‘Orders of Magnitude Better’ theory

The biggest shock to me, after delving into marketing and selling actual things, is the ‘Orders of Magnitude Better’ theory.

This is very appropriate for indie authors and developers and for pretty much anyone who ever has to sell anything. It also applies to most other areas of life.

What is the ‘Orders of Magnitude Better’ theory?

It’s three intertwined realities -

  1. The Best Strategies are ‘orders of magnitude better’ than the good and bad strategies. If you don’t get too attached to your own ego and existing strategy, then this is easy to recognize.
  2. The Best People/Companies/Persons in a field are often ‘orders of magnitude better’ than everyone else.
  3. Things constantly evolve. So a strategy might go from ‘orders of magnitude better’ to not very good. Note: However, the people/companies themselves don’t become worse. They just need to evolve a better strategy, and the best people/companies are uniquely qualified to do that. Add-on Note: However, if they don’t evolve a better strategy, or copy the one that beat them, then they are dead.

The third point is the most critical. Going into the ‘Orders of Magnitude Better’ theory, it’s absolutely critical to understand that it’s temporal. Strategy A might be the ‘Absolute Best’ strategy and orders of magnitude better than all other strategies. However, someone somewhere is hammering out Strategy 23B which will be orders of magnitude better than Strategy A. It might even make Strategy A useless.

Another point worth noting is that this is true across nearly all fields.

Outliers and Talent is Overrated talk of something similar (the amount of time required to attain mastery). However, they don’t delve into the strategies and masterpieces that ‘true experts’ create. That’s what we’ll discuss in this post. The absolute best strategies, usually made by the absolute most talented and hard-working people, and how much better they are than all other strategies.

How is an ‘Orders of Magnitude Better’ strategy created?

There are lots of ways. A few are -

  1. Running through 1,000 strategies that don’t work, until you find one that works spectacularly well. Think of the invention of the light-bulb – it’s that level of effort.
  2. Lucking into one relatively quickly in your experimentation. This really is luck. You can’t filter out theories and strategies to improve your odds because sometimes the very crazy theories are the best ones.
  3. Learning from others and distilling that knowledge to derive a strategy. This comes with a caveat – since the best strategy changes with time, the lessons from the past aren’t guaranteed to work today.
  4. Copying a successful theory. The downside is that you are unlikely to beat the first person who successfully implemented the strategy. The upside is you can become a strong #2.
  5. The ‘Instincts’ based approach. To trust your instincts. It helps if you’ve honed your instincts and your skills over time.
  6. The ‘Analytics’ approach. To analyze and test and see what people react to and then tailor things based on that. The downside is that this leads to evolution, not revolution.
  7. The ‘Big Data’ approach. To gather loads and loads of data and analyze the mega-trends.
  8. Trying multiple strategies and picking the one that works. This is very difficult to execute unless you have scale.

Apart from 2 (lucking into one) and 4 (copying/cloning a successful strategy) the others require a lot of work by people who are very, very good in their work.

Software, App Stores, and ‘Orders of Magnitude Better’ theory

Consider the stages that app stores have gone through -

  1. Predecessor to the App Store: Expensive Boxed Software. In the beginning, before app stores routed value and profits towards devices and platforms, we had the boxed software experience. People would pay $50 for an anti-virus software or $200 for Windows or $300 for Office.
  2. App Store Beginnings (Cheap beats Expensive): Cheap Software in the $2 to $20 range. With the App Stores, the platforms and device owners turned developers into free R&D. Now software was $2 to $20.
  3. App Store Phase II – Take over by $1 Apps (Very Cheap beats Cheap). Gradually, as is wont to happen in any almost-free market (free = freedom), the cheaper apps began to win. In 2012, 38 of the 40 highest-selling iPhone Apps of all time were $1. That shows just how powerful $1 became.
  4. App Store Phase III – Take over by Paid Apps promoted via Free Apps/Trials (Free Trials beat Very Cheap). People eventually figured out that the better strategy is to let people get a taste for the app via free apps/trials. Then get people to buy the paid version. This is how apps like Angry Birds became big.
  5. App Store Phase IV – Take over by Free to Play Apps where you can pay to ‘improve’ your experience and/or ‘pay’ to win (100% Free beats Free Trials). We had the arrival of smarter/shrewder developers who thought – If users are hooked with a free app, then why just sell to them once. They began to sell items within the free apps. This led to In-App Purchases becoming big money minters.

