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The economics of a web-based book (practicaltypography.com)
177 points by _dps on Sept 26, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 73 comments

I'd suggest, if you want to run publishing on niche business topics as a business, that you take a page out of the Nathan Barry / Brennan Dunn / et al formula. (There exist many others who do similar things, but they're locally recognizable examples of it.)

Trade the book, or some other incentive [+], for the customer's email address. Attention is fleeting, but relationships with one's email list are enduring, if you do them correctly.

Send people who give you their email address lots of valuable stuff for free. Then, ask them to buy your products. Charge an appropriate amount for those products.

The math is, as has been widely reported by people writing books/etc on HN about a wide range of niche business topics, quite attractive. (Ballpark numbers? 650k people with some level of interaction with an online version of the book implies probably between 20k and 50k folks who would have been happy to swap their email address for a downloadable version. That's basically a nice house which temporarily happens to exist inside of an e.g. Mailchimp account.)

[+] I will note the author appears to have aesthetic reasons to reject creating a PDF/e-book/etc version of the book, despite people literally offering him money to do so. http://practicaltypography.com/why-there's-no-e-book-or-pdf.... There must be something which adds incremental value to the book which would justify incremental closeness to a portion of the readers.

First, I want to congratulate Matthew on creating a truly valuable resource that people love and are learning from. That's the hardest part of any online business. Typography for Lawyers and Practical Typography are great resources that deserve every bit of praise and attention they've received.

Whenever someone creates something this valuable I like to see that they get paid for their work. After all, the only thing better than creating products and content people love, is getting paid to do it.

Based on my experience Practical Typography could, without too much effort, make $100,000 per year. So you can think of this comment as a short article titled:

"How Matthew Butterick could have made 27x as much revenue from Practical Typography"

Let's jump in.

// The numbers

Matthew quotes a few numbers in his post, but the two I want to focus on are traffic (649,000 readers, actually I'm not sure if this means visits or visitors...) and book revenue ($3676).

My blog actually averages a similar amount of traffic. For the last two years I've had about 660,000 visits from 420,000 visitors. So about the same amount of traffic. This includes plenty of lower quality viral traffic from communities like Hacker News.

I wrote three books [1] and each one of them made $100,000 within their first year (roughly). That tells me with the same amount of traffic—which is probably better targeted than mine—it's reasonable that Matthew could make $100,000 off of one book.

That's 27x times as much revenue as he actually made ($3676). What I find most interesting is that increasing revenue by 27x actually comes down to three simple changes.

// #1: Have a price

If the first rule of making money selling products is to actually have a product, then the second is to have a price.

Donations are nice, but you won't get nearly the same results as if you actually had a price for the product.

Now having a price doesn't mean you can't offer the book for free to readers. Michael Hartl gives aways his excellent Rails Tutorial [2] book for free, but charges for the PDF version and extra content. Pat Flynn [3] gave away his LEED Exam study guide for free online and charged for the same content packaged up as an ebook.

I can't share Michael's exact revenue numbers, but he makes a healthy salary from a book he shares for free online. Pat Flynn made over $500,000 in a few years of sales from his LEED certification study guide.

They both gave away their content for free, but unlike Practical Typography, add a price to a version of the product.

// #2: Build an email list

649,000 readers don't mean that much if you can't contact them. I've had plenty of posts that get 50,000 visits in a day, but then the week there is no difference in my business. Traffic is fleeting, viral traffic is just a flash in the pan.

You need a way to push new content and products to your audience, so they have to subscribe in some way. That means Facebook, Twitter, RSS, YouTube, Email, etc.

I'll just cut to the chase: email has the highest engagement and drives the most sales. Often seeing 10-15x the value of other channels [4].

To get email subscribers add an opt-in form to each page on your site giving away an incentive related to the content. In your case that could be a free font, a typography cheat-sheet, or additional lessons. It doesn't have to be a hard sell or seem spammy at all. Just say, "if you liked this content you'll also like... enter your email so I can send it to you."

Then give them an option to opt-in to a free follow-up course on Typography. Keep sending them valuable information and you'll build a loyal following that is happy to read your emails each week or month.

// #3: Setup automated sales pitches

That free email course should be dripping out free training every few days or once a week. After demonstrating plenty of value work a sales pitch into one of the emails. Simply describe the additional resources you've created or the benefits of getting the content in a specific format and ask them to purchase.

Then your next email should be educational content again. An email or two later you can work in another soft sell.

