Altering the deal... again....

(No, this is not about GitHub or Microsoft... lol.)

Back in March (just a few months ago), I signed up on Leanpub to publish the NNG Reference Manual.  I was completely in the dark about how to go about self-publishing a book, and a community member pointed me at Leanpub.

Leanpub charged $99 to set up, back in March, and offered a 90% (minus 50 cents) royalty rate.  On top of it they let me choose a price from free, or $0.99 to $99.  Buyers could choose within that range.  This looked great, although I was a bit hesitant to spend the $99 since there was no way to try their platform out.

Note that at this time I was not interested (and am still not interested) in their authoring tools based on Markua.  I had excellent tooling already in Asciidoctor, plus a bunch of home-grown tools (that I've since further expanded upon) to markup and layout the book, plus previewing, etc.

Everything was great, and I made sales ranging from $0.99 to $20.  Not a lot of sales, but enough to nearly recoup my $99 investment.  Now, I wasn't looking at this as a money making venture, but as a way to help support my work around NNG -- having a professionally produced reference manual was something I considered an important step for NNG.

Shortly after I created the book and published, Leanpub changed the minimum price that buyers could pay to $4.99.  We're talking about a digital good here.  First time the deal was altered....

Then in April, they introduced a new SaaS pricing model, where I could have ditched the $99 fee.  So I'm feeling like a chump, but hey at least I have that 90% royalty rate, right?  (By this time I'd sold enough to cover that initial $99 outlay, thanks to generous supporters from the NNG community.) . Deal altered again.

Then they introduced a freemium model in May, where I really could have skipped that $99 outlay.  But they told me that I was grandfathered, so I could keep my 90% rate, so I was getting something for that $99 I spent originally.  Deal altered third time?

Now, they've told me that they've changed their mind, and no, they aren't going to let me keep that grandfathered rate.  Deal altered again?!?

They posted a long essay explaining why they "had" to do this.  I get it, their old business model wasn't working.  But in the past 3 months they've made not one, not two, but three changes to their pricing and business model.  They've made promises, and gone back on their word.

But it's ok, because at 80% I'm making more than with Amazon, right?  Well, no, not really.  I won't repeat the calculations here, but it turns out that I would have made slightly more money with Amazon.  Now, that's partly due to the fact that my sales have been quite slow (as they were predicted to be -- this is a really niche book -- a reference manual for a product that isn't even 1.0 yet.)

The thing is, I'm slightly irked about the loss of income, but I'm much more angry about the lack of respect they've given us, their authors and customers.  Clearly, their promises don't carry much weight.  They've offered lifetime free Pro accounts to customers who were with them long enough to have at least $500 in royalties, but everyone else is out of luck.  As to those lifetime pro accounts -- well, it's "lifetime, or until we change our mind".   Which seems to occur about once a month.

Now Leanpub isn't some big bad company, but their attitude and thinking reflected in how they've handled this process shows clear alignment with the same thought processes that those big bad companies have.  As an author you're not a valued partner to them -- you're a source of revenue, with very little effort on their part required to support you.

I've started rethinking my use of Leanpub obviously.

It seems like I can make use of Selz which seems to have really good support for selling digital goods like eBooks (and even has a Pay What You Want option!), and with my small number of digital goods will only charge me the transaction processing costs -- either 2.9% or 3.9% depending on location.  (Digital goods are not taxable in California.)  So what was I gaining from Leanpub again?

For Kindle and iBooks, it also looks like dealing with Amazon and Apple directly look like a better deal than Leanpub.  You get their expanded distribution, and yes, you only get 70% royalties, but you don't have to pay any recurring fees.  Unless you're doing large volumes, the math on these works out better than any of the Leanpub paid plans.

 (IngramSpark, where I have also posted the book, also works, but I've had less than satisfactory results with their epub->mobi conversion, so I can't recommend using them for Kindle at least, and I think the royalties you get from dealing directly with Apple are superior anyway.)

This all seems like a lot of work, but I hope this helps other authors who might be considering using Leanpub.

(There is one feature which is nice on Leanpub, which is the ability to publish an incomplete work in progress, and then keep updating it.  But let's face it, you can do that equally well from your own website and something like Selz.)


Garrett D'Amore said…
One update -- Leanpub did refund my $99 (I think in response to this posting.)

I will keep the book up on Leanpub, since it costs me nothing to do so, but on my own site I will direct users to my store where I only have to pay < 5% for the transaction fees, and get to keep the rest.
Garrett D'Amore said…
In retrospect, even though Leanpub offers a lower royalty, I've found that the attach rate there is higher. In the past 5 months, I've sold exactly one copy on Selz, and a number of copies via Leanpub. (I've also sold more through Smashwords and Amazon.) Every outlet has outperformed Selz.

Conversely, Selz spams my inbox regularly with "marketing advice", and requires some effort to keep current. The only way people can find the book on Selz is if they are already on my site, so there is no "serendipitous discovery" benefit. All of which now has led to me to decision to keep with Leanpub, and close my Selz store. 80% of $10 is infinitely more than 98% of $0.

In fact, right now the 2nd Edition of my book is available on Leanpub right now -- I went ahead and started it as a new book under their free plan. So they'll take 20% of any actual sales I make, but at this point I'm fine good with that.

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