Creating a Product Library for Your Blog
In today’s episode I’m tackling a question from a Facebook group member about creating products to sell on your blog.
Kathy Farrokhzad of Horselistening.com is wondering how often she should create, sell, schedule, and roadmap new products on her blog. Is she doing too much in too little time?
Try to publish 3-4 new products on your blog each year, whether they’re courses, software, ebooks, templates or updates.
You want to avoid audience fatigue. But at the same time you don’t want to wait too long between launches. Either of these two extremes may cost you customers and money. Engage your customers, but don’t burn them out.
Create a schedule to plan content and products a year in advance. Figure out what products to create, redo or replace, as well as what promotions to include.
The frequency of new products depends on various factors, such as how many products you can create and how many different tools need to be created.
Come up with themes for your products based on popularity and whether they’re easy to research and write about. You can also gear your products toward specific audiences, such as beginners or new customers.
And don’t forget about your old products. Consider turning into new products by upselling and bundling them.
Yes, you can do lots of regular launches. But you can also get by with just one product. Both will work, so the choice is yours.
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Today’s episode is brought to you by our 31 Days to Build a Better Blog course, which launches this month. We are currently taking a group of about 100 bloggers through this course in its beta version. We’re getting very close to being able to launch it for everyone. The feedback coming in has been fantastic so far. If you are interested in improving your blog, taking it to the next level, I really encourage you to head over to problogger.com/31days to register your interest in the course or if you’re listening to this in a week or two’s time, it should be already live and you can just enroll in the course.
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In today’s episode, I’m tackling a question about creating products to sell on your blog. It’s a question that came in from one of our group members on Facebook, Cathy, who was asking around how often she should she be creating new products for her particular blog. She’s been creating ebooks. I talked a little bit about how often, how frequently you might want to be creating products.
Also, we dig in a little bit to how to schedule that and how to roadmap that. Also, how to select which products you want to talk about. How do you choose the right topics? I’m going to dig in a little bit to the format of products as well. I really want to give you an insight, particularly how we do that over on Digital Photography School, where we’ve released over 20 ebooks, a number of courses, and some other products as well. You can get today’s show notes with a full transcription of this episode at problogger.com/podcast/242.
Cathy, over in our Facebook group, this week, asked this question. She says, “I’ve written a total of five self published books and ebooks since I started writing my blog in 2011 but I haven’t written anything in the last two years. I thought maybe I was doing too much in too little time. I published approximately one per year. I know you’ve published many books on ProBlogger and Digital Photography School.
How often did you publish books and did you keep a schedule for these? What was your thought process around choosing themes for the ebooks that you published? I feel like I should be doing something this year, but I also feel like I’ve done plenty in the past so I’m not sure what to do next. Thank you for everything you do.” She adds in her URL, horselistening.com. horselistening.com is the blog if you want to check that out.
Thanks so much for the question, Cathy. I’m going to tackle the three main questions that you asked here, and then also throw in a few other questions as well. First question there was how often do we publish ebooks? I’m going to particularly focus upon Digital Photography School because we do have more products on that and that has been my main focus over the years. ProBlogger is a smaller site and whilst we have had ebooks there, we are now starting to convert some of those over into a course format. That’s probably a topic we could talk about on another day although I’ll touch on some of our thinking of that perhaps today as well.
But over in Digital Photography School, which is my main blog now, we’ve been publishing ebooks and other products since 2009. Previous to that, I’ve been doing affiliate promotions and relying more heavily upon advertising revenue to monetize that site. Since 2009, when I did my first ever ebook, we’ve published I think it’s 24, maybe 25 ebooks on the site. But I should add that we’ve really slowed down on the amount of ebooks we’ve been publishing because we have been doing more courses and we’ve also done some software products as well.
