The Power of Kindess: “Shop A Little Bit Richer”

[30 September 2009]

By Rachel Balik

If you were lucky enough to wander into McNally Jackson Books in New York City on 30 September, employees from the Tarcher imprint at Penguin handed you a dollar attached to a postcard with information about the book The Power of Kindness by psychologist Piero Ferrucci. They explained to recipients that in these dark economic times, they didn’t just want to sell The Power of Kindness, they wanted to demonstrate it as well.

“It’s a real dollar, don’t throw it out,” advised a Tarcher employee as she handed me my free money. I happily accepted it, but couldn’t help blurting out, “I’m sorry, but from a marketing perspective, can you explain to me how this is actually a valid way for you to be spending your budget?”

She explained the plan: $1000 spread over five Manhattan bookstores. They expected that they could reach a lot more people that way than if they used the same amount of money to pay for a small ad in a trade publication. “It’s a kind of grassroots movement,” she concluded. Grassroots seems to be the way of the world right now, from fund-raising house parties to nomadic yoga studios to clothing swaps. What that means to me is that the rest of the world is following in the footsteps of the Internet.

Blogs have long offered promotions for readers, and writing on the Web is transmitted through direct sharing, either person to person, or within social networks. Essentially, The Power of Kindness is using a marketing strategy that adheres to the principles of the semantic Web; thus, it suggests a glimmer of hope for the publishing industry. People have argued that print is dying because people don’t want to pay for reading material anymore, but suddenly, today, while clutching my dollar, it dawned on me. It’s not about money, it’s about the power of kindness.

People read what’s on the Internet because it’s targeted at them, and that kind of specificity makes them feel special. When you send me an article you think I’d love, that’s kindness. When you comment on my blog, that’s kindness. When the Daily Kos delivers the stories I care about based on an implicit understanding of my politics, that’s kindness. If print industries can offer the same kindness to audiences that the Web does, they will thrive again.

Of course, not coincidentally, that is exactly the mission of Ferrucci’s book: to show that if we employ his eight principles of kindness, we’ll ultimately thrive ourselves. Times are bleak, not just for the print industry but for many others affected by the global recession. With an introduction from the Dalai Lama, the book shows us how we can take the kindness we receive at the beginning and ends of our lives and make it continuous and global. When we do so, we’ll be happier.

If print industries can follow Tarcher’s example and be a little kinder and a little less desperate to preserve the past and their own superiority, they may very well find that there is space for them to grow in the 21st century.

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