Introducing the Leanpub Concierge Service

Today we’re launching the Leanpub Concierge Service! The first version of the Leanpub Concierge Service is just for one thing:

We will create a course from a book, converting the book to Markua first if necessary.

If you already know you want it, you can buy it here.

As many of you know, we’ve been encouraging authors to create Leanpub courses for a while. We’re now launching a service to help create courses from your Leanpub books, for those of you who are too busy to do this yourselves. (Yes, you can create a course from a Markua document.)

Before going into more details about the Leanpub Concierge Service and why it’s a good idea for Leanpub authors and for Leanpub, I want to start with why Leanpub authors should actually create courses based on their books in the first place…

Why Should Leanpub Authors Create Courses based on Their Books?

There are a number of reasons that we think that Leanpub authors with successful computer programming books should create courses.

Here are the top 5:

  1. Many of these books are, in fact, essentially already courses. All that is missing from many of them is quizzes at the end of each chapter.
  2. A course with the identical material to a book can (deservedly) sell for more money than the book. There are a number of reasons for this, but the main one is that courses can be the target of HR training budgets and time at organizations, whereas books typically cannot.
  3. Earning a certificate after completing a course lets the reader demonstrate some understanding of the material, if that certificate is earned by completing a number of quizzes of appropriate difficulty. This is potentially worth something to current or potential employers, which also justifies a higher price.
  4. Courses do not have to be full of video lessons with high production values. For us, the main benefits of a course to readers are that they can get their company to pay for it and that it looks great at raise time – or on a resume! Furthermore, that’s true regardless of whether the reader watched videos, listened to audio, or (shock, horror) actually read words on a screen to learn the material. We like the words-on-screens version: it’s what you’re doing now, and it’s the most efficient for both readers and authors.
  5. Course attempts can’t be pirated like DRM-free ebooks can be. Our ebooks have always been DRM-free, and over the years we’ve heard occasional concerns from authors who were concerned about unauthorized copying of their ebooks (especially the PDFs). Our position has always been that it’s futile to fight this whack-a-mole battle, and instead to treat it as free marketing for the book to other honest customers who will pay. (We believe in treating readers like customers, not thieves, so we don’t watermark our ebooks either.) None of this is changing now, but the great thing about course purchases is that the course attempt is tied to an individual reader account. So, even if you have pirated the course material, if you want to get credit for the course, you need to pay for it.

I could go on, but the basic point is this:

If you have a successful Leanpub book, you’re possibly leaving a lot of money on the table by not also turning it into a course.

What is the Leanpub Concierge Service?

As discussed, the Leanpub Concierge Service will create a course from a book, converting the book to Markua first if necessary.

More broadly, the Leanpub Concierge Service is a way for authors to trade money (including unpaid royalties) for services, saving time now and potentially earning more money in the future. (If an author can spend royalties now to earn more royalties later, we both win.)

Specifically, if you buy the Leanpub Concierge Service to create a course from one of your books, here is what we will do:

  1. Create a new stealth-mode Markua book for you in your Leanpub account, even if your book is already in Markua (we never edit our authors’ books, since it’s a bad idea in principle and since we don’t want to create merge conflicts)
  2. Copy the manuscript from the original book into the new book
  3. If it’s not already written in Markua, convert the original manuscript from Leanpub Flavoured Markdown, Google Docs or Word into Markua
  4. Edit the manuscript to ensure there are no Markua-related errors (we’re not copy editing the book, we’re just fixing any Markua-related issues)
  5. Create a new stealth-mode course based on this manuscript, with placeholder quizzes after each lesson

Once we have done these steps, your new course will have the following content:

  1. All the chapters of your book will have become lessons in the course.
  2. At the end of each lesson, there will be a placeholder quiz with sample content. (This will be the same quiz for all lessons and courses; it will not be created based on your material.)
  3. We will create a modified cover page for the course, either by cropping the cover page of your book or adding black or white bars to its sides.
  4. We will create a coupon for the course which gives a discount equal to the suggested price of the book that it is based on. (The idea is that you should give this coupon to all the readers of your book.)
  5. We will upload a signature image for the course certificate that students get. This signature image is just your name in a cursive font. (You can replace this image with an image of your actual signature if you are comfortable placing your signature on the internet.)

Once that is done, here’s what you need to do to make your course into something which can be sold on Leanpub:

  1. Replace our placeholder quiz questions with actual questions related to your chapter material. (Or, if some chapters don’t deserve a quiz, just delete those quizzes.)
  2. Pick a price. (We recommend 2x to 5x the price of your book.)
  3. Take it out of stealth mode and click the Publish button for the course.

That’s it. Really.

