Nobody gets rich by writing or selling books about go.
I recently had a 3-day sale where all the books at gobooks.com were 20% off. It was the first sale in the twelve years of Go Books. Integrating with the newest Stripe API made such a sale possible, as well as making sure authors and publishers would be paid based on the regular price – no need to coordinate with all of them, and no complications to the already complicated royalty calculations.
It was a great success – web sales were about 25x of normal during that period. The new Stripe integration held up. I found some issues, e.g. the data I’m collecting is no longer helping me automatically identify refunds, and exporting the Stripe purchases doesn’t currently include the coupon used.
Some numbers: In total, you all spent about $3,500 on a bit over 400 books during that sale – thank you! Almost $2,200 of that will be paid as royalty to authors and publishers. Stripe took about $230 (2.9% + $0.30 comes to almost 7% for these small transactions). Taxes of €54 will be going to the European Union. That leaves just over $1,000 for Smart Go. Yeah!
So clearly there was pent-up demand for a sale – I had no idea. What’s less clear is how this will affect the future: How many purchases were just pulled forward and would have happened anyway? Are readers now going to wait for the next sale (which won’t happen for a while) before buying any more books? And many of you will simply be very busy reading go books for a long time.
So what will Smart Go, Inc. do with that $1,000? Conversion of printed go books to digital is a human-intensive operation. Having electronic copies of the diagrams and text helps; for older books, those have to be re-created. Each inline diagram is lovingly created by hand. That big next book coming out soon? Conversion to Go Books format has cost me more than $3,000 so far.
As I said, nobody is getting rich by writing or selling books about go.
Not much progress on the Mac version of SmartGo One these last few weeks, thanks to the European Union. The EU now requires sales tax on go book sales, so I had to upgrade the integration of the gobooks.com backend with Stripe. Stripe’s newest checkout page handles collection of the appropriate taxes; I still get to do the fun part of submitting them. At least the EU lets you pay to a single country (I chose Ireland, so the forms are all in English), and they distribute from there.
So I’ve been working with PHP, MySQL, and webhooks, not my favorite activity, nor my area of expertise. At least I didn’t ship the bug where it sent you a free copy of SmartGo for Windows with every book purchase – I found that one before it went into production. Everything now seems to work well, but who knows what I messed up. Definitely needs more real-world testing.
The new checkout page not only deals with taxes, but also allows other payment options, like Apple Pay. And discounts now work. So to encourage you to buy those books you’ve long had your eye on, use coupon MINUS20 for 20% off any books at gobooks.com (also works for SmartGo for Windows).
This 20% discount is valid through Monday March 6. It’s the first discount in the 12 years of Go Books, so please grab this opportunity. (Note that royalties to authors and publishers are always based on the regular price, so they get their full payment.)
More improvements to gobooks.com (e.g. a shopping cart so you can buy multiple books at once, or complete a series) will have to wait for next year. Back to working on SmartGo One for the Mac.
TL;DR SmartGo One is an all-new version of SmartGo for iPhone and iPad with improved user interface, more features, better integration, and stronger computer play. It’s your one app for learning, playing, and studying the game of go.
I just released SmartGo One, the all-new version of SmartGo. It’s a free app replacing both SmartGo Kifu and SmartGo Player, with the books from Go Books fully integrated – one app for all your go needs. Currently for iPhone and iPad; a Mac version of SmartGo One is in the works.
I’ve written a separate blog post on the business aspects of replacing two apps with a new app and a different business model. In this post, I will focus on user interface and features, highlighting the changes from SmartGo Kifu. For details and a full list of features, see the user manual in the app (Books > Tutorial & Help > SmartGo One User Manual).
Overall user interface
SmartGo One features a more modern visual look (thanks to designer Scott Jensen), including dark mode (swipe two fingers down/up on the board to turn on/off). Navigation is more standard, using a tab bar on iPhone and the familiar three-pane layout on iPad.
