published Mar 05, 2013
Recently, we decided to give away both our Print-Ready PDF and InDesign Export features for free.
This decision was about us being more ambitious, not less ambitious.
Here’s the logic of the decision:
We want to be 100% aligned with our authors’ interests.
So, this means making Leanpub be the best way in the world to…
a) write a book
b) publish and sell an in-progress ebook
c) publish and sell a completed ebook (non-exclusively, since all completed ebooks should also be on Amazon and Apple)
d) market a book through features like bundles, affiliates, etc
e) get reliable feedback about the viability of an unpublished book idea
We want the above to be true for both self-published authors and for publishers.
I think we have made a lot of progress on (a) and (b). I think we’re getting there on (c), and that features like the Team Edition should help. I think we’re getting there on (d), and an affiliate program will help. I think (e) needs improvement, and I have a very specific and ambitious idea about how to fix that. More on that later.
If we can accomplish the above and ensure the world knows, Leanpub will be successful beyond my wildest dreams.
Now, the most straightforward way to ensure that Leanpub is the best way in the world to write, publish and sell a book is to focus our available Leanpub time on making Leanpub the best way in the world to write, publish and sell a book.
Not on stuff like “can we charge authors $49 for this feature?”
Features like Print-Ready PDF and InDesign Export are things we are building because we think they will be valuable to authors and publishers.
Since this is the case, we should just make them all part of what Leanpub is, just like everything else. This way, Leanpub is one thing, which provides lots of value. Not a mishmash of confusing pricing and optional features.
(As a Canadian: compare Apple’s approach selling phones to that of RIM, ahem, BlackBerry. If I have to write an email explaining pricing, I have already lost. This is especially true if it’s more than 3 sentences, and I am incapable of writing 3 sentence emails!)
If we are not charging enough for Leanpub, we can fix that for NEW AUTHORS ONLY in any number of straightforward ways (taking a larger percentage and/or flat fee on every sale, or by just charging a per-book fee either once or yearly). None of those approaches would be so confusing that they would require long emails to explain :)
Now, obviously we would grandfather all existing Leanpub authors forever, of course! And no, we don’t have any of the above ideas planned: I think that we have arrived at a very fair price for what Leanpub offers. We’re more expensive than DIY or Gumroad, but not if you value your time and what Leanpub does. As a result, Leanpub is growing nicely.
So, to make a long post longer:
We want every Leanpub author to be really happy about what Leanpub does for them. We don’t want Leanpub authors to think “is this Leanpub feature worth the amount of money they are asking for”.
So that’s why those features are free now :)
published Jan 22, 2013
John Hunter is the author of the Leanpub book Management Matters: Building Enterprise Capability.
John is currently Senior Facilitator at The W. Edwards Deming Institute. His work focuses on management and software development consulting. He blogs about management improvement on his website at http://curiouscat.com/guides/.
John has worked in various capacities at the Office of the Secretary of Defense Quality Management Office, the White House Military Office, and the American Society for Engineering Education
This interview was recorded on January 17, 2013.
Epp: I’m here with John Hunter, who is the author of Management Matters: Building Enterprise Capability, a book on Leanpub. We’re going to talk today about John’s book, about John’s experiences as an author, and what led John to try Lean Publishing with Leanpub.
So, John, thank you for being on the Lean Publishing podcast!
Hunter: Thank you for having me, I look forward to it.
E: Great. Before we start discussing your book and Lean Publishing, I’d like to find out a little bit more about you and your background. So if you could tell me a little bit about what you do, and whether you’ve published a book before, things like that.
H: OK. I have not published a book before. A really quick view of my background is I’m actually right now, the closest thing you could call it is a sabbatical, it’s not actually a sabbatical, but that’s the closest thing I can come up with. I’m in Joho Bahru Malaysia, and as I sit in my condo, I see Singapore out my window. When I was a little kid, my Dad was teaching in Singapore, and we were living there, and he was teaching on the stuff that I basically now do, which is management improvement, and helping organizations improve their management, improve their results. That’s basically what my career path has been about. Over time I moved into doing technology, largely because I was frustrated with the technology departments I would need to get service from. I found it easier to do the things myself, and then I eventually moved into being in those departments.