This isn’t just theory for me–I believe in the approach of “just add quizzes to an existing book to make a course” strongly enough that I’ve done it with one of my own books. I wrote a book to teach computer programming to kids, and I converted it into a course just by adding quizzes. If you want to see what this looks like, here’s a free coupon for my book and here’s a free coupon for my converted course. (Note that my course has real quizzes in it, not the placeholder quizzes we will create as part of the Leanpub Concierge Service.)

Before I explain why the Leanpub Concierge Service is a good thing for our authors and for Leanpub, I want to emphasize one important thing…

You Can Easily Make a Leanpub Course from a Leanpub Book Yourself, Without Paying for the Leanpub Concierge Service

If you want to convert one of your books into a course on Leanpub yourself, instead of using the Leanpub Concierge Service, that’s fantastic!

There are two good ways to do this conversion, and they are both totally free:

The best way to make a course from a Leanpub book (using Git)

  1. Switch to Git + GitHub or Git + Bitbucket writing mode for your book at Author > Books > your book > Settings > Writing Mode. Keep the preview branch and publish branch as master, or make a different branch for them. (Or, if you want, have separate branches for book preview and publish, say book_preview and book_publish.)
  2. Convert your book to Markua if necessary, previewing to debug any issues.
  3. Publish a new version of your book.
  4. Make a new branch (say called course) for your new course. (Or, if you want, have separate branches for course preview and publish, say course_preview and course_publish.)
  5. Create a new course on Leanpub and point it at the same Git repository as your book, but choose the preview branch and publish branch for your course.
  6. Add the quizzes, previewing to debug any issues.
  7. Publish your new course.

By the way, if you use the Leanpub Concierge Service, once we’re done, we recommend you take the course and book files we provide and making them be two branches of the same Git repository on GitHub or Bitbucket. That way, you’ll be able to easily keep them in sync going forward. (We don’t do this for you since it’s your repository, not ours. However, this is a 5 minute process, and we’re happy to help with it.)

The copy-paste-modify way to make a course from a Leanpub book

  1. Convert your book to Markua if necessary, previewing to debug any issues.
  2. Publish a new version of your book.
  3. Create a new course on Leanpub.
  4. Copy and paste all the manuscript files from your book into your course.
  5. Preview it as a sanity check.
  6. Add all the quizzes, previewing to debug any issues.
  7. Publish your new course.

This way seems simpler, but then you are stuck manually applying fixes to both your book and your course. You can certainly do this, but in the long run you’d really be better off learning Git, so that it can do the merging for you.

Regardless of which way you choose, we’re here to help, both in our author forums and at hello@leanpub.com.

Now, if you want us to actually do some of that work for you, that’s what the Leanpub Concierge Service is for…

Why is the Leanpub Concierge Service a Good Idea for Leanpub Authors?

If you have a successful Leanpub book, you may now be considering creating a course based on it. However, if this is the case, you probably already have a job and lots of demands on your free time.

Maybe you’d rather go snowboarding than do the grunt work of converting your book into a course. There isn’t that much to do if your book is already in Markua, but there is still some stuff to do.

Also, if your book is in Leanpub Flavoured Markdown, Google Docs or Word, there’s potentially a non-trivial amount of work to do to convert it into Markua. (The amount of work really depends on how complex the formatting you did was, and how many features you used which are different than they are in Markua. The core of Leanpub Flavoured Markdown and Markua are almost identical: they’re both based on Markdown, after all!)

So, we want to enable you to pay us to get your book as close to being a course as possible. After we’re done, all you need to do is change the questions, pick a price, take it out of stealth mode and click publish.

This is why the Leanpub Concierge Service is a good idea:

If you can pay us to do something that you should do, but that you wouldn’t have done since you don’t have time, and doing that thing will earn you money, then it’s a win-win.

(This is kind of similar to paying an accountant to do your taxes, even though you can use software to do it yourself. It’s hopefully not as much of a chore as doing your taxes, however!)

Our hope is that the money you earn from the sales of your course (which has the same 80% royalty rate as book sales) more than covers the cost of the Leanpub Concierge Service…

Why is the Leanpub Concierge Service a Good Idea for Leanpub?

In 2018 we launched an amazing course platform.

The largest problem with it, however, is adoption: very few of our successful books have been converted into courses on it.

There are five main possible reasons why this is true:

  1. We have not pushed the idea of creating a course based on just adding quizzes to an unchanged book.
  2. Authors haven’t realized how little work they need to do to make courses based on their books.
  3. Authors have thought of this, and realized that it’s fairly easy, but they don’t have the time–especially since it’s unproven and a bit speculative.
  4. We don’t have enough critical mass of authors who have made courses based on their books to set the example.
  5. Inertia. This is new, and new things don’t just happen by themselves.

So, what to do?

