Monday, January 31, 2011: Dedicated Issue: Wiley's For Dummies Imprint

Celebrate Dummies! 20 years of making everything easier...

Dummies makes technology easier

Dummies makes business easier

Dummies makes education easier

Dummies makes sports easier

Celebrate Dummies! 20 years of making everything easier...

Editors' Note

Wiley's For Dummies Imprint

Congratulations! This year Wiley's For Dummies series celebrates its 20th anniversary. Starting with DOS For Dummies, which taught the average person how to use basic software in a new, easily understood way, the For Dummies imprint has grown tremendously. It's published more than 1,800 books in the U.S. alone, has more than 250 million copies in print, and sells around the world in a range of languages. A smart idea that was smartly implemented, For Dummies continues to expand in ways unimaginable when it began.

Here with support of the publisher, Shelf Awareness presents the story of a mighty brand empire--and appropriately we present it in Dummies style. Enjoy!


Ten Dummies books are sold in the U.S. every minute

Books & Authors

Chapter One: The PC Revolution

The rise of the personal computer in business in the late 1980s changed the lives of office workers. Although they did many of the same things as they had before--writing memos and reports, calculating numbers, creating presentations--they had to do these and other tasks on a computer, no exceptions. From the outside, the old desktop computer was a daunting piece of heavy metal, with cords snaking everywhere, but the stuff inside (software programs and operating systems) was even more intimidating.

Some early computer book publishers did a decent job of helping millions of non-technical people learn how to use their computers. Often, however, the computer books were nearly as fat, jargon-filled and heavy-handed as the user manuals they were designed to replace. One publisher took a different approach.

IDG Books Worldwide was founded in April 1990 as a subsidiary of International Data Group, or IDG (an information technology media company that still publishes hundreds of online and print technology magazines). Its early books included titles co-branded with a related IDG publication, such as the Macworld Guide to System 7 or PC World Paradox 3.5 Power Programming Techniques.

But the staff at IDG Books considered themselves more of a technology start-up than a book publisher, and like other start-ups, they thought outside the box. They wondered:

What if a computer book was--gasp--fun to read?

What if the book didn't "teach" in a traditional, tutorial way but showed how to do things?

What if the author acted as a trusted friend who was sitting down with you over a cup of coffee, telling you how to work a computer?

What if a lighthearted approach eased readers' fears about difficult subject matter and made these concepts interesting and manageable?

What if a computer book actually helped the user manage daily work?


If you put all Dummies titles side-by-side, they'd circle the earth

Chapter Two: DOS For Dummies

An IDG Books employee overheard a customer at a software store complain that there were no books available to help him learn the basics of the DOS operating system. "Something," he suggested, "like DOS for dummies." After becoming president of IDG Books, John Kilcullen hearkened back to this comment that he’d overheard and acknowledged that he’d sometimes felt like a computer “dummy” himself and wanted to do something about the user frustration that was increasing with the proliferation of computers. A book concept was developed, a search for the right author ensued and, in November 1991, DOS For Dummies rolled off the presses. The rest was brand history.

DOS For Dummies was the first computer book to:

  • Assume that the reader had no prior knowledge of the topic.
  • Acknowledge that lack of experience in the subject matter was nothing to be ashamed of.
  • Use icons featuring tips, warnings and other clues to help readers navigate through the material.
  • Address the reader as "you" in the text.

At first, most bookstore chains didn't want to stock DOS For Dummies. Buyers worried that the title would insult their customers. But the response of readers spoke for itself. In less than two weeks, the initial print run of 7,500 sold out, and in the first 14 months, the book sold more than 1.5 million copies. The books seemed to sell themselves: old-fashioned word-of-mouth marketing was key.

Soon people were writing letters asking whether For Dummies had a book on "their problem." Among the problems were software programs like WordPerfect and the Macintosh operating system, as well as other computer hardware and, eventually, personal finance, investing, sports, health and much more.


Dummies titles are distributed in over 100 countries

Chapter Three: Hallmarks of the Brand

From the beginning, the Dummies brand was firmly, even boldly, delineated: 

Yellow and black.

The University of Wyoming Bookstore's winning Dummies display.