Since 2009, 24 ebooks, but I think there are also 5 courses and 3 or 4 Lightroom preset packs as well. It’s probably close to 35 products since 2009. On average, it’s probably three to four products per year that we have published. The first year, from memory, was quite slow. We may have only done 1 in that first 12 months but then have begun to ramp it up. We did have one year where I think we released five products in a year, but we’ve slowed that back down now to three to four product launches per year. Around one per quarter is the frequency that we’re operating from at the moment. There are a number of reasons for that that I’ll get into in a moment.
Your second question there, Cathy, was do we keep a schedule? Yes. The simple answer is yes. We try and plan out our year in advance. At the end of last year, we sat down as a team and said, “What products do we want to create in the next year?” In fact, what we do is think about it a little bit more broadly than what products do we want to create, we actually think about what do we want to promote over the next 12 months. We begin to form a calendar that not only has the products that we will create and launch, but also any other kinds of promotion that we’ll be doing.
We always, at the end of every year, do some sort of a Christmas or Thanksgiving promotion. Sometimes, we do both of those. We usually do a launch or promotion in the middle of the year, which we call our midyear sale. These are times that we do some affiliate promotions and also put some of our older products on sale as well. We factor those things into our year and then around those, we think about when do we want to launch new products of our own as well.
We are thinking ahead. We’re really probably thinking about 12 to 18 months ahead at all times. Now, when we’re thinking about 18 months out, we’re not really going to a lot of details as to what the products will be. We maybe have a vague topic in mind but certainly, as things get closer, within 6 to 12 months, we’re beginning to really form what those products will be, who’s going to be responsible for creating them. And so, we’ve developed, I guess it’s really a system now, to think about those types of things.
The other thing that we factor into our 12 to 18 month plan is anything that we want to relaunch or anything that we want to update. That’s something I will talk about a little bit later in this podcast as well because now that we do have 24 ebooks and a number of courses and other products, we need to also be paying attention to whether those older products are still relevant for today. Do we need to retire them or do we need to update them? There have been a number of products that we have relaunched, either with smaller updates and then just putting them back on sale to let people know or completely rejigging them as well.
One good example of that is our 31 Days to Build a Better Blog course that we’re doing at the moment. It used to be an ebook. We’re completely overhauling it even though it really does have the same format as our previous ebook. That’s the other factor.
That may be something that you want to think about, Cathy. Your first product, if you created that in 2011, which I think is when you said you started, that’s now seven years old. Do you want to update that? Is it time for a refresh? A second edition, if you like. That might be something that you want to think about. I will touch a little bit more on that in a moment.
Some of the things that we are, I guess, factoring in when we’re thinking about the frequency of new things is that it’s really going to depend upon a number of factors. How often you launch a new product is going to partly depend upon your ability to create the new product.
If you’re like most bloggers, you’re probably juggling other work, perhaps other responsibilities, family, or community groups that you’re a part of, friendships, those types of things. I chuckle at that because I know many bloggers who would be saying, “Friends? I don’t have time for friends.” But really, there are a number of other things that you’re going to be juggling there, plus your blogging responsibilities. I don’t know how often you’re publishing new content and doing social media.
Life gets busy, and so our ability to create a product really is going to vary from situation to situation. Also, it partly depends upon the type of product that you’re going to create as well.
I know some bloggers who have 10-paged ebooks. They don’t even call them ebooks. They call them workbooks or printables. Some of those products, they can turnaround in a week. They could create those things. Other ebooks, for example, the ones that we create on Digital Photography School, some of our ebooks are 200 or 300 pages long. They’re beautifully designed. They take us six months to create. We’ve got a team working so it really is going to depend upon your ability to create a new product, the type of products that you’re creating as well.
It’s also going to partly depend upon your topic. I don’t know exactly what your topic is. I had a quick look at it and I don’t really know how big or broad your topic is. That would be one of the things I would be factoring in. My blog, Digital Photography School, is pretty broad. We talk about all kinds of photography. That gives us a lot of options when it comes to creating ebooks or products. We could do wedding photography. We could do how to make money from photography. We could do portraits, landscapes. We could then get into post production. How do you process your images? We could talk about gear. There are so many different sub categories on our blog and so that lends itself to lots of different potential products.