Since email courses are timed to when each subscriber joins, you'll have automated sales pitches going out to each of your subscribers on the perfect schedule. Effectively doing a mini product launch to just a few people each day—except that you don't have to do any work other than set it up.

Then later on in the sequence put in links to your fonts and other products. Having an email list is especially powerful when you have multiple products (as you do). Automated selling for the win!

Patio11 has a great course on this [5]. You can learn a ton just from reading the sales page.

Even if you don't want to charge for your product—which I think would be a huge mistake—you can still put in a request for a donation in one of the automated messages.

// Good authors should make money

Authors not making money from their work is a huge problem. It's frustrating to see someone put out such good content and not be able to make a living from it. Especially when the hard part is writing a great book, and it just takes a few techniques to actually make a living from it. This problem bothers me so much I actually wrote an entire book, Authority [6], to try and solve it.

It's also frustrating to see authors not be able to contact their readers, so I built ConvertKit [7] (email marketing for authors) to solve that problem.

Matthew, I'd love to see you get paid for your work. You deserve it. All these ideas can be implemented now and I bet you'll see great results over the next 12 months.

If you ever want to talk, email me at myfirstname[at]convertkit[dot]com


[1] http://nathanbarry.com/books/ [2] http://railstutorial.org [3] http://smartpassiveincome.com [4] https://convertkit.com/2013/email-subscriber-worth/ [5] https://training.kalzumeus.com/lifecycle-emails [6] http://nathanbarry.com/authority [7] http://convertkit.com

I've made $60k in a year with a highly topical 60-page ebook (PDF only) that I wrote in about a week, mainly by promoting to a mailing list with only a few thousand people on it.

As Nathan says, you need to set a price. Plus, tell people why it's worth more for them to buy and read your book than to either not have the information in it, or spend the time researching themselves.

My book is on supporting Retina screens on web browsers[1]. Yes, you can spend a week reading all you can ok the web about it. Or you spend $49 and know all about it in half an hour and spend the other 39 1/2 hours of the week making money with client work.

[1] http://retinafy.me

So you got about 1,200 sales out of a list of 3,000 subscribers? Would you mind sharing your exact conversion rate (total # of sales/total # of subscribers) that made you $60k in revenue from this book?

"If the first rule of making money selling products is to actually have a product, then the second is to have a price."

I read and paid for Practical Ty­pog­ra­phy, and I'm familiar with the fact that having no specific price, like Butterick's "$5-$10", is a disincentive to paying anything for a product. And I still had a hard time deciding how much to pay and completing the payment.

I wonder if the followthrough would have been different if he had set a specific price, say $5 or $7.

I didn't even spot the pay link. I looked at a few pages.

First of all, what an awesome comment. Thanks so much for all this insight Nathan.

Out of your 420,000 or so visitors over the last year, how many converted into your email list?

Also, when you launch a product to your email list, what sort of conversion rate (subscribers to sales) do you get?

Maybe about 10,000. My email list is 25,000 subscribers and I've been building it for just over two years.

Cool, I appreciate the transparency. What sort of conversion rate do you get on a course launch?

This is an awesome comment. Thank you for posting it.

> I will note the author appears to have aesthetic reasons to reject creating a PDF/e-book/etc version of the book, despite people literally offering him money to do so

I am one of those that offered money to buy the ePub version of his book.

I think the root issue here can be found in this sentence: «If you can show me an e-book for­mat that gives me the same con­trol over ty­pog­ra­phy and lay­out that I can get in a web browser, I’ll con­sider it. As far as I know, it doesn’t exist.»

So the author thinks that the typography of the book is important in itself. I see his point, but nevertheless I find _the content_ more important than the presentation.

Also, the author uses the expression "con­trol over ty­pog­ra­phy and lay­out that I can get in a web browser". _A_ web browser? There are hundreds of possible web browser/OS combinations out there. For example, for the Windows users, the version of OS will drastically influence the way fonts are shown. In the ebook world, once you have tested with Kindle, iBooks and Kobo you have covered a huge share of users.

You can also see that the author is more interested in typography than HTML. He uses `<root><topic>bar</topic><root>` instead of `<h1>` and `<div class="subhead">foo</div>` instead of `<h2>`. So being able to perfectly control typography is paramount but publishing completely valid and meaningful HTML is not that important?

I got a similar response too and I gave up. I don't have, and don't want, to connect to read anything longer than a page or two. I get distracted the moment I have a web browser and connectivity. :) So while online books don't work well for me, eBooks on the other hand provide me a way of engaging in content on a device of my choice without having to be connected all the time and also devote my attention better to the content.