Yellow and black were screaming loud colors that, at the last minute, were picked to distinguish the first For Dummies title and make that book (and all others since] really stand out from the crowd. And stand out they did. Early Dummies veterans told people how to find the books by advising they go to a bookstore and "follow the yellow-book glow."

Cartoon hand holding a protest sign.

DOS For Dummies included a drawing of a cartoon hand holding up a protest sign, a way of showing that the book represented a revolution: it eliminated jargon and turgid prose from computer books. This simple drawing quickly became another icon of the brand.

Cover Copy Graphics.

The copy on the cover shouted out benefits to the customer in short snippets--very similar to callouts found on magazine covers at the time. This bold, visual approach combined with short, easy-to-understand cover bullets was as bold as the books' yellow and black colors.


The beloved Dummies cartoons inside the books have their roots in an IDG tradition--many IDG magazines featured cartoons about technology. Using cartoons to break up Dummies books seemed natural, and the cartoons' content often illustrated the frustrations that new computer users felt.

Short chapters.

Short chapters also hark back to early magazine tradition. In fact, For Dummies books have often been described as having a "magazine attitude," with short chapters, quick reads, easy-to-follow lists and steps and foundational knowledge about the subject.

Cheat sheets.

Even with short, tasty chunks of information in DOS For Dummies itself, having keyboard shortcuts on a tear-out card helped readers.

The name.

Early on IDG Books discussed using an alliterative model for future titles (Macs For Morons, WordPerfect For Wusses and so on), but then-president John Kilcullen decided that Dummies was a relatively gentle term that everyone could relate to. Besides, everybody on the team liked it.

 A stylish display at the Lansing Public Library.

Authors and Style.

From the beginning, For Dummies authors have been experts on the topic who aim to be the reader's guide and trusted friend, not a know-it-all geek or parent or teacher.

The text is conversational. It's written how people talk, which instantly establishes the author as a non-threatening helper. The author includes minimal jargon. When the author introduces new terms, she defines them immediately so that readers know what's being discussed and don't feel left out or left behind.

A Consistent Experience.

Dummies books enable readers to have the same experience from book to book and from subject to subject. Dummies content is truly global in that no matter where in the world it originates, consumers can count on getting their questions answered in the same straightforward way. A Dummies devotee from Germany can buy a book in Canada that originated from the Dummies publisher in the U.K., and he'll be able to get in and get out as easily as if he were referencing one of the books in his Dummies library at home.

Evolution of Dummies

The brand has not stood still. As For Dummies began to cover more "consumer" topics (such as cooking, gardening and hobbies), cover photos became a great way to instantly communicate a book's topic to customers. And the protest sign gave way to the streamlined black, white, and yellow title bar that allows customers to easily recognize a book's subject.

Wiley continues to refresh For Dummies packaging, now based in part on input from customers garnered via focus groups, social media and online feedback.


Chapter Four: The Dummies Empire

Most of the content of the 1,800-plus For Dummies titles published so far has been edited by Wiley staff working in five locations:

The United States, where the headquarters in IDG days was in San Francisco. Now Indianapolis, Ind., is the engine room for For Dummies. Besides Windows For Dummies, which is the bestselling computer book of all time with more than 15 million copies sold, bestsellers in the U.S. include Personal Finance For Dummies and Investing For Dummies, which have sold more than a million copies each across all editions; Spanish For Dummies, Wine For Dummies, Golf For Dummies and Guitar For Dummies, each of which has sold more than 800,000 copies; and recently Facebook For Dummies, with sales of more than 125,000 copies, and iPad For Dummies, first appearing last year, which has sold more than 50,000 copies.

Canada, where the first Canadian For Dummies title appeared in 1995. With headquarters in Toronto, the Canadian operation publishes both new titles and adaptions of existing titles, which then become For Canadians For Dummies books. The Canadian office has published more than 30 titles specifically for the Canadian market and a dozen for an international audience, branching out from financial advice to music, health, food and drink and more. Among the original Canadian titles: Curling For Dummies and Lacrosse For Dummies, both of which are international bestsellers, as well as Canadian History For Dummies, which has sold more than 58,000 copies in two editions.

