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An interesting quote from oftwominds.com
To sell a book of any worth to a major publisher a writer needs a capable, professional agent. On behalf of thousands of writers without an agent or access to one via insider introduction, I will describe what it is like for an outsider to try to gain representation.
My over-all professional background: a writer of 20 books, published in New York (Morrow, fiction; Ballantine, nonfiction), and a freelance with a long record of achievement in print, broadcast and Internet media worldwide for some of the best corporations, magazines, media and similar interests.
Those credentials, plus $1, will buy you a really rotten cup of coffee.
Analysts aren't too bullish on self-publishing. "I don't think self-publishing will be big," says Jupiter's Hertzberg. "Everybody's a writer or a filmmaker, yes, but talent will still determine where the market is, and there aren't that many talented authors."
Certain trends in tech documentation stand out. We round up five top trends from 2016.
Dec 15, 2016 Shaun McCanceFeedup
I've been doing open source documentation for a long time. Over the past decade, there have been a lot of attitude shifts regarding authoring and publishing. Some of these trends seem to go in cycles, such as the popularity of semantic markup. The latest trends move documentation closer to code, what many have called docs as code. Let's look at a few of the larger themes in documentation trends:
When I first started doing documentation work for GNOME, we wrote our documentation in DocBook and stored it in CVS repositories alongside our code. These days, most GNOME documentation is written in Mallard and stored in a Git repository (after a brief stint with SVN). Although formats and tools have changed, the constant factor is that sources are stored in revision control, just like code.
It may seem odd to call this a trend when we've been doing it for so long, but a few things have changed, and some of that revolves around what Git has brought to the table. Git is one of the decentralized version control systems that arrived on the scene over the past decade or so. Some people continue to use decentralized version control systems the same way they used CVS or SVN, but that doesn't expose the real power of these systems. Documentation writers are increasingly proficient using Git for what it is. They're creating development, staging, and production branches, and they're merging disparate contributions. This wasn't as common just a few years ago.
Git is certainly not the only decentralized version control system. There are also Bazaar and Mercurial, to name just two, and you will find writers wielding the same power with those tools as well. But Git has taken the majority of the mind share, thanks in large part to popular Git hosting sites.
This is an area in which open source has lead the trend in the overall software documentation industry. A quick glance at technical writing forums will show plenty of people across the industry looking for information on how to effectively transition to Git. In the past, they may have stored their sources on a network drive with no revision control, or they may have used a proprietary management system. Git and tools like it have drastically changed the way the entire software industry deals with documentation.2. Lightweight languages
There have always been plenty of choices for documentation source formats. There are semantic XML formats, and SGML formats before that. There are TeX dialects and troff dialects. There are the source formats of word processors, page layout tools, and help authoring tools. There are the internal formats of various wikis and content management systems. There's HTML. And there are a handful of lightweight markup languages that are designed to be easy to type in a text editor.
People are increasingly choosing lightweight markup languages for a number of reasons. They are usually easier to write, at least for simple things. They tend to play better with version control systems, because they're generally line oriented. And they can help lower the barrier to entry for new contributors, although you should be careful not to expect a change in source format alone to drive lots of contributors to your project.
Lightweight markup languages have their downsides, too. The tools for working with them tend to be limited in scope, and don't often provide the kind of data model you need to write other tools. They also don't usually provide as much semantic information. With XML formats, for example, there are a wealth of tools for translation, validation, link checking, status reporting, and various types of testing and data extraction. This kind of tooling isn't currently as extensive for lightweight formats. So although lightweight formats might ease the barrier to entry for new contributors, they can also create new barriers to long-term maintenance. As with all things, there are always trade-offs.
The three most popular lightweight formats right now are Markdown, AsciiDoc, and reStructured Text. Markdown is the simplest, but it doesn't offer much for anything but the most basic documentation needs. It also comes in many different, slightly incompatible flavors, depending on which processing tool you use. AsciiDoc offers more semantics and more types of elements. It originally focused on being a front-end to DocBook, but it has grown to natively support lots of output formats. reStructuredText came from the Python community, and for a long time its use was largely limited to Python projects. It has grown in popularity lately due to hosting sites, such as Read the Docs.3. Static site generators
Five years ago, the trend was to use wikis and blogging platforms to create documentation sites. They were easy to set up, and giving people accounts to contribute was easy. Particularly brave people would even open their wiki to anonymous contributions. These days, the trend is to keep sources in version control, then build and publish sites with mostly static HTML files.
Generating static sites isn't new. My first job out of college was working on internal tools used at a software company to build and publish static files for tens of thousands of pages of documentation. But static sites have become increasingly popular for projects of all sizes, for a number of reasons.
First, there are increasingly good off-the-shelf static site generators. Tools like Middleman and Jekyll are just as easy to deploy as a wiki or a blog. Unless you have specialized needs, you no longer have to write and maintain your own site-generating tool. Static site generators have become increasingly popular among web developers, and technical writers get to ride that wave.
Another reason static sites are more popular is that source hosting sites are easier to use, and a growing number of technical people use them. One of the draws of a wiki was that somebody could contribute without downloading anything or installing special tools. If your source files are stored in a hosting service like GitHub, anybody with a GitHub account can edit them right in their web browser and ask you to merge their changes.4. Continuous integration
Continuous integration is the key that ties the previous trends together. You can write your documentation in a simple format, store it in Git and edit it on the web using a Git hosting service, and publish a site from those sources. With continuous integration, you don't even need a human to kick off the publishing process. If you're brave, you can publish automatically after every commit to master, and you'll have a nearly wiki-like experience for writers.
Some projects will be more conservative and only publish from a production branch. But even when publishing from a branch, continuous integration removes tedious human intervention. You can also automatically publish staging sites for development branches.
Continuous integration isn't just about publishing, either. Projects can use it to automatically test their documentation for things like validity and link integrity, or to generate reports on status and coverage.5. Hosted documentation services
Automatically publishing documentation sites with continuous integration is easier than ever, but now there are hosted services that take care of everything for you. Just pass them a Git repository, and they'll automatically build, publish, and host your documentation. The most well-known example is Read the Docs. Originally coming out of the Python community, its ease of use has made it popular for all sorts of projects.
Whether free hosted documentation sites can be financially viable remains to be seento keep sites like that running costs money and people hours. If the sites can't maintain a certain level of quality, people will take their documentation elsewhere. If you benefit from one of these free services, I encourage you to see how you can help financially.
I believe the hosted documentation services trend will continue. Smart people will figure out how to smooth the bumps. I also suspect we'll start seeing paid hosted documentation services for proprietary software. Open source has led the way on documentation technology over the past decade, and it will continue to do so.
Aug 10, 2017 | www.moonofalabama.org
fast freddy | Aug 5, 2017 4:25:45 PM | 81If you've got the means to print money (or to simply post it and jockey it plus or minus on electronic score boards) and you can maintain it as the world's standard instrument of trade, you'll have people lined up to get some. And what the hell, it's just numbers on paper. It's backed by "faith and credit".
Everything Wiki is CIA approved. They do have a sense of humor and a sense of irony. One can often find the relevant details buried within the deep layers of bullshit.
Jul 07, 2017 | www.msn.com
Procrastination is like a sore throat; it's a symptom with many possible causes. Unless you know the cause, the treatment for the symptom might things worse. This column contains the five most common causes of procrastination and how to overcome them.1. The size of a task seems overwhelming.
Explanation: Every time you think about the task it seems like a huge mountain of work that you'll never be able to complete. You therefore avoid starting.
Solution: Break the task into small steps and then start working on them. This builds momentum and makes the task far less daunting.
Example: You've decided to write a book. Rather than sitting down and trying to write the book (which will probably cause you to stare at the blank screen), spend one hour on each of the following sub-tasks:
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2. The number of tasks seems overwhelming.
- Jot down as many ideas as possible.
- Sort the ideas into an outline.
- List out anecdotes you'll want to include.
- Write a sample anecdote to determine style.
- Review existing materials (e.g. presentations).
- Assign those materials to sections of your outline.
- Write the first three paragraphs of a sample chapter.
- Create a schedule to write 2 pages a day.
Explanation: Your to-do list has so many tasks in it that you feel as if you'll never be able to finish them all, so why bother getting started?
Solution: Combine the tasks into a conceptual activity and then set a time limit for how long you'll pursue that activity.
Example: Your email account is being peppered by so many requests and demands that you feel as if you can't possibly get them done. Rather than fret about the pieces and parts, set aside a couple of hours to "do email." Schedule a similar session tomorrow or later that day.
Thinking of the work as an activity rather than a bunch of action items makes them seem less burdensome.3. A set of tasks seem repetitive and boring.
Explanation: You're a creative person with an active mind so you naturally put off any activity that doesn't personally interest you.
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Solution: Set a time limit for completing a single task in the set and then compete against yourself to see if you can beat that time limit. Reward yourself each time you beat the clock.
Example: You're a newly-hired salesperson who must write personalized emails to two dozen customers. The work involves quickly researching their account, addressing any issues they've had with the previous salesperson, and then introducing yourself.
Rather than just slogging through the work, estimate the maximum amount of time it should take to write one letter (let's say 5 minutes). It should thus take you 120 minutes (2 hours) to write all of them.
Start the stopwatch, write the first email. If you have time left over, do something else (like read the news). When the stopwatch buzzes, reset, write the second email, etc.4. The task seems so important that it's daunting.
Explanation: You realize that if you screw this task up, it might mean losing your job or missing a huge opportunity. You avoid it because you don't want to risk failure.
Solution: Contact somebody you trust and ask if they'll review your work (if the task is written) or act as a sounding board (if the task is verbal). Doing the task for your reviewer is low-risk and thus the task is easier to start. The reviewer's perspective and approval provides you extra confidence when you actually execute the task.
Example: You need to write an email demanding payment from a customer who's in arrears. Because you don't want to damage the relationship and yet need to be paid, it's a difficult balancing act--so difficult that you avoid writing the email.
To break the mental log-jam, ask a colleague or friend if they'll review your email before you send it to see if it hits the right tone. Writing the email then becomes easier because you're writing it for your friend to read rather than for the customer.Problem: You just don't feel like working.
Explanation: You're feeling burned out and generally unmotivated, so you're finding it very hard to get down to work.
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Solution: You have two choices: 1) reschedule the activity for a time when you'll be more motivated or 2) motivate yourself in the short-term by setting a reward.
Example: You need to write a trip report but you're tired after a long day of travel. While you know that the report will be more accurate if you write it now, you decide to write it tomorrow morning after breakfast and coffee--a time when you're typically more motivated.
Alternatively, you motivate yourself short-term promising yourself that you'll buy and download a book that you've been wanting to read... but only if you write the report tonight.
Jul 16, 2017 | www.linuxtoday.com
Calibre 3.4 is here only one week after the release of the 3.3 update, which means that it's not a major version and it only adds a few user interface improvements, along with the usual bug fixes. The most important thing introduced in Calibre 3.4 is the a new method of exporting books to your computer. In the Edit Book component, there's now an option called "Export selected files" if you right-click on the File browser, and it makes it a lot easier to export all selected books to your computer. In addition, there's now a configurable shortcut to move the focus from the Quickview component to the book list.
