Do you work on web applications? Then you’d probably learn a lot from my new book, Designing Web Applications.
A few years ago I had no idea a day like last Wednesday was even possible. After all, everyone I knew worked jobs that paid a modest yearly salary. My wealthier friends made closer to $250/day from salaries. But then I started reading blogs about other projects. People like Chris Guillebeau were generous enough to share numbers behind their successful launches. I remember reading Chris talk about the first year he made over $60,000 from his blog. Since then he’s gone on to make over $100,000 in a single day from a product launch.
Stories like that showed me what was possible, but it was easy to say something like “Oh, Chris Guillebeau can do that because he has a huge audience.” (in reality he built his audience just in the last four years). So that’s where two other friends, Jarod and Sacha come in. Both of them happened to release design eBooks on the same day this last March. They each made over $5,000 that day from their books and were generous enough to share the numbers (and their books continue to sell).
Neither of them were internet famous, so their success was much easier to relate to. In fact, I estimated that it wouldn’t take me long to build up my own blog audience to a similar size. I had wanted to write a book for years and had started to write several, but never finished. Knowing I could make it a financial success gave me more motivation to finish.
In September of this year I released The App Design Handbook, which made over $12,000 the first day. I thought it was absolutely incredible! I didn’t know that 3 months later I would more than double that number.
I’ve learned so much from reading blog posts from other internet entrepreneurs detailing financial successes (and failures) that I now feel compelled to give back by sharing my own results. I think Rand Fishkin of SeoMoz said it best:
“Transparency is a way to express empathy for those who’ll come in the future.”
I owe a lot to everyone who showed that level of empathy to me and my business ventures by sharing everything, including their financial information, about their businesses. In the spirit of complete transparency, here is everything I’ve learned from launching Designing Web Applications.
Here are the numbers you are probably most interested in:
- First day sales – $26,679
- Second day sales $6,038
- Third day – $2,038
As I write this, one week after launch, the sales total is $40,976. So you can get an idea of how sales have dropped from the launch day. Obviously that level of sales isn’t sustainable, but I am still very happy with the continuing $500 (or more) per day.
Before we break down the sales by package, here are the prices. Note that for the first 36 hours the sale prices were up, after that I switched to the normal prices. So the majority of the purchases were at the sale prices.
- The Book (on sale for $29, normal price of $39)
- The Book + Videos (on sale for $79, normal price of $99)
- The Complete Package (on sale for $199, normal price of $249)
- The Team License (on sale for $799, normal price of $999)
Here is how the sales broke down across packages, but then more interestingly, how revenue was distributed:
- The Book. 225 sales -> $6,724
- The Book + Videos. 100 sales -> $8,019
- The Complete Package. 127 sales -> $26,122
- The Team License. 0 sales -> $0
My launch strategy came down to three things: posts on my own blog, guest posts on popular blogs, and building an email list (by far the most important of the three). A pre-launch email list was critical to the success of The App Design Handbook, so I knew I needed to build it even more for the new book. That meant I needed a detailed landing page to collect email addresses before the book was ready. You can take a look at the draft page on the right.
For The App Design Handbook I built up an email list of 800 subscribers. For Designing Web Applications I built a list of 1,900. The biggest thing that made a difference was the quality of the landing page. For the first book it was just a few screenshots and a signup form. Which is not really something visitors would be that interested in sharing. The second time around, since I knew the value of email subscribers, I put a lot more effort into the landing page. As a result it converted higher and had was shared by more people.
I sent out four emails total to my subscribers.
- “Sneak peak: an interview with Ryan Singer of 37signals”
Sent to 1,361 subscribers, one month before the book came out. 53.4% open rate and 16.4% click rate, with 10 unsubscribes.
- “A sample from my new book”
Sent to 3,205 subscribers, one week before the book came out. I sent three variations of this email to different lists.
- 1,803 subscribers from the pre-signup list. 60% open rate and 35% click rate, with 21 unsubscribes.
- 802 subscribers from purchasers of The App Design Handbook. 65.5% open rate and 25.6% click rate, with 7 unsubscribes.
- 646 subscribers from pre-launch subscribers of The App Design Handbook. 65% open rate and 25.1% click rate, with 9 unsubscribes.
- “Is your web application painful to use?”
Sent to 3,457 subscribers (one email sent to all my lists) the morning of the book launch. 51.7% open rate and 22.9% click rate with 56 unsubscribes.
- “FYI, the sale price for my book ends soon”
Sent to 3,415 subscribers the evening of my book launch. To give them a final chance to buy the book at the discounted price. 52.8% open rate and 20% click rate, with 81 unsubscribes.
That’s it! I’m still learning how to best use email, but I’m really happy with these results. I knew that sending a second email on the same day would cause more people to unsubscribe, but I figured some people would appreciate it. Also it drove a ton of sales. Within minutes of that email hitting the inboxes I saw another few thousand in sales.
In my experience guest posts don’t drive a lot of traffic. Instead I find that guest posts are better for making friends with site authors and for gaining more credibility. My goal with guest posts is to create a blanket effect. Meaning that someone in my target market should see several tweets, read a couple of guest posts I’d written, and see my post on Hacker News. The idea being that they may not pay attention the first or second time, but after seeing my book mentioned several times within a couple hours they will click through and be more interested.