The U.K., where the first title was published in 2003. Now the office has published more than 140 titles, including adaptations of U.S. originals and titles written specifically for the U.K. market. Self-help and personal development are key areas here, with impressive sales around the world for Neuro-Linguistic Programming For Dummies and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy For Dummies leading the way. In the U.K., Sudoku For Dummies exploited the craze for the Japanese puzzle form, racking up global sales of more than a million copies.

Australia, where Wiley Publishing Australia in Melbourne has published more than 50 For Dummies titles since 2001. Small business and investing have been especially popular--MYOB For Dummies and Getting Started in Property For Dummies are essential to every bookseller's business section. The series now includes parenting, Australian culture and, naturally, sport. Being a Great Dad For Dummies, Australian Politics For Dummies and Golf For Dummies are among standout titles.

Germany, where the first German For Dummies titles were published in 1992 by IWT, originally as für Anfänger/Dumme and as hardcover books. When MITP took over, it changed the series title to für Dummies and adopted the characteristic black and yellow colors. In 2005, Wiley-VCH acquired the For Dummies brand and now publishes a mix of translations and adaptations of For Dummies titles from all over the world, as well as German originals. Business Administration For Dummies, Accounting & Balancing For Dummies, Financial Controlling For Dummies and SPSS For Dummies have all sold more than 10,000 copies each. For Dummies in Germany has also successfully published study and revision guides for higher education students, such as Math For Engineers For Dummies and Epidemiology For Dummies.

Wiley also has partnerships with publishing houses around the world, which publish or are about to publish Dummies titles in Arabic, Chinese, French, Greek, Hebrew, Persian, Russian, Turkish and other languages.


Chapter Five: Top Dummies Talk About Dummies

Marc Mikulich, v-p, brand management and international rights, recalls the initial foreign reception to the Dummies books:

"DOS For Dummies was first presented to translations publishers in October 1991 at Frankfurt Book Fair, one month before publication of the U.S. edition. Dutch translation was the first contract signed. Once we published, overnight success attracted other licenses. By 1996 we were in 30 languages. The Dummies Roundtable, which I initiated at Frankfurt Book Fair in 1993, was instrumental in encouraging a collaborative team mentality across markets, as best marketing practices could be shared with no competitive concern."

Mary Bednarek, executive acquisitions director, Dummies Technology, Wiley U.S., remembers her start with Dummies in its first year:

"I'd been a computer book editor in Indianapolis when I sent my résumé to a tiny start-up publisher in California. Soon, I was in San Mateo for an interview with editor-in-chief Mike McCarthy and president John Kilcullen of IDG Books Worldwide, publisher of several semi-successful books on Windows, Macs and games. They were excited about their latest project, DOS For Dummies, by author Dan Gookin. 'What an odd computer book,' I thought. Tip and Warning icons? Cartoons? A pointy-headed mascot? 'It's about time!' I said. On September 30, 1991, I became IDG Books' managing editor, and I've been in a committed relationship with Dummies Man ever since."

Diane Graves Steele, v-p and publisher, Consumer Dummies, Wiley U.S., recalls her immediate attraction to For Dummies books:

"I remember the first time I saw DOS For Dummies--it was during a 'water cooler' conversation in another publisher's hallway. The 'critics' offering their professional judgment were guffawing and scoffing (like you do when you think the competition may just have gotten one up on you), so I scoffed along with them. Then I made a casual but swift beeline to my office to offer my services to that fine new publishing company, IDG Books! It took me over a year to convince them that black and yellow are my favorite colors, but they finally acquiesced. Twenty years and a couple thousand Dummies titles later, and my favorite colors haven't changed!"

Steve Smith, executive v-p and chief operating officer, recalls the beginnings of original For Dummies publishing in the U.K:

"When Wiley acquired the For Dummies brand, it was pretty well-known in the U.K. and Europe for its publishing in technology areas but had experienced more limited success in other nontechnology consumer areas. Wiley colleagues quickly recognized the potential to increase the brand's relevance in consumer categories by publishing U.K. authors and U.K. content under the brand. We recruited a team of editors who produced the first U.K. title, Renting Out Your Property For Dummies, by Melanie Bien in 2003. The success of U.K. titles has increased awareness and popularity of the Dummies brand generally and has contributed significantly to increased sales in the U.K. and beyond."

