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by • August 20, 2014 • ProductComments (3)546

Should I shut down my side project?

I hear this question a lot, and I don’t know the answer. But I’m currently going through it myself, so maybe you guys can help me ;)

Some time ago, I decided there was an opportunity for a niche product to help self-publishing authors promote and sell their books.

Based on what I’d learned from the microISV folk (e.g. Patrick McKenzie, Rob Walling), I fired up Google Keyword Planner to investigate. I couldn’t find a strong set of keywords to go after, which was somewhat disappointing. There’s a bit of interest in how the industry generally works, but then it tapers off quickly.

Google Keyword Planner results around self publishing

The biggest search category is around “how to publish a book”, but if you investigate, most people are looking for how to get vanity published by someone with a brand, rather than to get help doing it themselves. And even that doesn’t offer too much to work with:

Google Keyword Planner results around publishing a book

Still, despite the bleak search landscape, I liked the macro trends. 3 million titles were self-published last year. The number of titles launching each year is increasing at close to 500%. The market share of self-published titles (currently at about 5% of the total book market) is increasing by 80% year over year. And in some Nordic countries, 1 in 5 adults launches a book.

My thesis was that I could attract authors with good marketing advice, lock them in with a free landing page for their book, make it beautiful enough that they promote it instead of their Amazon page, and then take an affiliate cut when people purchase. If a book is moderately popular, the cut can get decent (for example, the affiliate cut on my book is $100–200 per month).

Screen Shot 2014-08-20 at 14.19.49

Of course, the wrinkle is that this model depends on the author being able to drive traffic, which most of them can’t.

Given the lack of reasonable search terms, I just went with the goofy name of Hey Look a Book. It’s missing all the bells and whistles it could have, but the core features work well and the conversion rate is strong.

So now I’m sitting on this side project and wondering whether to put more time into it. There are maybe 20 authors who “use” it, but since it’s a set-and-forget product, that doesn’t mean much. I’ve explored a tiny bit of content marketing via the self-publishing subreddit (5k subscribers) and saw good-enough results that I’m convinced it could get me to the next stepping stone.

But I question the fundamentals… Is the candle worth the flame? I have no experience with niche products like this, so I’m lacking any of the benchmarks that tell me whether it’s worth pouring some more time into or just leaving idle.

What do you guys think? Do I walk away or does it have legs I’m not seeing?

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3 Responses to Should I shut down my side project?

  1. Bart says:

    My kind of project….

    It could be that people just self-publish for family and friends, and have no intention to turn the rest of the world into their fans (I also have some examples of those cases).

    Entry point might be to ask with the actual printers what they think their customers are doing with the printed paper. What’s the intent? Heck, maybe the printers might be your best channel to connect with your customers, and they’ll have stories to tell if your macro stats are legit.

    If there is commercial intent then it sounds like somewhere you are going to really need to educate your customers on the value of marketing in (self) publishing. That’s going to be a real grind in any case, and demand more from you then side-project status.

    Side project problem solved! ;)

  2. Patrick Lauruol says:

    Hi Rob

    It sounds as if you’ve got sufficient personal interest in the subject to keep going with it as hobby project. If you were solely focused on the money you’d have dropped the project long ago?

    Regardless of the potential money one positive is that you’ll be learning more about serving micro-niches which may become useful later. It’s not necessary to be 110% Lean on every project!

    You mentioned a few interesting aspects which may be worth exploring further.

    You could explore further the Nordic market.

    You mentioned strong conversion rates. You could explore product or service offerings which are the logical next step your customer would take once they have consumed your product.

    You could map out several additional business models related to the theme and compare the potential returns of each model against the each other. Finding new revenue sources and key partners could be the key to making this worthwhile.

    (Related to comparing different models, the last few paragraphs of Osterwalder’s post on business model design could help you choose which model [if any] to develop http://businessmodelalchemist.com/blog/2012/08/achieve-product-market-fit-with-our-brand-new-value-proposition-designer.html)

    More generally, maybe revisit your personal vision and see if the project aligns with your broader life goals. Remember that many people are motivated by things beyond a financial upside. It sounds as if you’ve been sufficiently drawn to the project to keep it alive thus far, why not keep it going for fun if you enjoy the subject and want to help authors?

    It also sounds like you’ve reached a good moment to write down what kinds of project selection criteria you operate by. Your life vision and your wealth creation strategy (if you have one) may inform your project selection criteria.

    One such criterion could be leverage. How many times might you be paid for doing the work once? By that criteria, even the prospect of beer money could tip you in favour of continuing with it if the time investment isn’t too great.

    You could also do a forcefield analysis weighing up the pros and cons of all your current opportunities. If you really want to get tech, before you do the analysis decide the factors which are important for you and assign weightings to each factor so you get a numeric score per opportunity.

    Ash Maurya has just written a post on the subject which may give you extra ideas. http://practicetrumpstheory.com/2014/08/how-to-ballpark-whether-your-business-model-is-worth-pursuing/?hvid=1IXVYC

    Finally, this sounds like the classic sunken ship fallacy. If you’re feeling guilty about the amount of time you’ve already invested in the project without having seen any sufficient upside then allow yourself to drop the project and focus on better or more meaningful projects and activities.

    Hope this helps?

    Patrick :)

    PS: If you email me I’ll send you a list of potential project criteria which may help you decide your own set to use when evaluating projects.

  3. Just out of curiosity, any decision made yet?