Can you guess a startup that’s based on a product but doesn’t have to carry inventory and creates its own channels of distribution? One whose startup costs are not a lot more than a good computer, and the know-how? One whose time from conception to shipping is a matter of weeks?

Survive and Prosper

I’ve never met Scott Aughtmon. He emailed me in early May and asked me to contribute to his next book, shown here. It’s an eBook with advice from me and 37 other people about how to work your business during a recession. Scott contacted the experts, got responses in email, laid out the book, and produced it as an ebook. He’s now selling it on his website at

So he first contacted me in May, and he’s already selling the book in July. That’s fast. And that’s a product business without inventory. Furthermore, by offering the contributors a piece of the action (promote it and get a share of the sales), he’s built an automatic distribution channel. (For the record, I’m just linking here, I’m not going to take a cut if you click and buy the book. I’m just writing about it, for now. I didn’t feel comfortable writing about it if I was going to get a commission for your purchase.)

I was intrigued. I asked Scott to talk to me about his business model.

How did you get started in ebooks?

I got started in ebooks because I was looking for a way to make an additional income online. … I began reading everything I could get my hands on. I read ebooks and classic books on marketing.

I read an ebook from a guy who had compiled a list of ideas and ways to make money. In this ebook, he suggested that an easy way to create a product was to interview experts on a subject and compile their answers into a book.

At this point in Silicon Valley, the dot-com bubble was bursting and later in that year Sept. 11th happened. The word was that we were about to enter a recession. I realized that there were people that I was studying online and off who knew methods to help people survive and even prosper in a recession, so I decided to do an ebook on that subject for business owners.

I came up with the title for the ebook, “How Your Business Can Survive And Prosper In A Recession,” came up with three questions to ask each expert, and at 1am or 2am one night I began emailing experts.

The next day, I began receiving answers from some of the experts. I continued to send out emails and my list of experts began to grow. I ended up with a list of 18 experts. By the end of the process experts were thanking me for including them.

After that I compiled the interviews in a Word document and converted it to a .PDF file. I then applied the lessons I had learned from all the ebooks and books I had read and set up a website and began selling the ebooks

Do you have any experience with regular books?

I originally read some on the idea of self-publishing the recession ebook, but decided against it, because of the upfront costs involved. The benefit of producing an ebook is that the actual cost to produce each ebook is “$0” after you pay for small costs of the webhosting, online payment processing, etc.

Do you have any tips you might have for others looking to produce an ebook or any pitfalls they should avoid?

I would encourage anyone who is looking to produce ebooks to seriously consider it. If you’re a business owner it would be a great way to add an additional stream of income! You just need to take the time to prepare and make sure you know how to do it efficiently and effectively.

What you’ll need to get started selling your ebooks:

* Microsoft Word
* Adobe Acrobat
* A Web host
* A payment processor. I’d suggest for your payment processor.

Here’s why I suggest Clickbank: You pay only $49.95 to open an account and they charge just a small amount per sale to process your orders. But the number one reason I suggest them is that you can offer affiliates a percentage of every sale they send you and Clickbank handles everything. You don’t have to worry about a thing. They track the sales, cut the checks and send the checks to your affiliates. This allows you to offer an affiliate % as a an incentive to other sites and bloggers to promote your ebook.

Any tips to offer?

  • Don’t worry about making your first ebook perfect. Do your best to put out the best product you can, but you will make mistakes, miss typos, etc. You’ll only learn how to do this by doing it!
  • Don’t go at it alone. Read up on how to create and sell ebooks effectively.
  • Invite other sites to help promote the ebook as your affiliates.
  • If you have customers already, ASK them what type of information would be valuable to them. Ask them if they be interested in this information in an ebook format, so they could instantly download and have it. They will tell you the information they would be willing to buy – if you let them!

How about pitfalls to avoid?

  • Don’t think you’re going to become a millionaire from writing one ebook. Focus on how you can continue to help the people who buy your ebooks by offering them other products and service to help them.
  • If you want “author” status in the traditional sense, then ebooks won’t be the way to get it. If you want “expert” status, and a possible other source of additional clients and income, then ebooks could help you to achieve

Have you worked with the old-fashioned publishing model, as author or publisher? How does that compare?

I haven’t, but my wife is going to be published. Her book will come out in January 2009. Getting your book published the traditional way is great and I’m not in any way against it, but it’s much harder to get your foot in the door. The company my wife is with is great and they’ve treated her very well.

In a traditional sense… If you get published the traditional way you might get a small advance, but don’t think getting published means you’ll be rich or well-known. You won’t make any money per book until you make back the advance and money that your publisher spent to market your book. Once you do make a percentage on your books it’s only a small amount of the price for the books until you gain notoriety and are able to get a higher percentage. But still, the amount per book that you receive is not that high.

In many cases you will have to do a lot of the leg work as a new author to get the word out that you have a book that’s been published.

Overall, is it worth it? Is this a good way to go?

Ebooks are a way to get your information out there easily, build your
“expert” status, and add an additional income stream to your business. It’s a great way to get started and you can use it as leverage to get a future book published the traditional way.

Tim BerryTim Berry

Tim Berry is the founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software and Follow him on Twitter @Timberry.