You know the iPod commercial that says "there's an app for that"? Chances are, if there's something you want to learn how to do, there's a Dummies book for that. With some 1,800 titles in print, there are guides to 529s and other college savings plans, auto repair, budget weddings, building chicken coops, and even self-publishing. But as the brand hits its 20th anniversary, books are just a portion of the vast business that has spun off of what started as DOS for Dummies in 1991.
Within three years of that book's 7,500-copy initial print run (by IDG, which Wiley acquired in 2001), it had 10 million books in print, and a bestselling series was well underway. Typical book series spinoffs like page-a-day calendars came next. The big move beyond books happened in 1996, when Dummies partnered with music company EMI on Classics for Dummies, a series that paired books with CDs containing more than 60 minutes of music. They sold very well, with Beethoven for Dummies hitting #2 on a Billboard chart. "That was the beginning of Dummies being treated as a brand that could be licensed out for products and services beyond its core publishing program," said Marc Mikulich, v-p of brand management, who has been with Dummies since its inception.
Board games, exercise videos, and sewing patterns followed, all tied to Dummies books. In fact, the sewing patterns license, held by pattern company Simplicity, continues to this day. More than 100 patterns are sold primarily in JoAnn's and Wal-Mart. They've sold so well at Wal-Mart that the retailer changed the way they are displayed, moving them out of the traditional file cabinets that retailers have used for decades, and into spin racks. Videos were another early license; the how-to format lends itself particularly well to exercise (like yoga and Pilates), sports (e.g., golf), and games (e.g., poker).
These days, the Dummies franchise is estimated to bring in approximately $100 million to Wiley annually. One of the most recent successful Dummies licensing programs is musical instruments. Acoustic Guitar Starter Pack for Dummies comes with a Kona steel-string acoustic guitar, a book, an audio CD, a "gig bag," a digital tuner, and three picks. The list price is $159.99, and Amazon sells it for $99.97. There's an electric guitar version, too. Mikulich said the packs were "extremely successful" this past holiday season on Amazon. Tech Support for Dummies, which launched at CES in January, is also doing well. For $14.95 a month, customers get unlimited tech support for 30 days, covering PCs, printers, scanners, digital cameras, iTunes, and other devices and applications. GPS Navigation for Dummies is another popular program, complete with the familiar Dummies man and his triangular head right on the GPS screen.
Dummies' licensing team continues to look for opportunities to extend the brand into new channels and products. Employees working on the Dummies brand even go through extensive "Dummies brand training."
Of course, all Dummies licensing comes back to the books, and the Dummies publishing program continues to be a robust one for Wiley. There are more than 250 million copies of Dummies books in print, and on average the global Dummies publishing "teams" create more than 300 new titles a year. Those "teams" are in the U.S., Canada, U.K., Australia, and Germany.
All frontlist titles have been available as e-books for a number of years, and many are available as mobile apps (Spanish for Dummies has been an especially strong-selling mobile app).
Wiley is celebrating the anniversary with author interviews, local events, consumer sweepstakes and prizes, giveaways on Dummies social media sites, retailer and library contests, and Dummies man appearances. On March 1, Wiley will launch a 20th anniversary landing page on Dummies.com.
There are many reasons for Dummies' success, but Mikulich sums up Dummies' allure this way: "It gives people permission to try things that are beyond their reach."