Other people have niches that are much more narrow and there’s really not as much to write about and less options when it comes to products as well. Perhaps, that’s a factor that you need to consider as well. As you look at your five current ebooks or books, is there gaps around the topics you’ve already covered of have you covered everything that they’re already eased to cover? That is going to be something to keep in mind.
Another factor to keep in mind is your audience’s fatigue. Sometimes, you can create so many products that your readers get confused by the amount of products that you’ve got or they get scared, worn out from you always creating or launching a new product. To be honest, this is something we’ve run into over the years. The danger is that you can have so many products that your audience just becomes a little bit numb to the idea of you launching something.
I know when I first launched my very first ebook, my audience, that was new to them. They’ve never seen us launch an ebook before. This is our first thing and so they were really open to hearing about that. Now, we’ve already launched 35 or so different things that, I guess, with our older time readers, it can numb them a little bit too. That’s another thing that you need to keep in mind.
There are some pros and cons of launching lots of products or not many products. I think Cathy mentioned two years between the last time she launched a product. The danger of that kind of length is that effectively, you could be leaving money on the table from your most avid fans. There are a segment of your audience, Cathy, who are waiting for your next product. They will buy everything that you launch. By not launching anything for two years, that’s two years where they have wanted to give you money for something and you’ve not had anything for them to make that exchange with. Two years between your launch, to me, feels a little bit too long.
It probably depends upon what other things you’ve got going in terms of income, but I do wonder whether perhaps creating something else might be good because you’ve probably got fans there who’ve bought your previous stuff, who’ve been satisfied by what you have sold them in the past, and they are ready and waiting to buy something else. It takes a lot of work to find a customer. It takes less work to sell a satisfied customer a second thing than to find a new customer all the time. That’s one of the costs of taking a long time to release products.
On the flip side of that, I do know bloggers who become too reliant upon their launches. They are always something new and these can go the other way. Their audience, as I mentioned before, can get a bit burned out and become numb to their marketing. This burns out that list that can also burn you out as a creator as well, if you’re creating too many things. It also means that you become very reliant on promoting things in launch mode or discount mode as well. You don’t pay as much attention sometimes when you get into this cycle of always launching something. You may not be paying as much attention into the systems to generate the long tale sales.
If you come to Digital Photography School today, we’ve got systems in place to get you to our 24 previous ebooks. One of the dangers of always releasing something new is that you cannot work on those systems as well. That’s something that comes at a bit of a cost to ongoing sales of your products as well. I guess what I’m trying to say here is you want to get that balance right between creating new and fresh things to keep your customers engaged, to increase the long term value of those customers, but you don’t want to burn those customers out. You want to work on the systems as well so when new people come to your site, they can see the new things that you’ve got as well.
Another thing that I’ve already touched on there is don’t just work on new things. I would encourage you to think about how you can update those older books or ebooks that you’ve already got. I learned the power of this the first time we did the hardcover version of the ProBlogger book, which we published with Wiley. I wrote that book with Chris Garrett. And then about a year and a half later, Wiley came back to us and said, “We want to do a second edition.” Part of the reason for that was the topics are dated so there was a need to update the content in the book. Also, Wiley said, “The other reason is that some people will buy both versions as well.”
Think about that there. Could you be taking one of those older products and updating it significantly enough that it’s going to bring new value to your previous customers as well? We did this with 31 Days to Build a Better Blog. Back in 2009, I published that for the first time as an ebook. Three years later, I did a second edition of that ebook. It was quite heavily updated. It was a new version of the same format. We took the format of 31 Days of Teaching and Activities and we added some new days. We took out some old days. We updated every single day in that ebook. It was enough of an update that previous buyers of the ebook wanted to buy the new one.
