For Dummies, the global book publishing phenomenon, recently turned 20. The franchise began with DOS For Dummies which rolled off the presses with 7,500 units in November 1991 and sold out in two weeks.
The iconic yellow-and-black series is arguably the most widely recognized, best-selling reference brand in the world, worth an estimated $100 million annually, and has maintained its goal of “making everything easier” for two decades, with 200 million books published and 1,800 titles in print in 30 languages.
There are scores of reasons for Dummies' success, but Marc Mikulich, VP brand management, who’s been there since the beginning sums it up: "It gives people permission to try things that are beyond their reach."
Using simple, direct prose, bold marginal illustrations, and a triangular-headed cartoon figure, the "Dummies Man," the series is now published by John Wiley & Sons which describes it as:
“A full range of technical and general interest topics, including computers, business, careers, investing, marketing, sales, small business, cooking, diet, green, health, history, hobbies, house & home improvement, language, math, music, parenting, pets, religion, inspiration, self-help, relationships, sports, television, movies, test prep, Spanish language, digital photography, internet, programming, certification, travel, and more!”
Not really for dummies, every book is subtitled "A Reference for the Rest of Us!" Most books are organized in “parts,” headed by a Rich Tennant cartoon and ending with "The Part of Tens" which lists additional resources and amusing tidbits.
DOS For Dummies, written by Dan Gookin and published by IDG Books, (acquired by Wiley in 2001) set the seal on success for the series as beginner-friendly help for early DOS users was virtually non-existent. Early books focused on software and technology (and still do), but the franchise has grown to include topics as diverse as Acne For Dummies, Chess For Dummies, Fishing For Dummies, C For Dummies.
Ten For Dummies books are sold in the United States every minute; more than 200,000 units of the GPS Navigation For Dummies personal navigation device have sold; and nearly 600,000 Dummies books have sold in France where L’Histoire de France Pour Les Nuls is a bestseller and the topselling foreign-language title.
Beyond the extent of accessible information For Dummies has brought to the world, it’s provided a rich resource for pop culture with references and parodies in books, movies, television and games.
In the finale of Friends, Ross and Rachel resolve their differences in the eleventh hour as Ross confesses reading Sex For Dummies.
A spin-off board game, Crosswords For Dummies, released in the late '90s is similar to Scrabble, but players draw strips of cardboard with words varying from three to seven letters, while SAT Game For Dummies is used in SAT preparation.
An episode of How I Met Your Mother, "World's Greatest Couple,” uses Relationships For Dummies.
In Evan Almighty, God gives Evan a book called "Ark Building for Dummies."
In The Simpsons episode "Insane Clown Poppy," Bart reads from Moby Dick For Dummies which begins, "Call me Ishmael, dummy."
As the brand celebrates its 20th anniversary, books are just a portion of the empire created since humble beginnings in 1991. Board games, exercise and how-to videos, sewing patterns, and page-a-day calendars all followed.
In 1996, Dummies partnered with music company EMI on Classics For Dummies, pairing books with CDs and Beethoven For Dummies reached #2 on the Billboard chart. "That was the beginning of Dummies being treated as a brand that could be licensed out for products and services beyond its core publishing program," said Mikulich.
Dummies.com uses how-to videos, instructional photos, Cheat Sheets and thousands of articles to de-mystify a wide range of topics including:
Food & Drink
Diet & Nutrition
Cooking & Recipes
iTunes, iPod & iPhone
Two recent successful brand extensions are: Tech Support For Dummies which debuted in January at CES, and gives users unlimited tech support for one month for PCs, printers, scanners, digital cameras, iTunes, and other devices and apps; and Acoustic Guitar Starter Pack For Dummies which includes a steel-string Kona acoustic guitar, book, audio CD, "gig bag," digital tuner, and three picks.
Employees working on the Dummies brand go through extensive "Dummies brand training" and global teams in the U.S., Canada, U.K., Australia, and Germany create 300+ new titles yearly. Wiley & Sons is now working with Easypress, a digital conversion service, to transfer about 700 of its For Dummies titles to Epub format.
In recognition of the 20th Anniversary of For Dummies, author interviews, local events, consumer sweepstakes and prize packages, giveaways on Dummies social media sites, retailer and library contests, and Dummies Man special appearances were scheduled across the country.
A Scribd 20th Anniversary For Dummies edition, a minibook chronicling the brand’s history and impact is available here.
For Dummies colleagues and authors share their thoughts about the brand in this video:
A tried and true format, with a virtually infinite choice of topics, puts the For Dummies franchise in the annals of very smart brands.
Sheila Shayon is a senior media executive with 25+ years in television and new media including expertise in programming, production, broadband, start-up models, creative and branding strategies, digital content and social networking.
Shayon has worked for HBO, Time Warner Cable and Wisdom Television. She graduated Magna Cum Laude, University of Pennsylvania with a B.A. in Communication from the Annenberg School for Communication.
Currently, as President/Founder of Third Eye Media, a New York-based multimedia production company, Shayon works with online brands to combine editorial content and social networking applications.