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« Honor as a musician and a business person. | Main | Set lists for the sound man and sound woman. »

And if only 1% of those people...

A friend of mine was asked by a musician to help him do a huge mail-out of CDs.

The musician had pressed up 10,000 copies of his CD in anticipation of 10,000 orders that were sure to come through that week.

He had bought a quarter-page advertisement in the back of a magazine with a circulation of one million people.

He kept saying, “If only one percent of the people reading this magazine buy my CD… that’ll be 10,000 copies! And that’s only one percent!

He bought 10,000 padded mailers and mailing labels. He converted his garage into a big mailing center.

He kept saying, “Maybe we can get like 10 percent! That’s 100,000! But worst case scenario, if only 1 percent… that’s still awesome!”

The magazine issue came out, and… nothing. He bought an issue. There was his ad. But the orders were not coming in! Was something wrong? No. He tested it. Everything was working.

Over the next few weeks he received four orders. Total CDs sold: 4.

My friend telling the story ends it with the best line:

He forgot there was a number lower than one percent.”

I think of this every time I hear business plans that say, “With over 30 million iPhones sold, our app is sure to…”

1 percent

Reader Comments (18)

There was a time when I wanted to sell a pencil to every person in China..


September 28 | Unregistered CommenterBruce Warila

Great story Derek. I wonder what would have happened if he'd continued to run the ad in the same manner for 8 or 9 months consecutively. He didn't give fans a chance to equal 1%. He could have saved the money he spent on jiffies & CD's (wow, thats old school) - bought more ad space and sent the customer to a download page on his website.

September 28 | Unregistered CommenterKevin English

Bruce, You are probably unaware, but Derek Sivers was not credited as author of the "1%" article emailed to me from Music Think Tank. I don't always click through to your site, so if I had not done so, I would have been left with the impression that you, not Derek had written the article. Maybe I missed it somewhere, but, since I had already read "1%" from Derek, I was looking for his name and did not find it. Will you please remedy this? I am sure you want his name attached to his article.

Pam Mark Hall

September 28 | Unregistered CommenterPam Mark Hall

Astounding! Why wouldn't people jump at the chance to buy a CD they've never heard from a magazine ad?

There's a technical term for your friend's affliction. I think doctors call it "being an idiot".

Poor fellow. Perhaps some pending legislation will cure that.

September 28 | Unregistered Commenterhee haw!

it takes more than a silly ad to win over 10,000 fans...somebody should have told this guy that! lol

September 28 | Registered CommenterChris Bracco

This example illustrates the biggest pitfall of top-down forecasting. It's easy to pick a number that sounds "conservative," without any basis for making that assumption.

I'm not a print ad expert, but in this case I might have expected that, AT BEST, 1% of readers who saw the ad might be motivated to find out more about this musician and his album. If the advertisement had a clear, appealing call to action (download the single free from my website now, etc.), this 1% might respond to the ad. And of those responders, only a very small fraction would actually buy the CD. Rather than 10,000 CDs worst-case, I probably would have assumed something like 100 units best-case... and I still would have been way off!

September 28 | Registered CommenterLaurence Trifon


This is not really my site, it's a group blog. The email from Feedburner just happens to come out in my name (which I am cluing into now, as you are the second person in two weeks to bring this up). Derek posts his own posts and he is welcome to put a blurb about himself at the bottom of each post. Please notice that he is listed as the author, and Derek is in fact the person who put the article here.

Sorry about the confusion. Music Think Tank needs to get it's own email and Feedburner account.

Also, I believe Derek is just about the only person that posts now that does not supply a link back to his presence on the Internet. This would help also.


September 28 | Unregistered CommenterBruce Warila

If you've never been exposed to the cold hard facts of direct marketing, I can see why this story might seem interesting. But the simple truth is that direct marketers have long considered 1 percent to be a damn fine response rate.

If anyone cares, here's the stuff you need be concerned about for direct response:

1. The List - Most important, who's going to see your message?
2. The Offer - How will you entice people to BUY NOW, a discount, free, an extra something?
3. The Creative - What will your ad look like, what will the tone of the copy be?

Pay attention to all three of these, in the above order, and, should you still fail, you will at least be able to look back on your efforts and console yourself with the fact that you did what you could.


September 28 | Unregistered CommenterJeff Shattuck

this post stinks of "urban legend"

you got "friend of a friend", you got plausible story, and best of all, you got these specific details like 10,000 pressed copies, circulation of 1 million.