Also, why should I "show an e-book format that gives control over typography"? That's like saying, "read it on my terms if you want or just don't."

It surprises me, a bit, how many people don't seem to understand the contradiction presented by publishing a book on typography through a platform that doesn't allow control over typography.

The issue isn't aesthetic, it's fundamental. And to note, I'm not sure anyone's ever blamed HTML with being designed to consider typography, beyond some basic contextual tags.

I got a bad impression from a superficial look at the book. The typography is clear and clean enough but I saw three different ways of rendering links (no indication (in the contents section), ALL CAPS (in the body text) and lastly preceded by a diamond character (some other context)). Taken in conjunction with his choice of directory structure for the pages of the book (completely flat) I get the impression that he is not interested in managing compex information in a sane manner, but merely in making text look good. Disappointing.

In fact, those links look different because they are semantically distinct, and the underlying logic becomes clear as you read.

The small-caps links are inline references to other sections of the same book; their distinct typesetting distinguishes them from mere text.

Because everything in the table of contents is a link to part of the book, these links are not set in small caps or otherwise distinguished — that's a potentially confusing design choice in theory, but I can't complain because it was obvious enough to me from the context that I should try tapping something.

The diamonds are outbound links to other sites. Given that this is a coherent book and not a collection of random posts, this distinction is handy: while reading Butterick, I am more likely to click a link to more Butterick than to click an outbound link which will cause me to lose my train of thought.

I genuinely hadn't noticed the meaning of the diamond links - I wasn't just making a cheap shot. In fact they are confusingly diverse: his own mailto: link is a diamond link, as is this URL on the Acknowledgements page: http://practicaltypography.com/contact.html

It's totally acceptable, if a bit Knuthian, to expect a reader to learn a few typographic conventions, but they should be well considered. Don't make the reader hover to find which words are part of a given link.

It is probably worth remembering (as this is HN) that design is partly a personal and subjective thing. I am fairly interested in typography but I wouldn't hold my opinions out as the one right way to do things. One thing I have never thought while studying typography is "I wish this author was more pedantic and conventional, I don't know, maybe like a lawyer?".

Funny, I'd call what you describe Permission Marketing, but then I've never heard of Nathan Barry or Brennan Dunn.

>Charge an appropriate amount for those products.

I am sure most of you have hear Patio11 say this before, but in case you haven't and you are the kind of person who wants to go this route, Patio11 means you should _charge more_.

Take whatever you plan to charge and double it. Then you will make a lot more money.

Dear Author,

I read (parts) of your book, and didn't pay. Why? Because it was an interesting diversion, not something I was actually interested in. If it had been locked behind a paywall, it would not have affected my life in any meaningful way. It was merely, for better or worse, a pleasant diversion, drifting in a sea full of diversions.

I don't imagine that I am in any way alone in this. Looking at your numbers, I'd say that your 2-300 paying people are the true readership and audience of your book; the rest of us were there for a diversion; because it was another blue link in a sea of blue links.

Don't take this as a negative sign. Typography is necessarily a niche field, and at the least, you've introduced over 600,000 new people to typography. It might not help you now, but if even 0.01% of those 600,000 start investing time and money into typography, well, it's more impact you would have had if the content had been hidden behind a paywall. Cold comfort for sure, but in the age of browsers, typography is a dying art. New blood should always be welcome.

Sincerely, Falcolas

You are right. Content is devalued due to abundance and us being a product. I'm sure a lot of us think the same way.

I would challenge us: What value do did we get out of it?

A dollar? $.50? $.10? $.01?

What we support grows. What relationship do we want with content? Do we want advertisers to control everything?

$.10 per casual view madly alters the equation.

Sadly, solutions like Flattr aren't gaining any traction.

I was going to donate 5$ or 10$, as I found the whole experiment and write up worth it - especially since the content was available for the masses to pique their interests.

I was unfortunately unable to so through Amazon Payments, as they only accept payments from US citizens at this moment. And I do not want/like to use Paypal.

"What’s most in­ter­est­ing to me, how­ever, is that so many more read­ers were will­ing to buy a font li­cense (at $59–299) than to make a do­na­tion (at $5–10). Don’t get me wrong—I’m ut­terly grate­ful. But it’s coun­ter­in­tu­itive: I never ex­pected that the cheaper op­tion would be so much less pop­u­lar. Econ­o­mists, I in­vite your explanations."

This is not surprising to me at all. There are multiple reasons why the font sale is easier to make.