Dec 26, 2016 | yro.slashdot.org(arstechnica.com) 90 Posted by msmash on Friday December 02, 2016 @04:20PM from the empire-strikes-back dept. 20-year-old Lan Cai was in a car crash this summer, after she was plowed into by a drunk driver and broke two bones in her lower back. She didn't know how to navigate her car insurance and prove damages, so she reached out for legal help. Things didn't go as one would have liked, initially, as ArsTechnica documents: The help she got, Cai said, was less than satisfactory. Lawyers from the Tuan A. Khuu law firm ignored her contacts, and at one point they came into her bedroom while Cai was sleeping in her underwear. "Seriously, it's super unprofessional!" she wrote on Facebook. (The firm maintains it was invited in by Cai's mother.) She also took to Yelp to warn others about her bad experience. The posts led to a threatening e-mail from Tuan Khuu attorney Keith Nguyen. Nguyen and his associates went ahead and filed that lawsuit, demanding the young woman pay up between $100,000 and $200,000 -- more than 100 times what she had in her bank account. Nguyen said he didn't feel bad at all about suing Cai. Cai didn't remove her review, though. Instead she fought back against the Khuu firm, all thanks to attorney Michael Fleming, who took her case pro bono. Fleming filed a motion arguing that, first and foremost, Cai's social media complaints were true. Second, she couldn't do much to damage the reputation of a firm that already had multiple poor reviews. He argued the lawsuit was a clear SLAPP (strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation). Ultimately, the judge agreed with Fleming, ordering the Khuu firm to pay $26,831.55 in attorneys' fees.
Dec 26, 2016 | news.slashdot.org(technologyreview.com) 220 Posted by msmash on Wednesday November 30, 2016 @11:45AM from the inside-look dept. Reader Joe_NoOne writes: Like TV, social media now increasingly entertains us, and even more so than television it amplifies our existing beliefs and habits. It makes us feel more than think, and it comforts more than challenges. The result is a deeply fragmented society, driven by emotions, and radicalized by lack of contact and challenge from outside. This is why Oxford Dictionaries designated "post-truth" as the word of 2016: an adjective "relating to circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than emotional appeals." Traditional television still entails some degree of surprise. What you see on television news is still picked by human curators, and even though it must be entertaining to qualify as worthy of expensive production, it is still likely to challenge some of our opinions (emotions, that is). Social media, in contrast, uses algorithms to encourage comfort and complaisance, since its entire business model is built upon maximizing the time users spend inside of it . Who would like to hang around in a place where everyone seems to be negative, mean, and disapproving? The outcome is a proliferation of emotions, a radicalization of those emotions, and a fragmented society.
This is way more dangerous for the idea of democracy founded on the notion of informed participation. Now what can be done? Certainly the explanation for Trump's rise cannot be reduced to a technology- or media-centered argument. The phenomenon is rooted in more than that; media or technology cannot create; they can merely twist, divert, or disrupt. Without the growing inequality, shrinking middle class, jobs threatened by globalization, etc. there would be no Trump or Berlusconi or Brexit. But we need to stop thinking that any evolution of technology is natural and inevitable and therefore good. For one thing, we need more text than videos in order to remain rational animals. Typography, as Postman describes, is in essence much more capable of communicating complex messages that provoke thinking. This means we should write and read more, link more often, and watch less television and fewer videos -- and spend less time on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.
Nov 13, 2016 | economistsview.typepad.com
The Other Infrastructure, Economic Principals : Bridges, roads, airports, the electricity grid, pipelines, food and fuel and water systems: all of these are underfunded to some degree. So are the myriad new arrangements, from satellites and ocean buoys to emission scrubbers and ocean barriers, required to keep abreast and cope with climate change. Which wheels will begin to get the grease in coming months? We'll see.
At the moment I am even more interested in the well-being of social information systems Last week The Wall Street Journal announced it would reduce its print edition from four sections to two, bringing it into line with the Financial Times . Should that be an occasion for concern? On the contrary, let me try to convince you that it is welcome news.
Although newspapers still carry crossword puzzles, comics, agony aunts, and churn out all manner of fashion magazines, they are mainly in the business of producing provisionally reliable knowledge. What's that? I have in mind propositions on which every honest and knowledgeable person can agree.
Not so much big judgement, such whether climate change is occurring or whether Vladimir Putin is a despot, but rather ascertainable facts, beginning with what parties to various debates are saying about themselves and each other and about their pasts. These are the foundations on which big judgements are based
A case in point: almost all of what the world knows about Donald Trump, that is, that we consider that we really know, we owe to The New York Times , The Wall Street Journal , The Washington Post , the Financial Times , and various newspaper-like organizations, Bloomberg News, Politico , and the Guardian in particular. The Associated Press, Reuters and the BBC contributed a little less; magazines still less; the rest of radio and television, hardly anything at all, with the notable exception of Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly's lead off question in the first presidential debate . Someone will prepare a list of the fifty or a hundred of the best stories of the last year, I expect. I'll only mention a few memorable examples:
The Post's coverage of the Trump Foundation; the Times' many investigations, including those of his tax strategies and his practices as a young landlord; a Politico roundtable of five Trump biographers; the WSJ's pursuit of the George Washington bridge closing, coverage that changed the course of the campaign; and the FT's continuing emphasis on the foreign policy implications of the America election. The same thing could be said about newspapers' coverage of Hillary Clinton.
Newspapers exist to process and assess the rival claims of experts politicians, governments, corporations, the professoriate, pollsters, authors, whistleblowers, filmmakers, and denizens of the blogosphere. When its own claims to authority are misplaced a spectacular example having been the Monday before the election, when newspapers were still expecting a Clinton victory the print press and its kith and kin correct themselves (the next day) and investigate the prior beliefs that led them to error. A free and competitive press resembles the other great self-correcting systems that have evolved over centuries democracy, markets, and science.
And as for social media, the new highly-decentralized content producers, to the extent they are originators of new information, the claims made there are slowly becoming subject to the same checking and assessment routines as are claims advanced in other realms. (No, the Pope did not endorse Donald Trump.) As for intelligence services, in which the experts' job is to know more than is public, it is the newspapers that make them less secret. More than any other institution in democratic industrial societies, newspapers produce a provisional version of the truth. So the condition of newspapers should concern us all.
In What If the Newspaper Industry Made a Colossal Mistake? , in Politico , Jack Shafer speculated recently the newspaper companies had "wasted hundreds of millions of dollars" by building out web operations instead of investing in their print editions, "where the vast majority of their readers still reside and where the overwhelming majority of advertising and subscription revenue still come from." As perspicacious a press critic as is writing today, Shafer was reporting on an essay by a pair of University of Texas professors, H. Iris Chyi and Ori Tenenboim, in Journalism Practice .
Chyi and Tenenboim overstated their case, I think. Those dollars invested in web operations weren't wasted; they had to be spent. Most newspapers, all but the WSJ , made the mistake of making their content free on the Web for several years. Only gradually did they come round to the approach the Journal had pioneered: a paywall, with some sort of a metering technology designed to encourage online subscriptions.
More serious has been the lack of thinking-out-loud about the future of those print editions. No one needs to be told that smart phones have replaced newspapers, radio, and television as the tip of the spear of news. It appears that Facebook and Twitter have supplanted cable television and radio talk shows as the dominant forum for political discussion. But newspapers haven't gone away; indeed, by establishing beachheads for the content they produce on social media platforms, they have become more influential than ever.
The immense prestige associated with newspapers arose from the fact that for centuries they were reliable money machines, thanks to their semi-monopoly on readers' attention. It is no longer news that the revenue model has turned upside down, Advertisers used to pay two thirds or more of the cost of publishing a successful newspaper; today it is more like a third, if that. Attention was slowly eroded away by radio, broadcast and pay television, until the invention of search-based advertising in 2002 turned decline into a seeming rout. The basic business model is still the same, as Tim Wu explains in The Attention Merchants; The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads (Knopf, 2016): "free diversion in exchange for a moment of your consideration, sold in turn to the highest-bidding advertiser." It's the technology that has changed.
In a world in which the gas pump starts talking to you when you pick up the hose and video commercials are everywhere online, the virtues of print are many-sided, for readers and advertisers alike. In Why Print Still Rules , Shafer laid out the case for print's superiority as a medium "an amazingly sophisticated technology for showing you what's important, and showing you a lot of it." It's finite. It attracts a paying crowd, which is why advertisers are willing to pay more much more for space.
The fancy newspapers are in good shape to refurbish their printed editions. Three of the four have new owners with deep pockets. Rupert Murdoch, a maverick Australian, now a US citizen, bought the WSJ in 2007; Amazon's Jeff Bezos, thought to be the second richest American, after Bill Gates, bought the WPost in 2013; the Japanese newspaper group around Nikkei bought the FT in 2015. The NYT is the shakiest of the four, but there seems little doubt that the cousins of the Sulzberger/Ochs clan will find a suitable partner, the oft-expressed enmity of President-elect Trump notwithstanding.
Pricing, meanwhile, is all over the map, as is the appropriate size of the paper edition itself. The FT delivers two sections of tightly-written no-jump news over five days and a great weekend edition for $406 a year. The WSJ costs $525 a year for six days, including a first-rate weekend edition. The Times charges $980 a year for seven days a week, including a Sunday edition that contains much more content than most readers need. (Its ads bring in a ton of money.) That's why the WSJ decision to cut back to from four to two daily sections is significant: it acknowledges the reduced but still very powerful claim of print on consumers' ever-more stretched budget of time. It puts more pressure on the Times's luxury brand.
It's the regional papers that worry me, as much for their roles as distributors of news as producers of it. When the Times , WSJ and FT are placed on the stoop in the morning, my old paper, The Boston Globe , is not among them. At around $770 a year, it simply costs too much, especially considering the meager local content it provides. Assume that the "right" price for a year of a fancy paper today is somewhere between the FT and the WSJ , at around $500 a year. At around half as much, or even $300, a print edition of the Globe would be highly attractive. My hunch is that circulation would again begin to increase, and, in the process, shore up the metropolitan area's home-delivery network. Instead I buy digital versions of the Globe (for $208) and the Post (for $149). Want to know what a year of the print Post costs? So does the copy editor. But I stopped looking after interrogating the web page for five minutes. Newspapers are notorious for gulling their subscribers. Not even the FT is straightforward about it.
