Jarrod Drysdale is a web designer who runs his own blog at Studio Fellow. During his career as a designer, Jarrod has worked with tech startups, movie studios, financial companies and consumer brands. He also wrote an e-book for startup founders “Bootstrapping Design”.
In this interview, Jarrod:
- Explains what are the most important things when it comes to e-books.
- Shares his take on the low price vs. high price dilemma.
- Tells us how he made 38, 249$ from his e-book.
Please introduce yourself to our readers.
I’m a web designer and coder with 7 years of experience: 5 years at ad agencies and 2 years of freelancing and building my own startup and ebook business.
You have a personal website and a blog. Maybe you can share some statistics with our readers (daily/monthly traffic, the number of e-mail/RSS subscribers, etc.), so people would know where you stand in terms of online influence?
I’m not very well known, at least compared to many. I’m not a design industry celeb and I don’t have a huge following. I haven’t tried to build up a huge following across the industry at large, and I don’t know if I could. My goal is to work for a specific, narrow audience.
My blog traffic is extremely spiky and is inconsistent from post to post. I’ve had posts earn anywhere from 3,000 unique visits in a day to none, and from 65 comments to 0.
The email newsletter for the ebook now has 2,846 subscribers.
The ebook landing page traffic is also spiky because it’s purely based on marketing efforts and not organic traffic. Days have ranged from 10k unique visits to 0.
I have over 800 twitter followers.
You have had a great success with your e-book, “Bootstrapping Design”. Can you please share some numbers with our readers (revenue/proft in the first 24 hours/two weeks/one month, how much it’s bringing in every month now and what is the total revenue/profit since the launch)?
To date, revenue is $41,053. Profit, after processing fees and associated services, is $38,249.
Launch was March 20, so the average across 5 months is $8,210 revenue, $7,658 profit.
However, that’s a bit misleading because most of the sales happened within 2 months of launch–about $30,000 revenue’s worth. So excluding those first two months, the ebook has earned $3,600 revenue per month average.
First 24 hours: $6,125
First 48 hours: $8,753
First 2 weeks: $17,082
First Month: $23,817
First Two Months (66 days): $30,286
Would you recommend other web designers to write and sell their own e-books? Why or why not?
Absolutely. I regularly recommend it to designers, but also developers too. Our industry is incredibly supportive and appreciative towards people who step out and create something. I’m very grateful to be part of such an awesome community—the experience has been overwhelmingly positive.
There are many, many stories of people having success selling ebooks in our industry. However, I don’t want to sound like it’s a gold mine, or that the only goal is to make money. I’m generalizing a lot here, but I think people really value honest efforts to contribute and share. And they’re perfectly willing to show that appreciation with their wallets. But, you can’t just slap something up and think people will pay you automatically—it has to be genuine.
In your article “$30,000 E-book Sales. In 2 Months.” you put a big emphasis on customer research. How did you do customer research for “Bootstrapping Design”? Why do you think it’s so important?
To understand my position on this, you have to know a little more about my background. I’m one of those who bootstrapped a startup, watched helplessly as it failed, and then wrote a cliche post-mortem on Hacker News.
My startup was a web app for teachers, and, when I began the project, I had no clue what I was doing. After it failed, I still wanted to build a business but obviously needed to understand where I went wrong before I could keep doing that.
That learning process led me to customer research. I learned a lot about it when I took an entrepreneurship class called 30×500 and by reading Running Lean. The goal is to stop focusing on having a “great idea” and instead start a business based on understanding people.
This new approach made a massive difference: my first startup failed, and my second project became very profitable very quickly. But money isn’t the only way to measure success: my first project had about 150 people sign up over the course of the year, but now I have over 1000 ebook sales and tens of thousands of people have heard about my work in just a few months.
If you don’t understand people, you don’t know how to create a solution for them, and you don’t know if they will want it. But if you start with understanding, the rest follows much more easily. If you think about it, this is perfectly logical and seems kind of obvious. But so many of us tech founders completely miss this.
You started building an e-mail list for the e-book even before you started writing it. Why did you start so early? Would you recommend other web designers to apply the same strategy? Why or why not?
