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The Ruby Community’s Information Marketing Mania

By Giles Bowkett / June 17, 2010

Hi - this is a guest post by Giles Bowkett. I made at least $10,000 in the last few months selling videos on my personal blog (including at least $5,000 selling a video about how to have a terrific programming career, and at least $5,000 selling a video about how to sell videos on your blog).

As crazy and hucksterish as this might seem, I'm not the only one. PeepCode, the Pragmatic Programmers, RailsEnvy,, and Codeulate all sell Ruby-related screencasts; Rubyists selling Ruby-related ebooks include Jeremy McAnally, former Rails Activist Mike Gunderloy, Marc-André Cournoyer, the husband-and-wife team of Thomas Fuchs and Amy Hoy, and, if you go back as far as 2006, DHH himself, and 37Signals as a whole (who made $120,000 in one month selling a PDF off their blog, and in the process sparked a debate with Tim O'Reilly about whether traditional publishers still had any value at all - a debate somewhat ironic in the context of this year's new, traditionally-published 37Signals book, Rework). Fuchs and Hoy also sell online training webinars, using a business model familiar to classic internet information marketing, but on topics like JavaScript and how to ship projects.

Just this week, Michael Hartl of Rails Tutorial has created an audacious, $495 webinar/screencasts program as well. Meanwhile, Xavier Shay is touring the US with his Database Is Your Friend live training program, and of course the Pragmatic Studio live trainings have been going for years. (I attended the TDD studio twice, it's great.) Live training sometimes goes one-on-one, as well: I give programmers personal coaching, as does Greg Brown (of Prawn fame). Somewhat atypically for this list, Greg is also developing a free program called Ruby Mendicant University which uses the info-marketing "webinar" model but gives everything away for free.

Although info marketing's been part of the Ruby community since 2006, it's grown in the past year; many of the projects listed above are new in the last six months. What does it mean? A rough, practical entrepreneurship runs strong in the Ruby and Rails communities, with a spirit audacious and independent enough to border on a punk rock vibe.

DHH has made fun of venture capitalists for spending millions to launch a company, when he built Basecamp on just ten hours a week, but ten hours a week is overkill for an information marketing business. I literally started my first such business with $30, selling Warcraft ebooks with pay-per-click advertizing. Rubyists are reacting to the dismal economy with their own gutsy ventures, which is what we should expect.


  1. Daniel Tenner says:

    Good article, but feels like it got truncated. Where's the second part where you build on this observation to provide a breathtaking insight that will transform our lives?

    Also, you're totally failing at the internet huckster meme by not offering to explain the secrets of it all to us for a mere $29.95, discounted from $49.95 for this week only if you buy now! ;-)

  2. AkitaOnRails says:

    Awesome article. I am very interested in that myself. Seems like the US market has enough volume to support such endeavors. Very sad that in my country people want everything for free and are not willing to pay for high quality material.

  3. Giles Bowkett says:

    @Daniel - heh, well, if you click the links to my videos, you can find out how to sell videos on your blog, and/or how to promote yourself as a programmer - I figured that was spammy enough. :-) Actually I'm hoping this blog post drives sales for everybody I linked to, seems like a fun kind of thing to do for people and all.

    I did actually truncate it a bit, because I had planned for it to be longer but then I wanted it to fit the new, breezier Ruby Inside style of shorter posts. The breathtaking insight really requires a long-term view. Alan Kay said that anything that changes fast enough develops into a pop culture, and that this is why universities always lag behind the cutting edge of programming. Information marketing is basically education as pop culture, and I think it's a surprisingly good fit. There are undoubtedly risks and downsides, but education as pop culture is better than education as pointless relic, which is the extreme negative end of the spectrum when it comes to discussions of tech education, and a point of view that sometimes fits.

    @Akita - thanks! Brazil has no monopoly on people wanting stuff for free, though. Realistically, a lot of information marketing businesses create their content outside the US and sell it inside the US, and similarly affluent countries, because we're most likely to pay for the material. Selling in Brazil might be harder, but it might not - you never know until you try - and the flipside of your situation is that you can sell stuff in the US at US prices and then spend that money buying stuff in Brazil at Brazilian prices. So that could actually work out pretty nicely for you (I'm assuming prices are lower there, and actually I'm also assuming it's Brazil you live in - apologies if I remembered wrong).

  4. Sur says:

    Quite inspiring stats.
    Great post, thanks for sharing.

    One needs to have good teaching skills for publishing videos and e-books and needs to have great teaching skills to be able to sell what they publish.

    @Giles- I think Akita is right to somewhere when I compare it with the developing nation like India. Not much people shows interest in purchasing out stuffs that doesn't show direct benefit (or better which shows indirect benefit)
    US market is certainly different... the attitude of the crowd is different, their spending habits are different.
    But this is quite a bit relevant point that if we are about selling stuff online, it doesn't [greatly] matter from which part of world it's coming and to which part it's being sold off.
    So I mean, I am more like asking then telling... even some great content crafted out of US can find it's customer in US ? I guess yes !

    Still, it certainly has got different impact. BaseCamp is again US based and being used worldwide :)
    Any example of something doesn't belong to US and extremely popular in US ???

    Oh yeah, Ruby :)


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