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The Pragmatic Reviewer

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Today Mike Rothman launched his new book “The Pragmatic CSO” at the astounding price of $97. I took the plunge and downloaded the introduction and it isn’t half bad, but aside from a cute dialogue at the beginning it doesn’t really read differently than any number of other security books I have on my shelf. The big difference seems to be the price tag. The other security books in my collection seem to be priced in the $50-$60 range and are professionally bound versus The Pragmatic CSO which is a downloadable pdf. So at this point not only is it nearly twice as expensive, but if I want a hard copy I need to spend even more money printing it out myself. On the plus side, Mike does have a 30 day money back guarantee, so I suppose I could shell out the money and then decide if I like it or not.
I do have a question for Mike though. On the website, under “Still Skeptical” is a short essay extolling the book by “Mike (the security products addict)”. I’m curious who this might be, care to share? No one has ever quoted me as Arthur for a product pitch, but they have under my real name. So even though it’s a little ironic for someone blogging under a pseudonym to call someone else on it, come on, name names. Whomever they are, this quote in particular caught my attention:

I can say that buying the Pragmatic CSO book was the best $97 I spent all year. For less than I spend at Starbucks a month, I was able to get back in control of my security environment. In hindsight I would have paid 20 times the price. Even better, YOU HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE. If you don’t like the book, just ask Mike Rothman for your money back within 30 days – no questions, no heartburn.

That’s quite a powerful statement coming from in response to a
newly published book. I’d love to hear more about how the book helped them. Perhaps you could broker a conversation with them at RSA? Or is this just one of those PR generated quotes that, as an analyst, you hate so much?
[Image from Z Production]

12 comments on "The Pragmatic Reviewer"

  • Mordaxus says:

    I think that if you’re spending a hundred bucks per month a Starbucks, you have a problem that this is the wrong self-help book for.

  • I probably spend almost exactly $100 on coffee (probably half of it at Starbucks) every month. Four shots of espresso in a small cup of milk costs me about $5.
    Arthur, it’s hard to avoid the impression that you’re unhappy with Rothman’s pricing and marketing. Rothman’s a marketing guy, so I think the promotion is to be expected, but what do you care about the pricing? The fact is, people who write $60 Addison-Wesley books get screwed.
    Anybody who’s ever launched a product knows that you don’t simply price a product for parity with competitors or based on your costs. You price a product by positioning it, figuring out a market segment, and then guessing the highest amount that segment will be comfortable paying. You really think people in the market for security soft skills bat an eyelash at $97?
    Addison Wesley has many logistical and marketing constraints that Mike doesn’t have. In particular, AWL wants to circulate books through the shelves at Borders; AWL’s relationships with the retail channel and the logistical operation that supplies that channel is the primary value they offer. There are price points that AWL has to respect to push a product through that channel.
    Mike’s just pushing bits. He doesn’t care about any of that shit. So he can price optimally.
    There are valid criticisms you can level at Pragmatic CSO. I think the marketing and promotion thing is one of them, though I don’t think it sticks. Another one you didn’t hit on is that, smart as he is, I don’t think Rothman has much background in security management: how many incidents has he actually managed, and how many product rollouts has he been personally responsible for?
    That said, I got to read his book for free and I didn’t consider it a waste of my time; when I get a few minutes, I’ll damn him with less faint praise later.

  • Arthur says:

    Having helped launch several highest prices products for the space, I fully support Mike’s right to charge whatever he thinks the market will bear. I just think the price is high on the basis of what I’ve read so far. However, on the basis of a completely unscientific poll of several acquaintances, I have gleaned two pieces of information:
    1) Those who have read the book for free so far think it is quite good if a little long.
    2) The consensus was that everyone felt that $97 was way to expensive yet those “executive types” wouldn’t care.
    As one of those “executive types” I’d be uncomfortable expensing almost $100 on from what I now know, but hopefully for Mike, my peers are different.
    As for the marketing, I think the money back guarantee is a great idea, but I really expected overall better marketing from what I’ve seen from Mike in the past.
    I’m looking forward to your own comments on this book when you have a chance.