The whole book is an excellent sales pitch for the fonts. It's hard to believe you didn't design it that way, because you did everything right. You establish credibility as an expert. You give the reader a gift of useful information. You explain at length the value of the product. You even help the reader see herself as someone who's savvy enough to buy the product (copy like: "You are not apathetic" in the Times New Roman page.)

So you have a great sales pitch for the fonts. Whereas the donation suffers in comparison. There's no quid pro quo -- I understand you see the book itself as the value they'd be paying for, but that value is already in the past by the time they're deciding to donate. It changes the psychology.

Also, plenty of people can plunk down a company card to buy a font (or a book). It's a legitimate business expense that's easy to justify. It can be much harder to justify a "donation" to a random author on the internet. For this reason alone, you'd be better off changing "donation" to an e-book sale, even if the e-book is just the same content as the website.

Everything ef4 said plus:

Paying to get something is a lot more motivating than paying for something you already have and are under no risk of losing. The idea of people paying you out of pure gratitude is probably the most attractive, guilt-free, inarguably nice method around for getting paid. Unfortunately, I've never seen it work not-terribly.

Even just putting the book behind a pay-what-you-want wall that allows $0 but defaults to $5 would probably significantly increase the number of payers. It's not even about people's greed or ability/desire to pay. It's about their laziness. Can you imagine how terribly the Humble Bundle would perform if they had you download all of the games immediately for free then asked you to remember to come back and pay for them later? The entire revenue plan for the Bundle organizers themselves rests on including themselves in the revenue split by default knowing that most people will be too lazy to even spend brain cycles thinking about what they personally think should be the proper split. The customers just look at the fairly reasonable default and go "Um, sure. Whatever. Here's my money. Can I get the stuff now?"

I've recommended this book to many many people in the past, but still haven't gotten around to paying anything for it, largely for the reasons you mention. I looked at his options for payment, and they ranged from "buy one of my fonts", which was tempting but expensive, to "buy Typography for Lawyers", which I wasn't interested in because I'm not a lawyer, to "donate to me", which felt like I was getting nothing in return.

I'd gladly pay $10-15 for a DRM-free ebook version of this book, even if it's the exact same content as the one online, since I can keep it with me on my mobile devices and be sure that even if the site one day goes down I still own and can read the book.

Or hell, since the author apparently has objections to e-book file formats and closed platforms[0], then give me a clean downloadable desktop version of the website as static HTML or something. Or an app version of the book which is just static HTML wrapped in a web view. Anything along those lines would be fine, as long as I can view it offline and keep it past the point when the author stops paying for his server.

[0] http://practicaltypography.com/why-there's-no-e-book-or-pdf....

Great points, worth keeping in mind by wannabe authors.

"The whole book is an excellent sales pitch for the fonts. It's hard to believe you didn't design it that way, because you did everything right. You establish credibility as an expert. You give the reader a gift of useful information. You explain at length the value of the product. You even help the reader see herself as someone who's savvy enough to buy the product (copy like: "You are not apathetic" in the Times New Roman page.)"

...you flog the fonts at every opportunity...

Really, reading the book, the "...or you could buy my fonts" and the "because you're not apathetic" comments being repeated at every opportunity was my biggest complaint.

I thought this may be of interest to HN since the author posts here occasionally and there has been past discussion of his book/typesetting framework [0].

I personally found "Butterick's Practical Typography" very compelling, and I happily paid for it (apparently well above the median selling price!). I'm a little disappointed to read that Mr. Butterick has only made something less than $15k over the course of the first year; while he seems cheerful about it in the post, I can't imagine that such a payout comes close to covering his opportunity cost for creating a high quality book.

Economic structures that support high-quality open-access content seem to be an ongoing challenge with no clear answers.

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7822057

Thanks for posting this. The online version of Practical Typography is a beautiful presented and handy guide, and I was surprised to see it available for free.

> My pol­icy for Prac­ti­cal Ty­pog­ra­phy was sim­ple: read­ing the book would re­quire no pre­pay­ment. ... Call it an honor sys­tem. I’ve never used the term free to de­scribe the book, be­cause I don’t see it that way.

The book is not free, it's just that the seller leaves it up to you when to pay for it. He's experimenting with a payment protocol different than the one that most of us have used for thousands of years.

The author's very own essay is a counter-example to the argument that ad blocking starves the web to death.

What ad blocking does is eliminate lowest common denominator [ that denominator being inversely proportional to the amount of money an advertizer is willing to pay ] from pages that are willing to accept the risks of placing crappy advertizing alongside their content.