Like the other leading papers the Chicago Tribune , Los Angeles Times , Philadelphia Inquirer , and Baltimore Sun the Globe was sold for a song to a non-newspaper owner in the course of the panic that followed the advent of search advertising in 2002. These publishers no longer seem to see themselves as part of an industry that was quite tight-knit before the fall. That's another disadvantage with which the big national dailies must cope. For many years, newspaperfolk considered that their businesses were mostly exempt from the laws of supply and demand. Price cuts play a big part in the lore of its past. Today, the future of the industry depends on the recognition that price/performance is everything.
www.amazon.com"This book was a pleasurable, gripping, interesting read...It is academically focused with lots of bibliographic notes and references, yet it is clearly written for the general reader too. This skills of a journalist shine through: collect, curate and create a clearly understandable text from a seething mass of ideas." (Darren Ingram Darren Ingram Media )
General readers, media and publishing professionals, journalism students
"[A] hard-hitting examination of the future of news and reporting - and a 'must' for social issues and journalism collections alike." (California Bookwatch, The Journalism Shelf Midwest Book Review )
"The book is essential reading for many journalists today who must prepare themselves for the digital dilemmas of tomorrow." (Geoff Ward All Voices )
"The book is optimistic without being sentimental, thought-provoking without being pretentious and realistic without being harsh, which makes it comforting for someone with a keen interest in seeing journalism prevail and hopefully eye-opening for those who wish to better understand it." (Madeleine Maccar Chicago Center for Literature and Photography )
"Commendably well written and annotated, this volume will be valuable to anyone interested in journalism, mass communication, or digital media. Summing up : Highly recommended." (R.A. Logan CHOICE )
"Brock's writing is crisp, concise, and clear and his research extensive. The book is impeccably edited and presented in a very reader-friendly fashion...As reference material, Out of Print is an essential addition to any media-related collection. To members of the journalism field who've endured years of angst over the future of their profession, it's so much more. Brock's analysis is too well-reasoned and supported to be easily dismissed as blind optimism, lighting a beacon of hope to those interested in seeing journalism right itself from its current state of upheaval." (Rich Rezler ForeWord Reviews )
"[A]rgues that the experimentation and inventiveness of the new news media are cause for greater optimism than the red ink on the balance sheets of media companies.Seeking to reassure the doom-mongers, he delves back into the history of journalism and demonstrates the shaky beginnings and rapid innovation that powered news journalism for three centuries before the maturation and slow decline of the business in the 20th century. His prιcis of the history is fascinating and elegantly done." (Emily Bell New Statesman )
"A brief survey of journalism's history and evolution leads toward modern transformations that are forcing people to rethink how journalism can be accomplished, both ethically and profitably... Out of Print is a 'must-read' for anyone in today's journalism or periodical industries, and is worthy of the highest recommendation for public or college library Media Studies shelves." (Library Bookwatch, The Journalism Shelf Midwest Book Review )
"[P]rovides an insightful and detailed analysis of journalism through history and reviews the effects of the digital age on journalism's current state, as well as its potential future... By working through the history of journalism starting from its uncertain beginnings with the development of the postal service in the 15th century, Brock emphasizes the fact that journalism has never been fixed, but has continued to develop and evolve in a fluid manner and has undergone radical periods of change before the development of the internet in the 1990s... Although arguably an overly positive analysis of journalism today, Brock's stance is refreshing and the book is a pleasure to read."
( WAN-IFRA )
"A good overview of the problems--and some of the opportunities--facing those in the world of media. While the book paints a picture of where the newspaper industry has gone wrong, which is a sad story that tends to dominate the media (surprise!), it also makes the oft-overlooked point that print media is just one stage in the evolution of journalism. Therefore, it's possible to come away from this book, which is ostensibly about the death of a great industry, feeling upbeat and even excited about the possibilities for the next stage of media's evolution. What exactly that will be is uncertain, but it's clear--from the book and just by surveying the current media landscape--that it will be a lot less centralized, more democratic and, likely, much less profitable for those in charge than in print media's heyday. Which is probably a good thing." (Phil Stott)
"[Brock's] particularly good at analyzing the changes which have taken place, such as digital technology, and showing that they should force a complete rethink of journalism rather than attempts to adapt old ways to fit new technology. The chapter on 'Rethinking Journalism Again' is a thought-provoking look at what is changing and how it should be regarded both within the industry and as a consumer." (Sue Magee The Bookbag )
"[A] comprehensive look at the history of the news. getAbstract recommends [Brock's] historical overview to those in and out the news business who believe that a free society prospers when journalism does." (getAbstract Inc. )
" Out of Print does what 'think books' about contemporary journalism do best: It addresses a larger public who might not know about the problems facing journalism but also offers an academic discussion rooted in a conversation about the past, present, and future of journalism. Brock's work makes a significant contribution in the field." (Nikki Usher International Journal of Communication )
"[A]n unsentimental look at the fall of the 'golden age' of newspapers as much as it is an optimistic take on the future of the news business...Brock's frank, level headed take on business models, ethics, and other tenets of journalism is approachable and refreshing." (Karen Fratti Media Bistro, 10,000 Words )
"Its greatest virtue, by far, is in seeing the changes in journalism throughout history as a ceaseless process. Brock refuses to fall into the trap of technological determinism. He accepts that technological developments lead to change but rightly understands that, even between the inventions which have influenced how news is gathered and transmitted, journalism has always been in a state of flux." (Roy Greenslade The Guardian )
"All journalists and certainly journalism students should read this book. And bloggers and technologists interested in the media biz should, too." (Hope Leman Critical Margins )
Top Customer Reviews5.0 out of 5 stars Lessons in digital disruption By John Gibbs on September 5, 2013 Format: Kindle Edition Many busy people take journalism for granted, but the disruption of journalism should be a matter of urgent concern to democratic societies because the free flow, integrity and independence of journalism is essential to citizens who vote, according to journalism professor George Brock in this book. The book aims to explain why the news media is undergoing radical alteration, and what the result ought to be and might be.
The book provides an entertaining overview of the history of journalism, from its messy and opinionated beginnings featuring sensational and unreliable news stories through to the Leveson Inquiry in 2011 and 2012 into the culture, practices and ethics of the British press following the News International phone hacking scandal. In a 2000-page final report, Justice Leveson made a range of recommendations which would improve the protection of privacy in the UK and restrain the excesses of the press.
However, it is not the Leveson recommendations which provide the greatest threat to the press; rather, it is the digital disruption brought about by the Internet. Shrinking subscriber bases and advertising revenue have resulted in the crumbing of the established business model. Experiments have been made with paywalls and meters, but so far no-one has established a clearly viable new business model. Read more Comment 7 of 8 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback... Thank you for your feedback. Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again Report abuse 5.0 out of 5 stars Journalism: Past, Present and Future By Shalom Freedman HALL OF FAME on December 26, 2013 Format: Paperback This is a book which in a sense is written in the hope of revitalizing Journalism. It provides a history of the business and tries to contend with the general pessimism which has come to the profession in recent years with the contracting of Print Media and the ascension of Digita formats of expression. It points out that the centralized powerful Print world many think of as the only face of Journalism is a relatively recent development in its history. The Golden Era of Journalism which began in the 1890's Brock suggests had already begun to fade somewhat in the fifties of the twentieth century. Brock tells the story of the Digital Transformation the drastic loss in Advertising revenues , the contraction in personnel and outlets which came to the Print world once the Computer began taking over. He indicates however that News as we think of it was not necessarily the primary business of that grab-bag creation the Newspaper. All in all he provides in this age of Abundance of Information a great deal of information and clear thought about Jounalism its idea and ideals. He suggests that much of its future is open to experimentation and that new developments will come which will help strengthen the free flow of ideas, the objective reporting of reality, the investigating of and keeping honest government and business officials. This is a book for the General Reader but it should be of course of first interest to all who practice and would practice the trade of Journalism. Comment 1 of 1 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback... Thank you for your feedback. Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again Report abuse 3.0 out of 5 stars Clear-Eyed Dissection of the Contemporary Newspaper Industry (with a British focus) By Dr. Laurence Raw on January 17, 2014 Format: Paperback OUT OF PRINT takes a long, hard look at the British newspaper industry - its past, present and future. The author, a former journalist with many years of experience - for example, at the London SUNDAY TIMES - looks at the way in which newspapers acquired a position of considerable primacy in British cultures from the mid-eighteenth to the late twentieth centuries, a position that is now under threat through digitization. Brock is well aware of how the internet has changed the ways in which readers consume news - looking for outlets other than that of the newspapers and exercising freedom of choice, as well as making the news themselves through blogs. On the other hand, he believes that there is a future for the printed newspaper - perhaps the circulation figures will not be as substantial as they were in the past, but Brock understands how many readers prefer paper to the screen, even if they own an IPad or a smartphone. Ultimately OUT OF PRINT calls for the newspaper industry to become more flexible, to reject its antediluvian practices of the past, both in terms of news-gathering and distribution, and adapt itself to changing practices. A combination of the tried and tested, the reliable and the trustworthy, allied to new, innovative methods of delivering the news, both in print and online, seems like the formula for future success. Perhaps the book is a little too parochial in focus (there is too much on the Leverson inquiry, and not enough on developments within the American newspaper industry), but it is nonetheless well written and highly accessible.
Dear patient readers,
Loyalists may have noticed that I am still not back up to my old level of posts. That is because I still have heavy duty book responsibilities. I now know why Spaulding Grey called one of his books "the monster in the box" (in the box in those days because manuscripts were typewritten).
The manuscript was in to my editor August 4. I still don't have her edits back, but I have tons to do anyhow (this is typical, BTW) particularly because one chapter still does not work and needs to be rewritten yet again (9th time, 7 of 8 previous rewrites were major. It does not want to submit). And aside from cleanup and nailing down some very important open details (to say anything about CDOs, you need to do primary research, the media did not get deeply enough into that one, no doubt because it is a difficult product and data does not converge neatly), I need to worry about continuity and redundancy (for instance,when I talk about CDS and return to it 4 chapters later, how much do I have to reintroduce the concept for a lay reader?).
The book was supposed to go to copy edit August 18, which was clearly nuts. I had to make myself obnoxious to get that pushed back a mere six days. I get half the book back out of copy edit Sept 2, the rest the following week. The overall deadline is still the same, which is the manuscript is pretty locked down on Sept 23.
I review copy edits and can still make changes till then, and will keep editing while in copy edit. I also need to get some permissions for a few charts I use before Sept 23..
The manuscript then goes for a proofreading (an extra step most publishers don't take) and goes into page proofs, which I review again, but you really cannot change page proofs much at all (you can maybe artfully change a line if if does not change the rest of the page).
The book goes into galleys as of mid October and galleys are ready Nov. 1.
And you may remember the book is not out until late Feb-March. Why such a long lead time? They want to send galleys to long lead time publications. It takes time to assign books to reviewers. To get reviews in some magazines for Feb-March, they need galleys 4 months plus prior.
Now this book is a big historical sweep, but I wonder what happens if this ides of September is even a pale shadow of the last one.
And I have a client project starting the day the book goes into copy edit (Aug 24), so even if I wanted to take a few days off then that is not in the cards.
KISSING FROGS: THE GREATEST RISK (John Joss, August 20, 2007)
"Ability is of no account without opportunity"
Career choices remain, for most of us, the highest life risk. Bad decisions, early, may spell doom. The rot may set in while we are still in our teens, picking poor study specialties that become dead ends. Though we will each have ten or more separate jobs during our working life, it's better to work into areas with genuine career potential. Buggy whips are no longer made in quantity. Repairing typewriters is not a growth trade.
