Interview with Dave Taylor, Information Entrepreneur

What led you to make the leap from the "safe" world of trade authoring to your current role as a leading information entrepreneur?

I think it was more of an evolutionary ooze than a thoughtful leap, actually. :-) I've always been interested in online information dissemination and even back in the 1980's I was working with email systems and online conferencing systems. In my first book I included an email address, and by my second or third book I was including a Web site address. I admit, those first few Web sites were crude, but that was the state of the art back then, and it didn't take long for me to be writing books about HTML and web page design myself, so at that point my skills increased significantly in terms of what I could accomplish.

Nonetheless, even as recently as 3-4 years ago, I looked at book publishing as a safety net for my career: if things were moving really slowly, I could still make a buck writing a few books in a year. Then one day an entrepreneurial colleague told me about Google AdSense and commented that with the traffic to my Web site, I could probably make a few dollars that way, without having to "do" anything. I was hooked.

Then I remember the glorious month when my Google AdSense check was more than my hosting bill for my site and online connectivity. Suddenly it was as if a light bulb had lit over my head: my online activity could be a profit center, not a cost center! (I have an MBA, I think in business jargon) Then I really started looking at the online world and online publishing in earnest. A few months later, my Google check paid my mortgage and I realized that there was more profit in writing 100,000 words and putting them online with ad revenue than in selling that same tome to a publisher and hoping that it'll find sufficient market traction that I'd make any money at all
beyond the initial advance.

You're the author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Growing Your Business with Google. Does Google send the majority of the over 1 million visitors a month to, or do you rely on a subscription/syndication model?

I am a strong proponent of the "Long Tail" idea, where there's more value in providing information that eschews the "top ten" topics in a given marketplace but covers everything else. For example, there aren't many books on Windows XP coming out nowadays, but if you look at the statistics, there are still a TON of people using it. That's a long tail opportunity.

The implication of this is that rather than have thousands of devoted readers (the magazine model) I really am more of an online resource, a reference work where people can find what they need when they need it, but are otherwise not likely to stay engaged in the long term. It's like a car mechanic: you don't want to be friends with them and see them every month, but when something's wrong, you know where to go.

What I'm leading to is that, yes, Google and other search engines account for the lion's share of my monthly traffic. I do have quite a few repeat visitors, subscribers to my email newsletter and RSS feed, etc., that amount to approximately 15% of my 1.2 million unique visitors/month. That's not bad if you do the math, it's 180,000 monthly readers.

Alexa used to show five years of history for websites, and I used to send people to graph your site against my older site to show how rapidly an informative website can go from new to successful. Can you give point to a few milestones from your site's early history that explain it's meteoric rise?

Gosh, I wish I could, because it'd help me duplicate it! I think it's really just been about plugging away and trying to stay on top of the major technical challenges in the community. For example, two years ago I was writing about how to use Firefox, and now I write about Facebook IM and Twitter configuration issues.

Are you working on any books currently, and given your Internet platform, do you consider starting your own publishing company or would you just leverage your presence for a larger advance?

Yes, but before I talk about that, I want to say that there have always been two different types of books in the trade space, though I don't know that most people acknowledge it. They are user guides/tutorials and reference works. The former is "how to" or a Dummies guide, while the latter is a dictionary. This is an important differentiation because I believe that the rise of the Web has directly led to the demise of the latter category. It's far, far faster for me to look up a word online than to pull out a dictionary, and as Web access becomes more and more pervasive (e.g.,cellphones and smart phones, pervasive wifi, etc) I think it's folly to try and publish anything that's not a tutorial or learning guide.

So the book I'm working on is actually a sequel to my popular "Wicked Cool Shell Scripts" (NoStarch Press) and is going to be based on a compilation of my shell script programming column in Linux Journal. No announced release date, but I view it as repurposing existing material in a form that'll make it more useful, more interesting and certainly more educational.

Will it be a successful book? It's so hard to say. Publishing's always been about guessing, dice rolls, the toss of a dart, the peek into a crystal ball, but I think one realization that major publishers now have is that successful books are now more driven by personality or community. That's why bloggers writing books is currently such a fad.

In terms of my own publishing company, well, I think I already have that with my Web sites and the frequent guest contributions I publish.

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