An interview with Eberhard Wolff
00:00
00:00
  • July 18th, 2018

Eberhard Wolff, Author of Microservices - A Practical Guide: Principles, Concepts, and Recipes

00:00
00:00
45 MIN
In this Episode

Eberhard Wolff is the author of the Leanpub book Microservices - A Practical Guide: Principles, Concepts, and Recipes. In this interview, Leanpub co-founder Len Epp talks with Eberhard about his background in tech, working a big company versus freelance and consulting work, getting political on Twitter, when you should use microservices in your software and why, his book, and at the end, they talk a little bit about his experience as a self-published author.

This interview was recorded on May 2, 2018.

The full audio for the interview is here. You can subscribe to the Frontmatter podcast in iTunes or add the podcast URL directly.

This interview has been edited for conciseness and clarity.

Transcript

Microservices - A Practical Guide: Principles, Concepts, and Recipes by Eberhard Wolff

Len: Hi, I'm Len Epp from Leanpub, and in this Leanpub Frontmatter podcast, I'll be interviewing Eberhard Wolff.

Eberhard is an IT architect and a consultant who works on areas that are at the intersection of technology and business. He's a popular international conference speaker and author who has written extensively about microservices.

Eberhard is the author of a number of Leanpub books in English and German, including Microservices Primer and Microservices - A Practical Guide, and most recently, Microservices Recipes.

You can read Eberhard's website at ewolff.com, and you can follow him on Twitter @ewolff. He also has a blog that I'll link to in the transcription for this interview, and a YouTube channel that I'll also link to.

In this interview we're going to talk about Eberhard's background and career, his professional interests, his books, and at the end we'll talk a little bit about his experience as a writer and an author.

So, thank you Eberhard for being on the Leanpub Frontmatter Podcast.

Eberhard: Thanks for having me.

Len: I always like to start these interviews by asking people for their origin story, and I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about where you grew up and how you got interested in computers and technology generally?

Eberhard: I grew up in Germany in the northern part, Hamburg. I got a computer when I was 13 - an eight bit machine, and I started doing basic sampler, these kinds of things.

Then I started computer science at the University of Hamburg. I enjoyed the studies quite a lot. That is basically how I got started. Originally I enjoyed computer games of course, I guess like a lot of people did. I also really liked computer graphics. Nowadays I'm more into software development, software architecture - these kinds of things.

Len: You mentioned that you got a degree in computer science. I believe, if I read your LinkedIn profile correctly, that was from the University of Hamburg?

Eberhard: Yes.

Len: I was wondering, if you were starting out again now in a career in tech, or if you were giving advice to a younger version of yourself who was starting out now - would you recommend doing a computer science degree again?

Eberhard: For other people, I'm not sure. Because I see a lot of people who have skills from other backgrounds - people who started a career in something completely different, then moved to computing and really have a deep knowledge about technologies and are really capable of doing quite a lot of things. So I think it's not really necessary to do these kinds of computer science studies. It's just that you have to have those skills. And where you get them from - that's not too interesting, I think.

I, myself - I enjoyed studying at the University of Hamburg a lot. I learned about Agile. And I mean that was basically last century. I also got started in Java, which is still useful today. I think I really learned a lot of very practical things. And also, I enjoyed theoretical computer science a lot, because I think it's a real intellectual challenge.

I still remember that the first language we actually were taught was a functional programming language. That was something that was entirely different from what I was used to. I thought that was quite interesting and an intellectual challenge. I wouldn't have thought that this would be handy at one point, but nowadays with the hype about functional programming it's actually quite, quite great that I had that education, so I wouldn't miss it. But I think there are quite a lot of people who are totally happy without going to university, and I think that's fine too.

Len: I'm curious, what was it like studying in Hamburg? I confess I've never been there. Is the city a distraction to a devoted university student?

