We recently talked about the monetization aspect of the Paleo movement, a trend that will only continue growing in parallel with the Paleo community itself. It should be expected, after all, that people will seek to make money where they can, and so riding the coat-tails of a popular movement is a typical strategy. No surprise, then, when we recently started seeing advertisements for podcasts and eBooks in an effort to cash in on the drive to be better at Paleo. While some Paleo gurus published books that act as the foundation for their presence in the paleosphere, they have typically not witheld information from the Paleo masses by erecting paywalls. Robb Wolf, known for his book The Paleo Solution, is one such guru, who runs a blog and a rather excellent podcast, where he gives out a ton of useful information for free. Others, meanwhile, dispense information through monthly and yearly memberships, presumably relying on this type of information as their primary source of income.1 We were rather surprised when we saw Wolf advertising his recent The Paleo Diet Budget Shopping Guide as a paid eBook
Our first reaction was something between a sigh and a cringe, and had anyone other than Wolf advertised the book, we would have cried foul immediately. That’s not because the concept of the book is bad, but because it’s hard to see how one could distill enough useful information into an eBook to justify a $19.99 price tag.2 Coming in at 67 pages front-to-back, this budget shopping guide effectively runs 30 cents/page. Compare that to a copy of Paleo Magazine (68 pages), at $5.993, and you can see why we’d be skeptical. Still, we’re a fan of Wolf and know he isn’t a shill, so we picked up a copy of the guide to see what secrets it would divulge.
There are seven sections to the guide: six chapters and a final section entitled “Resources”. The Chapters are titled accordingly:
- All the excuses
- Learn to cook
- Meal Planning 101
- Money Saving Tricks
- Budget Shopping Priorities
- In the kitchen
We left off the [sic] tag above, but those are verbatim titles, complete with inconsistent capitalization. We don’t mean to gripe unecessarily here, because the content is most important in a guide like this, but since we paid for the eBook, it’s fair to assume the publishing quality is up-to-par with other eBooks we buy. In this case, the editing seems poor from the get-go, and makes a very poor impression when we haven’t even come to the meat of the book. We’ll focus on the meat in a moment,4 but it’s worth mentioning that the guide reads like a self-published eBook (that’s what it is, after all) and not a professionally published one; it doesn’t read like a finished book. That’s rather unfortunate, because we believe it’s fair to assume a 67-page book regularly priced at $19.99 bearing Wolf’s name would be a pretty high-quality affair.
Page three of the guide includes a sidebar explaining the eBook, a PDF, is actually “a multimedia guide”. If that sounds misleading, it’s because the eBook contains hyperlinks to web content, making it less of a static document than your average PDF. It’s quite possible that some PDF readers have inline browsers to make accessing this content more convenient, but in iBooks, it means touching a link opens a dialogue box asking whether you want to open the link in Mobile Safari. We would sooner define a multimedia guide as an eBook designed for embedded multimedia, such as one can create using various eBook authoring tools like iBooks Author.5
That said, there are plenty of links to follow, even if they blend in with non-linked content. The sidebar we mentioned earlier points out how the links are orange in colour, but they’re not the only orange text in the book, which can lead to trying to follow links that simply aren’t there. For example, section headers are orange, and more than once we assumed a header might link to a blog post explaining the topic in more depth.6
The first chapter is focused on debunking the excuses for why someone can’t buy food according to the Paleo template. We’ve actually seen some of this information before via Wolf’s other outlets, so it became pretty clear early on that if you follow Wolf’s blog and podcast, some of the information in this guide is recycled and may not be that valuable. Wolf openly states in the guide that some of the information discussed is borrowed from previous blog posts, but it’s not clear to the potential buyer that most of the guide isn’t new information that can’t be found on Wolf’s blog and podcasts. In other words, this should be more clear before you buy the guide, not after.
About 20% into the book, the excuses are behind you and you’re into chapter two, which focuses on cooking. For those who don’t know the first thing about cooking, the very first page of the chapter has linked videos on pressure cooking and slow cooking. The chapter continues with other cooking techniques like making soups, cooking veggies, and common cooking techniques. Unfortunately, it’s a rather short chapter that ends after five pages of content, trailing off with 10 recipe links. The chapter does contain links to a handful of other online recipe resources, including popular Paleo cookbooks.7 Yet, we wished the chapter were more fleshed out and included more basic cooking tips, like how to best combine certain ingredients, the basis for utilizing acids and marinades, what spices should be on-hand at all times, and basic recipes the reader can build on to developer more complex meals. As it is, the chapter feels very under-developed, pointing to a variety of online resources like Wolf’s blog and social networking accounts, which may very well contain useful information, but aren’t content-specific enough compared to what we expected.8
Almost a third of the way into the guide, Wolf talks about meal planning. This chapter has a lot more useful content than the first two chapters, complete with resources that a lot of families could use. It’s pretty clear at this point in the guide that the target audience is people very new to eating Paleo, as most everything is something Paleo veterans have figured out ages ago. We were hoping for a greater emphasis on where to buy select products online for cheaper than in local stores, and while the chapter does have a link to a page in the Resources section listing several online sites, it’s not clear from the guide itself what products one should seek out at these destinanations. For example, we hoped the guide would address good places to buy very specific products, be it coconut oil, pemmican, or some other Paleo food/product. Arguably the best section in this chapter is entitled “What do I do with that?” The section lists several Paleo ingredients and explains how to best utilize them in recipes.
