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I’ve been a Seth Godin fan long before he was kind enough to endorse my book. In fact, the first and best innovative marketing book I can remember reading was his Permission Marketing, a little more than 10 years ago. Not only is Godin an inspirational author, but his choices in marketing his books have been quite remarkable. Examples include the limited-edition copies of Purple Cow that were sold in actual milk boxes (I’ve got one), and his recent limited-membership community to support the launch of Tribes. In the three years from concept to shelf for my own book, I often went back to an old blog post he wrote about book publishing and marketing. Godin inspired me to practice innovative marketing that I was preaching in my book, and he’s got another new trick up his sleeve with the launch of his newest book, Linchpin.

Godin announced on his blog that he would provide an advance copy of Linchpin to the first 3,000 people who contributed at least $30 to the Acumen Fund, which is “a non-profit global venture fund that uses entrepreneurial approaches to solve the problems of global poverty.” I immediately made my donation for a chance to be one of the first to purchase a book that I knew I would pay about $30 for anyway. And it didn’t surprise me at all that the 3,000 copies were snapped up in just 48 hours. That generated $108,000 for the Acumen Fund. Wow!

It might seem odd for Godin to give up the first 3,000 in book sales and cover the cost of the book printing and shipping himself on top of it. But the reality is that after many successful books, Godin fully understands that the best way to sell a lot of books is to get a lot of books in the hands of people who are likely to spread the word of mouth. Books are nothing but ideas, and ideas have to spread from person to person.

One of the things I think about when giving away copies of my book is that one reader has the potential to create five to 10 readers. This comes from people reading on planes, keeping the book out on their desks, giving a copy to friends—and I haven’t even mentioned tools such as Twitter and Facebook where people love to share what they’ve read recently. That’s why I go out of my way to personally hand copies to friends and clients, and why I offered early advance copies to members of our Marketing with Meaning community. We’re also working our way down the Ad Age Power 150 list of marketing blogs, offering a free copy to people in hopes of getting reviews.

Not only do free, advance copies help get the word of mouth going, but the people who receive them often feel like special insiders that are, in a way, part of the book itself. Godin’s tie to a worthy charity makes the marketing even more meaningful, and helps ensure that his book-marketing effort doesn’t just feel like an obvious grab for more money.

It’s a lot harder and more complicated for marketing like this. Most books might get a few copies to overwhelmed editors and maybe a print ad in BusinessWeek. But in a world where lots of authors are competing to spread their ideas, Godin shows how to win by giving.

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