  • I think this is the classical sales/marketing conundrum. What’s an account rep worth? Whatever he convinces you it’s worth. Always-be-selling. If you shelled out $97 — which you’re apparently uncomfortable with — Mike’s marketing is working beautifully.
    What I like talking about is not so much the content in the book as the object lesson about how to launch a new book. I know too many people who have, as one of their career goals, “getting a book deal with AWL”. You can do much better than that, quicker, by doing what Mike’s doing.

  • Adam says:

    I’d be really curious as to why you think that what Mike is doing is better than an AW book deal? I think there’s a fair bit of value that AW could add to the process both in getting quality work done, and in legitimizing that work for your prospects.

  • Mr. X says:

    (In response to your comments here and also to your post on your own blog…)
    You appear to believe that the principle factor that motivates someone to write a book is to make money. I suspect that for most authors this is not the case.
    Authors want to get their ideas out, and ideally to as wide an audience as possible. For most people, traditional publishing is probably the most effective means to do that.
    Another motivating factor for authors, I suspect, is to advance their career. As Adam mentioned, there is a legitimacy in having pitched a book idea to a publisher, have it pass editorial review, to have the manuscript reviewed and accepted, and then finally be published. And so traditional publishing is superior over self publishing in this respect also.
    My 2 cents.

  • Answering both Adam and Mr. X:
    How much value does AWL really add?
    In exchange for a huge portion of the monetary return on the book, AWL will get you on the shelves at some number of Borders bookstores, put you in the AWL book catalog, and give you the cachet of having secured a book deal with AWL.
    In exchange for none of the monetary return on a book, self-publishing and then joining the conversation online will put you directly in front of a sizeable portion of your entire audience. It is easier to buy a PDF than a physical book. You will not have the AWL cachet, but you will have the benefit of a large readership that you are directly connected to.
    I reject the idea that AWL or O’Reilly conveys real legitimacy, though I acknowledge that they definitely provide the appearance of it. Dowd, McDonald, and Schuh’s book has credibility because it is exceedingly good; it would still be the talk of the community even if they had vanity-published it.
    But with the extra money they recouped from self-publishing, they could have *hired* someone to provide the value that AWL did. Of course they wouldn’t do that; they’d do what they’re doing now, which is to double the value of the content in the book by adding more content on their blog. I just suspect that when they’re “done”, they’re going to find they got more value by talking to their readers than they got from anything AWL did.
    I’m also going to assert that for most technical content, very much including TAOSSA, store bookshelves are a less important sales channel than word-of-mouth and Amazon, which you can address just as effectively without AWL.
    Like it or not, there’s a stigma to self-publishing books right now, which is why people don’t seriously consider it. But that stigma is irrational, and the people who realize that first are at an economic and social advantage.

  • Note: one of the things that I think is tripping people up is, technical books are not fiction or mainstream nonfiction. An editor or agent can be a discerning filter for good fiction vs. bad fiction. There’s genuine additional credibility from getting your novel published by a respectable publisher.
    People think tech books work the same way. I’ve worked with technical editors before. I think tech writing is hard, and that writing coherent clear English is hard, particularly for dry topics. I have a lot of respect for that job. But AWL people, and, in the constraints they work in, the “advisors” they assemble to “curate” book series, are not effective filters. Tech writing can stand on its own, particularly if you shell out for a copyeditor.

  • (one last thing and I’ll shut up)
    I think Mike’s doing better without a book contract because he pretty much has to be. Who do you know that made any real money from a technical book? If Mike sells 100 copies, he’ll make more money than most tech book authors do selling thousands.

  • Mr. X says:

    You’ve narrowed your argument now in talking specifically about technical books. Ultimately, it’s about the audience and how best to reach them. A hybrid approach using a traditional published book that is surrounded by freely available web content would seem to be ideal.

  • Adam says:

    I see what you’re saying, and I don’t (ahem) buy it.
    There was a time when I’d buy the O’Reilly book on a subject that I needed to learn about, with no other knowledge. I feel the opposite way about some presses–I won’t buy their books unless I know the authors.
    If you’re hoping to get name recognition, and trade that for cash later, then you’re better off with a well respected press. If you’re looking for cash now, then Mike’s approach clearly has value.

  • If you’re going to write something, hand it off to an editor, and then forget about it, I agree, the mainstream publisher approach is the way to go.
    If you’re going to write something and then build a community around it, the writing and the community are 90% of your assets, and they’re where your energy should go.
    I think I’ve made a mistake by talking about this solely in terms of cash.

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