At that time, I think we offered a discount to anyone who bought it before so that they got an extra value out of that, of being a long term customer. Now, of course, we’re doing it again in a completely different format. We’re taking the ebook version. We’re putting it into a course, which is I think a lot better than the ebook version as well. Maybe there’s something in that for you, Cathy, as well. Maybe one of those early books that you’ve done, maybe you could give that a refresh or a complete overhaul, which enables you to sell it again to long term customers with a discount if you’d like, but it also makes it more attractive and more useful to new customers as well.
They are the type of things that I would encourage you to be thinking about when it comes to frequency of your launch.
I guess the other thing I would say with Digital Photography School, one thing we’ve been trying over the last 12 months is to also do, I don’t really know what to call them, but in essence, they are periodic relaunch of a product. On Digital Photography School, we have a course that we only open up once every six months. We put it on sale for three or four weeks and then we get a new batch of students and we take those students through the course. Once those three or four weeks come about, we shut the course down in terms of taking new students.
This is us relaunching a product two times a year. This means we don’t have to create that product from fresh. Again, it’s not a new product, but it’s a relaunch. This is another alternative for creating new things, is to actually only make them available for certain types of time. It probably isn’t going to work for an ebook, but it does work for a course, particularly if you are going to take a group of people through the course over time. That’s another thing we factor in to our promotional schedule at the start of the year.
Last thing I’d say about higher frequency of creating products is that it gives you more products, which you can then use to upsell a bundle. This is one of the beauties of having 24 ebooks already published and another 10 courses, is that when we launch a new product, we can often add an upsell in our shopping cart. When we did our last course launch, we were able to bundle that with an ebook. Some people just bought the course, but some people saw the offer to get an ebook at 50% off and so that became a higher purchase as well.
It does give you a little bit more option there. You’ve already got five products, Cathy, so you can already be doing that type of thing. You could be doing 2 for 1 deals or those type of upsells. But more products can help with that as well.
The last question that Cathy asked was, “What was your thought process for choosing the themes for your ebooks?” I guess I would extend this to our courses as well. The first ebook that I did on Digital Photography School was on the topic of portraits. I think from memory it was called The Essential Guide to Portrait Photography. The reason I chose that topic, well there were a number of reasons. One, it was a proven topic on the blog. I knew that blog posts on the topic of portrait shot always did well. That was a hint that people were probably more likely to buy that product.
Also, to be honest, it was a topic I knew I could write a good book on because I had experience with it and it also wasn’t too hard for me to write it because a lot of that content was already written on the blog and that first ebook particularly, was a repurposed content largely. I chose that first book on those factors.
The second ebook we did was quite different though. It wasn’t on a topic or a subtopic. It was pitched at a particular level of expertise. That book was very much focused on the topic of photography for beginners so it was broader. It was on all types of photography, but it was for beginner photographers. It was a little bit of a different focus there. It wasn’t on that niche. It was more focused on the level.
Since that time, we’ve largely start to those two options or we’ve combined them together. We’ve done books that have been on portraits, landscapes, travel photography, natural light, different types of lighting, but we’ve also done further ebooks that have been focused on beginners and more intermediate levels as well and others that have combined those things. We’ve done portraits for beginners, for example. They are some of the things we keep in mind.
Some of the other factors that we can consider, I always ask, “Have we covered this topic on the blog before and how has it gone?” That to me is probably the first thing I think about. If I’ve published content on a blog and it has bombed, it hasn’t done well, it’s a signal to me that an ebook probably won’t do well. But if we’ve done lots of posts on that particular topic and they’ve always done very well in terms of traffic, engagement, interest, enthusiasm from our audience, then that’s a signal to me that maybe that’s a topic that we should choose for an ebook or a course as well.
Also, thinking about the broadness of the interest. We get really good response when we write about bird photography, for example. Photographing birds, eagles, owls, those types of things, they all do really well but when we think about it, it’s quite a small focus for our audience. There’s only a small group of our audience who are interested. Even though they’re avid, I’m not sure that it’s the right topic for an ebook for us. We’ve never done anything that niche-y. We try to be a little bit broader. We are going to experiment with some smaller products in the future that are a little bit more niche-y, just to experiment with that. My gut feeling is that we want to choose broader appeal type topics.
