The promised five rules about selling thousands of copies are contradicted by three to four of them:
Rule #1: No publishers. Publish the book yourself.
A publisher usually has marketing and distribution options at hand that you could only dream of.
Rule #2: No 3rd-party sales channels. No Amazon/Kindle, iBookstore, etc.
If your goal is to spread it as much as possible than you've got to use any possible option.
Rule #4: Publish as a PDF. Optionally also as EPUB, depending on topic/audience. No dead-tree version, please.
To sale thousands of copies you should try to offer a diversity of formats. While there is no reason why you should not print the book to sell to those who prefer it, a "dead-tree" book is no ebook and thus the submitted post is correct that you should avoid that when trying to sell your ebook. I guess.
Rule #5: Price high. Price for the value you provide, not for what feels right.
To sell thousands you should probably not use a high price, but price rather low.
I pulled my answers out of the air just like madrobby. Yeah, I am getting sick and tired of these marketing fluff unscientific best-practise posts. Same level as the usual life improvement blogs for me.
If the goal is to spread it as much as possible, it should be free and uploaded to any and every service. The goal is actually to find the optimal balance between distribution and profit. Like madrobby, I've found non-specialized 3rd-party channels aren't very effective and bring in little profit. (Specialized markets like pragprog are better.)
Hey. I understand your concern about "fluff" posts but this was a very informative article and I think you're giving it a very unfair reading.
1) The post is mistitled. Read it as "Rules to make thousands of dollars from your ebook". The raw # of sales is usually not as important to the author as the net profit, in terms of it being "worth it". That's why he computed an implied hourly rate. There are other benefits to wide distribution, but that was not the focus here.
2) "Anecdote" != Anecdote. Is this a peer-reviewed scientific study? No. Is it a useful, detailed description of a real-world event? Yes. A thought experiment is not as valuable as an actual experience. (Would you read the architecture design notes of someone who built some software, or a sociologist who was making wild guesses about what "might" work in a programming project?).
But if you want to go into the "data" realm, read about John Resig (http://ejohn.org/blog/programming-book-profits/) and Peter Cooper (http://beginningruby.org/what-ive-earned-and-learned/). Both are "internet famous" to some degree. Both made much less off their books with a publisher compared to this posts's strategy. Publishers give you about 5-10% of the cover price, so you might get a buck or two per book. Do you really think their marketing/distribution efforts will get you 10-20x more sales?
3) I'm actually an ebook author as well, and have sold 1700+ copies of a technical book/screencast on math costing $19-$59. I agree with most of the points: price high, no DRM, publish the book yourself. I do allow other 3rd-party channels for a "Kindle" version of the book, which is much cheaper, doesn't have high-quality print formatting, etc. I also have an upsell for a premium version with extracted images, slides, video tutorials, etc.
I felt compelled to write this because, as an author in the intended audience, I found the post very helpful. I want HN to encourage positive conversations and I didn't think this criticism was justified.
Disclaimer: I'm the author of the book and blog post.
I've been asked on Twitter about student discounts, short answer is don't do it. Long answer: if you have a book specifically targeting students, price it so they can afford it, otherwise don't bother as it's more work for you and they probably won't buy it anyway.
To Thomas Fuchs: How would you modify your tips for those publishing non-fiction e-books?
I work for a company that publishes non-fiction in the major digital marketplaces, and we're doing fine right now. One of the major perks that we see with using these marketplaces (ex: Kindle) is that they provide perks which we could not provide had we been selling e-books ourselves and asking our customers to sideload content to their devices. For us, we see the royalties to them as necessary costs.. or investments to make buying and reading content as convenient as possible.
In addition to what everybody else said, there's also trying to find pirated material for niche markets. That is, it's hard to find. I sell an e-book as well, and have foregone any DRM.
More to your point, could people buy the book and give it to their friends for free? Absolutely. And I'm sure some people have. Again, I'm okay with this. I'd rather people bought the book but like print, I can't stop people from sharing and ultimately, I don't want to.
You can require a password to download the book in the first place, which is like a "please don't steal" sign. Many people won't. Those who will can't be stopped by any technological means; DRM doesn't work, and devalues the product for honest customers.
You can hope that the freeloaders end up increasing the book's popularity and attracting more paying customers. But there isn't much you can do to influence that except make good stuff.