E: So have you worked as a consultant then, or were you working within the department itself when you were doing this kind of work?
H: Sort of both. During my career I started out, I was doing it myself, and I was somewhat doing it in a consulting relationship, because I was doing things outside of my official duties, and helping other parts of the organization. Then I went to the Secretary of Defense Quality Management Office, where we would largely help the huge Department of Defense get things done with consultants, and we would do some consulting along those lines.
E: Quite a challenge I imagine, the Defense Department.
H: Yes, it’s huge, it’s enormous, it’s impossible to appreciate. But they did lots of great stuff. They’re huge. Then I went to the White House Military Office for a few years, and then I went to the American Society for Engineering Education. During that time I did a little bit of consulting, and some seminars, and talking. Now on my sabbatical, I’m doing some consulting and some seminars and some writing during this time.
E: It sounds like you’ve had a wide range of experience all around the world. Can you tell me then a little bit about the subject of your book Management Matters and what you’re addressing in it?
H: The book is my look at a system of management. I have a blog that I’ve been publishing for seven or eight years, and one of the troubles I have when I’m trying to write a post is I have all sorts of connections that I want to make, and so I love hypertext, because I can link over to all these things, but my plan was actually to write a specific book on a specific tool or practice. I figured that would be small, a good place to start, it would be targeted, and it would probably be easier to market. But I thought about it and I could never get myself started, and one day I decided I really need this full management view that I can then stick everything else to. So then if I write a second, most likely smaller, targeted book, I can refer to this book for how it fits into the bigger context. So my goal with this is to try to have a book that has management as a system.
E: So you’re ideal reader would be, say, people who are already working as managers and have some training in that field? Or them, and also people who are new to management?
H: This is one of the problems with the marketing of this particular book, compared to my other one. I don’t have a specific answer to that. I think you’re sort of right, but it’s really people who want to improve results. The thing that I’ve found is, software developers have, by far, the most success with the thinking that I have - the thinking that Deming had, with process improvement, with systems thinking - of anyone I’ve worked with. Much better than managers, overall.
The truth is that software developers could very well be a better target audience, in that they’ll be able to pick it up more easily than many managers.
E: On that note, you mentioned Deming, and I know the theories of William Edwards Deming play a big role in your book. Can you tell us something more about him, and why his work is so important to you?
H: I was talking a little earlier about living in Singapore. We also lived for a year in Nigeria. I write the W. Edwards Deming Institute blog, and in the first post I did on that blog, I talked about Deming’s background and what I see as very important, that I think a lot of people miss. That is, that he grew up, he was born in 1900. There’s World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, and then post-World War II recovery in Japan. That was a bunch of bad stuff! He also travelled extensively throughout the world, so he was in Asia and other places. As I grew up, I saw first hand that there was a lot of people that were not nearly as rich as pretty much everyone in the United States. What Deming had as his personal vision was to foster prosperity, commerce, and peace. I have that same notion. What is needed for improvement of humanity’s life, is commerce and prosperity.
E: I read a little bit about Deming in preparation for the interview, and I came across a great line that goes something like, ‘Although Deming is something of a hero in Japan, he’s still in some ways obscure in the rest of the world, including the United States’. I was wondering if you could tell me a bit more about what he achieved in post-war Japan, and what he’s famous for there.
H: That’s a difficult question to summarize quickly. Essentially he went there and helped them understand how to look at the organization as a system. The biggest example of Deming’s ideas is Toyota. Deming’s ideas are not very prescriptive. He has a system of thinking, a system of management, but it’s not prescriptive, like ‘you must do X, Y and Z’.
E: And he was behind a lot of the improvements to manufacturing processes that Toyota is so famous for now?
H: Yeah. What Toyota did was they took his ideas, and they did what Deming wants, which is you take the ideas, you institute them in your organization. Inside your organization, there are specific adaptions and improvements you’ll make that work best for you. So Toyota took the base and then added to it.
E: So, to go back to before I interrupted you, to get a bit more detail about Deming - you were talking about your idea that increasing commerce increases prosperity and the human good. Was this also an idea of Deming’s, that you’ve developed further, or carried on in the tradition of?
