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2018 December 16

I may be self-publishing forever

Filed under: Circuits course — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 11:25
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Sigh, just as I’m finishing my textbook, I find out that publishers don’t want new textbooks. I did have one feeler from Springer, whose book prices are high and royalties low, and they wanted me to provide camera-ready copy. What were they going to do as publishers, other than keep almost all the money?

I have been self-publishing drafts of the text book in PDF format through LeanPub. I can sell the text for about $10 and make more money per book than if a publisher sold it for $80.  I have a new version that I tried to put up on LeanPub last Thursday, but I ran into a problem on their web site in changing the URL, and I’m waiting for them to fix it.  They were able to reproduce the problem and have told me that fixing it is a high priority, so I’ll probably be able to release the new version early this week (maybe 2018 Dec 17 or 18).

My big problem for the textbook is marketing (whether self-publishing or through traditional publishers)—how do textbook authors get other instructors aware of their book and willing to try it in a course?  Because my book takes a somewhat different approach to teaching electronics than the standard university course (which does about a year of applied math and circuits before doing any design), it isn’t a direct replacement for existing texts, but requires some redesign of curriculum.  That makes it an even harder sell, though I think that my design-early approach to teaching engineering is more in line with pedagogical research.

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.

2017 December 17

Book released for Winter 2018 course

Filed under: Circuits course — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 22:57
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I’ve released a new version of the textbook Applied Electronics for Bioengineers, on the LeanPub website: https://leanpub.com/applied_electronics_for_bioengineers and sent the students registered for the course a coupon to get their free copy.  People who have previously bought the book (even if for $0 with a coupon) were also informed of the release, so that they could pick up a new copy.

This version is 481 pages including 38 chapters, preface, appendices, and index.  There are 10 tables and 199 figures (239 distinct images, since some figures have multiple subfigures).  I added a lot of new tutorial material, fixed some errors (including some serious ones), added more exercises, and modified the labs to use the Analog Discovery 2 USB oscilloscopes rather than the expensive bench equipment we used to use.  The book is not “done”—I still have over 50 to-do notes in the margins, but I believe it is significantly improved over last year.  Improvements would be faster if students would tell me when they find errors or confusing writing, but they rarely do, and I have to guess what needs fixing from mistakes they make weeks later.

The use of the Analog Discovery 2 enabled me to offer a larger course this year—I managed to equip a 25-station lab for 50 students for under $10,000—less than the cost of a single station in the old lab. Because the space I’m using for the two 50-student sections is used as a classroom by other courses, I need to wheel everything in on a cart 20 minutes before labs start and clean it up and pack it away after the labs.

I still have a little work to do before next quarter starts:

  • recording the serial numbers and setting the names of the 25 Analog Discovery 2 units.
  • checking the 25 soldering stations and tinning the tips.
  • soldering 25 pressure sensors onto breakout boards.
  • packing everything into tubs that I can wheel to the other building on the cart.
  • cleaning up the electrode holders that did not get cut cleanly by the laser cutter.
  • getting reimbursed for over $3000 worth of parts and tools that I ordered for the students (UCSC can’t buy from AliExpress, and US vendors were over 3 times the price).

But I think that tomorrow I’ll take a break—maybe even see if I can get anything working on the robot I didn’t finish for the mechatronics course.

2017 January 7

Book draft 2017 Jan 7

Filed under: Circuits course — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 17:03
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I’ll be releasing an updated version of the Applied Electronics for Bioengineers text on LeanPub today.  I’ll probably raise the minimum price next week, to reflect the improved quality, but I’ll give people a few days to get the book at the old price.  (Remember that the LeanPub model allows you to get all future editions of the book free, as long as I continue publishing through them, so there is no reason to wait until a new edition comes out.)

I’ll list the changes in two sections: changes that were made since the October 2016 release, then changes that were made in the Oct 2016 release (because I don’t seem to have posted those to the blog).