Note: All these theories are not new. Just their use in App Stores is new. App Stores are great because we see shifts in years that in other places take decades.

We are seeing progressively better strategies. Each strategy being so much better than the prior one that it renders the prior one almost useless. It really is an example of ‘Orders of Magnitude Better’ theory.

An Example ‘Orders of Magnitude Better’ strategy from App Stores

Consider the ‘Top-Grossing’ Charts in the Apple App Store -

  1. Most days, only 2 out of the Top 40 Top-Grossing Apps in the iPhone App Store are paid apps. The other 38, including nearly all of the Top 10, are free-to-play apps that monetize via in-app purchases. That shows how much better the IAP strategy is. It’s taken over 95% of the Top 40 Grossing Spots.

This whole shift happened in just 2 years. Of course, Zynga and other companies were already doing this with Facebook Apps. However, it’s in the last two years that the iPhone and Android App Stores have been completely taken over by the IAP Strategy.

An Example ‘Orders of Magnitude Better’ strategy from eBooks

The eBook Store Bestselling Lists are transforming -

  1. $1 Books have 20+ spots out of the Top 100 in both the Kindle and Nook Top 100 Bestseller lists.
  2. The average price of books in the Kindle Store Top 100 is falling rapidly.

We existed in a world where Publishers wanted to sell ebooks at $15 and were unhappy about $9.99 prices. Now, indie authors and smaller Publishers are using prices between $1 and $5 and are using free kindle books to completely outwit Publishers. Just 3 years ago, indie authors had no presence in the Top 100. The occasional indie author would stumble into the Top 100. However, now we have wave after wave of indie authors hitting the Top 100.

How? A Simple Strategy -

  • Combine ‘free kindle books’ marketing, with ‘$1 kindle books’ as low-friction selling.

This combination strategy is definitely orders of magnitude better than what Publishers are using (free previews + $13.99 for new releases).

There are now approximately as many $1 books from indie authors in the Top 100 as there are $13.99 books from Publishers.

Keep in mind that this is happening despite – Publishers having the big authors, Publishers having huge marketing budgets, Publishers having their magic fairy dust, Amazon and B&N favoring Publishers’ books in subtle ways.

For an indie author with no branding, a tiny marketing budget, and very little experience to get into the Top 100 shows just how powerful the combination strategy of ‘free kindle books for marketing’ and ‘$1 kindle books for reducing selling friction’ is.

‘Orders of Magnitude Better’ theory suggests that Books will go through a Cycle similar to App Stores

These are the phases we will perhaps go through -

  1. $1 and $3 Books marketed with the help of ‘free kindle book’ promotions take over 30 to 50 of the Top 100 Spots.
  2. Books that have ties with the stores begin to take over. This will happen. Then readers and/or regulators will step in and bring this manipulation to a close. Remember – If the stores are allowed to, they will fill up 80 of the Top 100 spots with books that they own rights to. They will do this whether or not those books deserve to be in the Top 100.
  3. Free Books that sell ‘In Book Purchases’ take over. These will be 100% free books, with the option to pay in the book to buy additional things like character images and secrets. 100% free obviously beats everything else.
  4. A completely new model. Perhaps one where almost everything is free, but the books link to offers for physical products and/or have in-book product placements.

Please Note: You might not see this happening because the end-point is too repulsive. However, it is a long and slippery slope. It starts off with innocent things.

One strategy completely overpowers another. Then it becomes too common and/or passes its due date. Finally, a newer strategy comes in that is now ‘orders of magnitude better’.

What is the current ‘Orders of Magnitude Better’ strategy in ebooks?

Currently, it is -

  1. Offer a few of your books for free. Use the KDP Select Free Days. Make sure you get a lot of visibility.
  2. Make the rest of your books cheap. Ideally, in the $1 to $3 range.
  3. Build your own channels and cater to customers who buy (or will buy) more than one of your books.

This strategy is beating everything else. Even Dan Brown used this by making one of his books free before the release of his latest novel. Note: His new book was at $13.99, not at $1 or $3.

As more and more authors move to this strategy, this will become weaker and less effective. By its very definition, something that everyone is doing can’t be ‘orders of magnitude better’.

Does this really apply to every other area?

To be precise, it applies to most other areas.

Consider what shows like American Idol are. They aren’t really talent shows. They are ‘get people invested in artists’ shows. They are very similar to In-App Purchase Apps. You get all these people invested in ‘free music’ from ‘upcoming talents with a human side’. Then you pick the ones most people like.