The most significant risk I ever took was trying to become a writer. To be accepted as a writer is to offer one's most intimate self≈≈the mind and heart≈≈for public appraisal. If this leads to authentication, so much the better. If not . . .
After years spent slaving in the corporate world and creating soulless promotional and business writing, I decided to take the plunge and write a novel≈≈well, three. Because the mortgage payment fell due every month, I wrote them between three and eight AM while working full time (for a freelance, around 60-80 hours a week). Each novel took nine months, a pregnant period to consider. When my first, SIERRA SIERRA, was taken by William Morrow in New York, I was elated. I was launched as a novelist. No longer would I need to slave over commercial 'writing,' with its intrinsic limitations and its lack of creativity. Now I could let my brain, heart and imagination soar in a series of novels already planned in my mind. I could not have been more wrong. How naОve! What delusions! One accepted book, especially a first novel, does not begin to approximate a writing career.
People who have chosen wisely not to take up writing for a living often ask me 'What's it like to be a writer?'
I sometimes detect a hint of envy, for reasons that escape me. These are, as far as I can tell, people≈≈seemingly sane≈≈already receiving a regular paycheck. My counsel to them is invariably to keep working at that salaried job they now hold and study to remain current, or become a home hobbyist with a working spouse.
Many people apparently imagine that writers enjoy a glamorous life: lots of partying, approached by agents, directors and producers eager to produce articles, books, films or TV series based on their work, traveling to exotic locations, being wined and dined by publishers who sit at their feet and press huge advances and lucrative contracts on them, rubbing shoulders with celebrities, receiving adoration from Beautiful People, being interviewed and lionized by the media, earning pots of money.
For a few of the world's scribblers, this is reality. You read about them everywhere: their latest work or three (already accepted, based on a working title, huge advances paid), their brushes with the law, their drugs, sexual proclivities and conquests, their current partner(s), what they are wearing and eating, their travels≈≈to Venice for Carnevale, to Tibet to meet the Dalai Lama, to the Vatican (private audience with the Pope).
For the vast majority of writers, this existence is fantasy. The real writing life is solitary, often lonely, with (for me, anyway) endless hours spent trying to assemble words correctly, failing frequently. And badly paid. Perhaps one of the riskiest and most precarious activities on earth, especially if you enjoy eating and drinking, clothing and shelter. I have had years in which I have earned six figures (once, years ago commerce pays, art doesn't). But I have had years, an embarrassingly large number, in which my writing earnings were in four figures.
It is not easy to live on a four-figure salary in the U.S., well below the poverty line, especially not in the high-cost-of-living Bay Area of Northern California. Once, in a burst of masochism, I calculated that I had earned less than $1 an hour in one particularly bad year; that calculation did not include work done but not sold. For the sake of your mental health, try not to indulge in such math. And stay out of the cooking sherry: alcohol is a depressant and most writers are already depressed enough.
The great, Oscar-winning screenwriter William ('Butch Cassidy') Goldman wrote famously: "No one knows anything." He was referring to Hollywood green-lighters' inability to predict movie popularity, the confusion and rapid head-lopping surrounding costly failures deemed certain winners before production and the surprising success of films despised and predicted to fail, often rejected by dozens of the industry's supposedly finest arbiters of quality and box-office potential.
The same phenomenon applies to every artistic field. The history of art in every form is littered with examples of artists now accepted as great who were spurned when they first emerged. Mozart, Van Gogh . . . the list is endless and I am not comparing myself to them. Since writing is applied thought and thought precedes any physical manifestation of worthwhile art, I confine my comments here to writing, specifically to the writing of books, though I've written in many other forms during my so-called writing life (for some unaccountable reason, non-writers always equate writing with books). So, risk takers, go for it and try to be a writer. You have nothing to lose but the roof over your head and the ability to eat regularly. 'Trust me.' Ooof.
To sell a book of any worth to a major publisher a writer needs a capable, professional agent. On behalf of thousands of writers without an agent or access to one via insider introduction, I will describe what it is like for an outsider to try to gain representation. My over-all professional background: a writer of 20 books, published in New York (Morrow, fiction; Ballantine, nonfiction), and a freelance with a long record of achievement in print, broadcast and Internet media worldwide for some of the best corporations, magazines, media and similar interests. Those credentials, plus $1, will buy you a really rotten cup of coffee.
Before evaluating the agent perplex, consider the basic dynamics of book writing in this age of bottom-line, 'pull' publishing in which publishers rarely support new authors:
If you get a great, original idea for a book≈≈fiction or nonfiction; And if you have the skill, energy and dedication to write it; And if, preferably, you're young and of 'desirable' gender and ethnicity (translation: not old, not male, not Caucasian); And if you manage to hit a cultural 'fad' window successfully; And if you know a friendly editor to straighten you out before you attempt to submit your oeuvre; And if you have the courage, skill and will to edit your own work meticulously to punctilious standards of quality; And if you can find the 'right' professional agent (see below) to represent your book; And if that agent reads your work, likes it and agrees to represent you; And if that agent knows, by first name, publishers' editors who might like it; And if one of those editors likes it enough to put in on his or her work list and supports it enthusiastically; And if it survives vs. the house's numerous other projects; And if the book acquires production values and a publicity budget to promote the work (i.e. publisher investment based on estimated potential revenues); And if the critics, reviewing maybe one in 100 books, like it and the review is published in a publicly visible place; And if the distribution system, down to major chains such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Borders and their equivalents outside the U.S., selling 95% by volume and taking ~5% by title of all books offered (mostly from 'name' writers and the major publishers), accepts and distributes the book; And if enough public word-of-mouth buzz creates decent sales numbers and long-term attention for you and your work; Then maybe you might have published a successful book. Maybe. I say again: maybe. Might. I repeat: might. Don't try to spend the money until the check has cleared. The odds of the above happening≈≈ all must, for success≈≈are hundreds of thousands to one against and may take years or decades. The odds are higher that lightning will strike you or that you will win the lottery, or more likely shrivel and die meantime of old age. Welcome to writing reality. Never forget the difference between amateurs and professionals, especially when it comes to writing: amateurs can perform brilliantly on occasion; professionals must deliver well, fast, consistently, no matter how they feel, or starve. Professional writing is merciless and deadlines or writers' blocks are relentless meat-grinders.
Publishers are under immense pressure to be profitable: many or perhaps most are now owned by conglomerates run by accountants focused on bottom-line profits, based on evaluations suitable in, say, the manufacturing or service industries. They cannot afford to staff with enough competent editors to read submissions from authors and consign all unsolicited material to 'slush piles.' Supply far outstrips demand. They are receiving enough from writers they are already publishing and rely on agents as gatekeepers. Much great writing dies on slush piles (an agent reportedly picked Billionaire J.K. Rowling's first Potter randomly from his slush pile). By contrast, dead authors such as Ludlum have 'new' books ghost written and earn millions from the grave. Brands sell regardless of quality. All Ludlum's book were reviewed at once, in TIME: "The Ludlum Formula."
Publishers know that only one in ten offerings will succeed, even from known sources, but don't know which one that might be. That's why agents can rarely get new writers accepted regardless of quality. A typical agency receives 500+ submissions per month (25+/day, but sometimes four or five times as many) and rejects >99.5%. An aspiring writer could query 250 agents (about the right number of the 2,500 listed in specific genres) and get perhaps one positive response≈≈but don't bet on it. My favorite, probably apocryphal tale in this area is about the chairman of a huge conglomerate who bought a New York publishing house.
"How many books did you publish last year?" he asked the CEO of the acquired publishing house.
"About 650," said the CEO.
"How many made money?"
"Oh, maybe 65."
"Well, next year you should publish 65≈≈the ones that make money." Brilliant.
The paradox: as Goldman explained, "no one knows anything." Many best-sellers were rejected dozens of times (Richard Bach's Seagull went to 30 publishers before Eleanor Friede at McMillan took it). Jerzy Kozinsky's Painted Bird was submitted as a test under another title soon after publication; Doris Lessing, probing the realities for unknowns, sent two of her best-sellers under other titles. Result: all were rejected, by form letter. This experiment has been repeated many times, with identical results, and reported widely in the Press. There were no follow-up accounts of writers' suicides in which the suicide note cited these awful realities.
Writing correctly is basic and essential, but for any of us but geniuses it takes a long time to learn. Experienced readers, starting with agents looking at queries, reject incompetents outright. Flawless spelling, grammar, syntax, vocabulary and style are vital to anyone trying to write professionally. It's akin to the need for job applicants to dress and behave properly for interviews≈≈inappropriate speech, manner and dress close interviews almost before they start. Cap on backwards? Bad idea.
Writing competence is obvious to a capable agent in the first few pages, or in the first paragraph. Note: this does not apply to best-seller junk from established 'authors' who are accepted regardless of literary skills≈≈one well-known and financially successful 'writer' of flash trash for a big house sends in her 'work' hand written in pencil on un-numbered legal-pad pages, leaving an editor to assemble the mess and turn it into a book. The 'writing' is barely readable, I might say. I do say.
Paper is cumbersome to deal with when it is great quantities but many people still find it helpful (comforting?) to have documents printed on paper instead of reading them in electronic forms.
As you have noticed by now, I am involved with the NFSv4.1 effort and the resultant document which is currently at 464 pages. While a great majority of those NFS engineers interested in this document will opt for either a soft copy or the html formatted version there are those engineers that like to have a stack of paper to inspect.
Well, printing the 464 pages on your printer is likely a hassle; toss in getting the pagination correct or binding the result then it is a real pain. The audience for this type of technical document is very limited. The audience is limited even further given that the protocol is still evolving. How does one get something like this easily printed. Drop it off at Kinko's? Maybe. How do you share the result with your engineering buddies? Especially when they are spread around the world? Well, one example is cafepress.com (I am sure there are others but this is the one I bumped into first).
Create a simple account and resultant store, upload a PDF of your document in the page size that is preferable for your material, generate a little cover art and voila -- you have your own NFSv4.1 Draft 10 Book. Printed, bound, and shipped to your door. What a great deal!
In my particular case, I am not in it for the money. Just the convenience. The resultant price is the cost charged by cafepress.com and there is a nominal shipping fee. Very cool and helpful to the 12 or so NFSv4.1 friends that really care.
And yes, I chose the genre for the book very late at night with little patience for choosing something more appropriate.
Monday December 11, 7:06 am ET
By Eric Auchard
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Free software is about to get freer.
Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales said on Monday his for-profit company, Wikia Inc., is ready to give away -- for free -- all the software, computing, storage and network access that Web site builders need to create community collaboration sites.Wikia, a commercial counterpart to the non-profit Wikipedia, will go even further to provide customers -- bloggers or other operators who meet its criteria for popular Web sites -- 100 percent of any advertising revenue from the sites they build.
