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Getting Real book is now free PDF (37signals.com)
295 points by nyrb on May 23, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 84 comments

The 'enter your e-mail address to get X' approach is spreading! Unsurprising.. because it works like gangbusters :-)

In this case, you get an e-mail that says: "Periodically we'll drop you a line if we have something interesting to share." (There's also an unsubscribe link.) They'll get to build up an incredible list with this.

I'm happy to see 37signals using this approach as it helps legitimize the technique of building a list using free content without disclosing a subscription up front. Till now I've avoided this technique but I imagine it could convert like crazy and build a good list if done right.

What they're doing is actually a violation of their email marketing software provider's Terms of Service (specifically, the Anti-Spam Policy - http://www.campaignmonitor.com/anti-spam/).

That policy clearly states that "This checkbox must not be checked by default, the person completing the form must willingly select the checkbox to indicate they want to hear from you."

Having no checkbox AND no indication you're joining any sort of list breaks the rules set by their provider.

(I'm making the assumption they continue to use CampaignMonitor).

You make a good point, but in this case I think it's implicit in their form that you're joining a list of some kind. Otherwise, they would just have a download link.

I think it's on a par with getting an update every now and then from a store you've bought something from. The 'subscription' is rarely disclosed in this case, but there's understood to be a 'relationship'.

I had a look through MailChimp's TOS and it could be interpreted a few ways but this sort of 'existing relationship' thing is covered, although it pertains to a purchase rather than a freebie.

Even if I bought from a store it's not expected, and because I always look for the opt-out checkboxes, anything unexpected goes to the spam bin.

I don't want a relationship - I just want a one-night... transaction. If I just want to download the file I'll use a disposable email address just for the principle of the thing, even if it's a company I normally wouldn't mind hearing from.

I assumed they didn't want people linking the download directly, so they were sending out personalized links. Apparently I assumed wrong!

I actually want to get their email. It will allow me to analyze their marketing tactics directly.

You and me both!

Do as they do...

I have a list of email adresses I use just for these fake subscriptions..

I just use a temporary mail service (e.g. http://10minutemail.com).

while we are at it here is the one I used to download (didn't open the comments first) http://guerrillamail.com

But who really cares? It isn't like 37signals is spamming people. As far as less reputable people, I don't want what they're giving away anyway.

I like to use a wildcard @mydomain.com so I can create a new one on the spot and individually track who sends what. If one ever acts up I can just start forwarding that address to the ether. Works well with 1and1's basic hosting plan.

But the majority of people don't.

This is where the email+3ysignals@gmail.com email syntax comes in handy.

For those who haven't read the book: it's a great experience and gives you confidence in bootstrapping: that you can get things done just by starting and doing it yourself and not waiting for some coding talent or VC money. So, it's definitely very motivating and I recommend to skim it instantly if you haven't done it before.

But at the same time it's pretty old now and if you read HN for more than 3 months then the book won't offer any surprise. And though it's not very much about Rails or programming it still transports a specific and opinionated mindset about how life and in particular entrepreneurship has to work. From 37signals' point of view it's the only way how entrepreneurship should be approached while heavily despising other ways, as recently seen in DHH last post about players like Pinterest, Instagram or Quora. So, it's pretty much like Rails—there is only one way and no other—and thus, you should take some messages of the book with a grain of salt and be aware that it's aged and to some extent just a leverage for email Marketing for 37signals (also aging) products.

"From 37signals' point of view it's the only way how entrepreneurship should be approached while heavily despising other ways"

Nope. It's not the only way. It's one way. There are lots of ways to build a product and run a business. Getting Real is what we've learned. Same with REWORK - it's our experience and advice in book form. Neither book pretends to be the only way.

If you have your own unique approach, and you think your experience can be valuable to those who haven't had your experience, take the time to write it up and share it with the world.

> Nope. It's not the only way. It's one way.

I don't know if DHH agrees on that—maybe you should check his latest post.

> If you have your own unique approach, and you think your experience can be valuable to those who haven't had your experience, take the time to write it up and share it with the world.

Good idea, thanks, but I won't write a book. Reading HN for some months gives starters the same full experience but less opinionated—so blogging, reading and posting to HN should transport knowledge very effectively, maybe easier than reading cumbersome PDFs and that's what I'd recommend for getting into startups. People get here the wide variety of different approaches.

Don't get me wrong: I still highly recommend Get Real—again for all people here: it's a great book, it was groundbreaking, go, get it, provide your email adress to 37signals and read it, it's worth—but its content is not so outstanding as it was 5 yrs ago and for some more experienced ones maybe just a little tiny bit too opinionated. And that's all I wanted to say.