Eberhard: It is a very beautiful city, and I still like it a lot. It's basically sort of where I grew up. And of course there is a lot of nightlife there too. There is the famous Reeperbahn, and I would encourage you to go there if you ever come to visit Hamburg. I have to admit that I was probably more one of the boring guys. So I spent a lot of time actually really doing my studies. And as I said, the university is really great. So when I started there, it was really enjoyable.

Len: You spent some years working for big companies, before making the change to become a freelance consultant. Is that correct?

Eberhard: I have worked for quite a few different companies. I started my career at an IT consultancy, and basically I'm working at an IT consultancy now too. I used to work for SpringSource, the company behind the Java Spring framework. SpringSource got acquired by VMware. That is when I was really working for a huge company. I mean, VMware is quite a huge company. That was probably the largest one that I ever worked for.

Len: I'm asking, because a great many Leanpub authors have often chosen the path of freelance consulting. I was just wondering what it was about that lifestyle that attracted you?

Eberhard: The last time that I did some freelancing it was about doing some more hands-on work. I had a management position before, more like talking about architecture strategy and these kinds of things. I really wanted to do some hands-on work. So I got a nice job that I could do as a freelancer. And that's how I started.

Nowadays I'm working for INNOQ, which is a German and Swiss consultancy. We are about 120 people working throughout Germany and Switzerland. What I really enjoy about this one is that there's a group of people that you belong to, and there is a lot of knowledge exchanged inside the company.

So if you look at my latest book, the Practical Guide to Microservices, in the acknowledgements, there is actually a huge number of colleagues that I thanked, because they got involved in the book and provided me with a lot of feedback. I think that's very valuable.

And at INNOQ, we also have a lot of freedom. We can basically choose what we want to work on. We have a lot of events where all of the company comes together and discusses things. So it's really enjoyable. I would say that I'm not a freelancer by nature. I can do it if I want to, but with my current position, I'm actually much more happy than I was as a freelancer.

Len: Speaking of freedom, that leads me actually to my next question, which is a little bit specific, but in Germany - given the country's productivity - you have what I think what many people would consider to be a pretty successful model of works councils. I've had a little bit of experience with that system myself.

I was once working a 110 hour a week job in London as an investment banker, and at one point we were doing a deal in Germany and I had to deal with some accountants in Frankfurt. I remember one time this accountant - a very hard-working, very good guy, apologizing that he had to stop work at 5:30 because he had no choice. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about that system in so far as you're aware of it, and how does that affect - guess I'm asking, how does that affect someone like you?

Eberhard: Well, first of all, there's actually a law in Germany, I believe, that says you are not allowed to work more than 10 hours a day, for a longer period of time. I have to admit that I think the spirit of that law makes a lot of sense. And generally speaking, the laws about labor in Germany make a lot of sense, and also the strong unions.

In our industry, it's a little bit different because at the end of the day it's about the people - I think the difference is that the employees really have the power, not the employer. Because they are in such high demand. Capable tech people are in such high demand that the employer has to think twice whether he wants to do anything to them that makes them quit.

Having said that, I think in our industry there are a lot of people who are really motivated by the problem at hand and working on it. And then, it seems to be a little bit odd to stop after 10 hours and to follow those laws. I think quite a lot of people have a hard time following them.

However, on the other hand, there is a huge problem in our industry and that is burnout. Basically the term itself means that people are burning for what they are doing. And at one point you just have to stop, because otherwise there is just work and there is nothing else. For that reason, I think those limits actually do make some sense.

I try to be ironic about it. If you follow my Twitter account, I talk about how there should just be work and work, and that's pretty much all there is to life. But this is really meant ironically.

As a matter of fact, I think nowadays it's much more important that people are actually happy and that you don't work too much. Because it's just not sustainable. And it's - I mean, the number one problem that we have in our industry are people who are - well, burnt out and can't really work anymore. It's not about being physically harmed by these kinds of things that are a real threat, I would say, to your health concerning work. That's pretty much how I think about it.

Len: Speaking of the quality of work, one thing I did notice looking at your Twitter feed was that you have an interest in promoting the importance of providing people with good equipment if they're going to work for you. We have a similar philosophy at Leanpub, and I just wanted to give you an opportunity to give your views about this issue.

