How to sell expensive 'special reports'

If you have relatively good writing skills, knowledge of an industry or specialized area, and a little determination, you should consider selling special reports, white papers, or research materials.

What are special reports?

These are reports that cover a very special topic, industry or firm. For example:

  • Biocides
  • Online Payments
  • Apple

Why are special reports so effective?
Even though the information is out there, it takes time (money) to find, package, and share.
If you can do this for less than it costs your customers, then you’re in business. It’s realty that simple.
What customers usually prefer is:

  • Downloadable – either from a link or attached to an email.
  • PDF format – so it looks the same on all PCs  and they can print it out.
  • Monthly – most customers prefer a detailed monthly report, think of those monthly business magazines, instead of a weekly newsletter.

An example?
Directions on Microsoft
In-depth reports pull together all the important details you need to intelligently evaluate new Microsoft technologies and strategies. DOM research reports help you quickly understand the significance and technical underpinnings of new Microsoft enterprise technologies.

How to find special reports topics

The most lucrative type of report writing for me was writing about IBM – The IBM Strategy Report

  • This was a lower cost version of DOM.
  • Published monthly on the 15th
  • Cost 197 per annum
  • 40 pages
  • Customers included most of IBM’s competitors.
  • Why it didn’t work?

Took on too much, eg coding, personal emails, size of publication.
Note: this was before oDesk, Google Alerts and Aweber, which I use today.

How to identify potential customers?

If, for example, you’re writing about a company, say IBM, then identify their top 100 competitors. I looked at their:

  • Software
  • Hardware
  • Services

And then looked at their products lines, for example:

  • WebSphere
  • Lotus Notes

And saw who was competing with them.
Other sources of information are:
Yahoo Finance-
Hoovers –
Type IBM v Key Competitors into Google and you get this chart from IBM:
So, there’s an ocean of information out there if you search for it.
Tip: learn to use the advanced search features on Google.
What payment model should you use? Subscription v Web Store
You have at least two options here:

  1. Subscriptions – customers pay a one-time fee, usually for a yearly subscription. In my experience, you don’t need to offer a ‘pay as you go’ option if you’re targeting corporates. If they have the budget for the subscription, then it’s fine. They just want the report. Actually, the larger companies are usually the easiest to work with as most processes are automated. It’s the small ones that complain, look for refunds, and submit technical requests.
  2. Web Store – let’s say you write a special one-off report, for example, IBM’s commitment to green initiatives. You can put this on sale on your store and then send out email reminders to your customers. Not all will want to buy it but some will. Also potential customers may buy it to judge to quality of your publications. So, write less expensive reports as ‘teasers’ for the annual subscriptions.

How much should you charge?

Look at your competitors, if you have any and see if you can make a profit based on expected sales. If you don’t, look at similar length/frequency of delivery publications in other industries.
Remember, you can always increase the subscription rates. So, it may be worth offering the subscription for a ‘break-even’ fee for the first year and then think how you can increase it. Also, you may find that selling other ‘special reports’ generates sufficient income to keep the subscription at a fixed price.
But how much?
If you plan to offer 12 issues, then consider charging at least $97. I charged $197 for the IBM Strategy Report and it didn’t seem to be an issue. Most requested a sample copy and then made the purchase. So, price isn’t usually the issue.