Voting = Investing more and more into these singers. More Investment = Higher chance of people buying albums and concert tickets from those artists.

Simon Cowell owns rights for everything. He’s just rigged up a great way to get people to -

  1. Figure out whose music they will pay for.
  2. Get more and more invested in those artists.

That’s ‘orders of magnitude better’ than some producer on the street who is signing up complete unknowns and trying to market them using a limited budget. You can stand on street corners handing out free CDs or you can set up a TV show that gets people voting and investing in the artists. ALL the artists are signed up with you, so no matter who the people choose, you win.

How can you counter an ‘Orders of Magnitude Better’ strategy?

This is a tough question. You can’t really. You either come up with the next ‘Orders of Magnitude Better’ strategy or you switch to another market.

Can Indie Authors take on Publishers? Won’t Publishers just clone the ‘Orders of Magnitude Better’ strategies that Indie Authors come up with?

Well, Indie Authors have to worry about more than just Publishers -

  1. The Platforms and Stores will, if possible, kill the means for Indie Authors to use their ‘Orders of Magnitude Better’ strategies. If Amazon and B&N see $1 and $3 books begin to take over totally, they will eliminate free kindle books and free nook books.
  2. The Stores will try to offset the rise of Indie Authors. Remember that the Platforms control visibility on their platforms. The lists, the recommended lists, the promotions, the picks – these are all marketing. They aren’t meant to show readers ‘the best bang for the buck’ or ‘the best written books’. It’s marketing to suit the Platforms’ ends.
  3. Publishers will ape the indie Authors’ theories, except will try to add their ‘must make $13.99 from new books’ and ‘must save paper books’ twists. This is one big thing that makes Publishers unable to fight Indie Authors effectively. No matter what, Publishers can’t afford to sell new releases at $1 and $3.

What has happened with Indie Authors, is that over the years they have come up with ‘Orders of Magnitude Better’ strategies, and they have won temporarily, but they have then gotten eaten by the Platforms and Publishers and other Indie Authors -

  1. The first wave of indie authors didn’t build brands or their own channels and the Platforms just hid them.
  2. The second wave of indie authors fell for the trap of signing Publisher contracts. Most of them were then unable to sell $7 and $10 books to readers who had fallen in love with them at $1 and $3.
  3. The third wave of indie authors was very strong. I didn’t think they would lose. However, the power of the Platforms came into play. The Platforms tweaked their algorithms and almost completely ‘hid’ the third wave.
  4. The fourth wave (which includes some survivors from the third wave) are rising up now. It’s a complex situation. The new wave is doing a very good job of building direct relationships with readers. However, Platforms and Publishers are at their most dangerous because they now have a lot to lose.

What will be the ‘Orders of Magnitude Better’ strategy that the fifth wave of Indie Authors uses to gain 50% of the Top 100? I think it’ll be a combination of ‘free as marketing’ and ‘$1 books’ and ‘follow-on purchases or follow-on bonuses’.

What might be the ‘Orders of Magnitude Better’ strategy that Publishers use to win back most of the Top 100? It might be using $1 and free back list books to hook readers to authors Publishers control.

What might be the ‘Orders of Magnitude Better’ strategy that the Platforms use to control the Top 100? It might be signing up lots of the good indie authors and then giving them 50 times more visibility than anyone else. Note: They are already doing this, just on a slightly smaller scale. This won’t be made obvious until and unless the Platforms reduce their dependency on the Big 5 Publishers.

The Future of Books (and of Indie Authors) depends on Indie Authors creating one new ‘Orders of Magnitude Better’ strategy

If Indie Authors can come up with one more ‘Orders of Magnitude Better’ strategy, to layer on top of ‘free as marketing’ + ‘$1 to reduce friction in selling’, then they will become unstoppable.

That one new ‘Orders of Magnitude Better’ strategy will complete the golden trifecta. The golden trifecta will break the back of Publishers, and will reduce the Platforms to dumb robots.

That’s what it all revolves around – One indie author somewhere comes up with the next genius ‘orders of magnitude better’ strategy, and executes on it well. As soon as that happens, other indie authors will ape it. Then the golden trifecta (free as marketing, $1 to reduce friction in selling, the new ‘Orders of Magnitude Better’ strategy) will break down the last defences of Publishers and Platforms. The most interesting thing about this is that the Platforms and Publishers have absolutely no idea – they don’t realize how close they are to becoming powerless spectators, they don’t realize that Indie Authors are missing just one piece of the puzzle.

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