Another factor that I do consider is is the topic too broad for one product? The topic of portrait photography is actually a very broad topic. Whilst the first ebook I did did quite well, another thing in the back of my mind as I’m choosing topics now is could this be more than one product? We actually took that first portrait ebook off the market. It was my first one. It wasn’t as good as what it could’ve been but also the other reason I took it off the market was because I saw I could replace it with four or five ebooks on that particular topic.
Now, if you’re going to look at our range of ebooks, we have a portrait photography called Making the Shot, which is an introduction to making portraits. We have one called Lighting the Shot, which is all about lighting portraits. We’ve got one about posing portraits. We’ve got another one about processing the photos that you get in Lightroom. We’ve got a variety of ebooks all about portraiture. This is another thing that you might want to consider, is how could you replace one of your ebooks with four or five of your ebooks. It’s another way to roll out more products.
It enables you to go a little bit deeper into each of those topics but it also opens up topics for bundling and upselling. This is something that we do quite successfully on Digital Photography School, is we bundle those four of five portrait photography ebooks together and it becomes quite a compelling offer. You might buy five but pay for three, that type of thing. That has worked quite well for us as well.
Another thing to factor in as you’re choosing topics is could you extend upon something that you have previously already done and has worked well. Picking up that portrait photography idea, once we came to the end of that series of ebooks, we started to think, “Well, portrait has done well for us, what else could we do? We’ve covered most of the main topics there but what else could we offer?” One of the things we did an experiment with was to create, I think it’s called 14 Amazing Portrait Recipes, It’s a small ebook. It’s more of a case study type ebook. Again, it’s something else that we’ve offered and again, enables us to bundle that as well. You may have already covered all the topics, but could you take a different slant on things? Could you build upon the little library that you’ve already got?
Another thing we do with portraits was to create what we call a printable, a posing printable. It’s 67 poses that you can use in your portrait photography. Again, it’s not an ebook. It’s something else that relates to the topic. Sometimes, when you get to the end of a range of topics that you’ve covered, sometimes, there are other things that you can create, that can become nice little companion products to other products that you’ve got.
Another factor that I always consider before doing a product is have we done an affiliate promotion of something similar to that? This is something that I highly recommend anyone who’s thinking of creating a product, would do. Try and find someone else’s product that you can promote as an affiliate first. It’s going to teach you so much about creating products. You’re going to begin to see what your readers respond to. You can see he price points they respond to as well. And essentially allows you to test whether your product is going to work.
You don’t want to just reproduce what someone else has already created. You need to be really careful about that, particularly with plagiarism. Also, it’s just not going to be good for your brand if you’re seen to be creating something that’s too similar to someone else. But you can learn a lot by promoting other people’s products before you create your own. That’s another factor that we would keep in mind.
The last thing that I’m always thinking about is what’s the best format for the product? Cathy has talked about ebooks and books but maybe, one way to extend your product line up would not be to create another book or ebook, but to create something else. You might create a course. Maybe you should be thinking about a membership site. Maybe you should be thinking about printables, or templates, or t-shirts, or coffee mugs. I don’t know what it would be but maybe there’s something quite different that would be complementary to what you’ve already got or quite different to what you’ve already got as well. Sometimes, some topics just land themselves better to more of a course type teaching, or a printable, or a membership so maybe you should be thinking about that.
The other thing I’d say on that front is that sometimes, actually having a course and an ebook can be best. In Digital Photography School, the second ebook that we ever did was called Photo Nuts and Bolts. It was an ebook for beginners in photography. We still sell that ebook today but we’ve also got Photo Nuts and Bolts, the course. Some people prefer to read. Some people prefer to watch. Some people prefer to get both and so, they bundle those two things together. Maybe your ebook little library that you’ve already got, maybe that could be rolled up as courses as well, either to offer people the alternative or to get both together as a bundle.