This book has always been free right? It started life as a free HTML version and they only added the pay-for-PDF later when it became successful.


Kudos for making the whole thing free. But it wasn't that big a leap.

No. Originally it was solely a $19 PDF. They sold 23,000 copies (so $437k+ worth) before rolling out the free Web version in late 2006: http://37signals.com/svn/posts/85-getting-real-the-book-now-...

True, but a lot of people bought the PDF for its benefits over the online version (portability, offline, permanency). I already read it but downloaded it to my dropbox anyways for those reasons.

Wget brings me permanency :)


    wget -m -k -nH <http://site.url/>

This is wonderful. One of the best reality checks for a developer/entrepreneur.

Not to be a dick, but I would appreciate a mobi version of it.

If you have a Kindle with WiFi, you can send the PDF to your personalized Kindle email address with word 'Convert' in the subject and it will convert the PDF to the appropriate format for your Kindle. It works beautifully.

It work kind of okay, but formatting tends to get screwed up when doing this. Conversion with something like Calibre can give better results, but typically nothing's as good as a well-prepared epub or mobi.

I just did this for the book, the automatic Kindle conversion handled this particular book pretty poorly. Randomly long spacing between words or spaces removed and alignments destroyed in some spots. Not unreadable but it obviously looks like a conversion.

It's still better than reading a PDF on an e-ink Kindle or phone sized screen, it's just a bit messier. Sometimes the Kindle conversion works superb though, it's just a crapshoot.

Same here and I would also love to see the epub version of it, too.

Someone in this thread has made a wget copy (easily convertible to ePub), ask him to contact you.

Nevermind, the html version is still public: https://gettingreal.37signals.com/toc.php


I like this book, very inspirational.

About 'Less features' I've mixed feelings. In lots of markets (for example I am building a markdown editor for windows) you have lots of free competition, and one of the most important competitive advantages of paid applications is feature-completeness. Just too much people build 'minimal' free applications nowadays. 'Minimal' can get in the way of monetization easily.

Also 'Build software for yourself' is a good idea, but if you are a programmer, and all your ideas are developer tools be extremely careful because you will have an extreme amount of (mostly free) competition and a crazily hardly monetizable user base.

But still, there are very good thoughts in this book, and of course I try to not put any unnecessary features or options into my product.

A company of mine has been competing very successfully with 37 signals by doing significantly less than they do:


You know you've created a following of customers that love you when you upload a PDF file full of content that was published years ago to the Internet and it hits the top of Hacker News.

PDF file full of content that was published years ago to the Internet

I strongly suggest that everyone write down this sentence-fragment and analyze it carefully, because it describes the borked way many people perceive value for things and you should specifically avoid framing things you write for your business such that they align with this value system.

For example, for a similar offer, I might have gone with microcopy like "Get the New York Times best-seller" [enter your email address] Button: "Send me my copy."

NYT best-seller turns the "It's old!" objection on its head: it is now social proof of its value. (This depends on whether its a NYT best-seller, which I don't know off the top of my head. If it isn't technically, there are other ways to phrase that: sold X00,000 copies, etc.)

"Get" is (testably!) a stronger verb that "Download" because people have positive associations with possession and non-positive associations with bits, particularly people who expect their bits to be free.

"My copy" activates those covetous neuroreceptors that really like exclusive ownership of things. People really like that, even the same folks who will yak your ear off that data cannot be owned: for example, almost all of them will beam with pride when saying "my favorite band" as if they have a particular claim to feudal loyalty from the people whose music they most frequently don't pay for.

But the point is much, much broader than microcopy on particular pages. It informs how you'd go about executing on a "content strategy" -- for example, if you just take the date off stuff you put into WordPress and stop calling them "blog posts" and start calling them "comprehensive guides to X written by our experts" customer perceived value will go through the roof. Seriously, this is testable.

I will publish more extensive commentary on the strategic implications of this for software businesses later. (Notice how much better that sounds than "I will blog about this.")

for example, if you just take the date off stuff you put into WordPress and stop calling them "blog posts"

Man, I hate it when people do this. No offense to you, of course--and I'm sure your advice is backed by good data and provably worth quite a bit of money--but man do I hate it.

I can't tell you how many times I've been looking at a post and tried to find the date, whether to figure out what version of a product someone was likely talking about, or to cross reference against some other post, or to consider the post in light of other events at the time.

I realize why it's done, and I realize that this is another one of those "you are not the typical user" issues, and all that. But it's still frustrating.

The point is not writing blog posts at all. He's suggesting that you can continue to use WordPress behind the scenes, as an implementation detail, if that makes you happiest --- but to stop blogging.