H: Yeah. It’s also something that Deming didn’t talk as much about. I mean, Deming had the idea of commerce, prosperity, and peace, but mostly he talked about what we can do for the organization. But I think behind him was this idea, that he saw all these suffering people throughout his whole life, and he saw that what was needed was prosperity. When I was growing up, you had billions of people who don’t have electricity, billions of people who don’t have running water, billions of people who don’t have a secure future. It’s not some minor little thing. And what they need is prosperity, that’s what’s going to make it so that everyone’s doing better. And it’s happened in the last forty years, there’s been a lot of improvement, but there’s still a lot more to go. It’s hard for people in the United States or even in Europe to understand that prosperity is not about having the fourth new car. In most of the world, prosperity is about having, you know, shoes. Those are different ideas.
E: That reminds me of an interesting article in The Economist recently in which they talked about this worry that there’s an end to innovation coming, and they in particular seemed to define innovation as adding new things - you know, there will never be another invention as fundamental as the toilet - and so we’re kind of at the end of progress. But what you’re saying reminds me that this is a very prosperity-centric point of view, because there are a lot of people who don’t have toilets, even though they have been invented.
H: Right, yeah, hundreds of millions!
E: So from their perspective, and to tie it in to what you’re saying, what’s at stake for you in management, and improving management, isn’t only improving the functioning of businesses in order to make more money, but actually fundamentally improving the world, and that that kind of innovation is something that we’re still, in the dark on, and need to improve dramatically.
H: Yeah. One of the things that I really like, and my father was involved in, is appropriate technology. I’m talking about technology that really works where it’s needed, which is very similar to the whole ‘lean’ way of thinking. You know, you don’t need some big, complex solution, you can find the simplest solution that works and is reliable. And so I continue to do work there.
Another way that this ties is, a lot of people think of Deming as sort of a statistician, which he was: his management system uses statistics. But that is far from the core piece, or the central peice; it’s one piece. A huge portion of Deming’s management system is what he called understanding psychology, and it relates to psychology, but it really relates to managing human systems. In the lean thinking world, they essentially call this respect for people, which I think has more power than just saying psychology. Deming would also talk about joy in work -
E: Can you tell me a little bit more about that? I was interested in your book, where you write about the importance of respecting people in the workplace as good strategy.
H: So, if you look at the bigger picture, of what Deming is trying to do, I think there’s a lot of what I was talking about, increasing prosperity. Another piece of it is, in the United States, we’re extremely prosperous, but people were by and large miserable in their jobs. To some extent that’s still true. Respect for people is about the idea that our focus needs to change to having people enjoy their lives. And, this will benefit all of us who have our lives to live, but it also benefits the organization.
It’s very easy for knowledge workers to think this way. So in the software development workforce, or in the medical workforce, or in the engineering workforce, the workers demand it. If you try to treat your Ruby developers poorly, they’ll leave, there’s no question. So, in large part, you give them foosball tables, and you let them bring their dogs to work, and you let them do whatever they want. I think most of the managers that allow that to happen are not necessarily doing it because they believe in the intrinsic goodness of treating people well. They do it because they can’t figure out how not to do it. But, there is the segment of people who manage knowledge workers well, who understand that this is how you get the best work.
One of the things that I’ll do on my blog is I’ll put a post where I can draw links to more detail on a bunch of things that I say, but there’s a lot of work on it. Dan Pink is very popular right now, and he talks about it. Clayton Christenson is very popular.
E: Can you tell me a little bit more about your blog, the Curious Cat Management Improvement blog? I seem to remember you started that, you had your first website in 1995, and your blog has been going for almost ten years now?
H: Yeah, the website was 1995, and then I started the blog in 2004. The blog is on my ideas on management, and it was what formed the basis for the book. One of the nice things I was able to do was import my blog into Leanpub as the start of the book. So what I was able to do was take all the blog posts into the book, and then, there are a bunch that don’t really relate, that are sort of off-the-cuff comments. So I got rid of those, and organized it into something that makes sense for a book. So that formed probably the basis for fifty or sixty percent of the book, that then I had to build on. So the blog is about largely the same thing as the book.
E: Did you find that going through that process focused your mind on your work at a higher level, when you had to curate your posts and see, you know, what have I actually been writing about?