Well, in terms of (1), if it was just because authors haven’t thought about using the approach I’m advocating, then hopefully this essay solves that!

Frankly, the best possible outcome of this essay would be that every author who should convert their course into a book does so, themselves, without us needing to do anything. However, this isn’t likely, as chances are the reason it hasn’t happened is not just (1), but is actually a combination of all five reasons above.

So, to help solve this, we’re going to put our time and effort where my mouth is here. I’m suspicious of much of the startup conventional wisdom, but one piece which I totally agree with is that sometimes you need to jump start things by doing things that don’t scale. We think that this might be one of those cases, and we’re willing to do the work to make it happen.

Pricing

So, how to price this?

Well, first things first, we do actually have to charge money for it. We’re bootstrapped, and if we have to do some (or a bunch) of manual labour, that can’t be free. (If we were VC-funded, we’d just spend money to subsidize the cost of this–but we’re not, so we can’t do it at a loss.)

Now, the goal of “not lose money” should ideally also take into account our portion of the expected future earnings of these courses, and the marketing benefit that they bring. Again, if we were funded, the expected future earnings from many of these courses would justify our doing the work for free–but since we’re not, we also need to take into account cash flow now. So, we need to price this in a way that we are happy (from a cash flow perspective) when we make a sale.

To make this more attractive to both our authors (in terms of value) and to us (in terms of cash flow), we’re going to start by only selling the Leanpub Concierge Service as a bundle with two other things:

  1. A 3-month spot on The Shelf
  2. A Lifetime Pro Plan

These two services are both worth something, but they cost us almost nothing!

Specifically, we sell a 1-month spot on The Shelf for $149 (equivalent to $447 over 3 months), and we sell a Lifetime Pro Plan for $349. (We also sell a 3 Month Shelf Spot and a Lifetime Pro Plan as a bundle right now for $499, and we will continue to do so.) So, including these as part of the Leanpub Concierge Service means that you’re getting between $447 and $499 of value, based on whether you already have a Lifetime Pro Plan. So, the great thing is that while most authors will be getting a $499 value from these services, there is almost no cost to us, as there’s no manual labour involved.

Finally, we have to recognize that books vary in length and complexity, and that the “convert it into Markua if necessary” part is where almost all the variability in effort is. So, if we are going to create a simple set of prices, we have to create a set of prices which we will be (hopefully) happy to accept if an author is happy to pay it.

So, here are the prices of the Leanpub Concierge Service. The prices vary based on the writing mode of the book. Note that all of these prices are bundles, and they all include a 3-month spot on The Shelf and a Lifetime Pro Plan (combined, a $499 value):

Since these are sold as spots on The Shelf, you can apply your unpaid royalties as a discount toward their purchase.

If you look at the prices above and think “that’s fair given the value being received” or “that’s a good use of my unpaid royalties for February”, then please go here!

If, on the other hand, you look at those prices and think “I could buy an Apple Watch / iPad Pro / MacBook Air / MacBook Pro for that, no way!”, we understand. That’s a totally valid reaction.

In that case, the best choices are for you to:

  1. Convert your books to Markua now, and then make them into courses by following the steps set out above. Again, we are thrilled if you choose this option. We made Leanpub to be a self-serve platform, after all!
  2. Do nothing right now, and wait for us to release a Leanpub Flavoured Markdown ⇒ Markua conversion tool to help with the conversion. Our plan is to ship this in 2020, after Markua is 100% implemented in Leanpub, and after we’ve had experience using it ourselves in the Leanpub Concierge Service. By that time it will be battle-tested, etc. (Right now this tool doesn’t even exist, except in theory, so we’re not holding anything back here!)

However, our hope is that the royalties that you would earn from your course between now and when we ship a mostly-automated conversion tool would more than cover the cost of the Leanpub Concierge Service to you. This is, after all, why we’re creating the thing in the first place: to grow our courses business, even if we have to help make the courses ourselves!

How to Buy the Leanpub Concierge Service

To buy the Leanpub Concierge Service to create a course based on one of your books:

  1. Go to the purchase page for a spot on The Shelf.
  2. Choose the option to buy a bundle of the Leanpub Concierge Service + a 3 Month Shelf Spot + a Lifetime Pro Plan.
  3. Choose the book you want us to convert into a course. The price of the bundle you chose will update dynamically based on the type of book (Markua, Leanpub Flavoured Markdown, Google Docs or Word) that it is.
  4. Pay with unpaid royalties and/or a credit card or PayPal.

If you buy the Leanpub Concierge Service for one of your books, we will deliver the converted course with the placeholder quizzes within 120 days of purchase. If we realize that we cannot do this in that time, we will give you a full refund, and you get to keep the Lifetime Pro Plan and the 3 Month Shelf Spot.