Ability to use whole screen on iPad
Multiple windows on iPad
Continue where you left off on another device
Much smoother scrolling
Strong computer play
The old SmartGo apps used my own playing algorithm based on Monte Carlo Tree Search. This was fine pre-AlphaGo, but AlphaGo raised expectations. SmartGo One integrates KataGo, a very strong go engine. However, the current implementation only uses the CPU (no GPU or neural net), so it’s not yet as strong as e.g. ‘Master of Go’.
The current score and winning percentage can be shown while playing against the computer. End-of-game handling has been refined significantly.
SmartGo One lets you manage SGF files locally on your device as well as sync between devices using iCloud Drive. Huge improvements in this area:
Organize files using folders
Create and manage SGF collections (one file containing multiple games)
Work with zipped collections (one zipped file containing multiple games): e.g. if you get a zipped game collection from the Go4Go game subscription service, you can directly open that whole collection
Convert between folders and collections
Reorder games in collections
Drag and drop games into folders, onto collections, or onto books
Handle files with go problems (PRB) and go books (GOBOOK)
iCloud is used to sync your state across devices, between your iPhone and iPad (and Mac in the future). Here’s what’s synced:
Preferences (the ones that make sense)
Games stored in iCloud Drive
Your progress in solving problems
Games, problems, and books marked as favorites
Game annotations of pro games
Current reading position in your books
The gobook format (smartgo.com/pdf/gobookformat.pdf) is used for the books in the Go Books app. In SmartGo One, you can convert annotated games into your own book.
Pro game collection
SmartGo One offers more games than ever before (currently 114,000). The pro game collection can now be updated without updating the app, so expect more frequent game collection updates (whenever GoGoD releases a new version).
The names dictionary (by John Fairbairn) is now a separate tab with more than 4,400 entries:
Better presentation of player info
Links between different players, making it easy to explore and navigate between players
Search in players finds that player as well as related players such as teacher, or mentions in go style or bio
The go problems (from goproblems.com) are better organized, and there are more problems available.
Improved flow to work through problems
Improved display of statistics
Your problem stats sync between devices
Additional problem collections available
Better mechanism for updating problems, allowing issues to be fixed more quickly
Game play and recording
SmartGo has always excelled at replaying, recording, and editing game records, but SmartGo One improves on it in several ways:
Improved New Game screen
Edit game info directly inline, not in separate popups
Easier to go to a particular move
Easier to correct a particular move
Improved feedback while inserting a move or move pair
Quick access to frequently used board display settings
More discoverable and reliable board rotation, with a panel adding related functions
All 150 books from the Go Books app are directly integrated into SmartGo One. (If you bought books in Go Books, you can read those in SmartGo One.) Compared to Go Books, there are a number of improvements:
Better organization of books, including currently reading, recent additions, most popular
Keeps track of up to three books you’re reading right now
Search in book list
All book purchases can be shared with Family Sharing
Finding games that match a given joseki or fuseki works as before, but has been improved:
Easier to get to and return from the list of matching games
A few features didn’t make it into the 1.0 release of SmartGo One:
Guess Move: This will be added in an upcoming version.
File formats: Reading go game files other than SGF is not supported yet.
Localizations: SmartGo One is English-only right now.
SmartGo Kifu and SmartGo One can happily coexist on your device, so just keep SmartGo Kifu around for these tasks.
SmartGo One builds on decades of experience with computer go, and creates a new foundation for the next decade. By bringing games, problems, and books into a single app, it opens up lots of possibilities for the future – stay tuned.
TL;DR I’ve replaced SmartGo Kifu and SmartGo Player, two paid-up-front apps, by SmartGo One, a free app with extra features available through in-app purchases and subscription.
I’ve just released SmartGo One, which completely changes the business model for my apps. This all-new iOS app replaces both SmartGo Player ($3) and SmartGo Kifu ($20) with a free app.
Some history: I released SmartGo Pro for iPhone in September 2008 (first $10, then $13), followed by SmartGo Kifu for iPad ($20) in April 2010. The two were merged into a universal app in 2012. SmartGo Kifu has always been a premium paid-up-front app – if you bought it a decade ago, you have not paid a cent for it since. This is clearly not sustainable, especially for an app that appeals to a niche audience of dedicated go players.
