A Game of Features: Killing the Affiliate Program, Advertising Program, Offers & Services, Outdated Documentation and Leanpub Enterprise

published Jun 16, 2015

Today we’re announcing the ending of a number of Leanpub features and experiments.

The following features are being killed today:

  • The Affiliate Program
  • The Advertising Program
  • The Offers & Services Feature

We’ve also killed the Leanpub Enterprise experiment. If you didn’t notice, you’re not alone. Oh yeah, and we’re going to be removing a bunch of documentation that is about 3 years old. We’ll be replacing it with updated documentation, and (once we’ve done everything we plan) new videos, etc.

At Leanpub we value experimenting and learning. We’re called Leanpub after all.

So, we try a lot of stuff, either of our own initiative or in responding to customer and potential customer feedback. Sometimes we learn what works or doesn’t work, and other times we learn how we feel about a market or a process.

Recently we’ve learned a few things:

  1. We don’t like doing enterprise sales. (Goodbye Leanpub Enterprise.)
  2. We don’t like policing an affiliate program.
  3. We don’t like the inherent opacity involved in the affiliate program or the advertising program.

Leanpub is based on a culture of mutual respect, transparency and trust between us, authors and readers.

Fundamentally, an affiliate program breaks this. On a book purchase page in the normal case, we show two sliders: what the reader pays, and what the author earns. If there’s a cause, we show three sliders: reader pays, author earns and cause gets.

If there’s an affiliate involved, earning 50% of the sticker price, we found ourselves not wanting to show that as a slider.

But obviously we’re not going to lie to readers, so doing any kind of garbage like burying the affiliate fee in what the author earns and then having some legalese about “author earns” meaning “what the author either earned or would have earned if 50% of the sticker price wasn’t going to the affiliate” is just stupid. And it’s even worse if there’s a cause involved.

So, we learned that we’re uncomfortable with the affiliate program.

Then, couple this with the fact that the affiliate program both attracts fraudulent and scummy affiliates and has essentially been a failure for most authors, and the decision to kill it is really easy.

While we’re at it, we’re killing the advertising program, by which Leanpub runs ads and acts as an affiliate. The advertising program suffers from the same issues around transparency and sliders, and we couldn’t find a way to run ads which were revenue neutral. (In my ideal world, I could have spent $1000 on Twitter ads and earned at least $1000 in profit to cover their cost. We achieved 10% or 20% of that in some cases, but nothing approximating 100%. And since we’re currently bootstrapped, we’re spending our own money, not a VC’s.)

Last, we’re removing the offers and services feature, since it’s distracting and represents a bunch of meetings on our part for not much benefit for our authors. What we want to be doing is building features that make it easy for interested parties to contact Leanpub authors, instead of us having some sort of facilitated intermediary chaperone garbage feature to play that role. And, just like with the former iBooks and Kindle feature, we only like earning money when we actually deliver value.

I’d like to emphasize that we are more committed than ever to the core Leanpub workflow.

Things like minimum & suggested price, causes, in-progress publishing, Markdown & Markua, bundles, packages, etc are not going anywhere. The “more wood behind fewer arrows” cliche is also good advice. We have more focus and clarity around our vision than ever. And with this focus, we are improving these core workflows.

The Markua spec and support is coming along great, including the rewritten (and open source) in-browser editor coming soon.

We recently added the ability to write in GitHub but get the output in Dropbox, which is probably the best way to write on Leanpub in a team. (It’s the “mullet” feature: business on the front, party on the back. You see this feature as a “Send Output to Dropbox” checkbox if you go to https://leanpub.com/YOURBOOK/writing_settings and select “Using Git and GitHub” or “Using Git and BitBucket”.)

We’re also enhancing the multiple copy support in packages, so that an author will be able to say that a package is for n copies, and then a purchaser gets n redeem tokens (& links) which can be easily shared with friends and colleagues, etc.

Finally, we have a much larger vision which I’m not going to talk about publicly yet, but which is really exciting. I’ll just say that we are aware of all the things that suck with Leanpub, and we have an interesting way forward…

Thanks for being Leanpub authors,


Originally published at leanpub.com.

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