A company against will and thanks: acdegroot publishing

De Groot becomes - reluctantly - self-employed

When I decided in 2007 to self-publish the third edition of Patch testing, I already had some experience with a company of my own. In fact, I had even owned two companies before: A.C. de Groot Huidartsenpraktijk B.V. and A.C. de Groot Pensioen B.V. (one for the practice, one for my pension). But that was not much use to me now, because my accountant had arranged all that for me back then. OK, so I wanted to start selling books, but with as little effort as possible, please. I wouldn't have to start a company again for those few books, would I? 'Yes, yes,' said the taxman or actually the taxwoman friendly but firmly on the telephone. I muttered some more and said I would only sell a few books a year; to have to start a company with all the bells and whistles for that? She remained friendly but unfortunately also firm: I had to set up a business – against will and thanks.

First to the Chamber of Commerce, where everyone was friendly, so that was a nice bonus. It would be best for me to make it a one-man business, so I would become a ZZP-er, een 'zelfstandige zonder personeel' ('self-employed person without personnel'). After filling in all sorts of things, I was completely surprised by the question 'What do you want to call your company'? Good Lord, I hadn't thought about that. Very fast cerebral switching is not easy for me, especially in stressful situations, and after rejecting names with Megalos and Magnus ('big' [mij name De Groot means 'great' or 'big'] in ancient Greek and Latin respectively), I got no further than 'Can I also call it acdegroot publishing'? That was allowed and I've regretted it for 14 years, that I couldn't come up with anything more original then. I later considered changing the name, but then all kinds of things would have to be adjusted at the tax authorities, at the chamber of commerce, at the bank and on the website and that was too much hassle for me. Good, bank account opened, registered with the tax authorities and I received a VAT number. Now let's read how exactly to do that and also whether it's different when selling abroad (yes, and that was quite complicated), because I didn't expect to sell more than roughly 10-20 books in total in the Netherlands (you see, it's a superspecialized niche book for dermatologists interested in contact allergy, and there aren'that many of those).

This strange clinical picture is an allergic contact eczema caused by transdermal patches containing the drug rivastigmine (against Alzheimer's dementia), which must be left in place for 1 day at a time. The drug is gradually released from the transdermal system and absorbed through the skin into the bloodstream. In this patient, the allergen was not the medicine itself, but an (unknown) part of the patch. The number of reactions shows that individual eczema patches disappear after about 14 days

How to sell a book?

Next step: a sales channel. I thought a website might be the most appropriate. On to the website builder in Meppel. Nowadays there are websites such as WordPress, which you can get as freeware and can adapt to your specific needs and design. But this did not exist in 2007 yet, so the entire website with web store had to be built manually. I don't know if I accidentally hired the wrong company, but it was a drama. Those fast ICT guys are bad at Dutch, are bad at math, work much too hasty and sloppy and don't read my emails properly. I think we went back and forth 20 times before we finally had a well-functioning website cum webshop. Admittedly, selling internationally is also quite complicated with all those countries, whether they are within the EU or outside, whether or not to charge VAT and of course the shipping costs depend on whether your customers live in the Netherlands, in the European Union or outside.

The book is ready

In the meantime, I had written the third edition of Patch testing and had it produced as printed book by Giethoorn Ten Brink printing company in Meppel. Fortunately, that all went perfectly, except that the company went bankrupt the following year. I would like to assume that this was not my fault or my book's fault. The highly esteemed customers could either order a copy on the website and pay immediately by credit card, or they could buy on account, in which case I would send the invoice, which was to be paid later by bank transfer. I always had the customers sign for receipt of the book, for fear that problems could arise there, for example that people would claim not to have received the book. In retrospect, this has been unnecessary, there have never been any problems and there have been only 2 defaulters. I have come to hate the French post, though, because when a book was returned – always wrongly, I never made mistakes with the addresses – it was from France in 9 out of 10 cases.

Acquire customers

How could I spread the joyous news of the release of acdegroot publishing's first (and only) book? Well, of course I sent a copy of the book to all the major scientific dermatology journals for a book review and thankfully they were published)and – not surprisingly (the previous editions all had received good assessments) – all very positive. In addition, I tried to approach as many potential customers (dermatologists, preferably with a specific interest in contact allergy) as possible directly by e-mail. I collected email addresses by looking at the authors in Contact Dermatitis and Dermatitis and by looking up addresses on the websites of the American Contact Dermatitis Society, European Society of Contact Dermatitis and the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, of which I already was or had become a member specifically for this purpose. I even hired my daughter Suzanne to copy-paste several thousand email addresses of the latter association.

