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No. of Recommendations: 28
Recent talk about revenue streams for TMF got me thinking, particularly in light of the demise of Soapbox.com.

I have been a believer that the base concept of Soapbox was good--get the community to write the content, and have TMF take a cut. I also believe the execution was poor--from the samples I saw, most Soapbox reports were poorly written (notably lacking professional editing), light on content (another editing flaw), and overpriced. Even the better ones seemed to have the same tone as a message board post: good ideas, but presented in a weak manner.

Of course, TMF never wanted to step into the fray by putting their own name on any products. This would have required time and money, and would have left them open to liability based on the content of the reports. The model seemed very eBay-like: We present the forum for the sale, but don't represent the content.

I'd like to posit that the Fool could still make money from community authors, but needs to become more involved. Namely, TMF can solicit full books from authors, get involved by providing editing and guidance, and use the powerful Fool brand to sell the book in the store.

Among other things, here are some advantages and disadvantages to the model. (There are more than this, but these are just off the top of my head.):

Benefits to the author
* The Fool brand to drive the sale, not just the Fool platform.
* Professional editing (though lets hope it is the editors working on previous Fool books, not the ones on the website).
* A true authorship notation for one's track record (i.e., an actual ISBN number instead of a 10 page e-report).

Benefits to the Fool
* Continues to derive income from work performed by the community.
* A more thorough, professional product from which to derive income.
* A handful of the elite writers, instead of a barnful of anyone who wants to put a report together (which included both good and bad writers).

Disadvantages to the author
* Lower profit margins than a soapbox report, for significantly more work
* Chance of work performed only to have your writing rejected

Disadvantages to the Fool
* More time and money spent in reading, reviewing, and editing manuscripts
* More time spent recruiting the best authors, instead of "come one, come all"
* Lower profit margins than a soapbox report, due to publishing costs.
* Placing the brand on a non-TMF employee


Overall, I think this fits in with what the Fool has done to date. They have already published several books. Books by non-employees would allow more books to be sold, since David and Tom can't write books as fast as, say, 5 solicited writers. So, this wouldn't represent a huge shift in direction for them, but could increase the volume of material to sell. As far as margins being below soapbox levels, would you rather make 40% on 50 sales, or 5% on 50,000?

Key success points would be to get the right authors and the right subject matter. The key shift would be going from "books WRITTEN by TMF" to "books PRESENTED by TMF." You'd have to get books you'd be willing to place the brand upon. I wouldn't think you'd want to go so far as the "Dummies" books, where there are so many out there, you couldn't possibly buy or read them all. But you could do better than a new book every 1-2 years, which is what I think it has been to date. (Investment Guide in 96, More Than You Think in 98, RB, RM in 99, one planned for later in 01, I think).


All I know is that after previewing many of the Soapbox reports, there was little chance of me dropping 10-30 bucks on one, due to the raw writing and lack of (or disorganization of) content. I wouldn't have even paid 5 bucks for one.

I would, however, be inclined to drop 15 on a well written, well edited, heavy-on-content book on Mechanical Investing written by Elan or synchronicity. Or, "How to Retire Early" by intercst and/or hocus and/or Badger, et al. Or, "The Collected Works of Emily Pankenhurst" by MichaelRead. Or, a compended work of personal finance, one chapter each on How to buy a Car, How to buy a House, etc., written in much more depth than the Fool School (which service its purpose but isn't in depth enough for a book), and authored by the leading figures of the credit card board, home boards, etc. (Heck, I might even consider "Buying Insurance", by nedludd.)

The point is that Soapbox's idea of leveraging the community's knowledge for profit was good, but in my opinion, TMF didn't do enough to back the idea. They tried the hands off model, rather than using the most powerful tool in the arsenal: the brand. We keep hearing how valuable the brand is, so use it. Hand pick one or two subjects you want to publish a book about, and go find the authors who can write them, even if they don't have a jester cap on their heads.

Yeah, it will be more work, but isn't this true of most things worth having?

--WonderPup


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