Changes since October 2016

  • Fleshed out assignment schedule and moved to Preface.
  • Rearranged several of the early chapters (without significant content change) for better ordering of assignments.
  • Added mention of Analog Discovery 2 to oscilloscope chapter, replaced some Bitscope traces with Analog Discovery~2 traces.
  • Added bonus frequency response activity to pressure sensor lab.
  • Added Lego-brick pictures for the optical-pulse-monitor lab.
  • Revised all chapters and labs from the microphone chapter to the EKG lab (the second half of the course).  Many of the changes were minor revisions (typo fixes, indexing, changing to numbered exercises, spell check).
  • Added exercises to the microphone chapter and moved some exercises from the microphone lab to the microphone chapter.
  • Moved some of the oscilloscope introduction from the microphone lab to the sampling lab.
  • Rewrote DC analysis of microphone to use function generator, rather than potentiometer, for variable voltage.
  • Added R+L figure to loudspeaker chapter, rather than referring to impedance chapter.
  • Moved inductor description to new chapter just before loudspeakers.
  • Added RMS power exercise and R-L plot exercise to loudspeaker chapter.
  • Moved some intro amplifier material from preamplifier lab to pressure-sensor lab, reflecting change in order of labs.
  • Moved some instructions about color coding wiring from preamplifier to an earlier lab.
  • Added mention of using earbuds instead of loudspeakers for preamplifier lab.
  • Redid Miller plateau oscilloscope trace using Analog Discovery 2, using smaller gate resistor to get higher speed.
  • Added cross-section of a power nFET (still needs to be redrawn)
  • Fixed clipping on several schematics (the Vdd power symbol gets clipped if at the top of the schematic—a known bug in SchemeIt).
  • Put inductive load in the single-nFET driver schematic, including flyback diode.
  • Added explanation of why the crude model for computing slew rate is so far off.
  • Removed most references to obsolete AOI514 nFETs (using NTD4858N nFETs instead).  This required gathering new data to characterize the transistors.
  • Redid the section on open-collector outputs for LM2903 comparators.
  • Added table of conductivity for NaCl solutions.
  • Added section on 4-electrode conductivity measurements.
  • Moved information about nulling ohmmeters when measuring resistance from electrode lab to loudspeaker lab.
  • Reiterated some of the EKG safety info in the EKG lab.

Changes between April 2016 and October 2016

  • Added more background to first chapter (logarithms, picture of complex plane) and started chapter numbering at 1 instead of 0.
  • Rearranged chapters for new lab order, with all the audio labs after the pressure sensor and optical pulse monitor.
  • Updated information on using lead-free solder.
  • Added a generic block diagram to lab report guidelines, and added definition of “port” to the block diagram discussion.
  • Added subsection on Thévenin equivalent of voltage divider.
  • Added section on series and parallel connections to resistance chapter, to reflect lower prerequisite expectations of course.
  • Moved some gnuplot exercises into thermistor lab from sampling and aliasing, to reflect new lab order, also moved PteroDAQ installation instructions.
  • Added picture of metal thermometer to thermistor lab.
  • Added voltmeter connection schematic to DAQ chapter.
  • Moved details of PteroDAQ out of DAQ chapter to separate appendix.
  • Added potentiometer schematic and photo to resistance chapter.
  • Split data acquisition from sampling and aliasing into separate chapters.
  • Improved figure showing aliasing and Nyquist frequency.
  • Added pictures for wire stripping and flying resistors to sampling lab.
  • Added scaffolding for oscilloscope probe exercise.
  • Hysteresis measurement changed to use function generator.
  • Moved multi-stage amplifier discussion to beginning of amplifier chapter and beefed it up.
  • Added introduction to differential amplifiers before instrumentation amps and op amps.
  • Added pH meter block diagram to beginning of amplifier chapter.
  • Moved discussion of clipping to the end of the instrumentation amplifier section.
  • Added active low-pass filters to amplifier chapter.
  • Added chapter on transimpedance amplifiers with section on log-transimpedance amplifiers and rewrote pulse-monitor lab to use logarithmic current-to-voltage conversion.
  • Added discussion of absorbance of melanin, fat, and water to blood section.
  • Moved the instrumentation amplifier internals to new chapter, before the EKG chapter.
  • Simplified the sensitivity calculation for LEDs and phototransistors, making the exercise more productive.
  • Added text to caption of microphone preamp photo.
  • Moved loudness section from the amplifier chapter to the microphone chapter.
  • Added notes at end of loudspeaker lab to improve student reporting of models.
  • Added more safety information to EKG chapter
  • Made all exercises be numbered, and changed most of the prelab questions into numbered exercises.
  • Added equipment-needed lists to the beginning of each lab.
  • Redrew several block diagrams using draw.io, and added captions to several figures to indicate what drawing tool was used.
  • Changed caption formatting to be more distinctly different from body text.
  • Cleaned up several schematics.

2016 November 22

Black Friday sale 2016

Filed under: Circuits course — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 20:29
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Although I personally celebrate Buy Nothing Day this Friday, I have bowed to the marketing wisdom of the LeanPub publishers and am having a sale on my book this weekend.  From 2016 Nov 25 until 2016 Nov 29, the coupon link

https://leanpub.com/applied_electronics_for_bioengineers/c/Black-Friday-2016

will reduce the minimum price of my book from $3.99 to $2.56, approximately a 36% discount!  (At other times, it will just offer the usual pricing.)

Once you’ve bought the book, you can download any future versions that I publish through LeanPub (and I expect to have at least one more version before classes start in January).

Note: I’ll be sending coupons for free copies to the students registered for the course some time in December, so they don’t need to spend even the $2.56 of the Black Friday discount.

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