By Adam Fortuna
Hi book friends!
Usually, this blog post is our one time each month to reach out and let you know what’s happening. This month was a little bit different. 😅
We launched on ProductHunt on September 30th (after a bit of misstep on the launch initially). That meant a few more emails to get the word out. As someone who is very protective of my own time, I want to thank you for helping to get the word out about the launch and making it a success! 🥳
I constantly worry about annoying people by being too forward or annoying with marketing. It’s one of the reasons I’m a developer and not a great marketer. It’s something I’m trying to get better at. It helps to be working on something that has resonated so much with a wide audience.
After the big release in August, September felt almost quiet in comparison. I’ve found that when I push something past the finish line I need a little time to recover and clean things up. September was a great month for that – and we got to share Hardcover with a larger audience which was a bonus!
As a reminder, we do these updates every month – starting with June, July, August, and September of this year. We do these because we’re not a traditional startup. We’re a small group of passionate readers who want to share our excitement of books with the world.
For September our focus was on fixing bugs and doing minor improvements more so than major changes to the site.
As any creator knows, releasing something is only getting to the starting point. You need to market it, iterate based on what people think of it and create a consistent experience. We have some plans for the next major features, but before we start on that we’re focused on this iterate & improve phase.
Last week, just before the launch, we updated our homepage! We wanted to make it much more clear what Hardcover is and who we’re for. My favorite new sections are the trending books, the new Book Drawer explanation, and showing a featured Prompt there.
We show a lot of images on Hardcover – covers and avatars being the most obvious. These images are shown in a number of sizes and shapes across the site.
We originally used Imgix with Google Cloud Storage to show these images. That worked great for about the first two years. Then they changed their pricing structure. Suddenly our $50/month bill grew to over $1,000 😱.
Even though we were only doing a few GB in bandwidth, the price exploded.
In September we rushed to switch to Imaginary, a self-hosted solution that’s saved us about $990/month. I wrote a blog post about our setup in case anyone wants to copy it and use it for their image resizing and hosting needs.
We’ve had a light mode and a dark mode since our earliest alpha versions, but the Book Drawer (what you see when you click the Book Button) was only in dark mode. We fixed it up to work in light mode as you’d expect.
This is another backend change that most people won’t notice or care too much about. Previously we’ve used Sendy for sending out our newsletter. I still love it, and it’s without a doubt the cheapest way to send out a newsletter. We switched to Loops, and so far it’s been working great. It’ll be more expensive, but it’s less to worry about – and the entire team can use it rather than just me.
When we started Hardcover we just used Google Analytics for tracking. I didn’t think too much of it, and I’d been using GA since they were called Urchin Tracker (that utm= you see in URLs is based on Urchin Tracking Module).
After listening to feedback from Hardcover readers about privacy, and realizing how much data Google Analytics gobbles up, we switched to Plausible Analytics. They’re a bootstrapped startup by two people – which is perfect. 😂
We also added a GDPR notice with the option to opt out of any cookies. We only have two cookies right now – one to track searches and one to track client-side bugs. You can opt out and we’ll still track those, but we won’t attribute them to your specific session.
You might’ve noticed we updated our logo this month and made a few other changes to the apps! They’re now live in the iOS store and Android store. Kudos to Ste for the new design that captures the feel of the previous one but improves on it.
Now that the launch is out of the way, we can shift to a bit of maintenance and plan for the future. Rather than give a long list, I thought I’d give the top priority for both Ste and I this month.
Design: Discussions! We have a lot of plans for Discussions. The way they tie in with the site is what will make or break this feature. There’s a LOT still to plan here, but we’re getting close. I think we could finish design this month and start development of Discussions in November.
Development: Mostly bugs. Spending time working on bugs isn’t the most exciting thing, but it’s part of what helps a site survive and grow. I also want to work in two things this month: the ability to update your progress by page number/audiobook position & a way to link Discord with your Hardcover account and apply custom roles for supporters, librarians, and more.
Last month I shared our pitch for what we want discussions to be. So far everyone who’s replied has said that this direction resonates with them. I’m going to repeat it this month in case you missed it. If you have any strong thoughts for or against this direction, I’d love to hear from you (you can reply to this email).
We’re creating discussion boards for every book, author, series, and character. Users can discuss each with text, quotes, links, and images. Each post has a title, like Reddit. Posts and comments can be liked, with popular ones rising to the top.
Discussions and comments can be linked to specific book sections (chapter, page #, etc). If you’re logged-in and haven’t read that far, we’ll blur spoilers.
You can reference other books, authors, series, characters, and readers. Each page has discussions for the topic and mentions from other discussions. (ex: a character page with all mentions of that character from other discussions).
Discussions can optionally be tagged. We don’t yet know what tags will emerge, but we can imagine ones like #question, #news, #review, #video, #audio or even book-specific tags like locations, or plot points. Discussions can be filtered by tag.
We’re still figuring out how discussions fit in the app’s feed, moderation, author involvement, private messaging, and highlighting discussions across the app.Our vision for Discussions on Hardcover
We have a number of prototypes and questions we want to ask readers who care about community and discussions. Are you up for a 1-hour chat? Sign up for some time on my calendar!