In December 2015, I announced that I was moving my apps to Swift – with SmartGo One, that effort is finally bearing fruit. (Did it take longer than hoped for? Yes, it most certainly did.) I’ve written a separate blog post on user interface and feature changes, and plan to write one on the technical changes under the hood; in this post, I will focus on the business model.
This is how the old apps were positioned:
SmartGo Player ($3) was aimed at people who wanted to learn the game and play against the computer.
SmartGo Kifu ($20) was aimed at existing go players who wanted to study the game, solve problems, and record their own games.
Go Books (free with in-app purchases) is aimed at anybody who wants to learn more about go, from beginner to expert. The books range in price from $3 to $20.
Over the last years, as most of my time has gone into the new app, sales of Player and Kifu have been slowly declining, while sales of books have remained stable. In terms of gross revenue, the three apps have been roughly even, but Kifu and Player account for more income due to Go Books having higher upfront costs (converting books to digital) as well as higher royalty payments.
The new app is free to download, and is aimed at anybody who wants to do anything with the game of go, from beginner to expert. The free features include most of the features of SmartGo Player (except that computer play is limited to the smaller 9×9 and 13×13 boards), as well as the game-recording features of SmartGo Kifu.
There are three ways to pay in SmartGo One:
Subscription: For $12 per year, you get access to the full GoGoD collection of 114,000+ pro games as well as advanced features like joseki matching. You can also play the computer on the full 19×19 board.
Problem collections: SmartGo Kifu included 2,000 problems; SmartGo One gives you 200 problems for free, and then you can buy additional problem packs ($4 each) to get more problems at your level (up to currently 4,700 problems).
Books: All 150 books from Go Books are integrated in SmartGo One, and can be bought using in-app purchase. (The stand-alone Go Books app is still available, and books bought there can be read in SmartGo One.)
Will it work out?
With such a radical change in business model, it’s hard to predict how it will turn out. Here’s my (possibly wishful) thinking:
Many of the go players who were willing to pay $20 up-front for an app they couldn’t even try should be willing to pay $12 per year (after a 14-day free trial). These are the old Kifu customers.
As a free app, SmartGo One should see many more downloads than SmartGo Player did. Some of these downloads will lead to people buying a book to learn more about the game, or maybe they get into solving go problems and buy a problem collection. A few might even subscribe, but I think subscriptions are going to be mostly dedicated long-term go players.
The free Go Books app was not getting enough downloads. Anecdotally, there are many users of Kifu and Player who still don’t know about Go Books. Having the books directly integrated into the app should help people discover them.
Also, SmartGo One is better in pretty much every way than the old apps (in my humble, unbiased opinion). That should count for something.
So maybe it will work out? Interesting times ahead as I build up a whole new user base for this app. But regardless of the finances, SmartGo One is a win for users, as I discuss in this other blog post on user interface and features, and a win for me, putting future development on a much better path.
“Angriff und Verteidigung” by Akira Ishida and James Davies
The first is new to Go Books, the second was already present as “The Basics of Go Strategy” (in English, Spanish, and German), and the third is “Attack and Defense”, which did not have a German translation in Go Books. German has been removed from “The Basics of Go Strategy” – if you already have that book and were reading it in German, please let me know, and I will get you a complimentary copy of “Strategie”.
Why this shift? The previous approach had advantages in producing and maintaining the book (the diagrams were shared between languages, so any fixes would apply to all languages), but it became clear that there were some significant disadvantages that limited the creation of translated versions:
Different language editions might be by different publishers, with different royalty requirements.
With no way to tell which language people were buying and reading, it was hard to decide which translations were worth it.
Most books with translations remain multi-lingual for now, as we see how this experiment works out. The “Lehrbücher des Go” series of six books will be completed as German-only books, adding German translations for “Tesuji” by James Davies, “Counting Liberties and Winning Capturing Races” by Richard Hunter, as well as “Leben und Tod” by Gunnar Dickfeld.
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