Community//

Author Foster D. Coburn III: “Why You Need To Own Your Content”

#1 Own Your Content. For me, it all started when I signed a book contract. This is the desired outcome for many authors and it can be a great answer for some. But I learned over time the importance of owning my own content. When you sign with a publisher, the publisher owns the content and […]

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres. We publish pieces written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team, and though they are reviewed for adherence to our guidelines, they are submitted in their final form to our open platform. Learn more or join us as a community member!

#1 Own Your Content. For me, it all started when I signed a book contract. This is the desired outcome for many authors and it can be a great answer for some. But I learned over time the importance of owning my own content. When you sign with a publisher, the publisher owns the content and pays you a royalty percentage based on sales. Sadly that is a fairly small percentage for technical books.

My books typically had less than a two-year lifespan. As long as I stayed with the same publisher, I could utilize the previous version to update. But if I wanted to switch publishers or publish it myself, I had to start all over. When I learned that I could earn far more money while selling a smaller number of books, I rewrote the content and did exactly that.

Not everyone is a writer so owning written content may not be as important to you. Just keep in mind that any intellectual property you create could have more value in your own hands than in the hands of someone else.


As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Foster D. Coburn III.

Foster is the author of 13 best-selling books on CorelDRAW and has been a contributor to numerous technology and graphics-related magazines, as well as being a featured speaker at many graphics conferences. He built his first website in 1995 and has been working exclusively in WordPress since 2013.

Foster was selected as one of the “40 under 40” for 2002. These awards are presented by The Business Journal of Phoenix and the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce to 40 up and coming leaders of the community who are under 40 years of age.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I had an interest in computers from a very young age, though what I wanted to do with them didn’t become clear until much later. A college job laying out a magazine led me to the design world and my biggest break came when I saw a message on a CorelDRAW message board saying “Authors wanted, call Stacy.” I called and soon had my first publishing contract with Sams Publishing to write a book on CorelDRAW. That led to the formation of Unleashed Productions and everything in the 27 years that followed.

Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?

In our earliest days, our main business was producing seminars around the US teaching CorelDRAW. Corel Corporation agreed to provide us with their mailing list and the initial list came as a bunch of mailing labels. Several days were spent attaching those labels and stamps to our flyers to promote the first five seminars.

After that, I learned to work with experts in direct mailing. They would be provided with the mailing list, we would provide the flyers and they would prepare the mailings for us. Our costs went down and we saved hours of very tedious labor. In short, work with experts in their field to do tasks for you.

What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?

I was blessed to receive my mom’s ability to teach and this has given me the ability to explain complex subjects in a way that most everyone can understand. In the early days, it was used in my writings and in my seminars so that I could help people become more efficient CorelDRAW users. Today it helps when talking to clients about their Web site.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”? Please share a story or example for each.

#1 Own Your Content

For me, it all started when I signed a book contract. This is the desired outcome for many authors and it can be a great answer for some. But I learned over time the importance of owning my own content. When you sign with a publisher, the publisher owns the content and pays you a royalty percentage based on sales. Sadly that is a fairly small percentage for technical books.

My books typically had less than a two-year lifespan. As long as I stayed with the same publisher, I could utilize the previous version to update. But if I wanted to switch publishers or publish it myself, I had to start all over. When I learned that I could earn far more money while selling a smaller number of books, I rewrote the content and did exactly that.

Not everyone is a writer so owning written content may not be as important to you. Just keep in mind that any intellectual property you create could have more value in your own hands than in the hands of someone else.

#2 Build A Mailing List

Being in a technology-focused business, I was definitely keeping a database of my customers. But when I started Unleashed Productions in 1993, email was still fairly new. As it became more popular, I didn’t work as hard as I could to build an email list. Now that 27 years have passed, emails I didn’t capture in 1993 probably aren’t as important since many have probably changed.

Today, a good mailing list is like gold in business. It is never too early to start building it. Don’t cheat by purchasing a list as that will likely backfire on you. Give people a good reason to share their email and reward them with the content of value to them.

#3 Find Ways To Automate Tasks

There are days it feels like I don’t do any work that truly helps the business. It would be great if there were a way to completely eliminate many of those tasks. But that simply isn’t possible and that’s why I find it important to automate as many things as possible. Not only the tedious ancillary tasks but also the important ones that can generate revenue.