I’m very happy with how our launch went last month. We weren’t hoping to have a million users or suddenly hit profitability overnight. That might seem like a good thing, but if we were there today that would mean 10x more people mentioning every bug – and we don’t have the time to respond to everyone.
At our size today we can hear feedback and fix it ASAP before 100 other people experience the same issue. It’s a lovely place to be. With a little more polish we’ll be ready for even more readers.
Here’s a look at our revenue and spending last month:
The biggest expense was Imgix, which hit us for $500 before we migrated to a self-hosted solution. We also paid for a staging environment for our release, which ended up costing another $200. Here’s a breakdown of where this money is going:
That covers everything about $30 this month. Next month should be at least $600 less without Imgix & Hasura staging. Our hope is to get this down under $1,000 a month.
Here’s our dashboard of where we’re at today! At a $1,000/month run rate, we’d need about 200 subscribers to break even. 171 to go. 😂
Originally we created Prompts as a Supporter-only feature. After thinking about it more, we decided to make it free for everyone!
If you want to create a prompt, now you can! We’ve already had a few new ones (both created by @eske.addams) that I’m excited to explore:
Create a prompt and it might show up here next month!
Seeing as how it’s October and the start of spooky season we wanted to feature a prompt in keeping with that theme. Here’s the Prompt of the Month:
A good antagonist can mean a lot of things. It can be anything from realistic and relatable to pure evil. Some of the best villains are the ones that stick with us (and sometimes haunt our dreams). What villains do you remember as being true villains?
Answer this prompt, see the top answers, or upvote existing books that stand out.
Check out the answers from last month’s prompt: What are your favorite adventure biographies? This one didn’t get enough votes to separate out the top answers. You can continue to vote on this one and the best will continue to rise to the top.
This is based on books the most readers marked as completed between July 1, 2023, and October 1, 2023. You can now view these anytime on the new Trending Books page. Using three months gives more separation between these.
The trending books list has started become my reading list. It seems to capture the cultural zeitgeist of what people are constantly recommending on Reddit, TikTok and with their friends.
Some of these aren’t September-specific. In May of this year, Bigolas Dickolas, a fan account for the anime Trigun shot “This is How you Lose the Time War” into the mainstream after a viral Tweet.
I admit I’ve read it once and understood about 60% of it. Maybe with a reread I can make it to 80%. 😂
These are the books saved to the most people’s “want to read” lists that are set to be released in October 2023.
I’m super excited for Secret Project #4. If you’re unaware of the context, Brandon Sanderson ran a Kickstater for four books he wrote during lockdown. He raised $41 million – the largest amount of funding for a Kickstarter ever. The book does have an actual name, but I’m not sharing it here. That allows people to go into it completely blind – without any idea of which Sanderson world it slots into.
Last month we put out a call for a Librarian position on the team. We were extremely fortunate to have a member of the Hardcover community, ARC reader and all-around-plugging-in person in the book industry join the team!
What’s your Hardcover username?
Tell us a little about yourself
I’m an avid reader that occasionally interrupts my reading with some gaming. I’ve read over 1100 books since becoming a book blogger a little over 5 yrs ago. As far as what I read and play, I’ll read almost anything (except swords and sorcery fantasy), but for video games I prefer a Mass Effect / Fallout / Starfield style game.
Where in the world do you live?
Why did you join Hardcover?
I was actively looking for alternatives to that big site in the space, and found this and a few others. Ultimately, this one had the best feature base that was trying to expand what book sites are capable of along with the most vocal and interactive development team.
Describe your ideal reading environment (place, time, lighting, anything that stands out)
For books, I can be almost anywhere in almost any situation. I actually have an album on Facebook dedicated to shots of me reading while traveling in various locales across the Southern US and Caribbean Sea region. For audiobooks, I like long drives and/ or long runs – the audiobooks help keep my mind engaged while I’m doing an otherwise mind-numbing task.
What are a few of your favorite books of all time?
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, Unity by Jeremy Robinson, The Postman by David Brin. (I actually have tattoos referencing all three of these.) Also Warrior Class by Dale Brown and The Veritas Conflict by Shaunti Feldhahn.
What books do you recommend the most often?
It really depends on what the person is asking for – I generally know of something near what anyone is asking for, no matter what specifics they want. And I generally recommend authors over specific books, so that the reader has several different options while knowing in general what they’re getting.
But specific books that come up most are Unity by Jeremy Robinson, Shuttle Houston by Paul Dye, Cobalt Red by Siddarth Kara, and The Rise Of The Warrior Cop by Radley Balko.
Who should follow you on Hardcover?
Everyone. I’m actually somewhat serious here – I can guarantee you that you’re going to find books recommended by me that you very likely won’t find almost anywhere else, as sometimes even on that other site I’m one of the single digit reviewers even years after publication.
The Hardcover Community isn’t just on the website – we’re also on Discord! If you’re not an expert in Discord, don’t worry – neither are we.
Join the over 500 of us to chat about books, hear about product updates, and be a part of the community.
Being a fledgling startup we can use all the help we can get! Whether that’s becoming a Supporter, sharing Hardcover with a friend, or just following along.
We appreciate you for reading and hope you have an amazing October. Talk to you soon. ☀️