Getting Real book sales update and new free chapters Jason 20 Jul 2006

26 comments Latest by JF

When we self-published published Getting Real on March 1, 2006 we released 4 free chapters for anyone to download. Today we’re releasing 4 more free chapters in PDF format:

  1. What’s the Big Idea?
  2. Alone Time
  3. Forget Feature Requests
  4. From Ideas to Implementation

Sales update

We’ve been providing periodic sales number updates every 6 weeks or so. We want to show people that self-publishing is not only a viable alternative for authors with an audience, but it can also be profitable.

As of today, we’ve sold 8930 single copy versions and 925 10-copy license versions. That brings the total books sold to just about 18,200 copies. Revenue is just about $215,000. Since we designed the book, distribute the book via a PDF, and own the rights to the content, it’s nearly all profit.

This obviously isn’t an apples to apples comparison, but our first book, Defensive Design for the Web, published in 2004 with a traditional publisher, sold about 8000 copies so far. So far we’ve earned about $11,000 from the sales of that book.

Thanks to everyone who’s bought one of our books. We hope you’ve found it valuable. If you don’t have a copy of Getting Real, buy one today (you’ll have it on your computer in just a few minutes).

26 comments so far (Jump to latest)

Des Traynor 20 Jul 06

Any decision on a hardcopy version?

Edgardo 20 Jul 06

$215,000, almost all profit vs. $11,000 and they still ask for the hardcopy. Sure many people that already bought the pdf would pay again for the hardcopy, but why go through all the trouble to get some additional revenue when the logical step is to publish another PDF book in a year or so.

cosmicdisco 20 Jul 06

I bought my copy yesterday and it’s defo money well spent. The sales update makes an interesting and inspiring read. Well done.

Des Traynor 20 Jul 06

Edgardo, I am asking for a hardcopy, so I can read it on trains, or give it to people as a present. The guys have said they are still considering it.
Also, I wasn’t proposing that they go the conventional publisher route, there are plenty of sites out there that allow you to publish your own book without the need for a middle man.

I haven’t bought the book yet, cause I’ve been hanging in limbo waiting for an answer to the question. I don’t want to buy PDF and realise later that I could have had a paperback book if I had have been patient.

Ken Rossi : 20 Jul 06

There was a pdf printer that I saw a while back. Someone had recommended it on a blog and I can’t find it. I think for the next one they should think about partnering with a printer. If people want a hardcopy sent it could be extra.

There was a place that specifically dealt with just PDF’s. It wasn’t your normal printing shop. Could anyone list the ones they know?

Chris Carter 20 Jul 06

A quick pet peeve - how much did it cost to make the book? Hours invested, hardware and badwidth to sell, transaction fees, those are all cost of goods. Did you factor those in before quoting $215,000?

Profit is money you make after cost of goods sold.

Like I said, a pet peeve.

dave rau (dmr) 20 Jul 06

To piggyback on the above comment from Chris; was the effort you guys put into Getting Real about the same as Defensive Design? Do you think Defensive Design would have been as successful as Getting Real if you guys went the self-publishing route back then?

Where do you think sales would have been without The Deck and SvN? At what point is self-publishing harder or easier? Does having a blog audience prior to publishing make or break you?

Very cool of you guys to be so honest about the cash flow. Both books are great; I bought both.

JF 20 Jul 06

Defensive Design took about twice as long to write. it also required a lot of screenshots which are time consuming.

2004 and 2006 are very different times for us. The subject matter of the books are also quite different. It’s hard to really compare them, but if we released Getting Real in 2004 I’m pretty confident that we wouldn’t have sold as many copies as we have in 2006. We didn’t have the same audience then.

JJ 20 Jul 06

I’m guessing that self-publishing is really only viable if you are already well known. If you are an anonymous b-list blogger, you will probably have a very hard time doing effective advertisement. A book publisher like O’Reilly is a better option in that case.

(and you’re book will probably end up on, which means I can read it for free! *hint*hint* :-))

JPosner 20 Jul 06

Have you guys considered allowing your customers to purchase a printed copy of “Getting Real” through a company like ? You could just charge a bit more and still make the same amount of money per copy sold. I am sure people would be willing to spend more for a printed version.