Jennifer Smith, v-p and publisher, Wiley Canada, about the company's expansion north of border:

"When For Dummies began publishing books on topics like investing, sex, and wine, they went from being a computer book juggernaut to a reference juggernaut. In Canada, we realized there was an opportunity to create local content for our local market and in 1995 released our first local Dummies edition--Personal Finance For Canadians For Dummies. Fifteen years later and now in its fifth edition, it remains our bestselling Canadian For Dummies title."

Esther Neuendorf, publisher, For Dummies in Germany, about Wiley operations in Germany:

"In 1996, I started as a trainee in publishing and saw For Dummies books for the first time. Four months later my boss resigned, and all of a sudden I was responsible for the For Dummies series. At that time, 15 For Dummies titles per year were published in Germany; now it's close to 100 per year! Publishing For Dummies books never becomes boring; there are so many different topics and authors and plenty of line extensions. No wonder that in 2005, when the For Dummies series in Germany was bought, I followed the charm of the Dummies Man and went to Wiley-VCH."

Dan Mersey, production manager, professional book production, Wiley UK, on his tenure with the British Dummies:

"I've been part of the U.K. For Dummies team since our launch in 2003. I'm really proud of the way the U.K. brand has grown over the years, from watching our first U.K.-developed book emerging from the printing press (my baby!), through our first branded campaign on London Underground, to our more recent television advertising. Producing both U.K.-specific and globally focused titles from the U.K. means we cover an enormous breadth of subject matter with a uniquely British approach. We even squeeze in a touch of humor along the way."



Chapter Six: Fun Dummies Moments in History

Providing tech support to a First Lady: In 1997, Chelsea Clinton, the daughter of U.S. President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton, left for college. To help the First Lady stay in touch with her only child, White House staffers gave Hillary Clinton a copy of E-Mail For Dummies.

Helping Harry Potter (in German):
In the 1999 German translation of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the boy wizard reads Zaubern für Dummies (Magic For Dummies), a book that had not yet been translated into German. Rabid Harry Potter fans demanded the book and, after it was published, made it an instant bestseller.

Lending help to "friends": On May 6, 2004, more than 52.5 million people in the U.S. tuned in to the last episode of the sitcom Friends. In the finale, on-again-off-again couple Ross and Rachel finally resolve their differences. One of the reasons for their reconciliation? Ross reveals he's been reading Sex For Dummies. Dr. Ruth would be proud.

Poking fun at a sports superstar:
David Beckham may be one of the most celebrated players in soccer, but that doesn't mean he doesn't need to sharpen his skills. In 2004, Posh Spice's husband was presented with a copy of the fictional title Penalty Taking For Dummies.

Lighting up the silver screen:
For Dummies books pop up frequently in films, but perhaps never as prominently as in 2007's Evan Almighty, starring Steve Carell. In that film, Evan is given divine orders to construct a massive boat and, to help him with his mission, a copy of Ark Building For Dummies.


Chapter Seven: Dummies Statistics For Dummies

7,500: the relatively small number of copies of DOS For Dummies, the first book in the series, that were printed when it was published in 1991.

More than 250 million: how many For Dummies books are in print today.

More than 1,800:
the number of titles in the For Dummies series, which covers everything from A+ certification to the Zune--and the list keeps growing!

Ten every minute: how many For Dummies books are sold in the U.S. (In Canada and the U.K., a For Dummies book is sold every minute, and in Australia, one is sold every three minutes.)

More than two million: the number of readers who couldn't stop filling 9×9 grids in Sudoku For Dummies, a book that spawned two bestselling sequels.

Only six weeks: in this short amount of time, iPhone For Dummies, Third Edition, went from being a great idea to a book on store shelves.

More than 30: Dummies books have been translated into this many languages, including Arabic, Estonian, Greek, Russian and Vietnamese.

More than 200,000: how many GPS Navigation For Dummies personal navigation devices have been sold, showing that Dummies isn't just about books. The For Dummies brand also appears on a range of licensed products.

More than 600,000: the number of copies sold of L'Histoire de France Pour les Nuls (The History of France For Dummies), making it the top-selling foreign-language Dummies title.

