is a blog about design, technology and culture written by Khoi Vinh, and has been more or less continuously published since December 2000 in New York City. Khoi is currently Principal Designer at Adobe, Design Chair at Wildcard and co-founder of Kidpost. Previously, Khoi was co-founder and CEO of Mixel (acquired by Etsy, Inc.), Design Director of The New York Times Online, and co-founder of the design studio Behavior, LLC. He is the author of “Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design,” and was named one of Fast Company’s “fifty most influential designers in America.” Khoi lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with his wife and three children. Refer to the advertising and sponsorship page for inquiries.+
The most basic question people ask me is, “How many copies have you sold?” This chart should help answer that: earlier this month we rang up our five hundredth copy, which, all modesty aside, is pretty great, I think.
Total Sales for Basic Maths, mid-Nov 2010 through Mar 2010
A few days after first releasing Basic Maths to the world, I somewhat arbitrarily decided that if the theme didn’t sell at least two hundred copies, then the commercial theme game was not worth the trouble, at least not for me. Allan and I had priced Basic Maths to move quickly at just US$45, and two hundred copies would bring in just US$9,000 in revenue. That’s nothing to sneeze at, but it would just barely cover the effort that Allan and I put into it, so it seemed like a reasonable minimum.
For the first several weeks, I worried if we’d hit that number at all, as it took us until about 11 Dec — just under a month — to finally record our two hundredth sale. In retrospect, I was clearly impatient, as long tail mathematics rendered that two hundred mark more or less inevitable, especially after those first few days of pretty robust sales. That was the first lesson; I wanted a dozen sales — if not dozens of sales — every day. But themes don’t move that strongly, or at least this one doesn’t, and it’s the long tail where the numbers really add up.
You’ll notice that there are two vertical highlights on all of these charts, a light green one and a light blue one. The latter I’ll talk about in a moment, but the former is meant to indicate a particularly notable event in the theme’s sales history: after Christmas and before New Year’s day, we dropped the price of the theme temporarily to US$30. You can get a sense of how well that worked for us in this chart of daily sales of Basic Maths. Notice the spike within the green bar.
Daily Sales for Basic Maths, mid-Nov 2010 through Mar 2010
Our reasoning for a sale was that we’d probably sold through to most of our initial audience by then, the ones who regularly read this blog and other sites where we have some presence. It also seemed logical that the last week of the year would be pretty quiet, with few sales likely, so what did we have to lose by lowering the price during that time?
In fact, we had much to gain. To our surprise, as soon as the sale started, the transactions started rolling at a fast and furious pace, and we sold ninety copies during that week alone. The biggest shock was how many people bought copies on the very last day of the sale: on 31 Dec, a day when most people are thinking about how drunk they were going to get or who they were going to kiss at midnight, we logged our single best day for sales overall.
For me, this just drove home the simple, enduring power of a timeless marketing tool: the sale. I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced such a visceral and relevant demonstration of the basic psychology at work during limited-time discounts before, but I’ve learned my lesson now: sales are very, very powerful things.
The chart above gives you a good sense of the overall trend of sales, but this one below might throw it into deeper relief. Week by week, you can see how sales have trended over the past four months: very, very strong at its debut, healthy for the next several weeks, quieted down to ‘normal levels’ just before the holidays, spiking during our sale, and then back down thereafter.
Weekly Sales for Basic Maths, mid-Nov 2010 through Mar 2010
This chart is also useful for gauging the impact of another notable event, this one demarcated by the blue bar: in the last week of January, we ran an ad campaign on a fairly prominent ad network, one that has reach across lots of blogs and at least a few heavily used desktop applications. The results, as you can see, were unimpressive.
It may be that the ad network’s audience was too heavily overlapped with the clientele we’d already reached, or that our ad creative or our conversion performance were weak in and of themselves. It may also have been that, without the ad campaign, our numbers might have been even worse. In either case, it’s pretty apparent to me that if there was indeed a sales bump from the campaign, it was so small as to be immaterial. We’re not totally sworn off of advertising, but the cost of running the campaign relative to the cost of running our sale back in December made the former a real disappointment.
Charts, schmarts. Let’s talk turkey, then: how about the money? Well it’s pretty easy to multiply the cost of Basic Maths by the number of copies sold (and subtracting the discount for the holiday sale) and arrive at a round figure of US$22,000 banked so far.
A portion of all of this goes to Allan, of course, and then to taxes, so what I personally net is respectable, but as I said, not tremendous. One thing to keep in mind is that PayPal, our billing engine, takes out a small but painfully noticeable chunk, too: since the theme debuted, I’ve surrendered a total of about US$800 in PayPal fees, I’m estimating.
Based on these four months of data, and extrapolating it out, I think it’s reasonable to say that the theme could gross around US$40,000 by the time it reaches its first birthday, but of course nothing is guaranteed. It’s also worth noting that numbers are clearly trending downwards for Basic Maths sales as of late, not surprisingly coincident with a general lack of publicity or marketing on our part.
Still, these are respectable figures and I’m the last person to complain about them. The money is certainly welcome, but just as importantly, the experience itself has been phenomenal. I was a bit of a carpetbagger to the WordPress community when we first released Basic Maths, but I’ve been completely charmed by how robust, friendly and enthusiastic its population is. Of course my smooth introduction to this world was helped in no small part by my partner in crime, Allan Cole, a seasoned WordPress jockey and all-around great guy. I’m very grateful to him and to the WordPress community in general for what has been a completely positive experience. This peek behind the curtains, meant to be a demonstration of transparency and openness, is just a modest gesture of my thanks.
(And if you haven’t gotten your copy yet, you can buy Basic Maths here!)+