Movin’ On Up

This is the sixth of several posts where I am revisiting CommonsWare, my long-time
business and current “hobby with a logo”. I thought it might be useful to some to
see how all that came about, the decisions I made, and so on.

The series:

  • Waiting for a Chasm-Crosser
  • Settling on a Business Model
  • Dynamic Books
  • Android or iPhone?
  • The Summer of Silence
  • Movin’ On Up
  • The Omega and the Alpha

In 2009, things started to pick up. As carriers started offering Android devices —
and while Apple was only slowly reacting — interest in CommonsWare climbed:

  • I started delivering professional training on Android app development. Some of
    that was private for specific firms looking to jump on board Android. Some of
    that was public training, as I was the inaugural Android trainer for
    Big Nerd Ranch. The Big Nerd Ranch relationship
    only lasted a couple of years, as I was a contractor, and they eventually
    set up their own trainer talent. However,
    I struck deals to deliver training on behalf of other training firms in the US
    and Europe.

  • I entered an arrangement with Apress to re-publish The Busy Coder’s Guide to Android Development
    as Beginning Android. We did a few editions of that book together —
    I would distribute my copies, and they would distribute theirs. Eventually, I declined
    to continue with them, as sales of the Warescription (my subscription offering) outsold
    them by a lot, just on unit sales. Plus, direct sales of digital books had a lot
    higher profit margins than the royalty rate I got from Apress.

  • I started writing the occasional column for places like InfoWorld, before eventually
    setting up this blog and focusing on it.

All of that allowed me to quit my day job and work on CommonsWare full time.

I added “office hours” chats as a subscriber benefit, where I would hang out in a chat
room for an hour and field whatever questions came up. That ran for a decade
and probably contributed some to sales.

I also saw this little developer support site called Stack Overflow
start to get some traction, and I decided that maybe I could help there.
I answered my first question in May of 2009… and just kept going.
Right now, it is up to 22,879 answers,
though my contributions have definitely tailed off in the past several years.

Soon after, conferences started paying attention to Android. My first conference
presentation was in 2010 at the Rich Web Experience, and the AnDevCon series began
in 2011. All told, I presented at 38 conferences between 2010 and 2019. At several
I delivered multiple presentations, so my total presentation count is probably around
50.

And the books flew off the (digital) shelves. I originally published both print editions
(sold via Amazon) and the Warescription. In 2012 I discontinued the print editions
because they did not sell very well and I was writing too much. Even at $40, then $45, per
year, I had ~2,500 subscribers through 2015.

Not everything worked. I dabbled in developing libraries (the CommonsWare Android Components, or
CWAC). For the early years, they were OK, but by modern standards they were awful.
I tried various ways to extend the value of the Warescription, such as including
training videos with the (self-distributed) book app. That didn’t get a lot of attention,
and I eventually stopped distributing the book as its own APK.

Still, though, I was doing quite well, professionally and financially, despite having
limited marketing presence outside of “doing good stuff”. However,
what goes up must come down, and I will explore that in my next and final post
in this series.

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