Good advertizing extends content. The author's pitch for his book and fonts is a case in point. If the essay's page had been covered with advertisements for "local women who want to meet six-pack abs making $5000 a week surfing the internet" or used <blink>, I would not have been pitched the book and fonts because crude forms of advertizing correlate with crude forms of content.

This HN page is another example of big money to be made with a subtle pitch [ the article talks about a business model in the same branch of the spiral galaxy as Ycombinator's ]. The monetization of exhaust fumes is just extremely long tail.

In the end, successful advertizing depends on segmentation. Ad-block serves advertizers needs by not putting ads in front of people who might be inclined to form a negative impression of their business when shown ads on a webpage. I still hold HP creepy based on their targeting me in the early days of this capability [ and before I used ad blocking and noscript ].

"Take the ex­am­ple of desk­top web browsers. Let’s face it, un­less you’re re­ally slow on the up­take, you’ve out­fit­ted your web browser with an ad blocker. Ha ha, you win! But wait—that means most web ads are only reach­ing those who are re­ally slow on the up­take. So their dol­lars are dis­pro­por­tion­ately im­por­tant in sup­port­ing the con­tent you’re get­ting ad-free. “Not my prob­lem,” you say. Oh re­ally? Since those peo­ple are the only ones fi­nan­cially sup­port­ing the con­tent, pub­lish­ers in­creas­ingly are shap­ing their sto­ries to ap­peal to them. Even­tu­ally, the con­tent you liked—well, didn’t like it enough to pay for it—will be gone.

Why? Be­cause you starved it to death. The im­mutable law re­mains: you can’t get some­thing for noth­ing. The web has been able to de­fer the con­se­quences of this prin­ci­ple by shift­ing the costs of con­tent off read­ers and onto ad­ver­tis­ers. But if read­ers per­ma­nently with­draw as eco­nomic par­tic­i­pants in the writ­ing in­dus­try—i.e., refuse to vote with their wal­lets—then they’ll have no rea­son to protest as the uni­verse of good writ­ing shrinks. (And make no mis­take—it’s al­ready happening.)"

This. So much this. I'm as guilty as anyone else, but I try to remember to disable my adblocker for sites I like.

The problem is that they would shift the content anyway. No reason to appeal to geeks when you can just write empty crap that gets ten times the pageview.

Heya. I'm the author of Rebuilding Rails. While I don't (currently) use paid advertising, I do work entirely to appeal to geeks. My second product, a Ruby deployment class, also appeals almost entirely to geeks.

Geeks pay money for things. Not always, but it happens.

That means that the shift of content away from geeks is to some extent in the hands of you (collectively), those same geeks.

And me. I don't just sell to geeks. I'm also a geek who pays money for things aimed at geeks.

You do too, if you think about it.

Many of those things can be advertised. For an example, think about ThinkGeek.

"I try to remember to disable my adblocker for sites I like."

Do you ever buy things from the ads? If not, there is no real difference between blocking and displaying the ads.

The difference is that the people buying ads are more likely to buy ads because they sometimes value impressions more than clickthroughs or they get confused and assume that more impressions = more clickthroughs though that may not ever be the case.

As a nitpick (it only scales the numbers a bit) I would guess the proportion of paying readers is actually quite a bit higher than 1:650.

The "650,000 readers" figure quoted here appears to be total hits to the website, which is an extremely optimistic count of the number of readers. It's almost certain that a large proportion of those did not read the book at all, and therefore it's unsurprising they didn't pay for it, either. Raw hit counts include people who just open every link on an HN or Reddit page in a new tab, and may or may not read the resulting tab; it also includes people who clicked on a Google search result and immediately bounced when they realized it wasn't what they were looking for.

It's hard to get good numbers on this sort of thing, but one proxy that's sometimes useful is the number of visitors who clicked on anything beyond the first page they landed on.

As one who is just about to publish his 2nd eBook (for money!), none of this resonated with me.

Granted I write for the tech industry; Developers may be more willing to pay for good, specific content that solve day-to-day issues for them.

Newsletters, blogs and book are all great for audience and (personal) brand building. To the point of some naysayers: The time it takes isn't drastic, but it does take some persistence.

"So far, I con­sider Prac­ti­cal Ty­pog­ra­phy to be a suc­cess­ful ex­per­i­ment in web-based book pub­lish­ing."

...who needs to experiment? People are making money on eBooks. Period - https://leanpub.com/bestsellers_lifetime.