H: The reason I wanted to do it, and the thing that it did require, was that focus on the system, of how everything ties together. So I would do that a lot, and I use far more hyperlinks than almost anyone I know, because I’m trying to link all these things together. But I knew that in writing the book, that’s the focus, is how these things all link together. Curating that and making that work, and then writing all the pieces - there are big sections that I’ve thought about writing for the last several years, but I just can’t get my head around for a blog post. So then I had to do that stuff, which is generally harder and more complex, and write that. So yeah, that made you focus and think about it more.
E: Before we go on, I’d like to - obviously I’d like to talk about this more, maybe in the second half of the podcast, about using Leanpub, what brought you to it and what worked for you, and what didn’t - but I do have one question I’m very interested in asking you about. In your book you talk about how executive pay is a big problem today, and I know you’ve been asked about this in another podcast recently, but I would like to know what solution you propose to the problem of executive pay that’s too high. Do you think shareholder activists will take care of it? Or should there be explicit regulation?
H: Well, my solution is not an answer separated from all the other factors in the system. So, I think, if we say, take the broken system that we have, and all of these broken pieces, and what can we do to make that work, what band-aid can we put on there and have it stick? I don’t think any band-aid is going to be particularly effective, and any band-aid, given all the other factors, will cause huge problems. It is a solution that requires mane more underlying things, but, I think my solutions would be, yeah, probably have some regulation around the deductibility of bonuses.
But I think a bunch of it would come down to more moral and ethical pressure on organizations so that it’s just not tolerated. I mean, one of the things I find frustrating, is these people who choose these policies that are not - this high pay is one thing, but they also do things like risk the future of the company in order to get high bonuses, and then when it fails, thousands of people lose their jobs. When that happens, that person still has forty million dollars sitting in the bank. They give two million to Stanford or some other school, and then that school gives them publicity, and puts their name on a building or whatever. The school that I went to, Davidson College in North Carolina, has an honour code, and those kinds of things would just not be tolerated. You can’t, you know, make a huge amount of money from unethical behaviour, and then buy your way onto boards and buy your way into country clubs, and buy your way onto, you know, the opera board. People should not accept unethical behaviour by rewarding it with all sorts of accolades outside -
E: I think I see more clearly what you were saying before, that it’s a society that’s rewarding this kind of behaviour that is part of the problem, and so merely changing some laws around, or rules around particular organizations won’t change that underlying factor.
H: Yeah. One of the hopes I have on how things will change is if other countries can withstand the pressure that US and US business schools are putting on moving in this direction which I think is wrong, because they don’t ridiculously overpay their executives. They still pay them a lot of money, but the top twenty executives at Toyota, together, don’t make what senior vice presidents at the large US firms -
E: Including options?
H: Yes, including options and everything, because they don’t really give that many options.
E: Is the golden parachute, do you think that’s largely an American phenomenon as well? And perhaps British?
H: Basically, what’s happened is, a lot of these things are American. The thing is that in 1980, executives were paid a ton of money, and there were plenty of people who were complaining. People like Drucker, at least a little bit before 1980, said look, the executives deserve a lot of money, they have hard jobs, they do things, they make a difference, they should be paid a lot of money. But as the abuses got so ridiculous, Drucker said, this has to stop, it’s bad. It got to the point where Drucker said this is unethical. I can’t remember if he said it’s immoral, but he came pretty close -
E: So we’re talking about Peter Drucker, the famous management guru?
H: Yeah, and it wasn’t that he’s against paying a fair wage, he supported it when it was reasonable. It got to be so bad. But we’ve gone ten or twenty times beyond THAT! Beyond what was already not just bad, you know, management - unethical. And it’s not just that they’re taking money that belongs to someone else, it’s that they subvert the organization in order to have this happen. They take huge risks that everyone else must pay for, and if it doesn’t work out, well fine, they still walk away with a huge amount of money. And if it does work out, well then they say, I deserve this huge amount of money, because I was successful.
One of the big pieces that I have is that, you have to build up the capacity in the organization for critical thinking. And part of my idea, the reason I’ve come in the last five or six years to building enterprise capability as the key, is, it isn’t about what we can do in one day. It’s about what we do over the long term. And so when I’m looking at how we need to improve today, I’m not just paying attention to, this one project is going to solve this problem and be very effective; I’m looking at the way that I can solve this problem. I can build this organization’s understanding of critical thinking, I can build an understanding of variation, I can build an understanding that the results are not the only thing that matters. Results matter, but results matter within a context.
