John Kilcullen: he's no dummy

John Kilcullen: he's no dummy

What do Midday with Kerri-Anne, What's Cooking, Martin & Molloy, Monday to Friday, Business Sunday and ARN have in common? Dummies man, John Kilcullen. The CEO and co-founder of the dummies book series blitzed the Australian media rounds, spreading the word about . . . For Dummies on the company's seventh anniversary. He had a few minutes to speak to ARN's Molly Furzer . . .

ARN: When and how did . . . For Dummies start?

Kilcullen: We began the company in April 1990, and we're five and a half years into our dummies series with 32 million sold and the books published in 30 languages. Now the . . . For Dummies books are covering all the major technology topics, including selling, golf and wine.

ARN: What do you account for the success of the series?

Kilcullen: Dummies started because customers were not getting the right information and advice from the manuals.

We've identified an un-met need. The books that have been written over the years and the manuals that come with software and computers really do not meet the needs of users who are busy; they are angered and frustrated and intimidated by the technobabble and arcane use of acronyms.

Basically we were identifying this mass market of users that were left out by the industry, which is dominated by engineers and computer programmers. They have forgotten about the normal everyday user who is smart and busy and needs to get down and just get enough use with the computer and get on with their lives - they don't need to be a propeller head, that's not their goal. Most computer and software companies forgot the fact that this is an important market - we've tapped in and made learning fun and made it okay not to be a techie.

ARN: How do the . . . For Dummies books make learning fun?

Kilcullen: Our books are refreshingly down to the point, we poke fun at the technology - we're irreverent. We give the reader just enough of what they need; most software users only use 25 per cent of the features of any product, so what we say is: "hey, these books are cost and time effective, we'll tell you what you can skip over". They're great problem solvers, you don't have to read them cover to cover, you can just go to the index and find out what problem you are having and zip right in and learn it.

ARN: What should resellers know about the . . . For Dummies books?

Kilcullen: Computer books are a terrific pre-purchase and after-sale support tool, so when resellers are selling computers or software they can add margin to the sale - much like you'd sell a customer in a men's clothing store a suit, you would sell a shirt and a tie.

What they want to do is accessorise for every CPU purchase with computer books - it's going to increase the satisfaction of the customer, which is going to make them more competent so they'll upgrade their systems faster, they'll be much more understanding about the Internet and will be wanting to come back for programs.

These are great tools that always help consumption and they help bring more buying power back to the store - they're great traffic builders in that if they walk out of the store not buying a computer but just software they can walk out with a book.

People are coming in and are really frustrated and they want to learn, and when the books are there it's really what I call converting a browser to a buyer - you have the books there and they're cost effective and well merchandised in one section, maybe at the front of the store, then you're going to get great impulse purchasing.

ARN: Who sells . . . For Dummies books?

Kilcullen: We have a major growing customer base of resellers, systems integrators, OEMs and value added resellers. What they're saying is simply they should be a one-stop shopping source for all the needs of their customers, and if they're not carrying our dummies books they're missing out on that education and training after-sale support dollar. Why lose that customer to go to another store when you can keep that customer right there? You're best customer is your instant customer; it's a great profit and revenue opportunity for resellers.

ARN: What is new in the . . . For Dummies series?

Kilcullen: We launched a new extension to the series called the Dummies Guide To Family Computing, including The World Wide Web For Parents And Kids and Take Charge Computing. They're our way of saying families are an important part of the computing experience. These are books that are going to help people understand what software is out there and what they want to use the Web for.

Boy from the Bronx

It may be hard to believe that when John Kilcullen first approached publishers with his idea for simple and fun books about computers he was told the books would fail.

Books that insult the customer don't sell, they said.

But Kilcullen's conviction, which he credits to his working class Irish roots and upbringing in the Bronx, persisted.

The chairman of IDG invested in the idea and now it has turned into a $US100,000,000 business.

Unconventional marketing techniques and the well-known Dummies Man with his protest placard (which Kilcullen says is protesting against jargon filled manuals) have made the . . . For Dummies books easily recognisable around the world.

Dummies facts

Of the 291 . . . For Dummies titles, 249 are technology books and 42 are trade books.

155 technology titles are forecast to be published this year.

. . . For Dummies books are listed in the Australian computer book bestseller list 50 out of 52 weeks a year.

. . . For Dummies publisher, IDG Books Worldwide, revenue for fiscal 1996 was $US100,000,000.

Now general interest titles are available, including Sex For Dummies (by none other than Dr Ruth herself) and Parenting for Dummies.

The dummies collection is distributed in Australia by:


Tel (02) 9970 5111 Fax (02) 9970 5002

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