Eberhard: I think it should just be a no-brainer. Tat is actually what it is at INNOQ. You can just get whatever hardware you want. And that's the way it should be. Because if you look at the money that our labor costs, that is a lot of money compared to the price of the hardware. I think it's just illogical to provide people with old hardware or hardware they don't like.

There was one feed that said, "This is really about the people and telling them that they are valuable." But at the end of the day it's just the logical thing to do. It's not just about the people and valuing the people. It's about getting most out of your money as an employer. That is the reason why I think you should just provide people with the hardware they want.

Len: One of the pleasures of this podcast is that I get to interview writers from around the world, and one thing I like to do is ask people for their views on things the rest of us might be hearing about where they live, but don't really understand behind headlines. If you're up for it, I'd like to ask if you could talk a little bit about the AfD or - I think it's pronounced Alternative für Deutschland? What's up with that?

Eberhard: Yeah. So that is something that I probably talk about in my Twitter feed too. It's a party in Germany that gained about 13% in the last election. It's a very weird - well, it's ant-Muslim, anti-immigrants, and at some points it's bordering on being basically the old Nazi party again. Because what they say is that we should be proud of our soldiers in the Second World War. They do have some antisemitic people in their party and these kinds of things.

The reason why I'm upset about it is because, in my opinion, what I'm proud about in Germany is that I thought that the way that we handled our legacy with the Third Reich was actually pretty good. I thought it would never happen again. And these days, I'm not that sure anymore. Because sometimes if you listen to those people, and if you take close note, you're basically like, "Okay, if I change Muslim for Jew in that sentence, it basically is like those sentences that we've heard in the past." I'm not sure whether people actually noticed that.

So that's why I'm upset about it, and why I keep talking about it. Also, one thing that is important to me is this paradox of tolerance that says that if you tolerate people, that's fine, but you must not tolerate people that want to kill off tolerance itself. It's by the philosopher, Popper. Basically it means that if there's a threat to the free society itself, you have to fight against it. I'm not sure whether people actually realize that, because there are too many people that say, "Well we need to listen to those people." I don't like that. So that's basically my approach on it.

Len: Thanks very much for that answer. One of the curious things, I find, is the invocation that a certain segment of the population makes in a lot of places - the importance that they seem to place on some concept of pride, that involves the rejection of negative legacy - I just don't approach the world that way. To me, what could be stronger or more prideful than facing the truth when it's negative?

Eberhard: I agree. And as I said, I think that is how we dealt as a nation with the Third Reich. I'm not sure whether I would, I should say I'm proud about it. It's just somewhat unique, I would say. I hope that it stays this way.

Len: I wanted to ask you about tweeting about political issues. This is a decision I think everyone who's a professional and who has a Twitter account and likes to go on Twitter has to make. Am I going to mix politics with my professional tweets? You've decided to do that, and I wanted to ask you about that. Do you get any negative reactions for doing that?

Eberhard: Surprisingly not. And I'm not sure - I mean, that is probably because there is a certain echo chamber that you live in. Those people provide you with positive feedback. Which, in a way, is great. I mean the reason why I do this is because - I try to select the statements that I make, so it is not about a specific party. It is not about the politics of a specific party. It is about those people that I believe are actually damaging democracy itself and our freedom, basically. The rest is basically fine. If you're conservative or if you're left wing, that's all fine by me, as long as you believe in democracy and basic freedom and these kinds of things.

The reason why I do it is because I think you must not be quiet about what's going on. And that is the reason. I do believe that it is somewhat weird to mix professional stuff with these kinds of things. But the alternative would be to be quiet about what really bothers me, and I don't want to do that. That's why I've chosen to be not quiet about it. That's basically the reasoning behind that.

Len: Thanks, that's a great answer. I really appreciate you being forthcoming about these issues.