I wanted to thank you for this comment. It blew my mind to some degree.

For me there were three specific ideas to take away from this comment (which I am guessing you wrote in a few minutes).

I loved the quality of the writing. Insightful, entertaining. Use phrases like 'covetous neuroreceptors' and mine start to fire.

I usually pay attention to your comments because it is you, patio11. This time I hadn't read the fact that it was you and yet I found the comment useful and it prompted me to see you wrote it.

Great advice, as always.

Listen to this man!

I wonder why the PDF looks that way? It seems designed not to be printed.

And there's also no ebook available, just the PDF, so if you want it on the Kindle you have to convert it yourself.

It's like they try to nudge you towards buying the thing. Which, of course, isn't a bad thing but I wonder if it's intentional.

It's a pretty old book though so I doubt this strategy will work but I might be mistaken.

What always surprised me: Amazon sells a (pretty nice) Kindle version, but all you get from 37Signals is this lame PDF.

(Maybe they want you to print it on really large paper and use it as your office wallpaper? That's a completely different strategy…)

Perhaps they don't own the rights to redistribute the Kindle version?

Anyhow, I would have preferred a simple text file. I don't see what PDF gives me except extra work to convert it to something else. Which is probably why, most likely, I'm not even going to read the thing.

You won't read their free book that you would have otherwise liked to have read because they don't distribute it in your preferred format but instead in 2 very ubiquitous formats that are easily converted? Really? This is not a personal attack but it is a criticism and I think it applies to a lot of people, really.

There seems to be this really weird trend where people seem to think they're entitled to free stuff when and how they want it. They don't quite come out and demand it but the subtext is clear as day. Your comment and much of the others exemplify this. You basically just said "I'm not reading it because it doesn't come in my preferred format" which isn't far from "they should release it in the format I desire". (it's not what you say but how you say it). Then there's that direct download link and the complaints about giving an email to get a PDF. That's entitlement. It seems the beggars believe they can also be choosers. Someone is giving something at no cost but people still feel they should be able to circumvent simply giving an email which they can unsubscribe from later quite easily. Imagine if 37Signals set up a booth on a public street corner and gave away hard copies of their book and then people went around saying "I shouldn't have to walk to the booth and say hi to Jason and DHH, they should just ship it to me". Its really not that big of a stretch!

I happen to notice a lot of this and it really gets to me.

You are reading too much into what I've said.

The book itself seems interesting because of all the hype about it. But if I say I won't read it because it's not in the format I want it that suggests how important it really is to me, ie. not much.

I'm not saying I'm entitled to their book in my format, just that it would have been convenient.

There is only so much time available and even the "free" stuff costs, the more hoops they make you jump through.

If Coca Cola is giving away free six-packs at the local supermarket I probably won't drive half an hour to get there. But I also won't go to the neighborhood small market to get a single bottle because I'll realize I never wanted a Coca Cola to begin with, I was only curious what all the hype about the new flavor is all about.

Or maybe they want you to buy the print version? (I have a copy, but have never actually got round to reading it).

This release gives 37Signals a number of advantages. 1) Free press towards the 37Signals brand and 2) a product that they're proud of and which indicates the future quality a customer can expect from them.

This will benefit them far more than any lingering sales revenue might have. 37Signals seem to consistently do this sort of thing right.

Awesome! Whatever their motives* this is a great resource. If you object to the email address I am sure you can unsubscribe later.

Oddily many paid ebooks are available free via the authors blogs. LeanPub and others make it really easy to roll up your blog into an ebook and then easily sell it via the usual channels.[1]

*Motives - boost awareness of brand to extend userbase, collect email addresses for future marketing campaigns, getting ready to release a paid version of a new or existing book, generosity etc

[1] - Podcast that talks about lean publishing... http://www.leanblog.org/2012/02/podcast-140-leanpub-com-part...

Really appreciated. pdf can't hurt, but epub version would be more friendly for kindle.

First read this book about 3 years ago and immediately started telling people about it. Really spoke to me.

With this free release I have started emailing people about it all over again.


Thought it was already free for years.

It was free in its html version. The pdf costed about 20$.

Hmm, a PDF isn't much better than HTML, they should provide some ebook format—how should one read this thing conveniently on his smartphone?

Quit complaining. Convert the PDF yourself. The damned thing was free! Perhaps they should send us an iPad to read it on too?

Surely your "smartphone" can read a PDF?

Try this yourself.

Compare the reading experience of a PDF to that of an ePUB or other ebook-specific format.

I've recently started using Moon-Reader on Android. And ... it's pretty awesome. Text is legible, you can read pages without zooming/panning pages, text fluidly fills the page, graphics are supported, navigation is very fluid, controls are, if not "intuitive", very discoverable and stay out of your face.