FYI: The New York Times had an article on self-publishing today. Here is the URL:

Rahul 20 Jul 06

What kind of brand improvement for 37signals did Defensive Design for the Web accommodate, though? Obviously $11k vs $200+k makes it irrelevant, but did it sell enough to bring you new readers? And did they stick when you changed from a projects company to a products company?

Just some guy 20 Jul 06

Not everyone has an audience as large as 37signals. In fact, very few people on the web have an audience even close to the size of 37signals. Self-publishing is great if you have a large audience on your own.

Typically, however, the individuals that write the best books on the bookshelves have far narrower audiences on their own than with a major publishing company behind them.

Erik Dungan 20 Jul 06

I actually had mine printed and spiral bound at Staples … it was $15 or so - definitely worth having on my bookshelf.

Michael Boyle 20 Jul 06

Congratulations on the sales, guys! To me it seems like the following that 37 Signals has is really the driving force behind your success in selling the book online. Between the popularity of your blog, Rails, and various web applications your company garners a lot of respect and intrigue; there are hordes of designers and developers trying to glean some of your style and innovation.

That being said, you have a relatively niche market in terms of publishing. A vast majority of the people that will purchase your book won’t have a problem with it being in an electronic format because we’re computer dorks to begin with. I think you guys should elaborate a bit more on why you’re so successful with offering the book online. Personally I’d love to read about what strategies you’ve implemented to grow your fan base to what it is today; that sort of thing doesn’t happen by coincidence.

Mike 20 Jul 06

You need to add your new sample chapters to your page at

Dan Grossman 20 Jul 06

Oops, that entire quote was meant to be in italics.

Randy Peterman 20 Jul 06

My biggest gripe about the PDF isn’t really a gripe ;) Instead its this: when I finish the PDF I can’t give it to someone else in my company to read and comply by the promise I made when purchasing the book. With DDftW I can pass that along to other co-workers and be legal. A hardcopy would be nice, even if it was more expensive, so that I could be at peace with my conscience AND pass the book on to my co-workers.

Peter Cooper 20 Jul 06

Another interesting topic for ‘update’ would be the 37signals jobs board. If you’re getting $250 for each of them, I figured out you’re taking about $17500 per month on there.. and even though that’s not as instant as the Getting Real book, over the course of a few years it looks way more exciting since it could last forever.

Arnie McKinnis 20 Jul 06

To hell with traditional publishing — I’m waiting for the iTunes of books — buy a chapter at a time. Years ago, I worked for a company that was on the brink of creating a joint venture with a very well known copy center (you probably know them, they have hundreds of locations, many near college campuses, and was recently purchased by a shipping company - but I digress)…

this JV was about delivering electronic versions of college text books, allowing students to purchase and print a chapter at a time (or the whole book) right there in the copy shop. This idea was years before the “world wide web” but not before things like CompuServe, AOL and that other one I can’t remember.

We got hung up because book publishers and retailers cried foul - and trying to figure out where they “played” in the new distribution channel.

So I say to hell with the book publishers and retailers — authors/artists can create and distribute directly to their customers - cutting out the unnecessary middle (and like you) keeping more of the money.

Arnie McKinnis 20 Jul 06

Had to come back - it was Prodigy (remember those guys). Also, after reading comments above, here are hard cover book printing companies - ready and waiting to be approached (and would probably love for 37Signals to be a customer)….


and my personal favorite because I could get my 37Signals tshirt, coffee mug and mouse pad + the Getting Real book in hardback would be

After two big comments posts, I’m going to have to blog about all this — I’m so excited!!

George 21 Jul 06

I’m sure I’ll get shit for being a cheapskate, but $19 is too much for me for a book about software design (since it’s only an interest of mine, rather than my job). Maybe one day you will lower the price or include an “honesty box” in the opposite direction from your “multibuy” deal or something that means I can partake in your philosophising.

eli sarver 21 Jul 06

After releasing the original Getting Real .pdf, you went back and changed the chapter covers to use less toner. These new chapters each have big black toner sucking pages. What happened to that ‘less toner’ approach?

Optimus 21 Jul 06

Here’s a question: How’d you guys lay this out? Quark? Indesign? This is a big question for people who plan to self-publish e-books.

I would kill for an editor for creating LaTeX documents with the simplicity and elegance of a 37s project, if anyone’s listening.

JF 21 Jul 06

I laid it out in InDesign, but we wrote it in Writeboard. Each chapter was a Writeboard.