Moving onto the subject of your books and your writing - I'd like to talk about microservices with you. I talked about this in a previous podcast episode with Obie Fernandez. But for those who might not know, I was wondering if you could explain what microservices are?

Eberhard: To me it's basically a different way of modularizing your system. If you build a huge system, then you come up with modules. That's a very old idea. Usually, you would write libraries or classes or some kind of source code structure that make up your system. Microservices are a different kind of module in the sense that they are independently deployable.

That means if I have a large ecommerce system and I have part of the system that handles the order processing, and another one that does the invoicing, I could change one of those, invoicing or auto-processing, and deploy it by itself, without deploying the other one. That has huge advantages. If I want to implement a new feature, I just do it and deploy that one module and I'm done.

If you implement those microservices with Docker containers or whatever you might choose, then you also have freedom of technology. So I can write my stuff in Java, and someone else can write it in Go. Or we could also all write it in Java. But as soon as I want to deploy a bug fix to one library that I have - I can just do it, and the other microservices are not influenced.

To me it is about modules and decoupling. Decoupling deployment, decoupling technical decisions. Also, decoupling scalability - scaling so I can scale each microservice by itself. Decoupling and for security - so I can have firewalls between the microservices, and if one microservice is compromised there is a firewall between that microservice and the next one. And so on and so on. That's basically how I think about it.

Len: And what's the connection between microservices and Unix?

Eberhard: Well there is this story that microservices are like the Unix philosophy. You write small programs like LS to list the content of a directory. And then you write other small programs like [? 21:25] to sort some stuff. And then you can have LS and use the output of LS and pipe that into sort. And then you have sorted listing of a directory. That's basically the idea.

That is why people say that there is a Unix philosophy behind microservices. I'm not sure, because in a way that's actually true, ecause each of those microservices, or each of those command line tools is a separate program and it can be deployed by itself, so it makes some sense to talk about that as microservices.

I think the difference, in my opinion, is that I tend to think about microservices for all this, typically more cost-grained, and also more about domain logic, while Unix by nature is basically a technical thing that tries to solve technical problems.

Len: And what's the relationship between microservices and continuous delivery? I was wondering if you could spell that out? How are the two related?

Eberhard: Actually I did write a book about continuous delivery too, in German. That was before I wrote the books about microservices. The story behind that is basically, if you want to deploy your software more frequently, continuously - then at one point you need to think about your modules, and maybe if those modules can be deployed individually, that's a huge advantage. It makes continuous delivery easier.

So if you have one of those really huge systems where you deploy them each quarter, and it takes you several weeks to test the whole thing, how can you achieve your daily deployments or multiple deployments a day without changing the architecture, and have more fine grained parts? So in my opinion, continuous delivery's one of the goals that you usually want to achieve if you do microservices.

The goal is to deploy more frequently. And the way to do that is to use microservices. Because otherwise you're stuck with your deployment monolith. And there is just no way that you can deploy that very frequently. That's the way I think about it.

Len: And what are the risks or disadvantages of shifting to a microservices system or process?

Eberhard: That's a good question. I have to admit, if I look at people doing microservices nowadays - they are focusing on, well, microservices - which is not such a bad idea. But the problem is, it's just a different way to do modules. So if you don't have the proper modulization, then microservices won't help you. If you have a mess with all the modules interwoven into each other, this big ball of mud, and you build that with microservices, then first of all you pay the additional complexity, because you have to have all these individually deployable microservices, and operation becomes much harder and these kinds of things. And you don't really gain a benefit.

It's even worse. Because if you have a change to that system, and you have to change multiple modules, multiple microservices at once, it's much harder to deploy that thing. Because you have to deploy more than one module in more than one microservice.

If you had the deployment monolith, you could still deploy that deployment monolith. And that would be possible to do. But if you have microservices, you would have to deploy all these microservices, and that's much harder.

I would argue that people should probably - it's sort of a paradox. They should probably not focus on microservices first. They should focus on getting their architecture right. And then they should implement those modules as microservices.

