Thursday, May 18, 2006

Stick it to The Man

I'm a sucker for the David and Goliath story line: Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Atlas Shrugged...all inspiring and entertaining. Lately, I've been following the story at 37Signals of how they self-published their book Getting Real. As of today, they're up to an estimated $175,000 in revenue! Congratulations, guys!

If you know anything about publishing (which, I do not...well, at least not before following this story), most of the revenue from books goes to the publisher. With the approach 37Signals took, they retain almost all of the $19 a copy they charge for the book. Granted, they don't benefit from the strong marketing channels publishers maintain and 37Signals refrained from publishing a hard-copy (it's only available electronically as a PDF...for now) but selling 14,000 copies is a significant accomplishment. I'd pass out with glee if something I authored sold 14,000 times.

The Getting Real success story, thankfully, is one we're seeing more and more often. My capitalist and competitive loins start to energize when I witness firms like ZipRealty challenge the it's-not-negotiable 6% commission traditionally paid out to real estate agents. Or E-Loan, the discount mortgage broker who challenges the traditional bank mortgage with a no-hassle, instant feedback rate comparison. Or the creation of store-brand products which cost significantly less because I don't have to pay marketing costs! Brilliant!

Smart business and consumers, both large and small, continue to challenge traditional thinking. These folks find a unique offering or service, deliver that offering more efficiently, and pass the savings on to customers (or themselves!). Some day soon, we as a country, will start to impose this innovative approach on other laggards.

When brainstorming for laggards [evil doctor laugh], not surprisingly, a lot of government entities came to mind: the USPS, the IRS, heck even Congress itself would benefit from innovative thinking and competition. Can we impose this on the government? Where's my copy of The Constitution...?

Well, even if we can't fix the government, free enterprise will continue to innovate and reduce prices. I predict we'll see competition yield results with phone, cable, movies, prescription drugs, and perhaps even energy in the future.

What industry will you innovate?

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