Gas station without pumps

2015 August 11

Leanpub is a very small publisher

Filed under: Circuits course — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 06:57
Tags: , ,

I like the Leanpub model for publishing uncompleted works, and I’m happy I found them, but they are still a very small publisher.  They claim

So far our authors have earned over $2.9 million in royalties, and readers have downloaded over half a million books. []

Their top-selling book has sold fewer than 35,000 copies (including free copies), and 10th on their list has fewer than 11,000.  Their full list has just under 2700 different books, and the median number of sales is 10.  I’m already in the top half of their list for sales! Almost all the top sellers are associated with MOOCs (massively open online course)—they use the book as a text for their MOOC, often available for free with a low suggested price.  It does seem like a good way for distributing a textbook for a MOOC.

It is a bit harder to see the distribution of earnings—though they list the bestsellers by lifetime earnings, they don’t say what those earnings are.  I estimate that their top-grossing book earned the author about $120,000 and the 10th highest about $70,000.  Of course, these numbers may be over-estimates, as I can only see the total number of readers and the minimum price, not the actual earnings.  I have no idea where the draft of my book (Applied Electronics for Bioengineers) is in the total earnings list—probably somewhere near the middle also.

My book is the only electronics book on their list (at least, the only one that comes up with a search for “electronics”—they have a very, very limited search capability).  Many of their books are computer science or programming books, but “computer” yields only 7 books and “programming” only 46.  I’m not sure what they are indexing for the search—perhaps the landing-page blurb?  Nope—my book doesn’t get found using “amplifiers”. It seems like they are only indexing title and author, and maybe subtitle.  I’ve sent them e-mail suggesting that they index the landing-page blurbs as well.

I doubt that selling through Leanpub will ever get me up even to minimum wage on the effort put into writing the book, as I don’t have an advertising channel like a MOOC to direct people to the book.  But the main point of the book has been to support the students in my class and to encapsulate the course so that someone else can teach it when I retire, not to make money from it.

It’d be nice if I could get a wider readership, but I’m not working too hard on getting one.  My main effort in that direction is to try this summer to make all the labs be doable with minimal lab equipment: the goal is to have all the parts and tools needed to do everything at home come to under $200. I think that is now feasible, but only about half the labs have been rewritten to include the low-cost approach—a lot still rely on the expensive bench equipment we have in the circuits lab on campus.




  1. Have you decided on the print price?

    Comment by Rich — 2015 August 11 @ 07:39 | Reply

  2. What about a MOOC? Do you think it impractical because of the lab work? Or is it the logistics? Or ideology?

    Harvard has a neuroscience MOOC (mcb80x) that has some lab units through Backyard Brains (neurophysiology kits that can be used at home). I judge that course as quite thorough, one that offers access that lots of folks don’t have.

    Comment by bj — 2015 August 11 @ 18:24 | Reply

    • I do think that a MOOC is impractical for my course.

      I think that it is possible for a highly motivated student to learn the material without someone in the lab to help them, but that lectures alone are not of much use. If they haven’t got the motivation to read the material, then they won’t finish the labs, and so won’t learn anything.

      I have several problems with the applied electronics course as a MOOC:

      • The learning happens by doing the designs and writing them up—not by watching a professor talk about them.
      • The main added value I offer as a teacher over just reading the book is answering questions, helping students debug their designs, and providing detailed feedback on their design reports. That doesn’t scale to MOOC levels.
      • My “lecture” style relies on interaction with the class—getting them to provide questions and answers and following up on their comments. That doesn’t scale to MOOC levels.
      • And one personal idiosyncracy: I’m comfortable in front of a class or an audience, but not in front of a camera with no one to interact with.

      In short, my style of teaching is well suited to small classes with intensive interaction, but not well suited to MOOCs and mega-lectures. So I am very unlikely to create or teach a MOOC, no matter how many people it would reach.

      My hope would be that community colleges and hacker spaces would adopt (and adapt) my book to clone my course, rather than having 1000s of students all trying to learn directly from me.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2015 August 11 @ 18:39 | Reply

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