That is where the main differences are in on contacts and these kinds of things. Come in, and they really help you to come up with those modules that are decoupled and that actually have the main meaning in these kinds of things.

Len: I guess a very specific question I have is, does adopting a microservices regime increase points of failure or potential points of failure?

Eberhard: That is a very good question. Here is the reason why you could say no. If I do a memory leak in my code, it's just my microservice that's going to crash. All the other microservices will continue to operate. So in that sense, it's more stable than a deployment monolith. Because in a deployment monolith, even if there is a really unimportant, small module and there is a memory leak in there - eventually the whole thing will crash. And that will just not happen with microservices.

Having said that, it depends on how you build your system. If that one microservice that crashes causes an error cascade and causes all the other microservices to crash too - then your system is actually less stable. That is why resilience is important. That is why you have to think about if one of your microservices crashes, how do you keep the other one operating, and how do you build your system resilience?

Because otherwise it's actually going to be a less stable system. Because it's much more likely that one of the parts will fail, because there are more processes. There is a network involved and more service and these kinds of things. So it's just more likely that something will fail. And then, the error cascade, you have to make sure that the result of that is limited.

Len: You write a lot, and I wanted to ask you a little bit about your writing. Your books are in both German and English. I was wondering, do you write in German first, or do you write in English first?

Eberhard: I have to admit that I write in German first, because I spend most of my time in Germany. And that's also where most of my customers are. So that is why I write the stuff in German, because that is like my core audience. And then, I could convince my wife to translate the stuff, she actually enjoys it. So she does the translation. And then I go over it again. And then we have the English version of the book, basically. So that's roughly how it works.

Len: Do you get other people to review your writing before you publish it or after you publish it? Do you have editors that you work with?

Eberhard: Definitely. There is the German publisher that I work with [? 29:24]. And I also get a lot of reviewers - [people that I] work with anyway. As I said in my last book, the Practical Guide to Microservices, I passed it around in my company. I asked people about their specific expertise and gave them specific chapters. I tried to make sure that every chapter is read by at least one additional person, so that I get some feedback. I really find that valuable.

There is just no way that you can write a proper book without a lot of reviews and external input. At the end of the day, there is that name on the cover. But it tells probably half the story. Because there are so many other people involved, and there are the ideas that they tell you about, and inspirations and so on. So even though it looks like the work of one person, it's really something that a lot of people are involved in.

Len: Have you done any in-progress publishing? I'm actually not sure if you've ever used Leanpub to publish something when it's 50% complete, or something like that.

Eberhard: Yes, I did that. However, the way that I work is - there is the German version. I pass around chapters of that, and then that is published in German. And then I start the English translation. So when I start the English translation, the whole book's basically there, it just needs to be translated. I have to admit that I don't really make a lot of use of those Leanpub features where you start with a small book, and you're not sure about the direction, and you want to get some input. That's not the way that I work. But that is just because I start with the German version, and then I do the translation.

Len: That makes a lot of sense. I noticed that you've got your books up on Amazon as well, both in Kindle editions and in print additions.

For those listening who might be interested in publishing their own books, I just wanted to ask you a little bit about what that experience has been like for you. Was it hard to get your books up on Amazon? Did you have any trouble doing that?

Eberhard: It's actually quite easy, because Leanpub provides me with the MOBI version of my ebook. So I can just use that, upload it at KDP, the Kindle Direct Publishing platform, and then off you go.

For the print version, I use CreateSpace. That's print-on=demand. And again, it's very easy. I just take the stuff that Leanpub provides, the print-ready PDF, I add a cover, and upload it to CreateSpace. That's pretty much it.

That is one of the reasons why I enjoy working with Leanpub - because you get all these things like the printable PDF and the easy way to do Kindle Direct Publishing. So that is clearly a benefit, and one of the huge values that Leanpub provides for me.

Len: I noticed you're also on Goodreads. Actually, I don't know if I've ever talked to a Leanpub author about this subject before, but Goodreads, for anyone listening, is a popular platform for authors to promote their books and for readers to talk about them. It was bought by Amazon a few years ago. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about what that experience has been like? Has it helped you sell books, do you think?

