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Sports business maverick turned media master: How Cuban engages social media to capitalize on e-book

You have to love Mark Cuban, even if you can’t stand the Dallas Mavericks. The man is all about the future, and his instincts are spot on. Okay, so maybe NBA commissioner David Stern isn’t so fond of the oft-fined Mavs’ owner, but if you appreciate business creativity, you must value Cuban.

Last spring, he issued a manifesto of sorts on his Blog Maverick about the value of certain media for his basketball team. For instance, newspaper writers remain extremely important, believe it or not, because a high-income segment of the Maverick fan base still seeks its information from the old-fashioned medium. But Internet writers – particularly those who write for large sites – are pariahs to him, because they are interested primarily in page views and therefore create disharmony in the Dallas organization by rumormongering. It won’t be long until Cuban is handing out media credentials according to whom he believes can benefit his team most.

Cuban’s musings may have seemed extremely self-serving to some, because they dealt entirely with his team and a somewhat myopic view of the media. In reality, Cuban’s take was revolutionary, because it let content providers know that they have new competition: teams themselves. Because Cuban sees the Mavericks as a media company, as well as a basketball franchise, he now considers most other outlets as superfluous – or at least working their way toward that status.

Hearing of Cuban’s vision and learning there were other owners out there who felt the same way (like Washington Wizards/Capitals boss Ted Leonsis) was enough to make one of my students so upset, she practically abandoned her dream of becoming a sports writer. In the final analysis, she can still look forward to a career; she may just be producing content for the Mavericks web site, rather than for The Dallas Morning News.

Cuban’s latest brainstorm – and since he has so many, it’s hard to determine what exactly is the latest – is a 30,000 word e-book based on his business opinions and experiential writings on “Blog Maverick.” Readers can buy it through online digital-book retail outlets for the highly reasonable price of $2.99. Its title, “How to Win at the Sport of Business: If I Can Do It, You Can Do it,” isn’t quite as compact as “War and Peace,” but it does get Cuban’s message across.

On the surface, this is just another rich guy trying to tell the rest of us that we can succeed, just as he has. That genre is pretty loaded, and while many of the books include some worthwhile points and valuable motivation, after a while, it all sort of runs together. Since Cuban’s book is an amalgamation of his blog postings, it’s unlikely there will be a true flow to it. But this isn’t a book review, so it doesn’t matter to me whether Cuban’s prose is pristine and his plot compelling. It should be mentioned, however, that anybody who used to buy baseball cards as a 10-year old, repackage them to include a Pittsburgh Pirate player (Cuban grew up in Steel City) and sell them at a premium to his friends who were Bucs fans might be worth reading.

The key with Cuban is how he plans to boost sales. It’s unlikely he’ll be doing a book tour or hitting the talk show circuit, although Cuban rarely turns down a chance to speak when a microphone or camera is pointed in his direction. Nope, Cuban is going to promote the book the new-fashioned way: through social media.

There may be more active people in the social media world, but there can’t be too many of them. According to The Wall Street Journal, Cuban has 335,000 friends on Facebook and 760,000 Twitter followers. When he wants to throw a party, he just has to post a status or send a tweet and he can fill the room in no time. Of course, Cuban isn’t best pals with all of his “friends” and devotees, but he is interesting enough to them to warrant their attention. When it comes to marketing his book, social media will play a huge role for him.

Frankly, it is a more important promotional tool every day, even for the Big Boys, publishers who would normally rely on print to spread the word about their offerings. Go to Random House’s Facebook page and see a collection of quotations about Jane Austen, along with an opportunity to win a collection of her works. Little Brown’s page has announcements about new issues, along with status lines like, “Happy Friday morning (east coast [sic]) friends! What are you reading today?” It may seem counterintuitive for book publishers to rely on social media, but with more people turning to e-readers, tablets and other devices to access “books,” it’s important to engage the people on their turf.

That’s why Cuban is doing it this way. For years, publishers have been after him to write an autobiography, and for years he has resisted. He has been unwilling to lock himself into the traditional book model, and that’s why he is choosing this route now. Cuban not only doesn’t have to write a full account of his life – by aggregating his blogs, he has no new scribbling to do – he also doesn’t have to bend to the marketing strictures of the traditional publishing world. In other words, the guy who has been a “Maverick” since he was 10 continues to blaze a trail, combining the blogosphere with the world of social media to create a new (or at least less trod) paradigm.

You may not want to spend three bucks to read Cuban’s collected works. Brian Finkel, creative director at Horrow Sports Ventures, has said he won’t pay, choosing instead to visit Cuban’s blog and read for free. Chances are Cuban won’t mind, and not because he’s a billionaire and Finkel’s three dollars won’t break him. By luring readers like Finkel to the Blog Maverick site, Cuban will create a new market for the products he seems to cherish most, his ideas and opinions.

That’s more valuable for him than a bestseller.

Michael Bradley is a writer, broadcaster and teacher headquartered in suburban Philadelphia. His written work has appeared in Sporting News, ESPN the Magazine, Athlon Sports, Hoop and Slam, among others. He is a host on 97.5 the Fanatic in Philadelphia and contributes analysis for Yahoo! Sports Radio and Sirius Mad Dog Radio. He appears on CSNPhilly.com, writes a weekly column on Philadelphia Magazine’s “Philly Post” and has authored 26 books. He teaches sports journalism at Saint Joseph’s, Villanova and Neumann Universities.

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