About four million: how many people go every month to, drawn by videos and articles on all sorts of topics, from technology advice to how to remove wallpaper.

More than 15 million: how many copies Windows For Dummies has sold since it was first published in 1992, a time when editors took a gamble that Windows might just overtake DOS as the operating system of the masses. Windows For Dummies is the bestselling computer book of all time.


Chapter Eight: Dummies Line Extensions

For Dummies All-in-Ones. Sometimes, the standard 384 pages of Dummies titles just aren't enough to cover what readers want. For Dummies All-in-Ones provide information that either expands on a topic or collects information from several titles. The books, with more than 600 pages, are divided into separate mini books for easy navigation and cover everything from wine and Windows to blogging and budgeting

For Dummies Workbooks. Readers asked for "more practice problems," so For Dummies created large-trim Workbooks, which have short refresher explanations, hundreds of practice opportunities and plenty of room to write directly in the book. Workbooks can stand alone if concise explanations are all a reader desires; for maximum effect, readers can pair a For Dummies Workbook with the related For Dummies book or an outside course or textbook for a multilayered experience.

For Dummies test prep and certification titles. Whether a customer wants to get into college or grad school, obtain college credit, take skill sets to the next level with professional/technical certifications or enter the U.S. military, For Dummies test prep and certification titles help people prepare for necessary tests. Hundreds of sample problems allow readers to practice test-taking strategy, and multiple sample exams and answer explanations help prepare readers for test day. Some titles also come with CDs that contain full-length, interactive practice tests.

Full color: For Dummies uses full color for books like Digital Portrait Photography For Dummies, Acrylic Painting For Dummies, Photoshop For Dummies and Fashion For Dummies.

Book/DVD bundles: More than two hours of video training accompanies each full-size For Dummies book.

For Seniors: In the For Seniors series, readers age 55 and older can get information that's tailored to them, from enjoying the Internet without putting themselves at risk to making their retirement savings last. Each title is presented in large print.

Just the Steps: Each page of Just the Steps! titles includes step-by-step instruction in one column and illustrations and screen shots in the other about technology tasks.

Do-It-Yourself: For readers who want every how-to step accompanied by a photo or illustration (whether four color or black and white), Dummies Do-It-Yourself provides the ultimate in clear instruction. Topics include organizing, home networking, plumbing and building a PC.

Language Audio Set: Time-pressed readers who want to speak a new language can do so with For Dummies Audio Sets.

Essentials: For readers who want or need to know only the vital concepts of a subject, For Dummies Essentials contain minimal ramp-up material and focus exclusively on key topics.


Chapter Nine: New Electronic Ventures

Suitably for a brand that got its start with technology books, Dummies is always broadening its digital horizons, expanding the brand into areas that were unfathomable when the imprint started two decades ago. Here are 10 ways that Dummies is reaching its audience in cyberspace:

E-cheat sheets: Those handy, tear-away cheat sheets at the front of every For Dummies book have found a new home online, providing the same content in a more easily accessible format.

E-books: Books have gone digital, and Dummies is there, offering content on a range of e-reading devices.

Electronic custom publishing solutions:
With the growing popularity of e-books, custom publishing has expanded to include e-products. (For more, check out

Smartphone apps: There are many Dummies apps for the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. Basic Spanish For Dummies is the numero uno Dummies app. Many For Dummies apps are also available for Android smartphones, with more coming soon.

How-to, step-by-step slide shows on These illustrate how to accomplish tricky tasks, such as creating a custom show in PowerPoint 2007.

Videos on The For Dummies Web site is home to more than 350 videos that cover everything from creating a podcast to carving a turkey.

A global shop on, featuring books, e-books and licensed products.

E-mail newsletters: offers 10 e-mail newsletters on diverse topics, including digital photography, home and garden and health and wellness.

Social media: Dummies is on Twitter (@ForDummies), Facebook and YouTube.

Technical support, Dummies-style: A new licensed venture, Tech Support For Dummies, offers 24/7 assistance with hardware, software, electronics and more, with monthly, annual or one-time rates. Dummies to the rescue!

So the Dummies brand continues to change, staying ahead of the times, retaining its base in books but at the same time, expanding on that foundation. Here's to another 20 years of success!




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