E: And do you see any movement towards these kinds of ideas in management schools, or management programs, in the United States?
H: I haven’t paid much attention to management schools. But they weren’t very good before. I don’t think they’ve got tremendously better. There are tons of professors who have great ideas, but the focus ends up being on, essentially, financial management, and working with spreadsheets, and the rest of it is not given much focus.
E: I see, so getting people away from the spreadsheet is part of your idea.
E: What else do you think people should be focusing on?
H: Well, with the spreadsheet, it would be twofold. One, yeah, getting them away from it, but two, having them actually understand data, instead of being able to be fooled by people that can manipulate data. Building this capacity for critical thinking, building the ability to understand what is actually a cause and what is just correlated to good results. That’s one of the big keys. So in Deming it was understanding variation, which is important - understanding that results vary, and humans, this goes to psychology things from Deming, humans happen to think that there’s a lot less variation than there is in the world, and humans happen to have brains that were evolved for pattern-matching. So we’re very good at seeing patterns. We think that there’s less variation. Our brains can see patterns, so we can find variation that exists in the data, and we can then tie that to some cause that we believe is there. So our brains can create this pattern. And what we do is we believe all sorts of things that just are not true because we don’t understand how to accurately interpret the data.
E: So if you were brought into a corporation, say, and you were given an - let’s say you had your own office or budget in order to try and make this a reality within that organization, how would you go about doing it? Would you set up courses internally for employees, would you try and change the way they fundamentally interact with data?
H: I’m a bit different in my style of change from most people. I talk about some things in the book, but, my basic idea is, building the capability in the organization. So it isn’t mainly about what’s the role I would play or anything else, but what do we have today, where can I see to build things? So, do we have a good, a somewhat good understanding of data, and I can build on that to make things stronger? Do we have a culture that totally disrespects the employees and we need to change that before we can move forward? So basically what I would do is I would look at the organization I have specific things where I talk about all the details. You need it to be things that people will notice, and also at the very beginning, I’d pick things that I believe I can win on.
You need to build some trust that this stuff works, before you can keep growing, and especially do some of the things that don’t have as direct ties that you can see. So, I would take the projects, I would take the things that people really care about, I would take the opportunities, and it might be that it’s training these people on design of experiments, and having us do some design of experiments, and make that a focus for a while. One of the things I talk about is to have some focus with your initial efforts. So there’s lots of things you can do, depending on the organization. Pick five or six things, and really get to be really good at those five or six things, and then keep adding in a few more pieces over time.
E: Before we move on to the second part of the interview, I do have one final question: you mentioned experiments. I think that for people who are familiar with Steve Blank and lean philosophy and things like that, the idea of running experiments within an enterprise might be familiar, but it might not be to everybody. Can you give me an example of what you mean by doing experiments in that context?
H: Yeah, one of the things is, I believe that most of these good ideas have been talked about for a long time, by people like Deming, and Ackoff, and others. The basic core idea is you pilot an improvement, or you pilot a change in a small scale, you get results, you see how it worked, and then you expand. And a neat way that that’s been talked about recently, especially with all the software people, is minimum viable product, and fail quickly. It’s wonderful, and it’s sort of like what Toyota did with Deming’s ideas, in my opinion. It’s taking the basic core idea, which was been around for a long time, and giving some really nice implementation to it that adds that value.
E: So an example might be, we want to improve the quality of our dashboards, or something like that, and so let’s actually implement a change, clearly, in one place, and then actually set targets, and watch to see what the results are, to see if our idea actually worked. Is that an example of what you mean by experimenting?
H: Yes, although, I believe that a big huge strength with agile software development is, get working software in place quickly. I totally, completely support that idea. The quibble that I have with where a lot of this stuff ends up going, is, people try to make it too measurable. And sometimes it is. It’s very easy for companies like Google and Amazon to make things measureable because they have millions of users; you can see what goes on. When you have a lot smaller organizations, there’s huge amounts of variation, and if you’re totally focused on the data, numerical data and that’s the only way you’re going to judge things, I think that can cause problems. But the basic core idea I totally agree with: get a working model in place, have people actually using it, have people tell you what they miss. It’s like, this is great, except it kills me that this one feature is missing, and if fifty people say that, it’s like, ok, we better build that one next feature.