Yeah, I agree. I'm about to publish the second edition of my book targeting a very specific niche of developers[1]. I've made approximately ten times what he quotes there from a small fraction of the traffic his book has gotten.

Of course the real question is, if he had put a paywall on the book, would it have gotten as much traffic? I would say if he had done what Sacha Greif has done with Discover Meteor[2] and made the first few chapters free, he would have done phenomenally better.

[1]: (Shameless plug) https://www.petekeen.net/mastering-modern-payments

[2]: https://www.discovermeteor.com

Thanks for the plug :) Also relevant, a detailed case study about our sales by the Gumroad folks:


It's a nice article that has some good data and makes thoughtful points, but oh my god the readability! That is the most gentle-on-my-eyes reading I think I have ever done on the web.

As someone who has spent a lot of time finding ways to make web pages more readable https://github.com/chrisbroski/simple-css I am impressed. After a little revers-engineering to figure out what he did that makes his so much better than mine, I discovered the major difference is he is using the Equity font http://typographyforlawyers.com/equity.html (of his own making.) I typically think custom fonts are of dubious value but damn in this instance it made a real difference.

I know the guy wrote a book on typography so I shouldn't be so surprised his typography is so good, but I am so used to being disappointed.

I'm writing a book right now with Manning publishing, and I had considered self-publishing as an alternative. In my experience:

- $2-$3 per book for the author and 2000-3000 copies sounds right. I have heard if your book sells 5000+ copies it is a "very successful" book. As a comparison, my book has sold 1000 copies in the pre-sale so far.

- I've heard that on average if you publish the traditional route, you can expect to make $10k. If you self-publish, you can expect $50k (no data to back up these figures though)

Overall as an author you do get paid very little. I have thought about publishing my next book on the web like this. The biggest advantage I see is allowing reader comments for every paragraph similar to Medium. Thanks for the writeup! After reading this, I don't think I would put a book online for free. Charging even a little bit seems to be more effective.

An anecdotal story to back up the authors point;

I live on a boat, and have done so for 8 years. I know quite a bit about what it takes, what the difficulties are, what to look for when buying a boat, what to do about heating in the winter, etc. etc.

I've thought about writing an e-book about it to give others an insight into what the life is like, how to do it, what it costs, all sorts of practicalities, etc. But I don't think I'll do it after having researched what I can expect to make on it.

It's simply not worth my time because it seems like people on the Internet generally aren't that willing to pay for good content.

The problem here is the size of the market, not the fact that people don't want to pay. I assume the market is fairly small (at least, I don't know that many people who live on a boat) so it might not be worth your time for that reason.

But I would be willing to bet that there are people ready to pay anywhere from $20 to $200 for a detailed guide or video course on how to live in a boat.

In fact you could replace "live in a boat" with pretty much any skill you can think of ("play the ukulele", "get better at gardening") and I believe that would still hold true.

They don't pay when you don't charge or otherwise offer something of value in exchange for money.

Also, without an email list your conversion rate is WAY LOWER.

So, the author seems to be doing two things very wrong and for that he's not making nearly the money as he could be.

There are people offering this kind of advice for free or nearly free (I know because I read this kind of thing).

It's probably not worth your time if you only do it for the money and don't feel any need to share your experience. To be honest, as someone with plenty sailing experience (more racing than cruising though) who has been pondering about this, I probably wouldn't write about it.

I think an important thing to consider is that many of the massive number who didn't pay may have read very little and/or been happy not to read the book if there was a charge. That is the number that needs to be compared when comparing the success or failure of free.

> My pol­icy for Prac­ti­cal Ty­pog­ra­phy was sim­ple: read­ing the book would re­quire no pre­pay­ment. ... Call it an honor sys­tem. I’ve never used the term free to de­scribe the book, be­cause I don’t see it that way.

Onarbor, https://onarbor.com, follows the same ideal.

Digital currencies, with their minuscule fees, pricing flexibility, and instantly international availability, will enable the proper monetization of digital works.

If you don't believe me, believe Chris Dixon: http://cdixon.org/2013/09/14/the-internet-is-for-snacking/

The point the author made that resonated with me is """Prac­ti­cal Ty­pog­ra­phy has also been a proof of my friend Richard Nash’s the­ory that au­thors shouldn’t think of a book as the end of a re­la­tion­ship with the reader, but as the be­gin­ning. The book be­comes an in­tro­duc­tion to a range of pos­si­bil­i­ties."""

