Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The $40 Table Of Contents

I badgered thoughtbot on Twitter the other day about their new book on Backbone.js. Full disclosure: I did the music for the PeepCode video on Backbone, which is obviously a competing product. But I'm really looking forward to this Backbone book and I can't wait to read it, so I was frustrated when I asked thoughtbot how much material they had so far, because they told me all they had was the table of contents.

This led to some snark about $40 being a lot for a table of contents.

What's ironic about this is that I have a table of contents which I could charge $1000 for in good conscience. In fact it's barely even a table of contents, it's almost just a list, but I wrote it down during a conversation I had with James Golick. James runs a web site which sees staggering traffic and handles it gracefully. We were talking about putting together a video series on scaling Rails applications.

Say you're an entrepreneur and you want to tell venture capitalists that you'll be able to scale a Rails app. You're about to go into a meeting which could net you millions in investment. You have every other piece of the puzzle, but you face concerns about scalability. That one little issue is all that stands between you and millions in cash. Under those circumstances, how much money is that list worth to you? The answer is literally millions of dollars, so $1000 for that little table of contents would be an incredible bargain.

What you're selling there is not the piece of paper or the PDF, and it's not even the information either format contains. You're really selling the opportunity to reap millions in investment (in this example).

The pricing of information products should reflect their value.

Go to Amazon or a physical bookstore and run a little test. Find some tech books written by industry stars who unquestionably know exactly what they're talking about. Then find some utterly useless tech books filled with horseshit and documentation copy/paste. Compare the prices of the books in each category.

Tech books are not priced by value.