At the beginning of the year, I released my first self-published book. The whole process was entirely new to me, so I had to rely mostly on my gut feeling. Not knowing where I was going with the book or when I should stop, I decided to try something not very book-like. Rather than releasing the entire thing all at once, I wrote a portion of it, shared it among my customers, and kept adding and improving things based on readers' feedback. I called this portion a minimum viable book (or MVB).
In a way, I still keep doing that. I don't think of my book (or any of my future writings) as a final product. Rather, as a continuously evolving service.
Book as a Service (BaaS)
I assume that most readers of this blog are aware of the difference between software you buy once and software-as-a-service (Saas). While most software comes with the developer's obligation to keep it up-to-date continuously, SaaS took this further - giving both the developer and the customer an incentive to maintain a long-term relationship. It is the right mix of incentives - giving the customer enough skin in the game to steer the ship forward actively. At the same time, it doesn't leave the developer starving, either. There is a continuous flow of new revenue - enough for continuously investing in future development, and then some — a win-win.
Well, I see books evolving the same way. Or, at least, non-fiction reference books. Think of all programming books published out there. With a few notable exceptions, most of them become obsolete soon after printing. Once the book gets out, the publisher pays off the original investment; the author receives royalties from every sale, which continues for a while. A few years later, the technology landscape has changed enough to justify publishing a whole new edition. But it is a considerable investment risk for all sides.
With platforms like Leanpub and Gumroad, this is essentially no longer the case. On the contrary, those platforms encourage publishing early and often. You don't need more than a few pages and a great short description to test the market. Once you get some positive confirmation, you can gradually add more and more content to it.
See, I have had this idea for a while, for a book that puts together all my ten years of knowledge on setting up Macs for software development. It is probably too niche for a mainstream publisher to write off on it. It's also a serious time investment if I were to write a full-fledged book on the topic. Which is why I quickly put together an offer and put it up on Gumroad - at a 95% discount. It's the minimum amount of skin-in-the-game I am asking from future readers. Like early investors betting the first round on a pitch deck and some resumes, potential book readers sacrifice a small amount of money now on the promise that they'd eventually get the total value of the book.
For me, the writer, on the other hand, this tiny sacrifice means that:
- there is an actual legitimate interest in writing that book
- I need to sit down and fulfill my obligation to bring the book (and its price) closer to its desired state.
While specific genres will always require secrecy to keep the suspense high, there is no reason why reference and non-fiction books should not succeed as living services rather than final products.
What do you think?