Note that if we have sold out of spots on The Shelf, the price will remain unchanged, but the bundle will only be for the Leanpub Concierge Service + a Lifetime Pro Plan. This is to encourage people to buy now, while we still have shelf spots left!

Similarly, if you buy the Leanpub Concierge Service for more than one of your books, the price will remain unchanged, even though you’re only getting one free Lifetime Pro Plan, not two. (The free Lifetime Pro Plan is for an account, not for a book, and is good for up to 100 books or courses.)

Current Roadmap for 2019 (Markua, native app, etc.)

If you’ve been a Leanpub author for a while, you may be wondering how the Leanpub Concierge Service fits in with our development plans.

Besides all the normal stuff we do to keep Leanpub running and the constant minor improvements we’re making, we’re also doing a number of larger things this year.

I don’t like to talk about dates because estimating dates is hard–especially when bootstrapped. However, I do want to share what our larger priorities are, so you can see how the Leanpub Concierge Service fits in to them. Note that we’re doing these in parallel, not in serial…

1. Finish Markua

Once we finish Markua, there will be One True Way to write books and courses. Right now, there is justifiable confusion about which to use, since Markua is the future of Leanpub, but it’s not 100% implemented yet.

(The current status of Markua is that it’s at feature parity with Leanpub Flavoured Markdown and more: everything you can do in Leanpub Flavoured Markdown you can do in Markua, so if you’re not afraid of reading a spec, you should use Markua for new books.)

Once Markua is 100% implemented (hopefully by the end of 2019), we will add a Markua output target to our parser, so that converting from Leanpub Flavoured Markdown to Markua is a lot easier.

(At some point in the future, say in 2020 or 2021, we’d love to add an open source Markua reader and writer to Pandoc. This won’t be the best way to convert Leanpub Flavoured Markdown books, however, since Pandoc parses standard Markdown, not Leanpub Flavoured Markdown. So adding the Markua output target to Leanpub would still be the correct thing to do, which is why we will do it first. Plus, Pandoc is written in Haskell, and Haskell is harder than Ruby for us!)

2. Launch a Native App for Computers

This will be the best place to read a Leanpub book and do a Leanpub course. It will be easy to update books to their latest versions, keep track of where you are, etc. It will also be able to optionally auto-start when you turn on your computer. This will be convenient for readers, and we expect that over time it will drive a lot of sales.

(Yes, this is like a popular gaming platform you may know.)

Finally, the native app will even be the best place for authors who don’t have a favorite text editor to write a Leanpub book, either in the visual editor or in a brand new in-browser text editor. (We’re replacing our current in-browser text editor, presumably with Monaco as its replacement, since our current one is not something we’re proud of.)

3. Refactor Payments

This will allow for things like gift cards, a tip jar and arbitrary royalty purchases for things like books and courses, etc. We’ve accumulated some technical debt in this area over the past 8+ years, and we need to do some refactoring here to make it easier to add new features.

4. Grow Courses

We are doing work to grow both self-published and university-published courses.

Growing self-published courses is why we’re launching the Leanpub Concierge Service. Finishing Markua and releasing a Leanpub Flavoured Markdown converter will help with this as well, obviously.

In terms of growing university-published courses, we’re very interested in talking to forward-thinking and technically-savvy professors. We think our courses platform is a great fit for online courses, especially those from computer science departments, where things like Git and Markdown are familiar, not foreign. However, we’re aware that we are still at the Customer Discovery stage here, to use Steve Blank’s terminology.

5. Make Leanpub More Social

No, I’m not talking about things like adding Twitter badges, I’m talking about actually improving the author and reader community on Leanpub. Adding Discourse forums was a good first step, but we need to improve our author profiles, promote author podcast interviews where applicable, determine the best way for readers to like and review books, etc. We have lots of ideas here, but this isn’t the place for them.

Conclusion

We’re very excited about the Leanpub Concierge Service.

Not only will it help us grow our courses program, we expect that as it expands, it will make the power of writing in Markua available to more authors. (At some point we may expand the Leanpub Concierge Service to offer the conversion of a book manuscript into Markua as a separate service, independent of creating a course.)

The superpower that Leanpub gives an author is the ability to write in plain text, click one button, and magically get a book and/or course generated, published and for sale.

You can literally can create a book and a course from different branches of the same Git repository. I’ve done this, and it’s just awesome. This is only possible with Markua, so we want as many books converted to Markua as possible.

Writing books and courses in Markua is the future of Leanpub, and the Leanpub Concierge Service will help us help make that future more easily available to more authors.

I would like to sincerely thank every author who has created a book or course on Leanpub. We’re very excited about the future of book and course creation.

Peter Armstrong

February 27, 2019