Gas station without pumps

2020 September 11

Edition 1.1 released today!

Filed under: Circuits course — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 11:49
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I finally released the new version of the textbook today!  ( The book is only slightly longer than the previous edition:

659 pages
337 figures
14 tables
515 index entries
162 references

The chapter on design report guidelines is available free as a separate publication:

At the same time as I released the new edition, I eliminated my COVID-19 sale, so the minimum price is now $7.99. I will still provide coupons for free copies to instructors who are considering using the textbook for a course.

I may have to do another version before January, as I have not checked the labs for BME 51A yet to see what modifications are needed for doing the labs at home. For example, I haven’t decided whether it is worth buying more blood-pressure cuffs and extra tubing, to have enough to ship one to everyone. I’ll probably have to give up on the drill-press instruction. I’d rather not skip the micrometer instruction, but that would mean buying a lot more micrometers, as we generally share 5 for the whole class.

One nice thing about selling through Leanpub is that purchasers get all future editions published through Leanpub as part of the price—the company is trying to encourage authors to publish book drafts through them, rather than waiting until the book is completely polished. That means that students who got earlier versions of the book will get this release for free, and anyone who buys now will get the benefit of future releases.


2020 September 2

Last to-do note in book cleared

Filed under: Circuits course — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 17:01
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I finally cleared the last of the to-do notes from the draft of Applied Analog Electronics, only a couple of days behind my self-imposed deadline.  I still have to spell-check the whole book again, check for any missing cross-references, and check for overfull boxes.

I’m not going to check that the 211 URLs are all still ok (each one was ok at the time I added it).  I’ll have to rely on readers pointing out newly broken ones to me.  I wasted a couple of hours looking for tools that would to the job for me automatically, but all the ones I tried failed in various ways (outdated Python code that wouldn’t compile, misparsing URLs that worked just fine from clicking on the links on the pdf file, …).  If anyone knows of a cheap (preferably free) URL checker for PDF files that actually works, please let me know!

I expect to release a new version of the book within a week, at which time I’ll probably end my Covid-19 sale price.  People who buy before the new version comes out can get the current price and still get the new version when it is released.  One nice thing about selling through Leanpub is that purchasers get all future editions published through Leanpub as part of the price—the company is trying to encourage authors to publish book drafts through them, rather than waiting until the book is completely polished.

2018 April 22

Leanpub changing their pricing model again

Filed under: Circuits course,Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 09:50
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I’ve 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 rights to the book, and their e-book store had very generous royalties.

About  a year ago, they changed their pricing model for authors, so that there was a flat $99 fee for starting each new book, though existing books like mine were grandfathered in with no fee.

They just announced to authors another change in their pricing plan (though again, existing books are grandfathered in).  Now authors have a choice between a $99 flat fee per book or subscription plans of $8, $19, $29, or $59 a month, depending on how many books they have—the $8/month plan is for up to 3 books.  For the 32 months I’ve been with LeanPub, the new subscription pricing scheme would have cost me $256—much more than the $99 flat fee, which would have already been high enough for me to look elsewhere when I was starting.

The new subscription pricing scheme strikes me as a sucker’s deal, if you are really going to stick with a book long enough to complete the book and sell it. Unless you remove a book from Leanpub quickly (taking it to a traditional publisher, for example), the subscription fees add up fast.  Unless you are churning out books and moving them off Leanpub within 2–3 years, the $99 flat fee per book remains a better deal.

number of books months until flat fee cheaper
1 13
2 25
3 38
4 21
5 27
6 32
7 37
8 42
9 47
10 53
11 38
12 41
13 45
14 48
15 52
16 55

They do have some deals where earning sufficient royalties will provide the subscription for free, but I’m still a long way from the first breakpoint ($1000 in royalties), because I give away the book to students in my classes (235 free copies of the book vs. only 133 paid-for copies) and because I charge so little (the price is now $9.99 recommended, $4.99 minimum).  At that low price, my royalties are minimal.  I suppose that in another couple of years I’ll be up to the level that would unlock their standard plan, allowing me to do up to 3 more books without a subscription fee (unless they’ve raised their thresholds by then).

Of course, if I could get some other teacher to adopt my book for a course, my sales would go up substantially, but self-promotion has never been one of strong skills, and Leanpub provides no marketing.  Other than the authors of books on Leanpub and their students, no one knows about the website or looks for books there.

Leanpub has also changed the royalties they give, from 90%–50¢ to 80%.  For the lowest price they allow ($4.99), the royalties are the same either way, but for higher prices, they now take more (again, existing books are grandfathered in under the old agreement, though they are trying to induce authors to switch to the new royalty scheme with a not-very-exciting promotion scheme).  The new royalties are still much better than Amazon’s 35% for ebooks, but Amazon provides much more visibility for books.  Amazon does have a 70% royalty deal for ebooks in a very narrow price range.