Started two years ago, Wikia (http://www.wikia.com) aims to build on the anyone-can-edit success of the Wikipedia online encyclopedia. Using the same underlying software, called MediaWiki, Wikia hosts group publishing sites, known as wikis, on topics from Star Wars to psychology to travel to iPods.
"It is open-source software and open content," Wales said in a phone interview. "We will be providing the computer hosting for free, and the publisher can keep the advertising revenue."
That could prove disruptive to business models of Web sites that provide free services to customers but require a cut of any resulting revenue in return.
Wikia gives away the tools and the revenue to its users. It requires only that sites built with the company's resources link to Wikia.com, which makes money through advertising.
Wikia calls the free-hosting service "OpenServing" (http://www.openserving.com). It runs on an easy-to-use version of MediaWiki software developed by ArmchairGM.com, a sports fan community site Wikia recently acquired and plans to extend.
Wales is betting the plunging cost of computers and networks can help Wikia support the free services offer. "It is becoming more and more practical and feasible to do," he said.
WISDOM TO PREVAIL
"We don't have all the business model answers, but we are confident -- as we always have been -- that the wisdom of our community will prevail," he said.
The move follows the announcement last week that Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN - News) had become Wikia's first corporate investor and is acting as the sole investor in Wikia's second round of funding. Terms were not disclosed.
Wikia took $4 million in funding in March from Bessemer Venture Partners, Omidyar Network, high-profile Silicon Valley "angel" backers including Marc Andreessen, Dan Gillmor, Reid Hoffman and Mitch Kapor and Joichi Ito of Japan.
In recent months, Amazon.com has revealed an ambitious strategy of its own to offer a range of low-cost computer, data storage and Web site hosting services to companies large and small, which could come into play for Wikia.
Wales said using Amazon to supply Web services is not part of Wikia's deal with Amazon. "Potentially, but this is really completely separate," he said when asked if there was a tie.
Wikia aims to become is a clearinghouse of free software.
Armchair's software is the first of hundreds of freely licensed software packages to be hosted by the company in the near future, Wales said. These could include popular open-source publishing software such as WordPress and Drupal. Consumers would then have a single password across all sites.
"The real concept is to become much broader, to host lots of different free software and free content, Wales said.
Thirty-thousand users have posted 400,000 articles so far on Wikia sites. The San Mateo, California-based company employs 38 people, including top volunteer editors from the Wikipedia.
What is Print on Demand?
Print on demand (POD) is the commonly-used term for the digital printing technology that allows a complete book to be printed and bound in a matter of minutes. This makes it easy and cost-effective to produce books one or two at a time or in small lots, rather than in larger print runs of several hundred or several thousand.
POD has a number of applications. Commercial and academic publishers use it to print advance reading copies, or when they can't justify the expense of producing and warehousing a sizeable print run--for instance, to keep backlist books available. Some independent publishers use it as a more economical fulfillment method, trading lower startup costs against smaller per-book profits (due to economies of scale, digitally printed books have a higher unit production cost than books produced in large runs on offset presses). Last but not least, there are the POD-based publishing service providers, which offer a for-fee service that can be described, depending on one's bias, as either vanity publishing or self-publishing.
The "POD Publisher" and the POD Stigma
Strictly speaking, "print on demand" is simply a term for a kind of printing technology, and doesn't describe any particular business model. Over the past few years, however, digital technology has become so firmly associated with a particular complex of business practices that the term "POD publisher" has taken on specific meaning.
What defines a POD publisher?
Most of these practices, including the fee, are characteristic of the POD-based publishing service providers discussed in the next section. However, they're increasingly common among POD-based independent publishers, whose often inexperienced staff may not have the skill to rigorously select and edit (never mind market and promote) their books, and whose shoestring budgets force them to keep costs as low as possible.
- Inadequate selectivity. Some POD publishers accept everyone who submits; others do more screening, but aren't expert enough to ensure high quality.
- Inadequate editing. Some POD publishers do no more than a light copy edit, releasing books that are essentially unedited. Others employ inexperienced or unprofessional editors, to more or less the same effect. Some POD publishers do no editing of any kind.
- High cover prices. As noted above, the unit cost for digitally printed books is higher than for books printed on offset presses. Cover prices, therefore, must be correspondingly higher in order for the publisher to make a profit. Depending on length, a POD book can cost more than twice as much as its offset counterpart.
- Short discounts. Booksellers expect discounts of 40% or more. POD publishers often offer much smaller discounts.
- Nonreturnability. Booksellers expect to be able to return unsold books to the publisher for full credit. POD publishers rarely accept returns, or if they do, have such a limited returns policy that it's hardly more attractive than no policy at all.
- Minimal marketing and distribution. POD publishers don't want to cut into their profits by spending money on book promotion. They'll ensure that their books are available for order online and through a wholesaler such as Ingram, but they won't advertise, and will make little or no effort to obtain professional reviews and bookstore placement.
- Other nonstandard practices. These may include amateurish formatting, terrible cover design, hellacious contracts, and fees of various kinds.
Not all POD-based independents employ these practices, of course. Unfortunately, a great many do. Together with the aggressive policies and poor-quality offerings of the POD-based publishing service providers, this has tainted print on demand in general. Many booksellers, reviewers, and readers are wary of POD on principle, and may assume that a publisher that relies exclusively or mainly on digital technology is a POD publisher, even if the publisher is entirely professional. This is the POD stigma, and it's something that anyone who's thinking of signing a contract with a POD-based independent publisher needs to take into account, because it can make marketing extremely difficult.
You need to read deeper into the article. Different publishers are accepting source materials in different formats. Blurb has their composer on a web site, Picaboo gives you a free download of their software, and Lulu takes PDFs. Shop around, and find the one willing to work with you. They all seem comparably priced for the end product, which isn't much more than you'd pay for an ordinary hardbound edition from a well respected author.
Experience with Lulu.com(Score:5, Informative)
by rdwald (831442) on Friday July 21, @04:44PM (#15759869)
I played around with Lulu.com's print-on-demand service a few months ago; it was surprisingly easy. I layed out the book in OpenOffice, saved it to a PDF, checked it in xpdf, and sent the file to them. A week or so later, I had a hard copy with a professional-looking cover and everything. One thing to note before ordering from them: Lulu's 6" x 9" format is actually larger than most paperback books; if you want yours to look "normal," don't use it. Anyway, overall it was a fairly positive experience; I'd recommend them for low-volume book printing.
When Steve Mandel, a management trainer from Santa Cruz, Calif., wants to show his friends why he stays up late to peer through a telescope, he pulls out a copy of his latest book, "Light in the Sky," filled with pictures he has taken of distant nebulae, star clusters and galaxies.
"I consistently get a very big 'Wow!' The printing of my photos was spectacular - I did not really expect them to come out so well." he said. "This is as good as any book in a bookstore."
Mr. Mandel, 56, put his book together himself with free software from Blurb.com. The 119-page edition is printed on coated paper, bound with a linen fabric hard cover, and then wrapped with a dust jacket. Anyone who wants one can buy it for $37.95, and Blurb will make a copy just for that buyer.
The print-on-demand business is gradually moving toward the center of the marketplace. What began as a way for publishers to reduce their inventory and stop wasting paper is becoming a tool for anyone who needs a bound document. Short-run presses can turn out books economically in small quantities or singly, and new software simplifies the process of designing a book.
As the technology becomes simpler, the market is expanding beyond the earliest adopters, the aspiring authors. The first companies like AuthorHouse, Xlibris, iUniverse and others pushed themselves as new models of publishing, with an eye on shaking up the dusty book business. They aimed at authors looking for someone to edit a manuscript, lay out the book and bring it to market.
The newer ventures also produce bound books, but they do not offer the same hand-holding or the same drive for the best-seller list. Blurb's product will appeal to people searching for a publisher, but its business is aimed at anyone who needs a professional-looking book, from architects with plans to present to clients, to travelers looking to immortalize a trip.
Blurb.com's design software, which is still in beta testing, comes with a number of templates for different genres like cookbooks, photo collections and poetry books. Once one is chosen, it automatically lays out the page and lets the designer fill in the photographs and text by cutting and pasting. If the designer wants to tweak some details of the template - say, the position of a page number or a background color - the changes affect all the pages.
The software is markedly easier to use - although less capable - than InDesign from Adobe or Quark XPress, professional publishing packages that cost around $700. It is also free because Blurb expects to make money from printing the book. Prices start at $29.95 for books of 1 to 40 pages and rise to $79.95 for books of 301 to 440 pages.
Blurb, based in San Francisco, has many plans for expanding its software. Eileen Gittins, the chief executive, said the company would push new tools for "bookifying" data, beginning with a tool that "slurps" the entries from a blog and places them into the appropriate templates.
The potential market for these books is attracting a number of start-ups and established companies, most of them focusing on producing bound photo albums. Online photo processing sites like Kodak Gallery (formerly Ofoto), Snapfish and Shutterfly and popular packages like the iPhoto software from Apple let their customers order bound volumes of their prints.
These companies offer a wide variety of binding fabrics, papers, templates and background images, although the styles are dominated by pink and blue pastels. Snapfish offers wire-bound "flipbooks" that begin at $4.99. Kodak Gallery offers a "Legacy Photo Book" made with heavier paper and bound in either linen or leather. It starts at $69.99. Apple makes a tiny 2.6-by-3.5-inch softbound book that costs $3.99 for 20 pages and 29 cents for each additional page.
The nature and style of these options are changing as customers develop new applications. "Most of the people who use our products are moms with kids," says Kevin McCurdy, a co-founder of Picaboo.com in Palo Alto, Calif. But he said there had been hundreds of applications the company never anticipated: teachers who make a yearbook for their class, people who want to commemorate a party and businesses that just want a high-end brochure or catalog.
Picaboo, like Blurb, distributes a free copy of its book design software, which runs on the user's computer. Mr. McCurdy said that running the software on the user's machine saves users the time and trouble of uploading pictures. The companies that offer Web-based design packages, however, point out that their systems do not require installing any software and also offer a backup for the user's photos.
As more companies enter the market, they are searching for niches. One small shop in Duvall, Wash., called SharedInk.com, emphasizes its traditional production techniques and the quality of its product. Chris Hickman, the founder, said that each of his books was printed and stitched together by "two bookbinders who've been in the industry for 30 or 40 years." The result, he said, is a higher level of quality that appeals to professional photographers and others willing to pay a bit more. Books of 20 pages start at $39.95.
Some companies continue to produce black-and-white books. Lulu.com is a combination printer and order-fulfillment house that prints both color and black-and-white books, takes orders for them and places them with bookstores like Amazon.com.
Lulu works from a PDF file, an approach that forces users to rely on basic word processors or professional design packages. If this is too complex, Lulu offers a marketplace where book designers offer their services. Lulu does offer a special cover design package that will create a book's cover from an image and handle the specialized calculations that compute the size of the spine from the number of pages and the weight of the paper.
A 6-by-9-inch softcover book with 150 black-and-white pages from Lulu would cost $7.53 per single copy.
