by offering a free book that solved a common business problem. The catch was that you had to pay shipping – which ended up being more than the cost of the book on Amazon (my gold standard for pricing), and you were also required to give up your email address to access this “special deal.”
While most businesses can tell you their cost per acquisition as it comes to getting prospect emails (usually a few dollars per person, but of course it differs from business to business), both Ray Edwards and Ryan Levesque completely mitigated their costs – instead getting people to pay for the pleasure of continuous sales tactics.
There’s nothing “free” about that. You’re the one who pays.
I’ll admit – I initially got caught up in the hype and also heard from other small business owners who liked the books. I took advantage of the promotional timing – both books were on sale on Amazon for a considerable discount ($5 or less for the Kindle versions), and didn’t require me to surrender my email address in order to read them.
How to Write Copy That Sells by Ray Edwards
How to Write Copy That Sells was useful to me as I’m an SEO Copywriter, and there were plenty of takeaways. But calling it a book was a stretch. It probably only took me an hour or so to read, which was the first red flag. The second was a call to action at the end of every chapter to join the author’s online course – “FREE” (a $197 value!) until you want the extras he’s pushing, of course.
So whatever. $5 to learn more from an expert may have been money well spent, but it was also a farce. This was not a book in the traditional sense.
But the book that actually got me more fired up and had me thinking about this new annoying practice of writing books designed as part of a sales funnel was Ask by Ryan Levesque.
Ask by Ryan Levesque
I bought this one at the nice promotional price of $1.99 on Kindle and stored it away for a rainy day. I’m a member in a lot of supportive freelancer Facebook groups and noticed that someone had posted about the book, and recommended it. I figured that was the push I needed to give it a try, especially since it was only a few hours read.
Levesque starts the book by sharing a health struggle he faced that kicked his butt into gear regarding his business ventures. I’ll admit to being drawn in at that point – it’s hard not to connect with someone who shares their weakest moments.
But that was his only show of weakness in this book. The rest was a series of events in Levesque’s life where he claims he failed, but really achieved something huge. It’s kind of like people in a job interview who are asked the much-despised, “What’s your greatest weakness?” question, and answer with a roundabout positive like, “My weakness is that I try too hard.”
You’d have to read the book (or not, as I would recommend) to see exactly what I mean by this.
That pretty much wraps up the pieces of interest in the first section of the book. You can skip ahead to the meat and potatoes of Levesque’s “Ask Formula,” which is laid out in the second section of the book, and has much more value to the reader than listening to him pat himself on the back for his Chinese language prowess, $120k+ all expenses paid foreign job, and seeming unending capacity for #winning.
It’s interesting to note that while he was living the high life in China, his wife lived in a 400 square foot apartment in Hong Kong… He quits his job to start his own business, then goes to live with her there and they eventually decide to move back to the US.
He talks about how his hundreds of thousands dollars worth of income (as most of his expenses were paid for) are tied up in retirement accounts, and talks about how he and his wife are basically slumming it for the first couple months of building up his business. I think this is his attempt to try and be relatable, but it falls flat when you realize how much money is in the bank (though “tied up”).
Anyways, if you can get past Levesque’s difficult-to stomach first half of Ask, he starts talking about the formula he’s developed that supposedly can be tailored to work for just about any industry and business situation.
I’ll admit that there were several insights about people’s behavior (backed with data from Levesque’s work across multiple industries) from a psychological perspective that I actually can take away and use to make my business better.
However, for someone reading his book and trying to actually apply the Ask process he describes, I see it as an expensive and likely fruitless process.
The first problem is the need to create not one, but multiple email surveys. FluidSurveys guesses conservatively that email surveys have an average 24.8% response rate, after taking out a few factors that could skew results in the wrong direction. Benchmark and SurveyGizmo have more sobering (and probably more realistic) numbers. Even if you can hit that response rate (or higher), it’s hard to know whether respondents are representative of the whole. As Levesque’s entire process is dependent on email surveys, this can be hard to see past.
Levesque asks the reader whether they have an existing email list. If not, he recommends they create a landing page with a compelling reason to complete a survey, for cold traffic. Not only is it expensive to optimize and advertise a page like this without an existing audience; it’s a whole other ball game to get people to take this desired action of completing a survey and giving away personal information.
Maybe I’m a cynic, but this doesn’t seem like something the average small business owner could pull off without a LOT of help and advertising dollars.
There are a lot of actionable tips in terms of copywriting, but not so much with regards to putting together these email surveys and sequences.
The Book Funnel Agenda
Throughout the book, Levesque frequently drops links to his “FREE” bonuses and his paid software solution.
Since when do books have links?
Apparently since now when we have books designed as part of a sales funnel.
Can we take one minute to talk about where Levesque started, and where he’s at now?
At one point in the book, he gives the example of a Scrabble jewelry creation guide he and his wife created to appeal to a niche market – What??? How does that have anything to do with following a passion – the reason why he left his sweet foreign job?
From this point on, I was scratching my head at this disconnect between needing a level of expertise to find success and create products versus Levesque’s formula that he seems to claim can easily be used by anyone to sell anyone anything.
I don’t like that.
On a final note, don’t think I’m stupid enough to think that people write books purely out of the goodness of their hearts. We all want to make money to sustain the lifestyles we’ve grown accustomed to.
Published books have the added benefit of associating the author with a level of expertise – earned or not. This perceived expertise can lead to additional consulting jobs, speaking gigs, and other positive business benefits. However, these things happen naturally, or at least more naturally, than a book that periodically drops links and calls to action to spend more money.
A business book should solve a problem or answer the question it initially provokes in the copy aimed to sell it. I don’t like the idea that there’s more I must learn or buy, in order to get the most out of a book. And this is coming from someone who considers herself to be a lifelong learner. I don’t like the idea of a book with an agenda beyond teaching, and some of the more natural business benefits to the author that I’ve already outlined above.
Final Thoughts: Why I’m Over Books Designed as Part of a Sales Funnel
Ray Edwards and Ryan Levesque are two very sharp men who both know their subjects better than we’ll probably ever know ours. But they’ve started a scary process in using their books designed as part of a sales funnel that undermines book publishing as a whole, and takes conversion marketing to a platform I hoped never to see it – my beloved books.
What are your thoughts on books designed as part of a sales funnel? Did you get more out of these books than I did? Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments!