One concern I have with the lean publishing I’m doing with my book is that there is no cheap way for students to get paper copies of the book, and there is some evidence that books on paper are better than e-books:
Textbook makers, bookstore owners and college student surveys all say millennials still strongly prefer print for pleasure and learning, a bias that surprises reading experts given the same group’s proclivity to consume most other content digitally. A University of Washington pilot study of digital textbooks found that a quarter of students still bought print versions of e-textbooks that they were given for free.
In years of surveys, Baron asked students what they liked least about reading in print. Her favorite response: “It takes me longer because I read more carefully.”
Of course, for books undergoing rapid development, there really isn’t any choice but to use electronic formats. In Spring quarter 2015, I released 10 different PDF drafts of my book (about one draft a week)—that rate of update would be very, very difficult to do on paper, unless I doled out just one chapter at a time, preventing students from reading ahead.
Leanpub does mention the possibility of providing print-on-demand publishing through services like Lulu, but they charge a lot for color printing—my book at its current 265 pages would cost $15.92 to print through Lulu, on cheap paper and with a flimsy “perfect” binding. To get a bookstore-quality paperback (heavier weight coated paper) would cost $50.67. If I switched to trade paperback size (6″×9″ instead of 8.5″×11″), I’d probably need about 365 pages, even after trimming the margins down to get a print area of 4.5″×8″ instead of 5.5″×9″, which would cost $47.13 for bookstore quality or $17.68 for uncoated paper. So the cheapest printing would be about $16, but that would not be eligible for retail sales. I suspect that there would be some students willing to pay an extra $16 for a paper copy, but not $50, and certainly not $100, which is what I’d have to charge for a Lulu book sold through retail channels like Amazon.
In any case, I expect the book to be undergoing frequent editing at least through the next offering of the course (Spring 2016), so I’ll be sticking with PDF only for the near future, despite the claim that students would benefit from having a paper copy.