E: I think that’s a great transition to the second part of this interview, where we’re going to carry out that process. I was wondering if we could talk a bit about what it’s been like for you using Leanpub as an author, and indeed a first-time book author. What do you really like about Leanpub, and what could we do to improve it?
H: I had no interest in the traditional publishing method, for several reasons. One, my personality is one where it’s very difficult for me to finalize and ship something off. One of the reasons I like this continual improvement idea, which is a central idea for Deming, is it fits with my personality. I think things should always be continuously improved. My entry into the technology world was essentially with web-based apps, even if they were internal to the organization, so they were on an intranet.You know, basically web technologies, where you didn’t have this release thing of sending out a disk. It’s like, now we’ve locked our software in place! So I’ve never had to have this idea that, ok I’m done, print it. So I didn’t want it for that reason.
Also, I’m a first-time author, I don’t know anyone would want to publish me, but I know plenty of very successful business and management- improvement-type authors, and the troubles they get from their publishers, it’s ridiculous. The lead time that it takes to get stuff done. So I had no interest in that. For an ebook, I looked around, and like I said, for a couple years I was throwing the ideas around in my head and trying to see where to go, and I would look at what options there were, and I found Leanpub and I liked it. I had looked at some other ones, but one of the things that I really liked about it was not specific features or specific anything, it was, they used ‘lean’ in the name, but they also had lean thinking behind what they were talking about. So I saw that they have a mentality that matches my mentality. And I think it’s an effective and good way to manage. I want to be associated with organizations that are like that.
E: That’s very interesting - so the ability to continuously deploy your book, both fits with your needs, which is to get your work out there, without having to go through the titanic struggles that authors sometimes engage with with publishers, but it also suits your personality, perhaps in another way, in that it encourages you to overcome that struggle within yourself at the same time. So there’s a kind of attitude that’s reflected in the ability and the encouragement of just getting your book out there.
H: I didn’t really get the second point, but the first point I totally agree with. And the idea of being able to publish early and often was definitely part of what I liked. So with Leanpub there is the idea of publishing before you’re finished. And I really like that idea. Give people a chance to try it out and see what they like, and then keep going. And I knew when I was contemplating this idea that I wanted to continuously update it forever, but I didn’t know exactly what form that would take. It’s very easy, the way Leanpub does it is very easy for me. I don’t have to deal with anything, essentially.
E: When you first clicked the ‘Publish’ button, how finished was your book in your mind? Were all the chapters there, was there more improvement that you wanted to do?
H: I did have all the chapters, but several of them were pretty sketchy. And there’s still a piece that I’m not totally sure about. I have a couple things where I don’t know where to fit them. And so, I still have those things sitting out there. But yeah, I had maybe sixty percent done, or something like that. And I decided - it’s artificial in a sense, I don’t have to push a ‘Print’ button or anything - I’ve decided that now it’s release-ready, although it definitely isn’t something I could print. I still have four or five places where I say ‘To Do’.
E: That’s great, we’ve seen authors using Leanpub for that, and personally I really like the straightforwardness of that. And as a reader, that would draw me in, an author being that straightforward, that this is something left to do, and don’t worry, you’ll get it when it’s done.
A very specific technical question: Leanpub books are written in Markdown, and I was wondering if you’d ever used Markdown before you came to Leanpub?
H: No, I had not. But it was really quick to pick up, and I like it. That goes to my philosophy versus personality. My philosophy is very much with the agile software development: keep it simple. If you have to cut features, fine. And I like that. But my mentality is also, I want it to be exactly how I want it to be. So I get frustrated with - it isn’t so much true today, but like ten years ago you would use a word processing program, and it wouldn’t do what you wanted it to do, and you couldn’t go in and see the code and just make a little change very easily. Or if you’re using a visual HTML editor. I would just go in to the HTML itself and make it do exactly what I wanted.
With Markdown, the biggest limitation I’ve had, and it’s not huge, but it’s the only thing that really caused me any frustration, is there are places where I would like to be able to be more specific about what it does exactly, and it’s like Markdown just isn’t specific enough to do that right now.