It worked. A few people made comments about how “they had seen like a billion posts today” that I had written. Really it was just a few, but that was the impression I was going for. Here’s the complete list of guest posts:
- 10 Beautiful Web Applications for Inspiration
- How to design forms that convert
- My Essential Design Resources
- Are You Making the Most Common Pricing Mistake?
- Forms are a Conversation
- Make Money From a Low-traffic Blog
- A Lesson in Gradual Engagement
- Creating a 3D Button in CSS3
- [One more that hasn’t been published yet]
Total I received 12,662 visits on launch day and 17,238 in the first three days. Here is how the traffic broke down by hour over launch day. The initial spike is from the first email as well as getting featured on Hacker News.
Here are the top 10 referrers for those first three days worth of traffic. As you can see I got quite a bit of traffic from Hacker News. The ThinkTraffic.net visitors came from a very popular guest post I had on that site. Guest posts don’t normally drive that much traffic, but that post also made the front page of Hacker News, so I got a lot of spill-over traffic.
Affiliates are the one thing that was completely missing from my launch strategy. Many people have told me that affiliates are the best way to create a large product launch. I didn’t include affiliates for two reasons: first, because Gumroad doesn’t support affiliates and second, because I didn’t know any in particular to work with.
I love working with Gumroad so much that the lack of affiliate support wasn’t enough to get me to try another product. To me the checkout experience is the most important thing and no one else comes close to Gumroad on quality.
Comparing the two books
To compare the sales between the two books I want to look at the data for the first three days after launching. Let’s start by looking at pageviews for each of the sales pages:
- 8,162 unique pageviews for The App Design Handbook
- 14,436 unique pageviews for Designing Web Applications
- 8,162 uniques -> 321 sales = 3.9% conversion for The App Design Handbook
- 14,436 uniques -> 421 sales = 2.9% conversion for Designing Web Applications
- $18,488 for The App Design Handbook
- $34,955 for Designing Web Applications
Even though the conversion rate was lower for the second book, the average revenue per visitor was higher:
- $2.27 for The App Design Handbook
- $2.42 for Designing Web Applications
This is possible because of how I used multiple packages to drive sales and increase profits. As the sales break down per package you can see that the Complete Package sold far more copies for Designing Web Applications than it did for The App Design Handbook. Since it is the most expensive package, a difference here results in a massive revenue difference.
Sale Count Per Package
The App Design Handbook
- 47% – Book
- 32% – Video Package
- 21% – Complete Package
- 50% – Book
- 23% – Video Package
- 27% – Complete Package
Getting more people to purchase the most expensive package will make a big difference, but I made another important change to affect total revenue per package: I changed the prices. For The App Design Handbook the sale prices were $29, $59, and $129. For Designing Web Applications I bumped them up to $29 (unchanged), $79, and $199. All of this resulted in the revenue per package being very different.
Revenue Per Package
The App Design Handbook
- 23% – Book
- 32% – Video Package
- 45% – Complete Package
- 17% – Book
- 21% – Video Package
- 63% – Complete Package
63% of all the revenue came from the complete package, despite it making up only 27% of the total sales! Now that we’ve looked through the all the stats you can see how more traffic, higher prices, and a better landing page design resulted in nearly double the sales of the previous book.
The middle package
It’s interesting to note the difference in sales for the middle package between the two books. For The App Design Handbook I was trying to push people towards the middle package (with price, content, and even a colored Buy button) and it seems to have worked: 32% of people purchased the middle package, 21% purchased the complete package.
For Designing Web Applications I wanted to see if I could change the sales page (and the packages) to push more people to the Complete Package. So I structured the new page so that the Complete Package was listed first and I made sure that the value was clearly communicated. This effort paid off since only 23% of people purchased the middle package and 27% of people purchased the Complete Package. This split is even more impressive when you think about how much more revenue I generate from a sale of the top end package at $199 versus the middle package at $79. So if you look at the change in revenue per package above you will see an even more pronounced difference.
Demonstrating a lot of value
With the new sales page I listed out, with an image, everything that came with the packages to make sure the value was clear. Compare that to the sales page for The App Design Handbook where each item just gets a quick sentence. I think that change, combined with the name recognition from the interviews with people like Ryan Singer, Sahil Lavingia, and Jason Fried, really helped push purchases to the higher packages.
A few stats
- 3,400 email subscribers
- 4 book packages
- 0 affiliates
- $20,000 in projected sales
- 8 Expert interviews
- 7 video tutorials
- 1 case study
- 2 PSD Templates
- 35,684 words
- 3 hours, 5 minutes of video tutorials
- 4 hours of expert interviews
- 203 Screenshots
- 9 guest posts
- 3 months from start to finish
- 1,000 words written every day
Well, that was a really long post, but I hope you learned something. I’m still trying to learn what insights to learn from this experience. If you have any other ideas of what we could learn from the numbers I would love to hear about it in the comments. In the mean time, if you work with web applications, pickup a copy of Designing Web Applications to take your design craft to the next level.