I understand why Leanpub has been making changes to their business model—their initial pricing was a loss leader, to build up a sufficient clientele while they were developing their software for book publishing.  The main value they add (in their view) is their mark-up language for producing EPUB, MOBI, and PDF formats from the same source, and most of their development costs have been for improving their mark-up language (first Leanpub-flavored Markdown and now Markua).

But I’m not using their mark-up language, because it is not really suited for the graph-heavy, math-heavy textbook I’m writing. I’m using LaTeX to produce PDF files directly.  I gave up on EPUB and MOBI, as they are not suitable formats for graph-heavy books, even though that locks me out of many of the e-book markets. I’m using Leanpub only for their storefront, for which their 10%+50¢ charge was quite reasonable, but increasing the charges to 20% and adding a $8/month subscription fee to that would make me think twice about staying with Leanpub, if they hadn’t grandfathered in the existing books.

2018 June 4: LeanPub has updated their pricing model again.  They now do 80% royalties (no grandfathering), but they have a free plan for people doing limited numbers of book updates per month.  Overall, it doesn’t affect me much (at the minimum price, the royalties were the same either way).  They’ll probably change the pricing again before anyone reads this note.

2015 August 7

Book draft available online

Filed under: Circuits course — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 01:29
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In Lean publishing I said

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?

Well, that week lasted less than a day.  I’ve put the book up on Leanpub’s book store as

For now, everything is pretty much draft format: I have a temporary cover page, lots of marginal notes to myself about what needs changing, few exercises, and a host of things that need to be done to the book.

The book is only available in PDF format, because I’m developing it in LaTeX, and there is no good way to get LaTeX documents into EPUB and MOBI formats.  From what I’ve seen so far, there is no good way to produce books with a lot of figures and cross references in EPUB and MOBI formats, so I’m stuck with LaTeX at least for the next year.

I dithered for a while about setting a price for the book—I wanted it cheap enough that people who were interested in it would be willing to get a pre-release copy, but not free—since the people would not bother looking at it, even if they got a copy.  I settled on a minimum price of $2.99 and suggested price of $9.99, as representing a fair price for the book in its current draft form.  Those prices probably won’t stop anyone who wants to read the book from getting it, but will discourage random freebie hunters. I do plan to raise the minimum price as the book gets more nearly finished.

The Leanpub model, where purchasers get all updates to the book that are done on Leanpub, means that early purchasers get a real bargain.

I’ve not yet put up a sample chapter or table of contents for the book, but I plan to do that later this week—I’ll probably include all the front matter and two sample chapters (a lab chapter and the associated supporting theory chapter) in the sample.  I’ve not figured out which chapters to include in the sample yet. (If anyone does buy the draft book, I’d welcome suggestions about which chapters to show in the sample.)

I’ll be setting up coupons for  students who take my class to get the book for free, and I’ll make those coupons available to students who have formerly taken the class.  (I’ve not done that yet, since the next class isn’t until Spring 2016, but if there are former students reading this blog, send me e-mail and I’ll set up a coupon code you can use.)

None of the book is set in stone, but some parts are more solid than others—I’m pretty happy with how several of the chapters worked in the Spring 2015 offering of the course, but other labs need complete rewrites, changing the nature of the lab.  The cover page is definitely a placeholder—I threw it together in a couple of hours tonight, just to have something to put on the site. I started an index, but have not really gone through the book looking for what concepts need to be indexed, nor indexed all occurrences of the concepts I’ve started indexing.  A better index is pretty far down on my priority list right now, but I will take suggestions about things that really need indexing—fixing one or two entries in the index could be a good break from more intense writing.

At some point I’ll be putting up a bunch of other files with the book as a “bundle”.  The bundle will include all the gnuplot scripts and programs that I provide to my students, plus Eagle files for the prototyping PC boards.  I might also do a “teacher” bundle that includes all the gnuplot scripts and data files used for generating the figures in the books.  I don’t know whether Leanpub provides a way for purchasers of a book to later upgrade to a bundle that includes the book—but a workaround can probably found using coupons.

One of the reasons for releasing a draft on Leanpub is to get feedback from readers—particularly about things they find incorrect, poorly written, inconsistent, missing, redundant, or just confusing.  That feedback can be on the Leanpub site, by email (Leanpub provides a link), or here on the blog.  Tiny details are probably best done by e-mail, but more substantive suggestions that might be worth discussing (like pedagogical approach or order of the material) may be better done in blog comments.

2015 August 5

Lean publishing

Filed under: Circuits course — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 23:17
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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?

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