Insights and outlooks on software development


On Lean book publishing

Sunday, February 8, 2009 by Thomas L

You may have seen that the pragmatic programmers have a a beta program for their books. As an example, right now Dave Thomas is re-writing his Ruby classic The Pickaxe (link to the previous edition). As long as the book still is being written, you can purchase a beta PDF and get the final version in print. The Pragmatic Programmers web shop says

This title is currently available in Beta. Buy it now, and you'll be able to download successive releases of the PDF as the authors add material and correct mistakes. You'll get the final PDF when the book is finished.

This is naturally a fantastic idea. Book publishing, like all other businesses, bind lots of money into their product when it is in production, but letting people buy the book earlier means that there is no need to raise as much money as otherwise.

Look at a value stream map sketch of how I see the book publishing business:

value stream map

I haven't written a book (at least not yet), so this is only guesswork from my part. The lead time from Go-ahead to Bookstore is for a 1st edition easily more than one year. What the beta program actually does is creating opportunities for getting a revenue stream as early as after draft 1 has been written. Then the revenue can trickle in during the production period of the book, which means that the publisher won't need to raise money (by loaning from the bank, or getting money from the already published books), which will lead to lower expenses.

Apart from the cash-flow argumentation, there are other advantages as well. Leaving some of the proof reading to the end users saves money on reviewers. Moreover, being able to write the book in an Agile fashion (i.e. changing the contents after the customers point out things to improve) will give more value.

Simply Lean.

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