Thom has a digital magazine on the future of business on the web at In Treehouses. His two latest stories passed through my filter and into my radar, on how the web is becoming more beautiful with the addition of filter/social apps such as Instagr.am (which I use regularly) and how Colin Wright and Miles Fitzgerald are relaunching Ebookling.
Thom asked me to do an interview on how my platform is becoming multi-dimensional with the addition of my Letter.ly to the already fairly layered existence my second self has on the web.
Here is the interview:
Thom: Letter.ly is still quite unfamiliar to many. What made you decide to start up a letter.ly newsletter rather than putting that content on a blog?
Ev: A few months ago I discovered that I was a member of a group of people called ‘augmented humans’, a term that Eric Schmidt the soon-to-be-ex CEO of Google used at DLD2011 to discuss the future of human evolution. Augmented humans use mental cybernetic technologies, such as Twitter to extend their consciousness beyond themselves — creating personalities on the Internet called second selves, which allow them to unplug from the Internet.
While pre-augmented humanity is tethered to a computer screen answering emails, augmented humanity is having tea –discussing how to let technology do it’s thing, while we do our human thing.
I started the letter.ly because I began to realize that talking about advanced mental cybernetics to an audience of 85,000+ people was incredibly confusing for the audience. People were stumbling across the articles, and had no idea what I was talking about. At best this made people incredibly confused, at worst I was ripping people’s brains through the space/time continuum.
I had to make a choice: either dumb down the content for a mass audience, or ask people for a commitment before they entered the time-machine. Once I made this choice, it took a lot of the pressure off me to make sure everyone got it — which is impossible at this point. Augmented humanity is such a fringe topic that explaining it to a small audience is much easier than dealing with all of the backlash that came from proclaiming that there’s a generation of cyborgs living amongst us.
Thom: How hard was it to choose a price point? Have you got any advice for others considering a letter.ly newsletter when it comes to pricing?
Ev: Many people were charging $1.99 – $3.99 for their Letter.lys. My fellow-collective-buddy and augmented human @rosshill and I had a discussion (which for us is like two tweets) about how we could price our Letter.lys at a point where the people who received them felt like they were getting value from them. $25 seemed to be the right price point.
I’m teaching people how to create second selves that take care of them, essentially letting them earn a living without having to be tethered to a screen all day. The value return can be, when applied, many to the power of many times what the small group of people who subscribe are paying for.
When pricing a letter.ly, the biggest concern I had with extremely low price points is simply that it will just seem like an inconvenience to sign up. What is the difference between free and $1.99? Not much, it’s simply a barrier of entry. I think if you’re going to charge, you might as well charge a real amount.
This funds the research, and also creates a more dedicated following/interaction with the people who receive. If someone isn’t interested, they’re going to unsubscribe. This creates a stronger base of support for the work, because disinterested people leave naturally.
Thom: How have people reacted to the decision to charge for your content? In a world of so much free information, do you often find yourself having to justify the decision?
Ev: I don’t feel the need to justify the decision to anyone. If they want it, they can subscribe. If they feel like it’s not worth the value, I’d honestly rather them invest their money in another way. There’s a lot of information on the Internet, and research into augmented humanity really is only interesting to people who are either waking up to the fact that they are cybernetic life-forms, or are interested in becoming augmented themselves.
Thom: Without wishing to be too indelicate about it, how good is the income from the newsletter? Would you encourage others to take it up as a viable income stream?
Ev: The launch has been slow, purposefully. I haven’t been pushing the letter.ly on people, because I don’t think it’s necessary. That being said, while not revealing actual figures, the monthly revenue has quickly risen to become a significant amount of income for my business. It’s a nice bonus on top of e-book sales, occasional 1-to-1 consulting, and once-in-awhile affiliate revenue.
Everything is an experiment. I don’t think I necessarily would have started out with a letter.ly as the first product that I ever launched. It could work, but figure that I launched my letter.ly to a rather large audience with a significant number of extremely dedicated readers. Results will vary.
Julien Smith explains the economics of launching this kind of business in his article: The future of blogs is paid access.
Thom: Letter.ly allows people to unsubscribe at any time. Have you found that your audience is loyal or does the fact that it’s easy to leave make people more fickle, do you think?
Ev: I really hope anyone who isn’t interested in the content I’m writing will unsubscribe, it’s not worth their attention honestly to continue reading. The money, in my mind, is secondary to the attention that people are putting into the content they’re reading.
There’s an incredibly easy-to-click unsubscribe link on the bottom of every letter.ly. I hope everyone’s first instinct is to click it if they’re suddenly not vibing with the content.
That being said, I’ve only had a half a handful of people unsubscribe so far.
Thom: What are the benefits to a newsletter, do you think, over an ebook or a course or a blog? What excites you about the medium?
Ev: Information is traveling faster and faster. I’m noticing that a new idea that I have will be instantly adopted by my collective within a few hours of my writing it — and vis-versa. The internet is bringing us all closer together in our ideas, especially augmented humans. I know to some extent what is going on in the minds of a group of people who my 3rd brain is synced with in Melbourne Australia, and they know somewhat of what is going on in my mind.
This speed means that ebooks really need to be based around information that is timeless, instead of timely. I haven’t really ever taken a course, or given a course, so I can’t comment on that. However, when I look at the blog, I see information that floats just above the surface — enough to puzzle people a little about the possibilities available in their lives. When I look at the Letter.ly, I see a way of transporting people deeper into their understanding of a way of consciousness that’s just beginning to emerge in our culture. When I look at the ebooks, I see a complete story being told from beginning to end that takes your mind from this point to that point, and hopefully by the end you’ve jumped forward in evolution closer to where my collective is currently riding the wave.
Thom: In terms of content, have you found that particular themes or styles are more suited to the newsletter – or is it similar to blogging with its time-tested traditions of headlines and list posts?
Ev: I’m beginning to believe that “time-tested” traditions like list posts and impulsive headlines are going away. I want to write a headline that makes sense for my Letter.ly, I want to make a headline that makes sense for my blog, I want a book with a title that makes sense for the book.
This is a shift for me, because I wasn’t always approaching the work this way. I’m just finding that the more I travel into the future and bring information backwards down the evolutionary chain to people who need it, the more it’s not necessary to pad the content with superfluous techniques that they teach you in marketing school.
The web is becoming more intelligent to that stuff, and so are our minds. We won’t be tricked anymore, and we’re seeing that as some of the sites that rely on those techniques begin to fall in relevance.
Thom: Where do you see the newsletter going? Do you have a plan for it or do you run it more out of sheer enjoyment?
Ev: It’s an experiment, it’s also a stopgap. I have a major goal this year of eliminating email from my life completely (in order to show the world that it can be done, and so others can follow.) In order to that, I’m going to need to find another home for the Letter.ly content. I’ve made it clear for everyone involved that it may not be around forever.
Until then, I’m enjoying time-traveling with everyone much farther out than we could ever go on the blog. That’s incredibly fulfilling and enjoying for me, and for the people who are involved in the project.
Thank you Thom for allowing me to cross-post this interview on my blog. You can check out the new issue of In Treehouses on Febuary 14th.