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.
At the risk of becoming a PR machine for 37 Signals and Backpack, they’ve come out with another interesting feature, this time an API:
Jason Fried tells me that the API will mean “developers…can now build on top of Backpack their own apps, pull Backpack data into their own systems, push data to Backpack from custom apps…” These include “Palm apps, Symbian apps, desktop apps, other web apps… dashboard Widgets for Tiger… you name it.”
“Backpack becomes a platform. Over the next few weeks we’ll see some cool stuff.” One example: Polling a Backpack page to pull book data from Amazon, where Amazon reading lists maintained in a Backpack list are turned into an aggregated list. Interesting stuff.
I’m just chatting with Jason Fried of 37Signals, the guys behind Backpack, Ta-da List and Basecamp (which you should check out, if you haven’t already). Jason tells me he has today added tags to Backpack. Here’s a snippet of our conversation (and here’s a movie of it in action):
Jason Fried (37 Signals): Tags are just quick and easy ways for people to categorize their stuff
Jason Fried (37 Signals): I just wrote this FAQ that may help:
Jason Fried (37 Signals): so they’re basically just loose categories without rules
Jason Fried (37 Signals): Kind of… Whatever-comes-to-mind categories
JW: do you imagine your tags mixing it up with delicious and flickr tags?
Jason Fried (37 Signals): we’ll be releasing a Backpack API in about 30 days or so
Jason Fried (37 Signals): at that point people are free to mix whatever they want. I’m excited to see what the world does with all these tags
Jason Fried (37 Signals): we have some ideas on how to integrate Del.icio.us and Flickr into Backpack, but the API will give tens of thousands of people what they need to come up with their own ideas.
That could be interesting. I asked Jason:
JW: (could you just give some examples of how you imagine people might use tags in BP, and how they might mix them with tags from other services?)
Jason Fried (37 Signals): sure.
Jason Fried (37 Signals): take this page, for example
Jason Fried (37 Signals): this is someone using Backpack as a simple CRM-like tool
Jason Fried (37 Signals): keeping track of call notes for someone, for example
Jason Fried (37 Signals): you might tag this page: eNormcom Client “Phone Notes” April
Jason Fried (37 Signals): then, if you click the April tag you’d see all the other pages you made in April
Jason Fried (37 Signals): or if you clicked the “Phone Notes” tag you’d see all the other pages that have phone notes on them
Jason Fried (37 Signals): Or if you click Client you’ll see all the other pages that you’ve tagged as Client
Jason Fried (37 Signals): As far as other services…
Jason Fried (37 Signals): You might make a page in Backpack like…
Jason Fried (37 Signals): and you might tag that: eTech Conference 2005
Jason Fried (37 Signals): then you might tag some bookmarks at delicious with the same tags
Jason Fried (37 Signals): articles and links that refer to the eTech conference
Jason Fried (37 Signals): reviews, speakers, etc
Jason Fried (37 Signals): then, perhaps, when you click “eTech” inside Backpack, you’d see your Backpack pages tagged eTech *plus* your Delicious bookmarks tagged as eTech
Jason Fried (37 Signals): and maybe your Flickr photos too that you tagged eTech
Lots of potential, I reckon.