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:

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.