E: Can you give me an example of that?
H: Well, this isn’t a perfect example, because it’s dependent on other variables, but you can put in a link to another part in the book, and the way that that gets done currently in Leanpub for a PDF-generated document, it puts it below the title. So if you link to the section on PDSA cycle, it puts it below the PDSA cycle, so all you see is text.
E: Right, instead of also seeing the title of the section. Actually that’s something that’s been on our backlog for quite some time, so this is definitely a big vote in favour of getting to making that fix, so thanks for that.
H: That’s one I can remember, but there were a couple things. Oh, putting in white space was another that I was having difficulty with, and I’ve come up with some things that seem to work most of the time. I think what I do is fake like I’m going to have a block text, but it’s blank, and that’ll throw in some white space.
E: Right, I see, that’s clever! Another little Markdown trick we’ve seen people use is an empty table.
H: Oh, ok, yeah.
E: So you just put two pipes with nothing in between them, and then you’ll actually get a blank line. Thanks for that, that’s one of the limitations in Markdown that we’ve had people ask about from time to time. For us, it’s always a difficult thing, because in a way we want to have some limits on features out of principle. We don’t want authors to be spending too much time worrying about formatting. In other words we don’t want to invent - you know when you were describing earlier, the sort of troubles one can have working with these complex text editors. I’m sympathetic, I’ve spent a lot of time shouting at my computer when I’m using Word. We’re totally open to adding features, but for us it’s a philosophical thing when we do it, because that means it’s something we deem more important than spending that time thinking about your writing - that piece of formatting.
I was wondering, if you think back to when you were actually importing your blog on Leanpub, did that work well for you, or were there any weaknesses or things we could improve, in that part of the process?
H: I forget totally, I think it worked very well, but I can’t remember whether there were some things that I had to manually deal with or not.
E: Well that’s good, because if it had been too bad, I’m sure you would have remembered somthing!
H: Actually I remember there was something, it had trouble with if you had a ‘More’ tag - I remember a bunch of my posts ended up being clipped, and I think it might have been where I had a ‘More’, so that it sort of separated the post into what would be displayed and what would be the total post, but I can’t remember if that was it or not.
E: You may have, because that’s a known limitation that we have with importing. Because of people like you telling us about this, we’ve added some wording to that import page, where we explain that, if you’re blog has settings with ‘More’ or ‘Read More’ links, it means that it’s only showing our importer partial posts. The solution to that is unfortunately not something we can really do on our end, but we are trying to make that part the process a bit more transparent.
H: For me it didn’t matter, because I was drastically editing everything, so it was simple for me when I ran into those to just pull in text.
E: I wanted to ask you about our variable pricing feature, the sliders on our purchase page. Have you been experimenting with your minimum and suggested prices?
H: I have not been experimenting, but I’ve been using. I like it, I think it’s a cool idea, and so I use it. I have it set right now for five dollars as a minimum price someone can pay, and fifteen dollars for the suggested price. People pick prices all the way around. For me, I would much rather have people reading my book. The pricing matters much less to me than that. Now at the same time, I think if it’s just totally free… basically I want people reading my book. Getting my book or downloading my book I don’t care about, I care if they read it. If I could, if there were a thousand people in Nigeria that said they wanted the book and didn’t have any money to pay me, I’d be perfectly happy to have them get the book. But if I had a bunch of people get it that don’t read it, I’m not interested in that.
E: On that topic, is there anything that Leanpub could do to help you market your book more, or spread the message about your book in a better way?
H: Probably, but I just don’t know. My opinion of myself on management and process improvement is very high, my opinion of myself on marketing is very low. I don’t even know what are the foolish things that I don’t do! So my guess is that there’s probably stuff that would be useful, but I don’t even know what many of those things probably are.
E: Our approach towards that is we’d like to ask everybody if there’s anything we can do to help them so we understand the challenges better, but it’s mostly, start a blog, which obviously you’ve had for a long time now, and tweet about it. If one’s doing those two things - oh and using coupons, to send out free or discounted copies of books to potential reviewers and potentially influential readers. Have you been using coupons for your book?