A standard email was sent to all the people I didn't know personally, and a personalized email to dermatologists I could address by first name. It was all a matter of figuring out how I could send mail to 250 addresses in one go, and I succeeded. By the way, this was noticed by KPN (the email provider) and I was temporarily blocked 2 or 3 times (I believe 24 hours) because of sending SPAM. I received about 20% of all emails back, mostly because it was recognized as SPAM, despite having sent several test emails to relatives and friends to see what would be accepted and which text ended up in the SPAM box. I often received the message that the accounts did not exist or that the mail could not be delivered. Anyway, about 80% arrived. Of course it was pure advertising, but nevertheless only twice I received a request (1 friendly, the other irritated) to be removed from the mailing list. This mail (and later similar ones for other books) ended with 'My apologies in case you are not interested in this subject and consider sending this mail inappropriate'. I hoped this would take the sting out and I seem to have succeeded here.

The opening screen of the old website from 2008, announcing the 4th edition of Patch testing in 2018


The site www.patchtesting.info went online and it immediately ran like a train! The first book was sold on August 15, 2008 and especially in the beginning there were sometimes 8 orders per day, and that of a book that cost almost 120 euros, excluding VAT and shipping costs (20 euros outside Europe, for example). Within 6 weeks I had already recouped all costs and acdegroot publishing started to make a profit! I had fun with it. Incidentally, all sorts of things went wrong with the website and I had to contact the software company several times to have errors corrected.

And then something unexpected happened. I received e-mails from booksellers asking about the price, the shipping costs, the delivery time, and …….. the booksellers' discount. I had not counted on this at all. After all, people could order the book themselves on my website, so why would they ask a bookstore to buy it for them? Well, it turned out that, especially in larger organizations such as academic centers, books are usually purchased centrally, which often goes through a regular bookstore. I hated this for three reasons. The first was that I had to correspond with the booksellers by e-mail. The second reason: there was no 'selling to bookstore' module in my website, so I had to manually type invoices and send them with the books. And the third and - at the time certainly not unimportant - reason: I had to give a discount, which is common practice in this wind trade. Because that's how I see it: wind trading. What added value does a bookshop have? Not a single one! He only makes money as an intermediary between me and the customer and wants to be paid for it, at my expense, through the booksellers' discount! However, I couldn't ignore it and gave a discount of 37.50 euros, about 30% of the price of the book. Ultimately, an estimated 15-20% of all books have been sold through a bookstore.

As a lure, I had promised all potential customers that they would receive 2 years of free digital updates of the book upon purchase. I have indeed written four such updates in the following 14 years:

  • De Groot AC. Patch testing, 3rd Edition: Update 2008-2010. Wapserveen, The Netherlands: acdegroot publishing, 2011
  • De Groot AC. Patch Testing, 3rd Edition: Update 2008-2012. Wapserveen, The Netherlands: acdegroot publishing, 2013
  • De Groot AC. Patch Testing, 3rd Edition: Update 2008-2015. Wapserveen, The Netherlands: acdegroot publishing, 2015 (33 pages). ISBN/EAN 978-90-813233-2-1 
  • De Groot AC. Patch testing, 4th Edition: Update 2018 – 2022. Wapserveen, The Netherlands: acdegroot publishing, 2022 (37 pages). ISBN/EAN 978-90-813233-7-6


I notified the purchasers of the book, and basically everyone, of its appearance through a letter to the editor in Dermatitis and information e-mails. Later, the update could be downloaded from my account at the website www.researchgate.net. After every e-mail announcing a new update, I would sell 10-20 extra books. In total, I have sold about 535 copies of the third edition. In 2017 I thought it was time to publish a fourth edition of Patch testing and when the books were delivered to my home in 2018, I could throw about 400 superfluous copies of edition 3 in the paper bin of the landfill (which is now called 'Environmental Station').


Fourth edition of Patch Testing, 2018

I have already written a lot about the fourth edition of Patch testing elsewhere on this website, so I will not repeat that here. I misjudged again – I never learn – with the website. This is what happened. I wanted to adapt the website in such a way that booksellers could now also order and pay directly on the site. In the meantime I had reduced the price of the book to 75 euros (excl. VAT and shipping costs) for three reasons: 1. the income was not really necessary for my financial health now; 2. I wanted as many people as possible (dermatologists and patients) to be able to benefit from the practical information contained in the book; and 3. due to the extensive online search options available today, the added value of purchasing the book (which applies to all reference books, incidentally) is much less than before.


