Future Think: Agile Book Publishing Startup LeanPub
“The first copy of a Leanpub book was sold on April 21, 2010,” says Peter Armstrong, whose company Leanpub launched in 2010. “The book was Eric Ries' Startup Lessons Learned, and the price was $29.99. Not all ebooks need to cost $9.99 or less. Since then, we've paid over $700,000 in royalties to authors. Thousands of authors have signed up, and more than 100 books have earned more than $1,000 each."
One of the hottest concepts in the last couple of years in publishing can also still draw puzzled looks when you first suggest it. Just ask Armstrong, co-founder (with Scott Patten) of Vancouver's Leanpub.
"Lean Publishing," Armstrong says, "is the act of publishing an in-progress book using lightweight tools and many iterations to get reader feedback, pivot until you have the right book, and build traction once you do."
Lean publishing can also be described as agile publishing, a term which comes from software development methods in which you create tools incrementally and test them, get feedback, then update, revise and "iterate" new versions.
Armstrong’s three-year-old startup has used this context to establish itself as a highly respected, forward-looking corporate member of publishing: “We’re here to help authors and publishers publish in-progress books, since we think that will help these books be better books, and also sell better."
Even the company's funding is lean: "We're bootstrapped. Leanpub is operated by a consulting company called Ruboss, which has been in business since 2008. We are following in the footsteps of companies like 37signals that were bootstrapped; not every company needs to raise VC funding in order to build important, successful products.” Armstrong expects royalty payments to reach $900,000 by late fall.
The startup is proactive in the author community, sponsoring the popular annual National Novel Writing Month program in November, or “NaNoWriMo.” “We have added a causes program,” Armstrong says, “and Leanpub authors can choose to support [the non-profit] NaNoWriMo as a cause: they can choose a percentage of their royalties to go directly to NaNoWriMo.”
Maybe the biggest challenge ahead for Leanpub is bringing more publishers into the mix. “For publishers, it's tricky. Some publishers want to use Leanpub's ebook tool chain, but not our storefront. Our tool chain is really good; we even include exporting InDesign at the end of it, which the publisher can use as an input to their print book production process. So, to this effect, we're putting something together to support that explicitly as a fully supported SaaS (SaaS meaning software as a service).
However “agile” Leanpub has to be in testing and iterating offerings for publishers, Armstrong says the logic of serving both authors and publishers is there: "As we talked with authors and publishers, we realized they have the same goals. Authors and publishers are trying to make the best book they can, trying to release a book while it's still relevant and trying to figure out the right price for the book."
Journalist Porter Anderson, formerly with CNN and the Village Voice, specializes in publishing at PublishingPerspectives.com, JaneFriedman.com, and WriterUnboxed.com