Why giving something free can be a mistake



LAST January, I self-published my third book “Total Quality by Maximization” as a companion training material for my public and in-company workshops on the basic principles of kaizen and lean production. It was well received by my clients, many of whom helped multiply my client base by referring me to their network, including non-clients who have since suggested that I sell it through popular bookstores.

But I’m not interested. It’s too tedious for me to work on such a trivial matter. Besides, bookstores charge as much as 40-50 percent commission and they take some six months to pay their suppliers, many of who are small-time businessmen (like me). So, what’s the point when you and I don’t want to raise the price to make it unaffordable for many?

John Kennedy was right when he said: “You cannot negotiate with people who say what’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is negotiable.” I’m not bothered by their materialistic system. I know beforehand that the book should be sold only via direct mail and also be given free to my business partners, friend, and clients.

My going solo is the best approach I can do under the circumstances. It’s the hip thing to do, if not the road less traveled. The book distribution is simple and practical. There’s no need for me to talk to a lot of people for loose change.

Sometimes, I give TQMax (nickname of “Total Quality by Maximization) free of charge to people as soon as they show a certain level of intellectuality. I’ve no particular expectation they will elevate me to the altar of bestsellers and management gurus, including my former mentor Masaaki Imai who wrote the expert’s preface.

The thing that worries me is when they come back to me claiming they read the book, from cover to cover, all of its letter-size 103 pages in one sitting. Of course, you can read it in one sitting. It’s easy to read and somewhat addictive as it contains local examples on management failure to reduce, if not eliminate operational wastes.

One said: “I can’t put down reading your book ‘Total Quality Management.’ It’s full of practical lessons.” I replied: “What? I didn’t write such a book. What I wrote was ‘Total Quality by Maximization.’” If you don’t know the difference, then you’ve not read it. I thought the person was an outlier until I heard the same comment from two or three others who also received it free.

Amazon.com offers 3,324 titles of the same theme—“Total Quality Management.” Who would want to compete with those 3,324 authors only to be categorized in the same yawn? Really, I love fake people who look like they’re mannequins.

So who is faking whom? Do the people who bought TQMax more genuine than those who received it for free? A fish would never get caught if it kept its mouth shut. Now, starting today, I will be very selective in giving my books for free, even if people begging for it look like a management guru.

I’ve trained myself to be perpetually attentive to details. Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection. Now, I’ve another good reason to believe that books that are given free are treated as inconsequential. But the people who paid for it, including those from abroad respect TQMax as something that must be a required reading for corporate executives who up to this day and age, don’t want to accept W. Edwards Deming’s admonition that “80 per cent of all problems are caused by management, and only 20 per cent can be traced to the workers.”

I didn’t write TQMax as a subject of hate. Since 1993, I have had the opportunity to write as a journalist talking about many interesting management topics that included disgust against people masquerading as intellectuals. But it’s more of an exception than the general rule.

Sometimes, the best things in life are free. But if people don’t appreciate it because they received it free, then be ready. The next time we meet, please be ready with your cash, as I will collect your payment right away.

Rey Elbo is a business consultant specializing in human resources and total quality management as a fused interest. Send feedback to elbonomics@gmail.comor follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter for his random management thoughts.


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