The fourth edition of Patch Testing from 2018; on the right the logo we used for my new website www.patchtesting.info

In any case: the website had to be updated and expanded. Adjusting the current website was estimated at 1200 euros, a new website (based on Wordpress and with WooCommerce as a webshop plug-in) 'from' 1900 euros. Yes, I know what that 'from' could imply, so I opted, against the advice of the website builder, for an update of the existing website. Well, there my stinginess once again won over advice from an expert and I much regretted that afterwards. A year after the updated old website had gone online, I yet chose for a completely new website with a new logo, but with the same name: www.patchtesting.info. That seems to have been a good decision. It had become a really beautiful website, there have been no problems with it so far and the website builder provides updates every month. In the meantime (until July 2022) I have sold about 285 copies of the fourth edition of Patch testing, which appeared in April 2018, which means that I at that time already had earned more than the total costs of the two websites. I have sold some 20-25 copies to a Japanese bookseller, most of the times 5 in one order.  


The opening screen of the new website in 3 panels

The future of acdegroot publishing (written July 2022)

I can be brief about that: it looks gloomy, the company appears to be in its terminal phase. I hardly ever sell a book at the moment. There are at least 5 reasons for this:

1. The book has been on the market for 4 years, so most in contact allergy interested dermatologists, allergists and other scientists who really want the book have already bought a copy.

2. Contact allergy has always been a bit of a neglected child, a 'niche area' of dermatology, and this seems to be getting worse. In the Netherlands, for example, the 'patch tests' can no longer be billed to the health care insurers. Those diagnostic tests were very well paid for when I was still practicing (already 20 years ago), but nowadays this is included in the 'fixed patient fee'. This means that the dermatologist who performs allergy tests receives nothing financially, but spends a lot of time (especially the assistant, by the way), which cannot be spent on other (billable) activities. Well, the dermatologist is, as most others, only human and this system therefore does not exactly encourage performing patch tests. As a consequence, the interest in contact allergy is steadily declining. The same applies to other countries.

3. The golden age of reference works such as my book (in which published material on a specific subject is presented in a clear and extensive manner) is coming to an end. After all, data is increasingly easy to find online in databases such as PubMED, EMbase, Scopus and many others. And the introduction of artificial intelligence such as Smart GPT in mid-2023 certainly speeds up this proces of downfall.

4. The scientists of the younger generations, I suspect, prefer e-books. There are of course also very good reasons for this, for example that you can find everything much faster and more completely with keywords than in a printed book.

5. The fifth reason is entirely due to my (rare) altruism: I donated the 5th edition files to the European Society of Contact Dermatitis and the American Contact Dermatitis Society to post it on their website. All members of these societies (ACDS >2500, ESCD 320) can view the entire content and search online for (parts of) names, CAS numbers and other keywords. Then why would they still buy my printed book? No good deed goes unpunished.

The Americans understood very well that I was undermining my own trade with this. My gesture was therefore very much appreciated and they showed it in a very nice manner. By the way, I don't mind at all that I sell only a few books: it's always a hassle with the shipping and I'm fortunately not dependent on it for my financial health at the moment.

But more importantly, I feel very good that many more dermatologists and their patients with allergic contact dermatitis can now benefit from all the work I've done on the book since 1984 or 1985, when I started writing the first edition. All in all, it is a unique book, which is internationally praised, and has been the mondial standard work on test concentrations and vehicles for contact allergens since 1986, so for 36 years (now 37 years) already. As a 'dermatologist from the Dutch polder' (dixit Jannes van Everdingen) an achievement that I can be proud of (which I am).

Everything comes to an end

On October 1, 2022 I pulled the plug on acdegroot publishing, the costs are higher than the benefits. I started the 'publishing company', which has had a high hot air content from its start in 2008 on, reluctantly, but in the end it not only brought quite a bit of annoyance, but also - and happily much more - pleasure.

Nowadays  you can order personalized stamps that you can actually use for mailing. I received this sheet from my friend and former classmate Dr. Han Israels, a famous Dutch sociologist, on the occasion of the release of the 4th edition of Patch testing


For comments, questions or other reasons for contacting me: please mail to antondegroot@planet.nl