One of our 30x500 Alumni asked this question this morning:

“How important is it to support all the different ebook formats (e.g. PDF, epub)?”

She knew her comfort in LaTex would let her most easily create a good-looking PDF for her technical ebook. She knew other formats like ePub and mobi would require more work.

She asked if the sales of our books and/or of our others students been significant enough to support the extra time investment.

In her imagination, she’d already gone down the rabbit hole.

The Just Fucking Ship Answer is…

…to Just Fucking Ship. To Choose Your Difficulty Setting. And: Follow Recipes. Seek Fact over Feelings.

The question doesn’t really need to be asked, since the data is all out there for the taking. The formats we publish, and our sales results, are all out there, if you do just a cursory peek around this site.

“Does not shipping an ePub hurt sales?” Well, we didn’t ship with epub (or mobi), still don’t offer it, and our sales numbers are on record. You don’t even need totally transparent sales numbers to learn whether these formats are critical, just look around.

As for us, we shipped only a PDF version at launch.

The goal was to ship the book to some decent sales, not to reach every single customer who might ever ever want to buy it. So, before Amy started writing, she chose to use Ulysses to do the writing in. Thanks to the recommendation of our friend Josh Kaufman, a professional author.

Amy chose Ulysses because it’s a Markdown-focused editor, something that we already use extensively so nothing new to learn. And it exports to PDF. With just a minor amount of CSS work, Amy was able to use one of the built in stylesheets to spit out a hey that looks pretty nice! ebook.

Is the styling perfect? Of course not. But it’s plenty good enough to read, and to impress us as an automated export.

Doing the 80/20 Analysis

Even with some of the tools out there that convert Markdown into all of the formats, we would’ve had to spend more time tweaking the epub and mobi versions in order to ship an equally great looking book across the board. No tool will give perfect results. Every format will require hand-work to look good. Not to mention the headaches. Ugh.

Justin code screenshot

We’ve had SO MANY friends and students delay a launch because the epub/mobi version looked crappy and they didn’t want to ship a crappy product.

And rightfully so. The JFS way never supports shipping something crappy. Instead, choose the simplest, fastest, easiest option that produces the best results.

So, if our options were…

  • 1 - Ship a PDF + epub + mobi, all look mediocre/don’t work
  • 2 - Delay shipping PDF + epub + mobi, all look decent
  • 3 - Ship a PDF only right away, and it looks quite good

…option 3 is a pretty obvious choice.

Option 3 gives us 80% of the results we wanted (a good looking ebook, ready for sale) for a fraction of the time and effort.

“Aren’t you leaving money on the table by ignoring ereader formats?”

The answer also lies in JFS: This is the Pauli Principle at work. In theory, yes, there are people who won’t buy your book if it’s not in the ideal format for their preferred reader. But that’s theoretical money you might make if everything is perfect.

But if you don’t ship, NOBODY buys. NOBODY gets your fix. You get no money.

Compare those two options: fewer sales (hypothetically) vs. no sales at all (proven fact).


The actual, factual numbers from JFS launch

  • 1000+ actual sales since launch (not including sales from our holiday bundle)
  • 6 people who wrote in asking for an epub or mobi version

That means that 0.6% (less than 1%!) as many people asked about the alternative formats than bought a copy. Not even 1%.

Now, of course there are probably people who didn’t write us to ask for an alternative format. And maybe some of those people didn’t buy, either. But it didn’t stop 1000+ other people from happily buying the PDF.

And it felt great to be making sales from our single PDF format book just 24 hours after Amy started. And it’s easy to just write back to the small number of people hoping for their preferred format by saying “not yet, but we will!” And they will get that update for free.

Because we DO have plans to reflow the existing PDF into something that give us more design control, like Pages or iBooks Author. And at that point, we’ll likely do other alternative formats too.

And that’s just one of a TON of things that we know are going to make JFS even better…but would’ve kept us from shipping. Action courses and workbooks. Examples and case studies. Sample Trello boards.

But like those other add-ons, custom formatting is a feature, which means it can be cut.

So the JFS answer to ebook formatting is that strategically - for making sales - the best choice is the version you can ship now.

Use our 21 JFS principles to JFS your own project, whatever it is.

From “shopping the shelf” for pre-built tools to doing your planning backwards to avoid dead end decisions, Just Fucking Ship gives you the most actionable advice possible to ship your projects instead of adding them to the graveyard of things that are 80% finished.

Get your copy for just $19. Today you’ll get the book, and in the future you’ll get updates, the revisions, new illustrations and more!

Get your but in gear. Buy now.