If you can automate enough to get an extra hour each day, that can gain more than a week’s worth of time over the year. Automate even more and you can gain even more time to spend on the revenue-generating tasks.

#4 Strategy Is Constantly Changing

In our first year of producing seminars, we developed a great marketing strategy and the attendance was excellent. When it came time to produce the next series, we followed the same strategy and our attendance went down from the previous year.

What we learned was that the right strategy to use was constantly evolving and we would have to modify our tactics with each new round of seminars. Over the years I’ve found this to be true for almost every product or service we created.

While there are many elements of Web design that remain the same for all sites, the right strategy to use is very dependent on the goal of the site. Of course, all of the software and standards are constantly evolving so even the right method for a site changes over time.

#5 Know When to Accept Failure

At the beginning of every project, the expectation is that it will be a huge success. The reality is some things will meet that expectation and others will be a failure. Just because something is an initial failure doesn’t mean you have to give up. But there comes a time when the best answer is to give up on that project and move on to a new idea.

What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

I’ve been working from home for 27 years and I think I’ve developed a great routine. Office hours are set and I’m pretty good at only focusing on work during those hours. But I also know it is important to take short breaks and some time for lunch. When office hours are over, it is time to walk away from work for the day. Yes, there are exceptions for everything as long as those exceptions don’t become the new normal.

Make sure you leave time to do things you enjoy. Maybe it is playing golf or tennis. It could be watching your favorite sports or shows on TV. Maybe you are into quilting. Definitely spend time with friends and family. If you don’t carve out time for whatever you enjoy doing, you will definitely burn out much faster.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful to who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

Kent McCarthy stepped in to help teach an Investments class in my last year of college. At an event my last semester, he spoke to a group of business students. He suggested that if we had an idea we wanted to pursue, we should do it immediately. Don’t wait to save up money as life could change in the interim.

I have used this advice at various times in my career. First, it made it easy for me to move from Kansas to Arizona immediately after college graduation. When I had the opportunity to write my first CorelDRAW book, I immediately knew that I should build a business around it. As the market for CorelDRAW training waned, it pushed me in the direction of WordPress Web design. Lastly, it made my decision to move to Loreto, Mexico much easier.

What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?

My favorite projects are those where I help small businesses build an online store. While there are ways to measure the success of all Web sites, it is more obvious to small businesses when there is a steady stream of sales. This has become even more important in 2020 as fewer customers are going to stores either because the retail stores aren’t open or because they don’t feel comfortable shopping in person.

I’m sure many people have the goal to write a novel. While I have written 13 books, they were all non-fiction. One of these days I hope to write some fiction and with some luck have a whole series of new books. While this would be more of a fun project, it can also lead to a new source of income.

What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?

I feel like I’ve already left a legacy in the world of CorelDRAW. Thousands of people learned from me whether in person or through my words and videos.

Going forward I’d like to leave a legacy of Web sites that perform for my clients. The sites are a moving target that will need occasional updates and changes. But if I’ve built a great site, it will be much easier for those updates to be done even long after I’ve retired.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!

Education has always been important to me. I think it was my mom’s influence as an elementary educator that runs in my blood. The first part of my career was dedicated to educating CorelDRAW users and now I’m focused on educating clients on the best performing Web sites.

A huge problem today is the numerous sources of misleading and dangerous information. Some of these sources are out to steal while others want to misinform. I would love to find a way to teach others how to identify bad information. Many are trying to do this now and there is limited success. Some of the failures are because biases lead people to believe something if it fits their bias. If I can come up with a method I feel will work, I’ll jump in and do my best.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Web: https://graphics-unleashed.com

Facebook: https://fb.com/graphicsunleashed

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/graphicsunleashed/

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/UnleashedGraphics

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/fostercoburn/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/fostercoburn

Instagram: https://instagram.com/fostercoburn/

    Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

    You might also like...

    Community//

    A book that sparks a movement should “fit into the current cultural landscape,” an interview with authors Sara Connell & Jodi Lipper

    by Sara Connell
    Community//

    Learning to Trust My Messiness

    by Kelly McNelis
    Community//

    Publishing a Book: How a Business Book can Revolutionize Your Bottom Line

    by PENNY SANSEVIERI

    Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

    Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

    Thrive Global
    People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

    - MARCUS AURELIUS

    We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.