One of the issues with relying on creating income from digital products like an eBook or a course is that there is typically a huge spike in income at the launch followed by a quick drop off:
This is the sales graph from when I originally launched Building Mobile Apps with Ionic. This was the first product that I started to see significant success with. I chose this example because it follows a very typical launch pattern, with a big marketing push for the launch the results in a lot of sales, followed by a significant drop.
You can see that the few days around the initial big spike generate around $10,000 in sales, but then that quickly drops off to around $500 per day (which is still obviously quite significant). Not all product launches will follow this pattern, but it is the most common pattern that you will see. If you don’t have a big spike at the beginning then there is probably room to improve your launch strategy.
You would then expect those sales to keep following that downward trend and slowly dropping over time, and if left alone it does. If you have a smaller audience this will likely quickly drop to near zero income, or if you have a larger audience the baseline sales may still bring in a reasonable amount of income for a while.
I feel like this leads to the “obvious” conclusion that this is just the product running its course, and that it is coming to the end of its life.
Solution: create and release a new product?
This is a viable solution, but not always necessary. If we expand on the timeline of the graph above, it paints a pretty interesting picture:
This is the same product, but you can see after the initial spike, there are several more spikes. The sales don’t just keep trending down towards $0. Each of these, of course, help by generating a big boost in income, but they also help keep the baseline interest in the product up over a long period of time. Spikes in income are nice, but it is that baseline level of sales that consistently come in that help to give you peace of mind.
This graph is the result of investing more time into the product, rather than switching focus to a new product.
Since focusing on my business full-time, I have created just two products over about two years. These two products have provided the vast majority of my income throughout that time. In this article, I want to talk about some strategies that I have used to extend the life of my digital products and generate more income rather than just letting the products stagnate into obscurity.
Quality vs Quantity?
I think this is the wrong way to think of this discussion. Common wisdom tells us that it is better to have fewer things of good quality than lots of things of bad quality. Generally, you have two options with digital products:
- Focus on creating and launching a lot of products
- Create a small number of products, and focus on growing/marketing those
However, if you were to take the approach of creating more products instead of focusing on existing ones, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be creating poorer quality products. Focusing on one or two products is much more about marketing and strategy than it is about making the product better. Do you want to focus on releasing new products to a core set of customers, or do you want to focus on expanding your customer base?
I could probably comfortably write perhaps four books per year, and I could sell those books, and I suspect I would make a similar amount of money in the end. However, to spend so much time working on new products I would have less time to update my existing products and to focus on marketing them.
In my particular niche, I think focusing on fewer products and growing my audience makes more sense. To date, I have sold approximately 3,400 copies of Building Mobile Apps with Ionic. If that was all I sold I would be pretty darn happy with that. However, I don’t think it is anywhere near the end of its life, because there have been millions of applications created with Ionic, and it is continuing to grow, so I highly doubt I have reached market saturation with my meager 3,400 copies. There are plenty more customers out there.
Another benefit to focusing on fewer products in this space is that the space is constantly changing. I have released 18 updates to the book, just because of the framework changing over time. If you are in a field where you expect the information in your product to quickly become outdated it would certainly be worth considering this approach.
The biggest part of my strategy for generating long-term interest in my products is content marketing. Put simply, I write tutorials in the form of blog posts on topics that are relevant to what my products are about.
This accounts for the largest portion of the “work” I do in my business. The time I spend each week is typically spent 50/50 between creating new free content for the blog, and then optimising my website/content and marketing.
I originally launched Building Mobile Apps with Ionic in 2016, but it still consistently generate around $1,000 each week. If you can get a decent amount of search traffic coming through your site, and have a good sales funnel, it wouldn’t be unusual to continue receiving sales for your product for years (as long as it is still relevant).
Content marketing is a great way to keep those baseline sales up, but another key part of the strategy I use are events that cause those big spikes in sales. One of those events are “relaunches”. Launches generate a lot of sales, right? So, why not just do it again?
I’m joking, sort of, but that is basically the idea. If you see an opportunity to improve your product by adding some new content, improving some things, or maybe it is just reframing the marketing – you could do a relaunch. A relaunch that I did for Building Mobile Apps with Ionic included the addition of a new video course, some premium themes, and updated sections in the book. It really is as simple as packaging up your updated product and doing another big launch style marketing push.
The good thing about this approach is that your audience will likely have grown since you originally launched, and a lot of the people who you are pushing this promotion to may not have been around for the first launch, or maybe they haven’t even discovered your product yet.
I typically give any updates in relaunches to my existing customers for free, but that isn’t always necessary. It all depends on your product, what you are adding to it, your customer’s expectations, and what you are comfortable with. In my mind, I never want my customers to feel cheated or like they are missing out. I want my customers to feel like they are getting a ridiculous amount of value when they purchase my products, and then I want to give them even more value. I feel like this is a good way to create long-lasting relationships, and that it will make your customers more willing to buy your new products in future.
Again, you don’t have to do that, though. This works for me, but it might just not be feasible for your business.
Another way to generate a spike in sales is a… sale. I generally avoid sales. I will usually only ever provide my products at a discounted rate when they are first launched, or at some significant event like a relaunch or some other significant milestone. I also usually never provide more than 20% off of the full price. I feel that by doing this, when I do have a sale it is much more exciting and that potential customers will be more driven to action.
I don’t have any data to back me up on this one, this is mostly based on my perspective of how I feel about sales, but to summarise my feelings:
- Sales you run will lose their impact if you run them too often
- If people can see that you run sales all the time, they may be less likely to purchase your product at full price
- Customers who missed out on a sale may feel a bit cheated
- Heavily discounted products make the product seem less valuable (e.g. a 75% off sale just makes me feel like the product is overpriced)
However, I don’t want to seem like I am speaking authoritatively on this, this is just anecdotal.
Another way to generate a similar impact to a sale, without actually running a sale in the traditional sense, is to:
- Increase the price of your product
- Give people a chance to buy at the old price
This avoids the pitfalls of a sale in that it doesn’t devalue your product, and people who have already bought it won’t feel like they have missed out, but it still creates motivation for someone to buy before the price rises.
This might come across as a little sleazy, but with the right justification and messaging, I don’t think that this leaves a negative impression. I’ve used this strategy to great success (it is responsible for one of the big spikes on my graph).
When I was working on Building Mobile Apps with Ionic, Ionic was in an “alpha” state, meaning that it is still unstable, will have bugs, and is not ready for production use. Despite this, there was still a lot of interest in this new framework. I launched the book during this alpha stage.
Since the framework was constantly changing, that meant the book was constantly changing too. For people who purchased during this stage, I thought that it made sense to give it to them a little cheaper than my intended full price. So, I launched at that cheaper price. Then, months later, when Ionic was production ready and my book was “finalised”, I announced that I would be increasing the price of the book. However, before increasing the price I did another marketing push that would allow people to get the latest version of the book at the old price.
This allowed me to generate hype around the release of this new version, without having to run a sale.
I don’t generally rely on advertisements to generate interest in my products, but it would be remiss of me not to mention it. This is an avenue I do plan on exploring more, but with the right approach, you can certainly generate consistent interest through the use of services like Google AdWords. Especially if you are selling high-value products because you can justify spending more money for leads.
With the right approach, you can turn a digital product business from one that ebbs and flows like a stormy seashore, to one that provides you with consistent income and peace of mind. These are just some strategies that have worked well for me, but it is important to consider how well it would work for you. Different creators create different products with different audiences, so what works amazingly for one might not work at all for another. It is always important to experiment and measure.
Are you already selling a digital product? Do you have any strategies for generating long-term interest in your product?