I call foul, this never ever happened. It seems like it should have! But it didn't, this is urban legend.

September 28 | Unregistered Commentereric taylor

^^It happens every day, man. It's not a stretch to assume that Sivers, of all mammals, knows someone who literally did this.

Anyways, I thought one of the best parts of Guy Kawasaki's "The Art of the Start" was his riff about top-down forecasting. He gave a similar anecdote, but better yet, he also offered an alternative solution: work from the bottom up. Take what you've got and scale that up over time, workload and personnel.

In order to do that, of course, you've got to have some kind of beta numbers, plus a very clear sense of how many potential customers your communication is already reaching. Unless you're already converting something somewhere...even if it's just a simple call-to-action...then you might as well be making your numbers up.

And a good point from Jeff:

"But the simple truth is that direct marketers have long considered 1 percent to be a damn fine response rate."

September 28 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

you know, if he had just offered them digitally for free, he might of moved 100 copies of his album without dropping a penny and he would get extra free promotion!

September 29 | Unregistered Commenteraustin

"...and these estimates are conservative!"...we need more due diligence in our society

September 29 | Unregistered CommenterAdam Wexler

Maybe the artist should have chose a better magazine... one that was specific to his genre, even if it had considerably less readers. Knowing that his ad would be exposed only to people interested in that style of music may have helped clear his head... maybe next time he'll try a direct-to-fan method.

September 29 | Unregistered CommenterShawn Daley

One-shot ads only rarely work. When was the last time you saw an ad, noticed what it was about, liked it and decided to act on it... oh, and then remembered that you wanted to act on it and actually did? Be honest.


Ads can be great for a) raising awareness and building a brand but you need not only reach but also frequency for that. Someone smart once said, you need to be exposed to a message (for example an ad) at least eight times before you even really notice it.
b) you CAN drive sales with ads but you need to really set it apart graphically so that a LOT of (the right) people notice it and then you need to offer something extremely valuable to these people. Only then will they drop what they are doing and buy your stuff immediately. If they don't, chances are, they have forgotten about it in a tick.

In all, don't run ONE ad to sell anything. Won't work. You could do a stretch of ads that you repeat in roughly the same editorial context so that people notice it. But then, as mentioned above, your artwork needs to be good, the right people need to see it (ad for classical music in the hard rock section ??), etc. etc.

To be honest, anyone selling ad space should tell you that quick shots won't work. They don't of course, because they need to meet their sales targets.

Public relations would be my recommended solution. Spend some time to learn who writes about your kind of topic in that publication and offer them to feature your story. You need to have something interesting to say, though...

... right. Stopping here, because to cover all aspects would be another article altogether. Summary: never run only one ad and expect anything. Save the money.

September 29 | Unregistered CommenterAndreas Gutjahr

Most assuredly, there are lower numbers than one percent . . . but everything worth doing takes time. The first time you put an ad out there, it is unlikely that anyone pays attention; supposedly, people have to see an ad something like seven times before they are motivated to act. So do it cheap the first time, the second time, the third time, the fourth time, the fifth time, and the sixth time . . . or, either learn to write two or three good press releases or have someone do it at low cost (think, and pay what it costs to release those good press releases through a reputable distribution company. It will cost much less than burning 10,000 copies of your CD . . .

September 29 | Unregistered CommenterDeeann Mathews

Wasn't much of a plan. First thing customers need is some kind of buy-in from reviewers, customers, etc. Movie ads, for example, are full of outtakes from reviews and, if those reviews are not from top opinion leaders, they probably won't draw much of a crowd.

A rationale plan for an album release needs to start with a major publicist campaign to reviewers in advance of a release party in a noteworthy club. That's just a part of a reasonable plan, which would also include novel promotions and social media components.

September 29 | Registered CommenterAllen Shadow

An information processing system has four basic components: input, output, calculation and storage. Applying this framework to the analysis of music, music appears to represent the input. What kind of information is the output, and what does it mean? How is it calculated?

September 30 | Unregistered Commentermusic

I agree with "austin" - there are a growing number of on-line distribution methods that cost zero, are available 24x7, enable you to provide free and purchasable tracks, and have added features such as ringtone creation. I have been listening to the "1%" argument for years! As "Andreas" quite rightly posits, a single ad placement rarely makes sense, you need coverage through multiple channels. You friend was obviously an enthusiastic chap lacking those basic business skills.

October 1 | Unregistered CommenterClive

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