I put up a landing page to collect email addresses to see if people would want the ebook. Because of my prior failed project, I didn’t want to invest a huge amount of time before I knew whether I was on track.
Plus, building a list in advance gave me many opportunities to gather opinions and suggestions as I was writing. The process became collaborative, which meant the end result would be much closer to what people actually needed. There’s no way I could have done as well working in a void.
I absolutely recommend this strategy. It helps to limit the risk of starting a new project, and if you do continue, provides a feedback loop to keep you on track.
How did you go about actually writing the e-book (from the initial idea to the final draft)? Do you have any advice for web designers who want to write their own e-books, but are struggling with the “I’m a designer, I’m not a writer” block?
I started with a huge outline. I picked one topic I absolutely knew had to be in the ebook, Typography, and wrote the first chapter. Writing that first chapter took much longer than I thought, and I realized my outline was way too big. Also, after I sent that first chapter to the mailing list and gathered feedback, I realized that covering all that content would be a disservice to readers. They didn’t need to read about every possible design topic, but just the ones that matter for their businesses. So, I cut that outline in half. The ebook is much better for it.
The hardest lesson I learned about writing came as a realization when I was about halfway done. Instead of editing as you write, just get all the ideas out on the page. Then go back and edit later. As a designer, I’m used to working on iterations of elements one at a time. But with writing, it’s more important to get the ideas all out and then refine them as a whole.
Writing is like design in that you should never just be staring at a blank page without a plan. You should have an outline, or a sketch, that gets you started. In my case, I worked so much on the outline that it started to become prose. That’s when I knew it was time to just write it.
I also launched the ebook as a ‘beta’ edition, and gathered even more feedback from those who purchased. Then, I revised the ebook and sent out the final edition as a free update. This was also an effort to ensure the ebook was closer to what people need.
How did you go about creating the design for your e-book? What are the most important things here? How important do you think design is for the success of the e-book?
Since I was writing about design, all the designs associated with the ebook (website, newsletters, and the ebook layout itself) had to be of decent quality. Otherwise, people wouldn’t trust me. So in my case, the design was very important to the success of my project. If you aren’t writing about design, it’s probably not as important, but it’s still obviously a factor. That’s just going to vary with your audience and topic.
After I finished writing and was setting out to design the layout, I quickly realized that tracking down all the disparate issues with various ebook formats, like ePub and mobi, was just not possible for launch. So, I focused on the PDF only. Later on, I added the ePub and mobi with the revised edition of the ebook.
There are many schools of thought on how you should lay out a PDF ebook. You can choose portrait or landscape orientation. I chose portrait because it fits ebook readers like the Kindle and iPad, but then people reading on a computer were less happy with that.
For me the biggest concern was typography. Picking a large font size, because in a PDF people can’t change it easily, and making sure the leading and number of characters per line were correct. These have a huge impact on readability.
You priced your e-book quite high. You also wrote a rather controversial article in which you explain your pricing strategy and argue with the approach outlined by Sacha Greif. Maybe you can tell us more about your pricing strategy? Why did you chose this particular option? Also, when it’s better to use your approach and when it’s better to use Sacha’s approach (you both made a decent chunk of money, so they both clearly work)?
Obviously I can write a lot on this topic, so I’d encourage your readers to check out the blog post for more depth than I can provide here.
The core of the argument is this assumption: lower prices will always earn more sales. That’s just not always true. You can find research supporting either position.
I think the benefits to a higher price outweigh the hope of more sales at a lower price. With a higher price, you can earn the same money with fewer sales. You can also weed out more difficult customers and provide better support for those who are serious.
The last question is loaded: we both made decent money so both strategies work? I disagree with that. Choosing a lower price that is inline with similar products is a decision based on fear. There is no supply and demand constraint with an ebook. There is no upper limit to the value an ebook can provide.
If we’re talking about a professional (not consumer) audience, I don’t see any situation where a lower price is better.