Chapter four is seven pages of content and could arguably have been merged with chapter five, which is only four pages of content in length. Again, the advice is nothing we haven’t heard before, but it may be one of the most useful sections for those new to Paleo eating. Chapter six has more kitchen tips, and feels like an addendum to the second chapter on cooking; it’s six pages long and includes reader tips on food preparation.
Finally, the Resources section includes links to Wolf’s other products, including his first eBook, Robb Wolf’s 30 Day Total Transformation which retails for $25.9 A lot of the links in this section can also be found elsewhere in the guide, but it’s nice to have them consolidated for easy reference. We expect a lot of people who buy this guide to read it once and then just use the Resources section as a reference in the future, perusing the 38 blog links at the end when they need recipe ideas. The guide’s index takes up the last two pages of the guide, but it’s almost unecessary considering how short the guide is, and because the table of contents breaks the guide down nicely enough.
To buy or not to buy?
In our case, we were a bit disppointed with the guide, but that’s only because we’ve read several Paleo books and remain somewhat involved in the online Paleo community. That we listen to Wolf’s podcast and follow his blog’s RSS feed means a lot of the information in this guide is old news to us. That’s really the major complaint we have about the guide other than its price: it’s not clear that all the guide does is consolidate Wolf’s previous information in a paid eBook. This means that those who do have the time to scour the web and listen to old podcasts will find this guide rather redundant, but those new to Paleo, or those who don’t have the time to find all this information, may very well find the guide a useful purchase. In fact, for the average household who is just now being introduced to Paleo concepts, this guide makes a nice gift, though as we remarked earlier, a different eBook format would make more sense (i.e. native Kindle or iBooks versions).10
For those focusing on the cost, we admit it’s hard not to think about the monetization shift in the paleosphere, as this guide is a very different beast from Wolf’s The Paleo Solution. The latter is chock full of useful information and at $9.99, is a significantly better buy than this guide. For those who already understand the basic Paleo concepts and are truly wondering how to afford real foods, this guide may be something to look into, but we’re frankly surprised it’s a big enough conundrum to warrant a $19.99 purchase, especially when a lot of the information in the first chapter is basic common sense.11 For $5, this guide would be a much better buy, and almost a no-brainer for anyone getting Wolf’s other material for free.12 Though, for those on the fence, there’s a 30-day money-back guarantee.
If not primary, a very strong complimentary one. Guys like Wolf seem to make most of their money via related channels (like NorCal Strength and Conditioning in Wolf’s case, or private consultation), but not by haulking information via paid, downloadable eBooks. Somehow, the former come across as more sincere. ↩
Early buyers could get the eBook at discount, but $19.99 is the regular price. ↩
While Paleo Magazine runs nine cents/page, we realize the comparison isn’t completely fair, since Paleo Magazine includes ads. Compare, then, Wolf’s The Paleo Solution which runs for $9.99 on the iBookstore and contains 320 pages of content (three cents/page). The discrepency should be obvious. ↩
No pun intended. ↩
We don’t mean to be Apple-centric here. Obviously, Wolf wants to target the broadest audience possible, but there are tools to do just that for more than one platform. It takes more time, sure, but the end result is a lot snazzier than a PDF with links. ↩
Hint: it didn’t. ↩
The cookbook links go to Wolf’s Amazon page, and end in affiliate links. ↩
Links to specific Pinterest recipe boards, for example, would be more useful. ↩
This one’s a 60-page “multimedia guide”. ↩
Even a native mobile app might be better, and could be updated easily over time. The guide mentions a a giveaway contest at a blog, for example, which is obviously of limited use to future buyers. ↩
Ironically, Wolf remarked similarly on a past podcast, wondering how people couldn’t figure out how to buy real foods on a reasonable budget. We wonder if, had such a guide been available back then written by someone else, he would have recommended dropping a twenty, or if he would have made a sarcastic comment about it. ↩
If you look at it from the perspective that you’re paying not just for the guide, but for the information you’ve already gotten from Wolf’s blog and podcast, the $19.99 price is a lot more palatable. Still, we’d sooner see Wolf offer a blog/podcast subscription that offers a couple perks in addition to compilations like this guide. The price could be the same, but it would feel like the buyer is getting more. ↩
That’s our affiliate link to the book, which helps pay for this site. ↩