Free Books Build an Audience, Just ask the Founder of SAS

From today’s NYTimes article on SAS and the challenges it faces from IBM here is an interesting scene. Goodnight built an audience sending free books. Granted, this was before the advent of electronic booksellers, but I’m fascinated by the idea of Goodnight packing up free book shipments and sending them to potential customers. It is exactly the strategy that today’s technology companies could learn from. Send your audience something free, they will remember you forever.

From the article:

“THE company traces its roots to a time when computing was costly and for the few. Originally called Statistical Analysis System, it was founded in 1976 by Mr. Goodnight and three colleagues from the agricultural statistics department at North Carolina State University. Its techniques were initially used to calculate the intricacies of soil, weather, seed varieties and other factors to improve crop yields.”

To build an audience, Mr. Goodnight spent nights packing up boxes of computer tapes and manuals, which he sent to university and corporate researchers. Soon, companies wanted him and his academic colleagues to develop software tools tailored for industry. In 1976 at a users’ conference, 300 or so people showed up, many from business.”