Agota’s note: I agree with the general point, but when it comes to this particular situation, you can’t forget that Sacha’s product and target audience were completely different than yours, therefore I think it was a good strategy for him. We can’t accurately compare the effectiveness of these two strategies using you and Sacha because products are simply too different.
You have a really nice landing page. How did you go about writing it? How did you improve it over time? Do you have some copy-writing advice for web designers who want to sell their own e-books?
Thanks! I spent more time on the copywriting than on the design. Copywriting is difficult, and there is a science to it. I highly recommend learning more about that before launching a product.
Since launch, I haven’t made many changes to the landing page. I probably should run some A/B tests and improve some of the copy, but it’s been a low priority to date.
It seems like you have had a really successful launch. Maybe you can tell us more about it? What worked and what didn’t? Would you do anything differently if you would have to do it all over again?
I really had 2 launches. The first was a landing page with newsletter signup. I hadn’t written anything yet. The second launch was an updated landing page with a buy button.
It worked because I was careful, not because I did a great job of marketing. I spent lots of time researching before I put up that first page. And I didn’t commit to creating anything beyond that until I had proof this was a solution people wanted. Getting the right fit is more important than what you do at launch.
You published an article on Smart Bear and got a mention on GrokCode. How did this impact your sales? Would you try to get more media coverage if you were doing it all over again? Why or why not?
The traffic from these did not convert as well as the traffic from my usual marketing efforts on Twitter, email newsletters, and my own blog. However, they did drive some sales, so in the end the effort was worthwhile. In the case of GrokCode, it took no effort on my part.
The guest post and other 3rd party content is not just for the sake of driving sales. I’m also trying to share what I’ve learned from this experience. I could find more efficient ways to drive sales, but staying active with the community is important to me. Part of the goal of my ebook is to help other people build successful businesses. I want to keep doing that however I can.
Okay, so having been there, done that, what is your suggested step by step plan for web designers who want to write and sell their own e-books?
- Research and evaluate audiences
- Outline a solution based on the research
- Put up a landing page with newsletter sign up
- Market the landing page
- If people sign up, ask them for feedback
- If people sign up, build the solution based on their feedback
Jarrod, what are your future plans? Are you planning to write more e-books? Why or why not?
I’m currently in research mode for the next project. Like I explained earlier, I don’t start with an idea and then validate/build it. I start with research. Because of that, I have no idea what the next thing will be. It could be an ebook, a web app, a screencast, or a dozen other formats. Sorry I can’t comment further on that!
Last, but not the least, what would you advise to fellow web designers who want to create a stream of passive income for themselves by writing and selling their own e-books?
There’s no such thing as passive income. After you’ve written an ebook, you don’t get sales unless you do marketing. Marketing takes time and effort.
Put differently: the success of the project depends on your own diligence. You can’t just launch and watch the money stream in. You have to send newsletters, talk to people, write blog posts, and respond to customers. Sure, sometimes you’ll get a mention without any effort on your part, but not very often. Producing the product is only the first part, and it’s probably the smallest part. If you want to make money on your own product, be prepared to spend a lot of time marketing.
Thank you, Jarrod!
In A Nutshell:
- Writing and selling your own e-book is a great way to generate extra income as a web designer. It takes a lot of work, though.
- You have to understand your customers if you want to build a profitable product. Take time to conduct an in-depth customer research before you even start building a product. Otherwise, it’s very likely that it will fall flat.
- When you set out to write something, you have to separate writing and editing process: write down all your ideas, then go back and edit it later.
- It’s wise to take time to create a professional design for your e-book, especially if design is the topic of it.
- Copy writing is very important when it comes to landing pages (and any form of selling), therefore it’s good to learn at least the basics of it if you’re considering launching your own product.
- The idea that a lower price will automatically get you more sales is not necessarily true. You should consider charging a higher price, especially if your product is targeted to a professional audience, because then you not only can make more money with fewer sales, but it also makes your product look more valuable.
- Passive income are really not that passive. Once you create a product, you have to market it, otherwise you won’t get many sales. This takes time and effort.
What did you guys learn from this interview?
Share in the comments!
Related interview: Sacha Greif Explains How He Earned $15,000 From Selling His E-book