I have written many books, a few very profitable, but many not. While I really enjoy the writing process (love it!) the huge win has been the relationships formed with my readers.

this thread is why i love to read hn. super good stuff here

The article says if you use an ad-blocker then you're starving sites and the web to death.

It's not that simple.

I don't mind looking at ads at all. I use an ad blocker because web ads overreach. The egregious ones shout at me, play animations, use my machine cycles, and worst, they track me. I'm creeped out when I look at some page, and then see ads for what was on that page all over subsequent page visits elsewhere.

Ad blockers are not starving the web, they're a feedback mechanism. They're saying "this particular money channel doesn't work." And advertisers and sellers may (I hope) be forced to think of something else.

The web is not only for content producers, it's also for consumers. If you're a producer, and you need to make money, it's your responsibility to figure out how to do that in a way that's acceptable to me, the consumer. And if you can't, well, sorry about that. Do something else. As a ridiculous example, I'd like to sit here on the couch all day and comment on HN, but that's not going to feed me, so I have to get up and go do something totally different for the rest of the day; later I'll bring home some money.

And for now I will continue to use ad blockers, sending the signal that this way of making money isn't going to work with me.

You put this well, and I agree with it. I also go further.

I don't like looking at ads when I'm there to not look at ads, i.e. I'm there to read a web page. I simply do not like being sold at. When I need something, I go to where I can get it - be that Amazon, the corner shop or the cinema. If I need something and feel I don't know enough to make an informed purchasing decision, I do research. Be that Reddit, https://www.avforums.com/ or something else.

Online ads are like ads on TV (I haven't watched TV in over 10 years), or people who call me on the phone. They're trying to engage me on their terms. With obvious exceptions (family and close friends) I don't pander to that. There's nothing even remotely compelling there.

I started using an ad blocker after seeing a banner of a guy with his pants down, sitting on the toilet. It was for a marketing firm.

A lot of companies are completely juvenile with their approach to advertising. They don't deserve to be acknowledged.

A while (ok - many many years) ago I was getting ads that had pictures of rotting teeth on them. Sometimes I just want to go through my day without pictures of gross rotting teeth. What was it selling me? I don't even know.

I'm reminded of those horrible toe fungus medicine advertisements with the little toe gremlins prying up people's toenails and crawling under. I guess it worked, since I still remember the ad 10~ years later.

I agree. It's not that simple.

Increasingly I realise that a lot of the active hostility towards online advertising could be solved if content creators take more responsibility over the message they "sell" to their audience. As oppose to leaving it to the Big Ad guys.

As a content creator/owner, if you outsource/sell your ad space to Google et al. you are disengaging with your audience and running the risk of alienating it.

Now, I know selling ad space can be a tough business. But who would do it better than the content creator?

My active hostility towards ads are because they suck. Facebook has all the information they want on me but their most agressive offer is for a bottom-of-the-trash dating site.

There is an obvious reason for this too - for most items you don't need to advertise for it if it is much better than the competition, as people will share their stories. So most ads are for a product that stinks.

And advertisers and sellers may (I hope) be forced to think of something else.

And happily they did: native advertising :-)

> Ad blockers are not starving the web, they're a feedback mechanism. They're saying "this particular money channel doesn't work." And advertisers and sellers may (I hope) be forced to think of something else.

I feel the need to point out that the part about ad blockers you're responding to is a small part of a report on the OP's experiment in "thinking of something else." You've taken it out of context.

You are correct, I was responding to that specific thing. I have no interest in typography, or whether he sells this particular book.

I do think his experiment with the honor system is interesting. It reminds me of driving through rural areas, and seeing cartons of eggs in a basket with a sign, "Please leave $3 in the mailbox."

I like to picture you, sitting there comfortable on the couch, waxing philosophical, languorously reaching out to pluck the food out of my child's hand as he goes to put it in his mouth. Because it works for you, right, you wanted that sandwich? It was his responsibility to eat the sandwich somewhere out of your reach? Want to talk about egregiousness, let's look at the entitlement on display in this thread.

Won't somebody please think of the children? That entitlement goes both ways. Who's to say you are entitled to the business model of serving content with ads? Technically, a web client requests files, and if there's something I'm not interested in it makes perfect sense not to request and consume it.

I'm not the one you should be complaining to. You should take it up with the advertisers who fling so much crap at me that I finally threw up my hands and said "Enough!" If you're advertising, then you're running with that crowd, and while I'm sorry if I took a sandwich out of your child's hand, I'm not going to watch rotten teeth, fungal toes (as mentioned elsewhere here) and have myself tracked any more than I personally care to. It's all a continuum.