I know that’s a lot of information to digest. I hope it answers your question, Cathy.
One last thought for you though, I know a lot of people who do very, very well with lots of regular launches. Similar to what we do on Digital Photography School, they’ve got lots of products. That’s their model. It works really well for them. But I do know a number of bloggers who just have one product. They focus all their energy on promoting that one thing. In some ways, that’s a much simpler model and they have a lot less headaches than we do at Digital Photography School with lots of different products and always having to update them.
Both can work, but one thing I would say is that the people I see doing best with one product or just a handful of products, they generally have an audience that has always lots of fresh people coming in so they may be doing really well with search engine optimization, always bringing new people in.
The other thing that most of them do is instead of selling an ebook, which is a sale that they get once, they generally have some kind of way of getting a recurring income from their sale. That type of model with one product does land itself perhaps a little bit better to a membership site or some sort of a subscription as well. Maybe, I don’t know, again, your topic would land themselves to people who would sign up for a monthly subscription to get some regular content from you and maybe a community area, but that might be another model. It means that you do get that one sale or that one customer, but you keep that customer engaged as well, which increases the lifetime value for that customer as well.
I hope that somewhere in the midst of that advice is something that’s going to spark some ideas for you, Cathy, and everyone else who’s listening as well. If you’ve got any further advice for Cathy, you can do a couple of things. You can join our Facebook community. Just search for ProBlogger Community on Facebook and join that group. You’d be able to find Cathy in there, the question that she asked, or perhaps, you want to leave a comment on our show notes at problogger.com/podcast/242. We’ve got comments and you can leave a comment there as well.
I hope that you’ve got some value out of that. If you’ve got a question you’d like to see in a future podcast as well, feel free to pop it in the show notes or over in the Facebook group as well. A couple of last things for you to wrap up today’s show. If you want to think a little bit more about products, listen to episode 67. It’s one which I did a year or so ago now on the topic of why you should create a product to sell on your blog. If you’re not quite there yet on whether products are right for you, that one’s a good one to listen to. I also give you some tips on how to create that product.
And then over on the ProBlogger blog, I write an article earlier this year called Seven Types of Product That You Could Sell From Your Blog, which might be a good companion piece for today. I talked there a little bit about ebooks of course, because that’s where we started out, but also give you some other ideas on different types of products for those of you who maybe aren’t quite suited to the ebook.
Lastly, I want to say thank you to a number of you who’ve been leaving reviews on the podcast this week. I just got my email this morning from the service I use to report on the new reviews that come in.
I had one from Tim Melville who came in. I don’t know whether it’s a him or her but Tim Melville wrote, “I googled impostor syndrome, something I have diagnosed but really wanted to explore, and I found ProBlogger, and I fell in love. Thanks so much for falling in love, Darren.” Tim Melville goes on to write, “He’s the epitome of everything I had no idea that existed. He’s real. He’s humble. He’s everything you need to understand to build your blog. I incidentally heard one episode, episode 101, I think, and cannot stop listening. I ran into work to talk to a potential partner. I was talking so fast and so excited and she was like slow down and I’ve not lost a moment yet. I love his very real information for everything you need to know. Everything. Thank you, Darren.” Well, thank you for leaving your review.
Also, AJ Reid wrote, “Great podcast. I listen regularly. Rowse speaks from experience and has a laid back style. He isn’t just there to sell me something. Learning so much. Highly recommend this podcast.”
Thank you so much AJ and thanks Tim Melville for your reviews. If you’ve got a review for us, head over to iTunes today, rate us and review us, or on whatever app you do use as well. I particularly get notified when the iTunes ones come in, but I try and watch those other app services as well. If you’ve got a moment, I would love you to do that. Otherwise, dig into the archives. There are 241 other episodes there for you, episode 67 particularly on the topic of products.
Thanks for listening. I’ll be back with you next week in episode 243.
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