Eberhard: I have to admit, I don't think so. I am on Goodreads as you mentioned. I'm not sure when I logged in the last time. That has to be a few months back, I guess? I have to admit that I'm not sure how I can make that a useful marketing tool. The marketing tool that I know is Twitter and a few other things. So I do conference talks, I do podcasts like the one that I'm doing right now, and these kinds of things. That is how I try to sell the books. I'm not sure how I could do that on Goodreads. But maybe I should take a closer look and try to figure that out.

Len: Have you done any experimenting with pricing on Amazon? I've just read in the self-publishing community, people talk a lot about that, like free giveaways or things like that.

Eberhard: No. I guess I'm in a special position, because the way it works is, there is the German publisher. And they price the books at a specific price, which makes a lot of sense. And by the way, in Germany, the prices for books are fixed. So no matter where you buy it, whether it's on Amazon or in a brick-and-mortar shop, it's going to be the very same price. Germany's somewhat special in that regard.

The English version has to have a price that is comparable to the German price. Because otherwise, I guess my publisher will be like, "Hmm, maybe if your English book is so inexpensive - that doesn't really work, because we can't sell the German book." So basically the way it works is, there is the German book, there is the English version. And the price is basically set, because there is the German price, and it should be comparable. I think that makes a lot of sense, because why should it be a lot cheaper or more expensive, just because it's in a different language? Not just in Germany, but worldwide.

And then there are the free books. So for the Practical Guide to Microservices, there are the Microservices Recipes that you mentioned. That's like a brochure of 30 pages or 40 pages, maybe? It has links to the sample code, and it gives an overview about what the real book is about.

On Leanpub those are basically free, because it's sort of marketing. Not just for myself, but also for INNOQ. So INNOQ actually provides those as printed books at conferences and these kinds of things.

So I sell those for 99 cents at Kindle, because that's the minimum price. And the printed version's a little bit more expensive, because, well it has to be printed, so the price has to be a little bit higher. I consider those actually free. And then the other ones are basically priced like the German ones. So that's how it works.

Len: For my - I think, second last question - I'd like to zoom right back out to 30,000 feet based on something that you mentioned there, which was the rule in Germany that if you're selling a book online for one price in one place, you can't sell it online to German customers for another price in another place. Because Leanpub sells books on the internet to anyone around the world, we encounter regulatory regimes from all over the place, and Germany is, I would say, peculiar to some extent in its approach to regulating ebooks and things like that.

I was wondering if you have an opinion about that? If there's a way of explaining why Germany has this kind of relationship to books and book selling, where it's sensitive enough that there's actually legislation about like what price you can sell something for?

Eberhard: I'm not sure how I feel about it. But I guess the story behind it is that it's cultural stuff, and everyone should have equal access to those things, and there should not be a competition so that the local book shops still can sell all the books. And by the way, ever since I can remember - if you go to a random book shop somewhere, they can basically get any German book to you the next day. That was even the case in the 80's. So even before Amazon, there was a very strong logistics behind that. I think that is also because there's not such a fierce competition there. That's basically how it works.

Len: That's interesting. That reminds me of one occasional interaction that we have with customers, is someone saying, "I would like to buy a book on behalf of someone else." I would say, of all the many countries we get those requests from, there are more from Germany than from any other country. You may have gone towards answering my curiosity about that particular issue, because that would be a very unfamiliar thing for someone to do in Canada, to go to someone and say, "Can you go and buy a book online for me?" But if the idea of going to a bookseller to get books for you is something that's been entrenched in Germany, but also worked - because you've always been able to do it in Canada. But it's like, well, they've got to get out the catalogue, and maybe the warehouse will have it or maybe it won't? But if it's been conventional, that you can just go to the bookshop and get any book you want in a day, I can see how that would become part of the way people think of things.