I don't think there's an RFC that describes how advertisements are supposed to work on the Internet or the Web. These are just something that people have piled on top, and they hope they make money. But there's no right to making money in any particular way.

I'm pretty sure that most of the sites I look at don't have ads on them. Unfortunately, I have to block all ads by default, because the few have ruined it for me. If I visited your site regularly, and your site prompted me to unblock so you could make money, I would do it. Until or unless I found your ads performing some kind of objectionable behavior, and then I would re-block, and maybe not visit again.

I am quite happy to have my visit blocked entirely because of my ad blocking. You should try that, if you need to keep your kid in sandwiches.

I do pay for some content. For example, I pay for New York Times online access. I also block there, and they've never complained to me about it.

I don't feel entitled to anything at all, except to tailor my Internet experience within the bounds of technology and whatever is allowed by site managers.

People using ad blockers doesn't actually bother me, I know it's a pointless argument. What bugs me are people sitting around concocting elaborate moral justifications. If you don't like my site, don't visit it. The end.

In any case, fortunately for you (and for everyone else!) content providers by and large have decided that, rather than spend their time and efforts doing whack-a-mole trying to "block" ad blockers from their sites (something you seem to think is much simpler than it is), that it's more in their interest to invest time and resources in developing more of that same content or functionality that drew people there in the first place.

If your content disappears, I predict that nobody will care. You're a piece of straw in a haystack.

I don't want your sandwich. You're competing with a zillion sandwiches people make for the sake of it.

Your problem as a creator is that (a) creators aren't special any more (b) the rare commodity is reader time (c) the readers aren't quality-obsessed, and good enough is good enough.


Whining at your desired customers because you don't understand the world probably won't work.

This is a problem I have personally, by the way. See the buy-a-T-shirt link at the end of that post! We're supposed to live off T-shirts now, right?

Alternately, get a day job, like the rest of us. Make Money Slow!

The few times that I have disabled an ad-blocker I have felt blinded on several sites and felt so frustrated that I couldn't read the main content in peace. I'm ok with non-intrusive text ads, but most sites have a big chunk of screen space filled with ads in weird layouts, as if they're either testing new ways to get over banner blindness or capture accidental clicks to boost their revenue…or both. :)

Particularly bad are video ads with autoplay even when you visit a site that has no video/audio content itself (sourceforge for example).

Perhaps one solution would be for more sites to use only advertisting that meet Adblock's 'acceptable ads' standards: https://adblockplus.org/en/acceptable-ads

It was the autoplaying sound pop-under that did it for me. Fuck those guys.

tldr; Author gives away work for free, navel gazes in detail about how many people didn't compensate the author, argues that they should because it is in their best interests. I hope I spared someone the bore. Also included, a rant about adblockers and how bad they are for the web.

My advice: if you want to see book sales, just put a price on your work. And it's not the only way to benefit from a book, financially or otherwise. Spare the world another boring rant how everybody should adapt to make it easier for content creators to get paid. If the ad industry had any kind of self control, people wouldn't have to go through the trouble of installing an adblocker. But we don't live in such world, so why not move on. Not only does an adblocker spare you from having to see ads you'd never engage with any way (and which would otherwise be wasting away precious seconds of your life) you get faster loading pages that are vastly safer. It's in content creators best interests to find ways to fund their work that are also in the best interests of the reader.

The real question is, how to make money providing content. There are many viable answers. Ranting about how people don't behave the desired way is a useless exercise.


The other bit is (a) the presumption that only designated creators are able to create (b) the presumption that the readers care. 'Cos observably they don't. The guy's typesetting is FANTASTIC, but making people care about that probably doesn't involve complaining that the world is wrong.

This is an example of Generalising From One Example[1]. The author doesn't have enough information to draw the conclusions that he has drawn. In other words, it's essentially nonsense.

[1] A good essay on the subject - http://lesswrong.com/lw/dr/generalizing_from_one_example/

Why the argument can be made that a single example does not prove a point, the author nevertheless provides a description of his experience that can provide others with valuable information. Therefore, to call this nonsense is very unfair. He will learn from his experience, and by taking the time to present in detail what insights he personally gained, a body of knowledge about this subject emerges that will help others.

I agree with you there. Imagine you would be at an actual market with a pile of your books and you would tell people they can take it with them and then later decide if they want to give you a 'donation' for it. I would assume similar results can be seen.

Also going in semantics.. Demanding a 'donation' is a contradiction.

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