These packages are adding features that stretch the concept of a book, in some cases undermining the permanent, fixed nature that has been part of a book's appeal. The software from SharedInk.com, for instance, lets a user leave out pages from some versions of the book. If Chris does not like Pat, for instance, then the copy going to Chris could be missing the pages with Pat's pictures.
Blurb is expanding its software to let a community build a book. Soon, it plans to introduce a tool that would allow group projects, like a Junior League recipe book, to be created through Blurb's Web site. The project leader would send out an e-mail message inviting people to visit the site and add their contributions to customized templates, which would then be converted into book pages.
"Books are breaking wide open," Ms. Gittins said. "Books are becoming vehicles that aren't static things."
In a recent Salon story on ebooks, I was struck by the following comment:
Fatbrain.com contends that Simon & Schuster's decision not to let Fatbrain.com join other online retailers like Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com in selling King's book was a way of punishing Fatbrain.com for presuming to poach on the venerable publisher's territory.
Here's what this story led me to say to Fatbrain CEO Chris McAskill:
S&S is right, though. Fatbrain put a stake in the ground, and started acting like a publisher rather than a reseller. As I've argued repeatedly on the StudioB mailing list, it's tough to be both a publisher and a retailer, because you end up with the worst of both rather than the best of both. Not only do publishers rightly see you asa competitor, but authors see you as a publisher who has only one outlet: your own web presence. So unless you get dominant share REALLY quickly, you're out of the game, because faced with a publisher with single-point distribution, or a publisher with multi-layer distribution, the multi-point, multi-layer publisher will appear to have significantly more reach.
Later on in the Salon story, this point is driven home:
[David] Gernert [John Grisham's agent] says that electronic publishers have approached Grisham, but none has succeeded in persuading him to go digital, partly because the needs of author and e-publisher don't, as Gernert sees it, entirely coincide. "For an electronic publisher to say that they're publishing Grisham is instant legitimacy and instant publicity and instant viability," he says. "As an author you would want a story to go on as many computers, Web sites and devices as possible."
Until we have a system where "publishing" is distinct from "distribution" and from "retailing", and "publishing" means being an intermediary between authors and a complex, multi-point distribution system, we won't have a market that is ready for prime time. (The nature of that publishing intermediary includes shielding retailers (and ultimately consumers) from the slush pile, and shielding authors from building relationships with thousands of resellers.)
It's OK to have a publishing arm, I think, but not OK to munge publishing and retailing together. It's OK for a retailer to publish some of its own books, but not to compete with publishers for original content by offering royalty levels that ignore what publishers bring to the table. It's OK for a publisher to have some direct sales, as long as they don't cut out their resellers by offering preferred pricing to direct customers.
Fatbrain has made some good progress by separating mightywords.com from fatbrain.com. That makes mightywords your publishing arm. Now, maybe you can find a way to get fatbrain.com back into the ebook retailing/distribution space, where I predict all your competitors will soon be, using a format that reproduces many of the characteristics of print publishing:
- The author/publisher can produce the work once, and have it resold by many parties.
- Distributors will allow authors/publishers to reach specialty retailers, so that every retailer can participate without the overhead of one-to-one relationships with every publisher.
- Specialty distributors/retailers/publishers may make the work available in alternate versions.
- Third parties will catalog and review the various published works.
- To support the needs of libraries, companies like Netlibrary will make works available for "check out" rather than purchase.
There are a couple of other points I'd make, partly coming off #3 above:
There will likely be two or three branches of the online book tree.
3a. There is likely to be a format that is targeted for download, either to the PC or to a small device. The format that ultimately succeeds may well need to be easily transferable from one to the other.
3b. There is likely to be a format that is targeted for online/connected access, which benefits (e.g. in the tech book space) from integrated online searching across a library of titles, supports other ancillary materials from the web space, and so on. This kind of thing might be hosted by a publisher, by a corporate intranet, by a library, or by some new class of information reseller/integrator.
3c. The solution to prevail will include print-on-demand (and/or the bundled sale of print and online copies. In fact, the ideal Digital Rights Management solution would support the aggregation of a, b, and c, such that someone could buy a copy for download (which would take advantage of the ability to buy the product from a variety of retailers), but present some sort of credential representing that purchase to a central site (hosted either by a publisher or a third party) so that it can get access to that book in the context of other services provided by that aggregator. Such DRM solution would allowed tiered pricing (either up or down) for the purchase of added services (such as print on demand) or for some kind of repeat purchaser discounting.
In any event, it will be interesting to see how it all plays out. The one thing I'm sure of is that we'll see a repeat of what we saw in the web space, where everyone started out thinking "disintermediation" but things didn't take off till we had reintermediation, with the development of a rich ecology of sites and services cooperating to make a fully functioning marketplace.
In the early days of the web (1993), when we had created GNN, the first web portal and the first web site supported by advertising, we had a huge uphill struggle, because we had to do everything ourselves. We had to get people on the web in the first place (equivalent to getting them to download some kind of ebookreader, but even harder); we had to convince advertisers that there was a market there (we commissioned the first ever market research study on Internet demographics); we had to evangelize the possibilities and experiment with different formats. The list goes on and on.
I contrasted this with my experience as a print publisher, where we fit neatly into an ecology, with manufacturers who already knew how to make our product, retailers and wholesalers who came to sign us up, natural places to advertise and create demand, known standards for pricing, customer expectations of what a book looked like, etc. etc.
I ended up going around giving talks saying that the web wasn't going to take off till it looked more like print publishing. When I was explaining this to Ted Leonsis of AOL, he "got it" with the memorable line: "You're saying 'Where's the Publisher's Clearinghouse for the Web?'" Exactly. There are all these crazy intermediaries who make any branch of print publishing work, from rack jobbers to remainder houses, to folks who've figured out how to make school children into a sales force :-(
Now, on the web, we're seeing the success grow in proportion to the richness of that cooperating ecology:
- ISPs and hosting services
- self-published sites (authors)
- online "magazines" (publishers) like Salon
- search engines
- ad agencies
- ad hosting services
- caching services
- web design firms
- market researchers to justify the ad pricing
So the challenge I put out to all would-be ebook publishers is to envision a future in which they aren't the only party who succeeds. The market won't take off till it's a win for many parties.
This isn't to say that there won't be massive realignments of power and success in the new market (you only have to look at how much market share amazon.com took from traditional booksellers to know that.) There will be new publishers, new retailers, new wholesalers, and new "manufacturers" (software platform providers) springing up, as well as new providers of various support services. But my suspicion is that anyone who tries to go it alone will be left behind by folks who figure out what niche in the ecology they want to own, and pursue it wholeheartedly.
Tim O'Reilly is founder and CEO of O'Reilly Media, Inc., and an activist for Internet standards and for open source software. For everything Tim, see tim.oreilly.com.
Apr 15, 2005
At 37Signals, Jason Fried asks: "What do you think about self-published books?" There's a lot of great reader feedback. I wrote some comments myself, recounting my start as a self-published author to becoming one of the largest computer book publishers in the country. (My first print run was 100 copies. In the twenty years since, I've sold more than 30 million copies of a thousand odd titles.)
Anyway, to make a long story short, several people suggested I repeat my comments here. Here goes:
Well, I like to think of myself as a self publisher who grew up into a real publisher. So I've seen the world from both sides. I never thought when I printed my first run of 100 copies of Learning the Unix Operating System in 1985 that it would go on to sell hundreds of thousands of copies, and start me on the path to being one of the largest computer book publishers in the country. It's been a long and fruitful ride, which took me in many unexpected directions, and with a huge number of mistakes, some of which turned out to be inspired!
Here are the differences between self publishing and working with an established publisher as I see them:
1) If you're not an experienced author, having a good editor can help you produce a book you'll be proud of. You guys have already written a book, so you know what help you got, and whether or not it improved your book. So scratch that issue.
2) If you're not well known, you may have real trouble getting visibility and distribution for your book. You guys are well known and have a built-in distribution channel and audience. Get your book on Amazon, plus sell it from your own site, and you'll probably move as many copies as most publishers would move of a comparable book from less well known authors. (Given your current notoriety, you might even be able to sell as many copies as New Riders sold of your Defensive Design book, or more.) My guess is that I could significantly more copies of your book via additional channels than you would sell yourself, but probably not enough to make up the difference in margin that you'd make by printing and selling the book yourselves. So scratch that issue as well.
3) If you sell a lot of books, you'll find yourself having to build a lot of the apparatus of a publisher. When we were small, we hired a temp to ship out books, and when a shipment arrived from the printer, all our employees would make a bucket brigade to carry the cartons to the basement. But that gets old fast. This is the biggest question for you: what business do you want to be in? A successful publisher (self or otherwise) ends up in the business of book design, copyediting and layout, printing (contracted out, but still a set of relationships and processes you need to manage), warehousing, shipping, order taking (can mostly be done self service), customer service ("where's my book?"; "my copy was damaged in shipping", etc.), and many other mundane but necessary tasks.
And of course, once you have more than a couple of books, you really need to start expanding your channels, your retail marketing (very challenging to get a foot in the door in today's market), and your sales force. So you start up the ramp, as I did, of becoming a full fledged publisher yourself.
Of course, there are alternatives to doing all the work. For example, you could become what's called a packager, where you establish a series and and brand, and deliver camera ready copy to a publisher, who pays you a higher than normal royalty because they provide no editing or development services, but still takes the inventory risk, and thereafter treats the book as one of their own products. Pogue Press (now wholly owned by O'Reilly) and Deke Press are two O'Reilly imprints that started out as packaging deals. To make something like this work, you need to have a strong brand (you do), a scalable publishing idea (rather than just a single book), and the ability to deliver completed books to the publisher.
The next step up is to publishing itself, which adds the element of inventory risk. That is, it's easy to say, "Wow, print a book for $2, sell it for $30, pocket $28." But what happens instead is "print 1000 copies of a book for $5 each, 5000 copies for $3 each, or 10,000 copies for $2 each." And then if you sell fewer than you expect, you might end up with a very different cost of goods than you expect. Many small publishers make the mistake of printing too many copies, and their cost of goods (and warehousing those goods) becomes much higher than they expect. So you might print 10,000 for $20,000, sell 1000 directly from your website for $30, and another 1000 from Amazon for $14 (which is about what you'll get after discount), you're netting $44,000 on a $20,000 investment, not the $300,000 that the naive math of $2 manufacturing vs. $30 list price would suggest. Still, not bad, and a real option - if you want to be in the publishing business for the long haul. Self publishing a single book can be fun. But I'd be that after the second or third, you either decide to be in the publishing business full bore, or look for a partner to take on some of the chores.
FWIW, many small publishers are distributed by larger publishers. When O'Reilly was small, for example, Addison-Wesley and later Thomson did our international distribution before we started our own international companies. And today, O'Reilly distributes smaller presses like the Pragmatic Programmers, No Starch, Paraglyph, Sitepoint, and Syngress. That leverages our sales force, our distribution systems, and our relationships with major retailers.
Note however, that in order to take either the packaging or distribution route, you really need to be thinking about more than a single book.
