A content marketing lesson from 1842

Charles Dickens came to America in 1842 enraged at how many people were making forgeries of his work. There were thousands of illegal copies of novel circulating in the US. It was expensive to purchase official copies, so most citizens had to resort to buying fakes.

Dickens was not happy about all these counterfeits, and he lobbied to make intellectual property laws stricter. He demanded a crack down on these criminals.

Whether or not that effort was successful is outside the scope of this story. Here’s the great part: Dickens returned to the US years after his first visit. He was broke and desperately needed money, so he decided to go on a speaking tour. He gave lectures in cities all across the coast and the tour made millions of dollars in todays money.

The reason it was so successful? Everyone knew Dickens because they read his novels. They may not have paid for his books, but they were happy to pay to see him live. This is exactly how content marketing works. People don’t pay for your blog posts, they might not even pay for an entire book, but the goal is to build trust. Dickens didn’t know it at first, but he had built trust with a massive audience that he could cash in on during his tour.

It’s a brilliant strategy that many use in the 21st century. Amazing that a story from the book industry in the 1840s can ring so true today.

This story is from the podcast 50 Things That Made the Modern Economy