Gas station without pumps

2015 August 5

Lean publishing

Filed under: Circuits course — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 23:17
Tags: , , , ,

Katrin Becker just pointed me to another publishing opportunity that might be a good fit for my textbook:

Are you going with a publisher or doing it yourself?
I ask, because I recently discovered It strikes me as a really good option for some kinds of publishing–especially if it is something you plan to update regularly.

I looked at Leanpub and it looks like a reasonably good deal for what I want to do.  The offer very minimal services: mainly a storefront and translation from Markdown to PDF, EPUB, and MOBI formats, but have very author-friendly terms (royalties are 90% -50¢ a sale, they take no ownership of any of the content, and you can up-stakes and move to a different publisher at any time).

They believe that they can be profitable with this very lean model, surviving on the 10% +50¢ a sale by having very little in the way of expenses: no marketing, no printing, no editing, … .  It is essentially a way for an author to self-publish e-books without having to handle the actual sales.

The authors can set both a recommended price and a minimum price—the buyer gets a slider to choose any price they want to pay above the minimum.  The author can also create coupons for discounts or even free copies (something I would want to do for students in my classes—I don’t think professors should require their own books without arranging for the students to get them at the lowest possible price with no royalty to the professor).

The advantage for readers over many other  e-book stores is that the reader gets updates to the book whenever the author makes them—Leanpub recommends their site for authors developing books, to get in contact with readers and get feedback from them.  The store even lists the authors’ estimate of what % complete the book is, so that readers can watch the progress.

The big downside for me is the use of Markdown.  It would be very, very difficult to convert my book to Markdown.  The math alone would be a nightmare.  There are some extensions to Markdown for math, but

It’d be nice if everybody could agree on the same syntax(es) to denote math fragments in Markdown; alas, as every extension to Markdown, it’s a mess. []

Leanpub does offer the capability of just publishing files created elsewhere (bypassing their conversion of Markdown to PDF, EPUB, and MOBI), so I could publish just the PDF generated by LaTeX.

I don’t think that I’d necessarily want to do my final publishing with Leanpub—I don’t have the enthusiasm to run a marketing campaign for the book—but it might be  good way to get early copies into the hands of a few readers, to provide me feedback on the drafts and to tell me whether there is a market for the book outside my classes and a handful of hobbyists. Leanpub encourages this model fairly strongly:

Serial, In-Progress and Lean Publishing

Using Leanpub, authors can start publishing their books before they are finished.

As an author, publishing your book before it’s finished lets you interact with early readers and improve your book in a number of ways. As a reader, you’ll receive all future updates of the book for free, as new content is added and as the book is otherwise improved. At the same time, you can provide the author with suggestions and even corrections.

In the twenty-first century, in-progress publishing is a great way to publish non-fiction books too. Technology books are perhaps the most obvious example of a book category that naturally fits the Lean Publishing model, since things move so quickly and early access to cutting-edge thinking is so important. []

Leanpub claims to have made about $3.5m in sales so far, with $2.9m of that going to the authors as royalties. So, though they are a small company, they might be making enough to stay in business a while longer. They have about 725 books listed on their store, about 50 of which are textbooks.  The store is really bare bones, and browsing looks like it will become difficult if they ever get enough books to matter.

I think that some of the bigger sales are from books that are textbooks for Coursera courses—the class is free, but the book for it is not, allowing the author to make some money off the Coursera course.

Leanpub also provides the ability to bundle other documents with the book (or bundle multiple books together), providing the ability to make a free or low-cost book, but charge extra for handy extras (like source files for programs).   I could bundle the Eagle files for the PC board designs, for teachers or hobbyists who want to order their own boards, for example, or gnuplot scripts and data for some of the plots in the book.

I’ll think about it for a week, but right now I’m leaning towards doing a pre-release of my book at a very low price on Leanpub.  What do my readers think?  Anyone interested?


  1. I’d be interested in the book. What price point were you imagining?

    Comment by bj — 2015 August 6 @ 12:06 | Reply

  2. This looks promising, and I definitely want to follow your progress and decision-making.

    Comment by Aaron Titus — 2015 August 6 @ 14:05 | Reply

  3. I was thinking of about $5 for the preliminary editions, going up slowly as things got better polished. I doubt that I’d ever go above $25, even for the finished book in electronic format. I don’t expect sales to ever amount to much $, so my interest in charging for the earl version is not really to make money, but to get readers who are seriously interested and willing to share feedback with me.

    Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2015 August 6 @ 17:10 | Reply

  4. […] Lean publishing I […]

    Pingback by Book draft available online | Gas station without pumps — 2015 August 7 @ 01:29 | Reply

  5. Thanks for making that post about that publishing service. I have the same ‘issue’ than you: I’m writing in LaTeX, so would use that service in the PDF form too. Overall, it looks very promising. So far I have given away the PDF(s) of my course/lab material for free to anyone interested, and had not thought about making a possible small revenue stream. I have not seen any DRM (Digital Right Management) there, maybe I have missed it? And yes, I would be interested in the book (just would need time to read it ;-). I would recommend to keep it below the $20 range, or even at the $10 level: Like with many apps on smart phones: if the amount is not too high, more readers will buy it. I don’t think that if the price is higher, you will get more feedback.

    Comment by Erich Styger — 2015 August 7 @ 12:50 | Reply

    • Leanpub does not use DRM. Like Apple with iTunes, they are trusting that low prices and ease of use will cut down on piracy without the hassle of DRM.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2015 August 7 @ 13:05 | Reply

    • Right now I’ve set the minimum price at $2.99 and the suggested at $9.99. I don’t expect to change those any time soon, but I’ll probably raise the minimum if I feel the book is closer to being done. With the generous share of the royalties that Leanpub provides, a $9.99 price gives me about as much royalty as a $100 retail price from a traditional publisher.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2015 August 7 @ 13:12 | Reply

  6. […] been publishing drafts of my book with Leanpub since August 2015, shortly after I first heard about them from Katrin Becker.  I took the chance with an unknown publisher largely because it cost me nothing, they took no […]

    Pingback by Leanpub changing their pricing model again | Gas station without pumps — 2018 April 22 @ 09:50 | Reply

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