Tim O'Reilly is founder and CEO of O'Reilly Media, Inc., and an activist for Internet standards and for open source software. For everything Tim, see tim.oreilly.com.
What the Pragmatic Programmers did with their new book on Rails is wonderful: they started selling it as a PDF when still in BETA - to please the eager, and get feedback/typos.
Now that I'm going through the book, this appeals to me on a few different levels:
#1 - I had a strong practical need for this book NOW - not in 5 months, but now now now. THANK YOU to the authors for making this available early. It has helped me immensely.
#2 - They have a wonderful error-submitting page that they respond to daily. I found a few typos as I was going through the examples, submitted them, and got a reply that they were fixed the following day. THIS IS BRILLIANT! Why wait until it's on the bookshelves to find out that there are typos?
#3 - I prefer technical books on PDF anyway.
Releasing books in beta-format takes advantage of the fact that there are different kinds of readers. Some, like me, need the info sooner, even if it's not "perfect" yet. We're avid fans of the technology. We'll hear on the mailing list that you are making this available. We'll be right there giving feedback daily, which will improve the book for when it's released to the much-larger public.
I hope more authors and publishers do this.
Derek Sivers is the founder, president, and sole programmer behind CD Baby, independent music distribution, and HostBaby, web hosting for musicians.
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Peter Seibel's book, Practical Common Lisp, is available on his web site http://www.gigamonkeys.com/book/ and was discussed on the comp.lang.lisp newsgroup as he wrote it. Didn't seem to hurt the sales at all.
Write a book and Xlibris will (for free) format the file, design a cover, and tag it with an ISBN number --which means book sellers can track the title. The book gets posted on the website and sells for an average of $16. Extra service fees for design range from $300 to $1,200 per book. If someone orders a copy, Lightning Source prints and ships the title, and Xlibris and the author split the profit, typically about $3.
The company charges writers $459 for formatting, posting and publicizing books, including arranging author appearances and posting audio books that can be downloaded from the Net. Audio books are the fastest-growing part of the publishing industry, a $2 billion annual market, according to the Audio Publishers Association.
"I don't have a publishing background," McCormack says, "which is great because it makes me think anything is possible."
1stBooks Library...Where getting published is easier than you think! -- looks like more expensive that Xlibris
September 1, 2000 eWEEK
Author Stephen King's recent foray into e-book publishing has kicked off a new round of activity among book publishers and software developers looking to gain a foothold in the nascent market.
Since last year, well-known book publishers such as Houghton Mifflin Co., The McGraw-Hill Cos. and Simon & Schuster Inc. have hooked up with software companies to convert books into digital format and enable them to be read on screen.
Now Adobe Systems Inc. and Microsoft Corp. are duking it out in the market for e-book reading software.
This week at the Seybold Seminars conference here, Adobe announced that it has acquired Glassbook Inc., a provider of e-book software that last week announced a beta version of its Reader 2.0 software. Terms of the deal were not released.
Features of Reader 2.0, due to ship in mid-September, include two-page views, text-to-speech capabilities, screen rotation, text annotation and highlighting with electronic sticky notes, searching and text enhancement to make content easier to read, said officials from Glassbook, of Waltham, Mass.
Adobe, of San Jose, Calif., also announced an expanded partnership with digital content services company iUniverse.com to offer authors and publishers a faster and less expensive way to publish, manage and distribute their content as e-books.
Separately at the show, Microsoft announced a partnership with online retailer Amazon.com to create a customized version of the Microsoft Reader e-book software. The new version will enable consumers to purchase and download e-book titles directly from Amazon.com. Microsoft Reader will be the preferred format for Amazon.com's future e-book store.
Microsoft and Adobe have similar relationships with Barnes&Noble.com.
Microsoft, of Redmond, Wash., also selected ContentGuard Inc., a provider of digital rights management software for content, to help booksellers, publishers and consumers easily adopt the digital format. ContentGuard will support Microsoft customers who want to build distribution systems using Microsoft's Digital Asset Server in order to launch digital offerings.
Adobe already has a similar relationship with ContentGuard.
ContentGuard's eBook Practice, announced this week, provides content preparation and management services to online bookstores and publishers so they can create digital offerings. The eBook Practice also provides an outsourced operation to manage the entire eBook distribution process and a consulting service to install and manage in-house e-book operations, said officials of the McLean, Va., company.
The stakes in the race to create standard e-book software are not small.
"If you get to be the provider of software for reading, essentially you get to be the toll keeper," said Jonathan Gaw, Internet research manager at International Data Corp. in Mountain View, Calif. "For every book or magazine article that uses this software, then you get to charge a toll, and if it's 5 or 10 cents per article, that adds up quickly. The question is, who will develop the best and most widely accepted standard?"
Boston-based Houghton Mifflin is working with several of the reading software vendors, including a pending agreement with Microsoft in the next few months, to reach more consumers and cover the different ways -- PC, laptop, personal digital assistant -- they want to receive e-books.
"We're working to do this as intelligently as we can," said David Jost, vice president of electronic publishing in the company's trade and reference division. "Every e-book company has their own reading or e-book format. We have to check each company's [digital] version of the book to make it consistent with our [print] version."
McGraw-Hill is also embracing the technology in this evolving market. It plans to have a total of 700 e-books on its list by the end of September, and 250 of them will be sold through the company's new online store.
"We're providing our customers with books in as many [digital] formats as possible," said April Hattori, a spokeswoman for McGraw-Hill in New York. "We want to be able to give our customers a choice. It's important to be in as many places as possible."
Although both Jost and Hattori believe publishing e-books will lower costs in the long run, they said it's too early to predict how much. While e-books will cut down on unused hard copy inventory, publishers will still have to pay software programmers to convert books into the proper electronic format, Jost said.
According to Billy Pidgeon, a Web technologies analyst at Jupiter Communications Inc. in New York, the market for e-books is in its infancy. "It's really early. Dedicated hardware is very iffy. ... Audio books as digital files with an MP3 player is a more immediate market."
Publishers have to develop consumer awareness for e-books, and vendors have to drive consumer adoption, Pidgeon said, noting that book printers are working with publishers to support common standards for text such as Microsoft Word and Adobe PDF.
"To a large extent the publishing industry is still in the Guttenberg era, and it's being dragged into the digital era," he said. "It's going to be a rough ride for some of these publishers. Fortunately, the market is still young, so there will be some time. But for publishers not looking at this space, they may be losing an opportunity."
How often are books revised? Open to the author?
In our early days, we revised our books constantly. For example, I did ten editions of Managing UUCP and Usenet between 1986 and 1991--about one every six months. The book grew in something much like an open source software process, where I was constantly incorporating reader feedback, and rolling it into the next printing. We didn't do a big marketing push about it being a new edition, we just had a change log on the copyright page, much like you do with a piece of software, each time you check it in and out of your source code control system.
Now that we're much larger (and many of our authors no longer work directly for us), it's harder to do that, but we still roll in a lot of small changes each time we go back to print.
The reason why it's harder mainly has to do with the inefficiency of retail distribution. When there are thousands of copies sitting in bookstores waiting to be bought, rolling out a "new edition" is a big deal, since you have to take back and recycle all the old ones. So you have to go through a process of letting the inventory "stored in the channel" thin out. This means that, especially for a very successful book, you can't do updates as often as you otherwise might like. We slipstream in fixes to errors and other small changes, but major changes need to be characterized as a "new edition" with all the attendant hoopla.
There is also the issue you advert to in your question, and that is the availability of the author to do the update. Sometimes an author like David Flanagan has a number of bestselling books, and he updates them in round-robin fashion. Sometimes an author loses interest in a topic, or gets a new job and doesn't have time any more, and we have to find someone else. Sometimes the technology is fairly stable, and so we don't need to do a new edition.
Sometimes we know we need a new edition, but we just get distracted, and don't get around to it as quickly as we should! At least we don't do what a lot of other publishers do, which is issue a "new edition" for marketing reasons only, where the content stays pretty much the same, but it's called a new edition just so they can sell it in freshly to bookstores.
Fatbrain.com has recently announced that it will offer an electronic publishing service, E-matter. What do you think about offering documents for download for a fee? Is this something that O'Reilly might be undertaking in the future?
Well, we were part of FatBrain's ematter announcement, and we're going to be working with them. But I have to confess that the part of their project I liked the best wasn't the bit about selling short documents in online-only form, it was the idea of coordinating sale of online and print versions.
I know that there's a lot of talk about putting books up online for free, and we're doing some experiments there, but to be honest, I think that it's really in all of our best interests to "monetize" online information as soon as possible. Money, after all, is just a mutually-agreed ratio of exchange for services. When the price is somewhere between zero and a large number, based on negotiation, the uncertainty often means that the product is not available.
In general, I foresee a large period of experimentation, until someone or other figures out the right way to deliver AND pay for the kinds of things that people want to read online. We've seen it take about five years to develop enough confidence in advertising as a revenue model for the web (starting from our first-ever internet advertising on O'Reilly's prototype GNN portal in early 1993). Similarly, I think that the "pay for content" sites--whether eMatter or ibooks.com, or books24x7, or itknowledge.com--will take some time to shake out. Meanwhile, we're playing with a bunch of these people, and doing some experiments of our own as well.
Not to start a free SQL server war here, but I notice there is a (quite good) book on mSql and MySql, but nothing for PostgreSQL. Are there any plans to cover it in the near future?
We're looking at this but haven't started any projects yet. We've had a huge number of requests for a book on PostgreSQL, and we're taking them very seriously.
You've said that the Linux Network Administrator's Guide sold significantly less than would normally be expected as a result of the text of the book being freely available on the net. By what sort of margin? How many copies did it sell, and how many would you have expected to sell under normal circumstances? Would you release another book in a similar manner if the author accepts that they'll make less money from it? Did the book actually make a loss, or just not make as much profit as expected?
Well, it's always hard to say what something *would* have done if circumstances had been otherwise. But on average, the book sold about a thousand copies a month in a period where Running Linux sold 3-4000 and Linux Device Drivers about 1500. Now the book is badly out of date (though a new edition is in the works), but you'd expect that there are more people doing network admin than there are writing device drivers. (And in fact, reader polls have actually put the NAG at the top of the list of "most useful" of our Linux books.)
Frank Willison, our editor in chief, made the following additional comments about the NAG and its free publication:"We can demonstrate that we lost money because another publisher (SSC) also published the same material when it became available online. Because the books were identical, word for word (a requirement the author put on anyone else publishing the material), every copy sold of the SSC book was a loss of the sale of one copy of our book.
One interesting side note was that SSC published the book for a lower price than we did. Of course, we had the fixed costs: editing, reviewing, production, design. But those fixed costs didn't make the difference: when you took out the retail markup, the difference in price was equal to the author royalty on the book.
The above may be too much info, and isn't directly related to current Open Source practices, but it still chafes my butt."