Plus the whole application is designed for reading multiple books. There's a bookshelf, access to local storage (if you need that), and online ePUB libraries (OPDS format).

I've tried converting from other formats to ePUB via Calibre, and it's a bit hit-or-miss. It seems to be broken currently in Debian/wheezy. Under Ubunto 11.10, I may or may not get something that's actually converted, and the formatting can be really, really broken.

Oh, and in ePUB/Moon-Reader, if you leave the book or app and go back -- you're where you left off (as with a dedicated hardware eBook reader). Unlike every PDF reader I've experience on Android, where you start off again from page 1.

Sorry, but the mobile PDF experience is extremely broken.

Actually, other than printing to paper (or previewing same), the PDF experience is extremely broken. I'd prefer ePUB for pretty much all my documentation these days.

I don't read books on a phone and the PDF viewing experience on an iPad is perfectly fine. Is there another "mobile" that I'm missing?

I haven't dropped a dime on an iPad (or other tablet device) yet.

If you'll note my points, there's functionality above and beyond just plain display that a proper eBook app has. From what I've seen, present PDF readers lack these.

Whatever other "mobile" formats come into being, relying on a publication format which presumes a fixed, print-based output (in any of several internationally incompatible formats -- I've just learned of the US letter/A4 hybrid though I've also instantly forgotten its name) ... in a world in which text displays are overwhelmingly both electronic and fluid, strikes me as very backward.

Constant zooming and panning for every page turn and no ability to alter the font, size or color. Sure, smartphones can render PDFs just fine, but reading long PDFs on small screens is just a miserable experience inherit to the format.

Personally I find that epub rearranges itself better for font size / screen size that a smart phone offers. PDFs are usually painful to read because you have to scroll the page sideways to get the font size I like.

But from memory the book is not image heavy, so converting to a text doc (or epub format) should be a very easy cut 'n paste, so the parent comment is a little bit on the ungrateful side.

For something that implies on the cover that it is going to get real about build wep apps, there's very little actual building of web apps in there.

Compelling... Still, I've made it this far, I think I'll just continue to Remain Fake.


Thanks guys!


I think you should remove this link. It is just not nice.

I don't know. On the one hand, it's also not nice for people to fish for my email address, which is why services like Mailinator are so wildly popular. On the other hand, it doesn't always justify not-nice behaviour to note that it's in response to, and works to ameliorate, other not-nice behaviour.

Yes, I know, 37signals is a bit more respectable than most of the people who want your email. Nevertheless they're signing you up for an email list without explicitly asking you -- the email that they send back specifically says, "Periodically we'll drop you a line if we have something interesting to share." I did not check any box which agreed to that, and I shouldn't have to unsubscribe from things I never subscribed to.

For years I have worked under the assumption that my email has been harvested to death, sold and resold. I don't care about giving it to companies.

Gmail hides the spam from me and it's quick filter wizard helps me hide anything else I want to.

E-mail is a low price for "Getting Real".

I'm just surprised that 37signals are using techniques of "six-pack in a week"-kind of sites.

How so?

Probably because it circumvents the price of submitting your email address.

I find it odd sometimes that people don't take the same attitude towards Adblock. Sponsored links are a price too.

You don't have to submit anything.

Don't you have to submit your email address to gain access to the PDF?

Yes, and doing so also auto-subscribes you to a list. Not that I mind, but it would be nice to let someone know beforehand.

I did NOT get that. All I got was a direct link to the book.

You people are stuck on the wrong side of an A/B experiment. Tough luck~

Dick move.

I don't know about others, but personally it sucks when some product for which I paid, is now available for less or even free.

Specially in case of electronics, you buy something when its new. The next month you meet some friend with the same piece, which he got for fraction of price. And more disturbing is that at that point of time, your piece is older and his is new.

Here I am not talking about this case in particular, even I am happy to get free Getting Real.


It sounds like your problem is perhaps one of envy. You hate other people having nice things more than you enjoy having nice things for yourself. Just relax, things are going to get cheaper, and better, and that will benefit you just as much as it benefits the next guy. If you paid for something that's cheaper now just chalk that up to the cost of being an early adopter or take pride in the fact that you were able to support something in the early days that is now so successful that it can be offered for much less.

That's called the time value of money, if you wait long enough you can have almost anything for free.

If you go to Bangladesh you can pick up entire cargo ships for free, of course they aren't terribly useful anymore, but you can save yourself a bundle.

Are you really sure you want to be happier as long as you have what other people don't?

37signals ISSUED the free version after 6 years the book was published so that it will not disturb much.

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