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Results from running a DenseDiscovery ad

This past week I ran the very first ad I've ever seen successful ROI from, on Dense Discovery, and was sharing some stats on Twitter.

@robfitz asked me to share some more detailed stats, and thought I'd share 'em here with Indie Hackers too!

After seeing Dense Discovery mentioned several times in audience communities I frequent, I checked it out and saw why. It clearly had a solid overlap with our audience: creative professionals in software and digital fields. I recognized a bunch of the names of people who were contributing to the newsletter, and the overall ethos/attitude felt familiar .

A few weeks later, @AndrewKamphey mentioned it again when we were having a backchannel conversation about newsletter ads. I looked and was surprised that DD's main ad slot (one per edition) was priced affordably, under $500 at the time. That seemed like it was within reach of at least breaking even, so I bought a slot for my book, The Tiny MBA.

My primary goal was honestly pretty low, hoping to achieve a minimum of break even from this ad, and reaching new readers.

2x ROI would've been a pretty big win for me since my past attempts with ads have all been a bust.

As of today (less than 4 full days after the ad ran) I'm already seeing a 4x ROI, and it's still (slowly) climbing!

Some detailed stats

Kai (the guy who publishes Dense Discovery) has many of his numbers publicly available: https://densediscovery.com/advertise/

So far I've seen just shy of 1300 uniques from the ad since Monday evening local time, meaning about 4.6% of the DD list (~28,000 subscribers) clicked through which is way higher than I expected.

102 books have been sold to those visitors, or a ~7.8% conversion rate from visitor to sale.

I'm calling this a success!

Based on my past experiences with ads, I'd say this has been...exceptional. Past attempts with other products and lists haven't done as well.

Kai clearly has a uniquely engaged audience that overlaps near perfectly with ours. I'm also curious to see how long we see new visitors from the one email. Even if it slows to a trickle, if that trickle keeps buying books that's a win.

I can stack the trickles 😂 into something bigger over time

I'd also say that the ads are priced perfectly for an independent creator to try and see. I'm very tempted to reinvest some of our winnings from this campaign in a second ad to see what repeat impressions does!

UPDATE I decided to book another ad for February, will share how it goes the second time!

  1. 1

    I have actually wonder this since I discovered DD.
    Thanks for sharing Alex.

    Have a great day.

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    An interesting quirk of this data is in showing why traditional publishers are so utterly useless with small-scale, profitable advertising.

    A self-published book will get 70-95% margins on digital and/or 50-60% on the paperback, compared to a tiny fraction of that for tradpub. Which means that self-pub can afford to spend $3-5 on paid acquisition to sell one book and still have 2x profits, whereas tradpub is completely hamstrung.

    It's especially imbalanced for books where big brands and no-names are all forced into roughly the same pricing, which means that margin makes the business model. And selfpub has got the margins.

    I've heard so many people claim that it's impossible to profitably advertise a book. But I'm increasingly of the belief that that's only true if you've traded away your margins for a tradpub logo on the cover.

    Super interesting stuff @alexhillman, thanks again for sharing. As mentioned on twitter, looking forward to trying some of this.

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      Interesting insight that I hadn't thought of, that makes total sense.

      Signing with a traditional publisher, my expectation is that a big part of the reason they're getting so much of the revenue is because they should be spending some of that money on distribution, right? If I signed a book deal, I wouldn't want to be spending my margins on advertising, that's the publisher's job!

      So I get why a tradpublished author couldn't do it, but is there a reason a traditional publisher themselves wouldn't run this kind of targeted campaign even though they technically have the resources to do it, and maybe even do it at scale? E.g. find 10x Dense Discovery style newsletters and buy a month's worth of ads in each.

      My guess would be that the mainstream self-serve and algorithmically targeted display ads like Facebook and Google have made folks lazy and they overlook the power of this sort of ad, but maybe there's another reason I'm missing?

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        You can negotiate a guaranteed ad spend in your contract, but they're usually doing it to tick a box and not because they expect it to return anything.

        I think it's partially that their cost structures are insane, partially that they aren't technologically literate, and partially that they are conservative in the same way as the movie industry, where they aren't able to predict success so prefer to double down on what's already succeeding (e.g., already famous author or already-successful book) via mass-market PR/ads.

        I talk about it a bit in one of the early sections of writeusefulbooks.com:

        "To overcome the reduced royalties, a publisher needs to sell at least 5x more copies for you to break even. Well… they can, right? After all, they're publishers. But here's the rub: publishers don't want to blow their budget on a risky, unproven book. As such, they'll only deploy their marketing arsenal once your book has already been de-risked, which basically means that you're either already a best-selling author, you already possess an adoring audience waiting to buy your stuff, or your book has already sold at least 10,000 copies."

        I've been interviewing a lot of authors recently for research and it really seems like big publishers just aren't well-suited for small-scale, bespoke, profitable stuff. (Although there are some exceptions in the best smaller publishers.)

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          That makes sense (I mean, it doesn't make sense but I understand!) appreciate the insights from talking with authors. I only have a few tradpub friends who have good things to say about their publishers...and the common theme across them is that they are more savvy, and have personally done way more work, to sell their book than their publisher has, in spite of their tiny royalty!

          I suppose one nice thing about the big players NOT being out here is that it keeps the costs approachable for the indie players. So I'm grateful for that :)

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