The Merits Of Online Publishing

Jason Fried of 37 Signals, the guys behind web applications like Basecamp and Tada List and Backpack , have published a book on how to build web apps. And they’ve proven a point — that publishing online can be the smart way to go. Jason tells me they’ve sold 4,000 downloadable digital copies of their new book Getting Real in the first week — at $19 a copy, or $49 for a site licence that allows users to make up to 10 copies for co-workers.

That’s $85,000 in pure profit, Jason says. Which I have to say is pretty good. I can’t imagine the same thing would happen, or does happen, for every tome. I asked Jason why he thought the numbers were so high. Here’s his response:

  • It’s easy. buy it now, get it now. you just download the PDF
  • we’ve been talking about our Getting Real process for a long time on our blog, and now people can get the whole thing in a $19 book
  • Lots of interest in how we work. How we’ve been able to build 5 products, write a book, and write Ruby on Rails in 2 years with only 7 people

Interesting. In other words, if a book really adds value to something that has already attracted a lot of interest, you have a ready audience. Even if you keep a blog, and tell everyone what you’re doing and how to do it, there will still be people interested enough to buy the book to read more. And $19 isn’t cheap: That’s a hardback book where I come from, but somehow online, being able to just grab it in PDF in a second, somehow makes the price seem reasonable. As Jason puts it:

I think there’s a big story here… The idea that authors with audiences don’t need publishers anymore. You can take your message direct to your audience. AND you own the rights to your work.

Earn Credit by Recruiting for Basecamp

Expanding on their brick by brick, basics for free, pay for what you need approach, the guys at 37 Signals are now offering an Affiliate Program where users can earn free services:

The Basecamp Affiliate Program allows you to earn credits that are applied towards your Basecamp account. These credits reduce your subscriptions fees and allow you to earn free service. It’s your reward for helping us spread the word about Basecamp. EVERYONE who has a Basecamp account is eligible! When someone uses your affiliate code/link to sign up for a new account, you’ll receive a credit on your account after they’ve paid for their first month.

It’s not particularly new in itself, but for products like Basecamp and Backpack it makes a lot of sense. The basic features of these products — some of which are hived off as separate tools, like Writeboard and Ta-da List — are free but users who like the tools will quickly find they want the paid product. Now they can by corralling others into coughing up.

New Features at Basecamp

The guys at 37 Signals have just announced New Features for Basecamp 2, phase I:

Today we roll out the first phase of “Basecamp 2”

Basecamp 2 is our complete overhaul of Basecamp. We’re speeding it up, making it more reliable, adding new features (and pruning some that are barely used), improving the user interface (and making it much faster in spots), and more. All of Basecamp 2 will be rolled into the Basecamp you already use so there’s no need to go anywhere else, download anything new, or change your behavior. It’s a natural and gradual transition.

We’re tackling this re-write one section at a time. The first section we tackled was the fundamental people/company set-up and project access, along with some other enhancements related to these features.

There’s some interesting stuff in here that I’m going to try get my brain around.