H: Yeah, and I like that. I’ve used it for friends, to give them the opportunity to get the book, and also, like you say, for people who might review the book, or people I know who have blogs on the topic who might be interested and might review the book. So yeah, I’ve been doing that.
E: Just before we sign off on the interview, I was wondering if there’s any final thing you’d like to take the opportunity to say, either about the subject in your book, or about Leanpub?
H: There should be, but I can’t really think of anything off the top of my head!
E: OK, well that’s about it for me then! John, thank you very much for being on the Lean Publishing podcast, and for being a Leanpub author.
H: Great, thanks a lot.
published Dec 22, 2012
We’ve had some hiccups over the past couple of days with book previews and publishes, as well as new user and book creation.
This is related to some issues with our code that interacts with Dropbox. We’re not as resilient as we should be.
Furthermore, we don’t have any kind of status page indicating what the current state of Leanpub is.
Well, now we do: Leanpub System Status
It’s on Tumblr. We’ll keep it updated.
Currently this will be manual, but we’ll end up also providing automatic updates of the health of Leanpub services in future.
published Dec 17, 2012
If you’re a Leanpub author, chances are you already know who Len Epp is: he’s the helpful person making videos explaining how to use Leanpub, helping authors on the Google Group or the mailing list, etc.
Len has been working throughout 2012 on Leanpub. As Leanpub is growing, we’ve decided to make it official: Len is now a full-time Leanpub employee (Employee #2, after Ken).
Len’s official title is Head of Customer Development, which means that besides doing all the stuff he does to ensure that our authors are happy and productive, he’ll also be doing lots of work in the months ahead building out our new Leanpub for Publishers program! More on that soon…
So, welcome Len officially to Leanpub! We’d say make yourself at home, but you already have :)
published Dec 10, 2012
Recently, Hunter Walk from YouTube and Maya Baratz from ABC News launched a co-authored book on Leanpub called The Startup Chef. The book is comprised of 75 favorite recipes from leading entrepreneurs, investors, writers and other members of the startup/tech community. Proceeds from the book’s sale will go to charities devoted to feeding the hungry, including people affected by Hurricane Sandy. (The two charities are Save Our Strength and the Rockaway Plate Lunch Truck.)
Some people have been (naturally enough) curious about the exact numbers, so here’s a brief explanation:
Leanpub’s Standard Royalty Rates
At Leanpub, we’re committed to paying authors really high royalties. Our royalty rate is 90% minus 50 cents per sale, which is, to say the least, very competitive. (The 50 cents is to cover a portion of transaction costs; the rest of the transaction costs are paid from our portion of the sale).
Another way we have of maximizing author royalties is our variable pricing model, reflected in the cool pricing sliders you’ll see on every Leanpub book’s purchase page. Simply put, the variable pricing model lets customers pay what they want for a book. The author sets a minimum price (which can be as low as zero) and a suggested price, and then the customer chooses what to pay by dragging the slider up or down. Here’s a screenshot showing what that looks like:
So in this example, if someone were to pay $20.00 for Brian Marick’s book, Brian would receive $17.50.
You probably noticed there are two sliders there: one on top for how much you’re going to pay, and one on the bottom for how much the author is going to earn. One thing we’ve found is that customers often use the bottom slider to set the price, which means they’re more interested in figuring out how much they want the author to get, than they are in the overall price they’ll be paying. This, of course, only works because our royalty rates are so high that customers can basically ignore the difference between what they’re paying and what the author is getting.
The Startup Chef Charity Royalty Rates
Now, since The Startup Chef cookbook is a charity project, we do not want any profits from it. This means we’re just subtracting the transactions costs (which go to PayPal, not us!) from each sale, and passing on everything else to the charities.
That means the ‘royalty’ from each sale is 97.01% minus 30 cents (because the transaction fees are 2.99% of the price plus 30 cents). That means that if you pay $20.00 for The Startup Chef, the charities receive $19.10 (alternatively, if you pay $10.00, for example, the charities get $9.40).
Here’s a screenshot of what that looks like:
Since any donation you make will inevitably have some kind of transaction costs associated with it, this is pretty much like giving to the charities directly - only in this case you (or someone you’re giving the book to as a gift) get a bunch of cool recipes to try!