After 13 years of experimenting, veteran Net publisher Adam Engst has finally stumbled on a good business model — fast-turnaround e-books.

From the get-go, Engst has pioneered just about every revenue model on the Internet — ads, subscriptions, sponsorships and the now-ubiquitous tip jar — with mixed success.

“Over the years, we could have made more money working minimum-wage jobs,” lamented Engst, who runs TidBits with his wife, Tonya, from their home in Ithaca, New York. “We do it for the love of it.”

But now Engst thinks he’s finally cracked it. Since last fall, Engst has published a series of rapidly produced e-books using a system he calls “extreme publishing.”

The nine books in the Take Control series range in topic from customizing Mac OS X to setting up a wireless network.

The books are written by a small stable of independent authors, who receive 50 percent royalties, a rate unheard of in traditional publishing. Edited collaboratively over the Net, the books are published “within moments of going to press” as small, downloadable PDF files.

Costing $5 or $10, the books come with free updates for readers — the electronic equivalent of second and third editions. The books are nicely laid out and designed to print well on home inkjets. They include lots of links to information on the Web.

Crucially, the books are timely. Print books, on the other hand, especially computer-oriented reference texts, are often out of date by the time they hit store shelves.

So far, Engst has sold about 20,000 copies in the Take Control series. The series’ best seller, Upgrading to Panther by Joe Kissell, has sold about 6,300 copies, a respectable number for a niche publisher.

More here.