If I had to quantify the effect, I'd guess that making a book freely available might cut sales by 30%. But note that this is for O'Reilly--we've got books with a great reputation, which makes people seek them out. And we cover "need to know" technologies where people are already looking for the O'Reilly book on the topic. For J. Random Author out there, open sourcing a book might be a terrible idea, or a great one. An author with some unique material that doesn't fall into an obvious "I already know I need this" category can build a real cult following online, and then turn that into printed book sales to a wider audience. We're hoping to do the same thing in publishing Eric Raymond's The Cathedral and the Bazaar (and other essays) this fall. Most of you guys have probably read them online, but there is a larger population who've probably heard the buzz, and will pick them up in the bookstore. On the other hand, an author who puts a lousy book online will only show this to the world, and sales will be 10% of what they'd been if the reader hadn't been able to see the book first.
Perhaps more compelling is the evidence from the Java world, where sales of the Addison-Wesley books based on the Sun documentation (which is mostly available online) are quite dismal, while our unique standalone books (as those from other publishers) do quite well. More importantly, though, programmers in our focus groups for Java report spending far less overall on books than programmers in other areas, because they say that they get most of the info they need online.
All of this is what tells me we need to tread carefully in this area, since I have to look out for the interests of my employees and my authors as well as my customers. In the end, free books online may look like a great deal, but it won't look so good if it ends up disincetivizing authors from doing work that you guys need.
And frankly, we have conversations all the time that go like this: "I'm making $xxx as a consultant. I'd love to write a book, but it's really not worth my while." At O'Reilly, we try to use authors who really know their stuff. So writing a book is either a labor of love, or it's a competitive situation with all the other things that author could be doing with their time. So money is an issue.
(two out of three submitted) What books would you recommend a budding writer should read and study? and Do you read every book you publish?
Books about writing that I like are Strunk & White (The Elements of Style) and William Zinsser's On Writing Well. But really, read any books that you like. Reading good technical books, and thinking about what works about them for you, is always great. We learn far more by osmosis than by formal instruction. So read, and then write.
Going back to the recurrent questions about free documentation--a great way to learn to write is to do it. Contribute your efforts to one of the many open source software projects as a documentation writer, get criticism from the user community, and learn by doing.
I would say that the ability to organize your thoughts clearly is the most important skill for a technical writer. Putting things in the right order, and not leaving anything out (or rather, not leaving out anything important, but everything unimportant), is far more important than trying to write deathless prose. The best writing is invisible, not showy. My favorite quote about writing (which came from a magazine interview that I read many years ago) was from Edwin Schlossberg: "The skill of writing is to create a context in which other people can think."
As to your second question: alas, I no longer have time to read everything we publish. We have a number of senior editors whose work I trust completely -- I never read their stuff unless I'm trying to use it myself. For new or more junior editors, I generally do a bit of a "sample" of each book somewhere during the development process. If I like it, I say so, and don't feel I have to look at it again. If I don't like it, I may make terrible trouble, as some of my editors and authors can attest.
One of the biggest compaints aong critics of the BSD operating systems is the lack of available books. Since O'Reilly is the leader in Open Source documentation, you are well positioned to enter the BSD market. With that in mind, why hasn't O'Reilly published any BSD books in recent memory?
Every once in a while we make a stupid editorial decision, as, for instance, when we turned down Greg Lehey's proposed BSD book (now published by Walnut Creek CDROM). This was based on the fact that the BSD documentation, which we'd co-published with Usenix, had done really poorly, and the relative sales of our original BSD UNIX in a Nutshell relative to our System V/Solaris one. That was many years ago now, and BSD has emerged from the shadows of the AT&T lawsuit, and become a real force in the open source community. So I definitely think that there are some books that we might want to do there. Proposals are welcome.
That being said, so many of our books cover BSD (just like they cover Linux, even if they don't say Linux on the cover). After all, BSD is one of the great mothers of the open source movement. What is Bind, what is sendmail, what is vi, what is a lot of the TCP/IP utility suite but the gift of BSD...it's so much part of the air we all breathe that it doesn't always stand out as topic that gets the separate name on it.
Would you ever consider making previous editions of certain books free for download when supplanted by newer editions?
For example, when Larry Wall finally gets around to writing the 3rd edition of the Camel (probably about the same time as Perl 6), would you consider making the second edition available in electronic format?
I realize this has the possibility of forking documentation, but it's hard to find anyone more qualified than Larry, Randal, and Tom, for example. It would only work for certain books.
The previous edition of CGI Programming for the WWW is available online now, while we work on a new edition, as is MH & xmh and Open Sources. You can read these at http://www.oreilly.com/openbooks/. We'd like to put more of our out of print books online, but it's a matter of man hours. Our Web team is organizing a new effort around this now, so look for more books to appear on this page.
And in fact, an awful lot of Programming Perl *is* available for free online, as part of the Perl man page or other perl documentation. It's not available in exactly the same form, but it's available. That's one of the big questions for online documentation: does the online version always look like the print version.
But this is a good question, and it's one we have certainly something we can think about. Might be another interesting experiment in understanding the ecology of online publishing.
Not sure how to phrase this, but, well, what is the status of O'Reilley and marketing books to schools and colleges for use as textbooks. Our textbooks suck, and if there textbook versions of ya'lls books it would rock.
We actually do quite a bit of marketing to schools and colleges, and they are used as textbooks in a number of places. If you know of a professor who ought to be adopting an O'Reilly book, please send mail to our manager of college and library sales, Kerri Bonasch, at firstname.lastname@example.org. We also have a Web site to support this effort at http://www.oreilly.com/sales/edu/.
Are there any specific things that you see as obstacles to use of the books as textbooks? What topics would you especially like to see as textbooks?
Are there any plans to improve the binding on your future books? Many of us use O'Reilly books to death and the binding is the first to go. I know I certainly wouldn't mind pay slightly more for a stronger version of some of the most heavily used titles.
Hmmm. We use a special high-cost binding, which allows the books to lay flat. It's quite a bit more expensive than the normal perfect binding used by most publishers, and we think it's worth it. I have heard lots of compliments on how great this binding is. I haven't heard complaints about it breaking down--at least not without use that would break down a normal perfect-bound book as well. I don't know of any way to make it more durable.
Maybe hardcover? It would be great to have a slashdot poll on how many people share your problem and would like to see O'Reilly books in hardcover. (One caveat: We tried an experiment once (for our Phigs Programming Manuals--real behemoths) to offer books in both hardcover and softcover, so people could choose. Despite polls that said people would pay more for a more durable hardcover, everyone bought the softcover to save the difference in price.) So, if there is a poll, how much would you pay for a more durable book?
Given some of the recent discussion surrounding the Linux Documentation Project (LDP), I began to wonder about its long-term direction and viability.
I "grew up" with Linux by reading *many* of the HOWTOs and other documents that were part of the LDP. In many ways, I'd have been lost without the LDP. But with the growth of Linux mind-share and increased demand for texts that help newcomers get acquainted with the various aspects of running their own Linux systems, there seems to have been a stagnation in much of the free documentation. I can't help but to wonder if many of the folks who would be working on LDP-type material have opted to write books for publishers instead.
Where do you see free documentation projects like the LDP going? What advice can you offer to the LDP and those who write documents for inclusion in the project? Might we see electronic versions of O'Reilly books (or parts of them) included in free documentation projects?
I don't think that the slowdown of the LDP is because of authors deserting it to write commercial books. In fact, I think you're going to see a reinvigoration of free documentation efforts, as publishers try to contribute to these projects. I think that the right answer is for those who are writing books to figure out some useful subset of their work that will be distributed online as part of the free documentation, and for there to be some added value only available in books. I think that this has worked pretty well for the core perl documentation, where an update to the camel and an update to the online docs are really seen as part of the same project.
When O'Reilly is directly involved in an Open Source project, this is fairly typical of what we do. For example, O'Reilly was one of the original drivers behind the development of the docbook DTD, which is now used by the LDP. (We started the Davenport Group, which developed Docbook, back in the late 80's.)
We're releasing a book about Docbook, by Norm Walsh and Len Muellner, called DocBook: the Definitive Guide." It will be out in October. Norm and Len's book will be also available for free online through the Oasis web site as the official documentation of the DocBook DTD. This is our contribution to users of DocBook; without our signing and creating this book, good documentation for DocBook wouldn't exist. (This is in addition to our historical support of the creation of DocBook.)
Our goal here, though, is evangelical. We want more people to use docbook (and xml in general), and we think that making the documentation free will help that goal.
CmdrTaco asks (on behalf of a friend):
I understand from a very reliable source that O'Reilly is moving their website from a single Sun and an inside developed webserver to an NT cluster and some barely functioning proprietary software. Their bread and butter has been Unix. They have been taking a more and more vocal position within the OSS community. Why are they switching to NT?
Well, your very reliable source has only part of the story right, and that's because it's a long and involved story. It started about 18 months ago, when the people on our web team wanted to replace what had become a fairly obsolete setup whose original developers no longer work for the company.
This system--which was about five years old--involves a lot of convoluted perl scripts that take data in a pseudo-sgml format, and generate a bunch of internal documents (marketing reports, sales sheets, copy for catalogs etc) as well as web pages. We wanted to do something more up to date, and didn't have internal resources to devote to a complete rework.
So we went out to a number of web design firms for bids. The winning firm does work on both NT and UNIX, but they showed us all kinds of nifty things that they said they had already developed on NT that we could use. These were tools for surveys, content management, etc. There was also stuff around integration with the spreadsheets and databases and reports used by our financial and customer service people. To recreate these tools on their UNIX side would cost several hundred thousand dollars.
So I said: "We can either walk the talk, or talk the walk. I don't care which, as long as what we do and what we say line up. If you can do it better and cheaper on NT, go ahead and do it, and I'll go out there and tell the world why the NT solution was better."
I was prepared to have to tell a story about interoperability--after all, despite all our efforts to champion open source, we realize that our customers use many, many different technologies, and we try to use them all ourselves as well. We were looking at doing some things on NT--the stuff our vendor said they already had working--while incorporating other elements on UNIX, Mac, Linux, and Pick (yes, we run a Pick system too!). The whole thing was going to be a demonstration of ways that you can choose from and integrate tools from many different platforms.
Instead, I have to tell the story that is so familiar to Slashdot readers, of promises of easy-to-use tools that, unfortunately, don't work as advertised. As your source suggests, the NT parts of the system haven't been delivered on time or on budget, and what we've seen doesn't appear to work, and we're considering scrapping that project and going back to the safe choice. To put a new spin on an old saw: No one ever got fired for using open source.
I say that tongue-in-cheek of course, because unlike a lot of open source partisans, I don't think that all good things come from the open source community. We like to bash Microsoft with the idea that "no matter how big you are, all the smart people don't work for you" but it's just as true that they don't all work for the open source community either. There are great ideas coming from companies like Sun and Microsoft, and (most of) the people who work there are just like us. They care about doing a good job. They want to solve interesting problems and make the world a better place. And sometimes they do.
I consider it my job to give them a fair shake at convincing me, and if they do, to give you a fair shake at learning what they've done right as well as what they've done wrong. I'll keep you posted.
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