Eberhard: Yes. Oh and by the way - talking about books and German regulations, there is a different VAT on books compared to other products that's also quite interesting. So it's 7%, while other products are 19%.

Len: Actually I feel bad for not knowing the answer to this offhand, but is the VAT on ebooks the same as the VAT on print books?

Eberhard: That is the question that I was afraid of, because I don't really know the answer. It might even be 19%, so I would need to look it up. I can't say.

Len: We make our users Google, I'll just take a moment. Yeah, I think it's 19% for ebooks. [Note: You can find EU VAT rates here. In Germany, the VAT for a book is 7% if you cut down a tree, do a bunch of printing and manufacturing and distribution stuff; but if you don't do any of that and just create an ebook file that you transmit over the internet, the VAT is 19% - eds.]

Eberhard: I'm not sure whether it's an urban legend or whether it's really true, but people say that half of the literature about Texas is actually in German. So there you go.

Len: I've heard that before, thanks for that.

The last question I always like to ask people on this podcast is: if there was one thing about Leanpub that we could build for you, or one thing we could fix for you, is there anything you can think of that you would ask us to do?

Eberhard: Generally speaking, I'm very happy about Leanpub. And I also like the idea with the [? 41:34] costs that you just started. I think that's great. I have to admit that, as I said, the books that I do that for are more for marketing - I used to set the price at $1 each, the recommended price, and the minimum price at zero. I can't do that anymore. I'm not sure whether that's actually a good or a bad thing?

Because it made me drop the price to zero dollars, and therefore it's more clean-cut. It basically means that it's really a marketing thing, and just go ahead and get it. And that is actually what it was supposed to be like. It's the one thing where I was like, "Hmm, is that really a good thing?" But it's a very special situation, and I totally see why you did that change to the pricing model. I'm quite happy with what it is right now.

Len: Thanks very much for that feedback. Actually that's the first direct feedback I've had from an author. But yeah, recently, for those listening, we made a change at Leanpub. It used to be that the minimum price you could always set a book at was free. But the minimum paid price was 99 cents. So you couldn't sell a book for 59 cents or 89 cents. It could be 99 cents, all the way up to $500. And we recently changed it so that the minimum price is still free. But the minimum price in money terms that you can charge is $4.99, rather than 99 cents.

We've got a long essay explaining - well, in part explaining this decision. But yeah, it's interesting. Because part of the argument is that if something is for marketing, then one approach you can take is that it just ought to be free. If you sell something for 99 cents, then it - this all kind of like hard to pin down, but our approach now, currently that we're taking, is that 99 cents just looks kind of cheap, rather than look like marketing.

I mean, if you want to get the reader to have it or you want them to think of it that way, then just let them do two clicks. Why input any payment information, anything like that. Get it into their hands as easily as you can. And then it kind of sets expectations for what ebooks should cost.

This is maybe not the strongest part of the argument, but part of it too is that, because of transaction fees and things like that, when you're selling a book for less than $4.99, your margin on it is really low, and it's effectively free anyway, from a royalties perspective.

Eberhard: I have to say that usually when I talk about those books, I tell people at a conference - I basically say, "It's free." And also on my home page it says it's free. So I thought, "Well, maybe someone gives me a bargain, that would be nice." And basically what Leanpub did is, you told me that it should really be free. It should be for marketing and it should be free - clear cut.

I think that probably makes a lot of sense. I still have to look at the numbers, whether the number of copies that are downloaded is increased. And at the end of the day, because they were marketed as free books, there was hardly anyone who paid anything for it. So it was just a few dollars amount, was really worth anything.

Len: Thanks very much for this really fun interview. And thanks for taking the time for doing it out of your evening. I also wanted to thank you for being a Leanpub author.

Eberhard: Thanks for having me. Thanks for providing that great platform, and I'm looking forward to do more books and more stuff on it.

Len: Thank you.

Eberhard: Thanks.

Podcast info & credits
  • Published on July 18th, 2018
  • Interview by Len Epp on May 2nd, 2018
  • Transcribed by Alys McDonough