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The 'Adventure' In Self-Publishing an IT Book

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the it's-dangerous-to-go-alone-take-this dept.

Books 156

An anonymous reader writes "Author Keir Thomas has blogged about his experiences self-publishing a computing book. Quoting: 'I knew that publicizing the book would be difficult so I hit upon an idea: Why not give away the eBook (PDF) version? I could use Amazon S3 for hosting the file, so it would cost me just a few dollars per month. Sure enough, giving the eBook away generated a lot of publicity. ... Since going on sale at the start of 2009, the book has made me $9,000. ... I’ve had worse salaries in my life, and I’m very grateful, but I know total royalties would probably have been higher had I gone through the traditional route of working with a mainstream publisher. I estimate I have to give away 446 copies of the eBook for every sale of the print edition.'"

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156 comments

Yep (1, Insightful)

viablos (2018696) | more than 3 years ago | (#35535362)

Many times you see pro-piracy guys on slashdot suggesting, or might I say demanding publishers to use alternative ways to get money. Or just do it for the fun. Well, here again we see that those guys cannot see things clearly from both sides. They just want free stuff.

Re:Yep (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35535454)

Well, here again we see that those guys cannot see things clearly from both sides. They just want free stuff.

You mean like free advertising of your ebooks and blog on Slashdot?

Re:Yep (3, Funny)

smelch (1988698) | more than 3 years ago | (#35535736)

They may not have paid for it, but they are adding value to slashdot with their information. What value are you adding to Knight Rider by watching it?

Re:Yep (2)

SQLGuru (980662) | more than 3 years ago | (#35535980)

Future sales of Knight Rider movie merchandise? Yeah, probably not. They'll just pirate that stuff, too.

Re:Yep (2)

shaitand (626655) | more than 3 years ago | (#35536328)

"What value are you adding to Knight Rider by watching it?"

The same value slashdot is adding to their ebooks and blog. Advertising. By watching Knight Rider I am exposing those around me to the show and the brand. This provides them more opportunities for sales.

Re:Yep (2)

Dogtanian (588974) | more than 3 years ago | (#35536850)

They may not have paid for it, but they are adding value to slashdot with their information. What value are you adding to Knight Rider by watching it?

If David Hasselhoff overacts in a forest, and no-one is around to see him (or they're watching Airwolf on the other channel), does Knight Rider exist?

It's more than that (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35535492)

The pro-piracy frame would see every publisher backed into a corner, gnawing its own limbs off. And I suppose they think the next step would be that they get to feed on the bloated carcass.

The only problem is, once that meat is gone, that will be it. All that will remain is the slow trickle of feed from Mr. $4500 a year and his like, and many of the niche offerings will be created no longer.

Re:It's more than that (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35535820)

Once that meat is gone, we can finally start paying people to create stuff instead of paying a middleman to do it on our behalf for an inordinately huge fee.

Publishing no longer needs publishers. Let the audience pay the author's advance.

Re:It's more than that (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 3 years ago | (#35536478)

Not a problem for an accomplished writer. Look at things like kickstarter for a good example of something similar already in action. No new author gets much of an advance anyway.

Re:It's more than that (3, Insightful)

oatworm (969674) | more than 3 years ago | (#35536576)

The trouble, as this guy learned, is that middlemen do add value. Why is his eBook only sold at Amazon US? Because he didn't have a middleman that he could go through to negotiate contracts with Barnes & Noble, Powell's, Borders/Waldenbooks, or overseas bookstores. To his credit, he did a decent job of doing his own marketing, hitting his target audience quite nicely, but, since it didn't have a cute animal on the front and a brand that sounds like "Oh really?", a lot of people might have taken a pass on his book because they didn't think it came from a trusted source of quality technical publications. This sort of dynamic holds true in the music and film industry, too.

Making stuff is easy. Getting stuff into people's hands is hard.

Now, are some middlemen overpaid? Could they use some real competition, instead of the cozy oligopoly they've been able to maintain thus far? Almost certainly. I'd love to see media distribution become commoditized because, when things become commodities, they become cheap and fungible, which is good for consumers of that product. Since artists are the consumers of media distribution networks (we're the product), I definitely can understand why this is an exciting moment for them.

Re:It's more than that (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 3 years ago | (#35537074)

I think this guy made a mistake in releasing for free. Even releasing at 99c or so would have been a good idea. Just look at the app store. 99c is a price that people are willing to gamble on, especially for a whole damn book..

Re:It's more than that (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 3 years ago | (#35537094)

One problem remains - finding the stuff that's worth reading in the ocean of crap.

Re:It's more than that (2)

shaitand (626655) | more than 3 years ago | (#35536376)

Mr. $4500 a year is the bread and butter of the publishing industry. That is far more than most authors see on their first book. If most of that is from the first year they would stop printing the book about now and the content would basically disappear.

Instead, he is probably still selling the material and even if he weren't the PDF content will continue to be available as long as anyone wants it.

Re:Yep (1)

oliverthered (187439) | more than 3 years ago | (#35535892)

"and I’m very grateful, but I know total royalties would probably have been higher had I gone through the traditional route of working with a mainstream publisher"

He has no basis for comparison... He'd need to publish the same book at the same time without the giving away to know if or if not the royalties would have been greater. In addition what would be the outcome for later books, given he would now have some kind of reputation as an author.

Re:Yep (1)

linuxwolf69 (1996104) | more than 3 years ago | (#35536164)

Personally, I started reading books by an author (Brandon Sanderson) specifically BECAUSE he put some of his work online. At the time it was only 3 chapters of his book Mistborn: The Final Empire, but since then he's put an entire book (Warbreaker, which I have the .pdf of) online.

To this day, I personally own all 12 of his released books 8 of which are in hardcover. I respect a move like this and am willing to support who I think is a great author. If I didn't like his work, I would not have bought the book and that would have been the end. The same applies here. I'd get the book and if it's good, and/or highly beneficial, I'd order a copy for my book shelves. Maybe I'm the exception because I like to have collections and prefer physical books to e-materials every time.

Re:Yep (1)

cdrguru (88047) | more than 3 years ago | (#35536832)

That works for "collections" and is echoed by what I see on Amazon a lot lately. Instead of publishing a self-contained book of novel length, you get something broken into as many as 10 parts each being about being a short novel. The first book is free with the remaining 3, 6 or 9 being $10.

I think this comes partly from an author just not being able to get it done in novel-length and going on and on. And on and on and on. No publisher was going to publish a 2,000 page paperback no matter what and in 1990 it would have been edited down to a single novel. Instead today it is split into 10 volumes.

The good news for the rather verbose author is that what might have sold for $7 in 1990 as a single book now nets more like $40 from the sale of four books and one free one - assuming most people don't buy all 10 volumes but give up somewhere along the line. The publisher probably likes this a lot better as well. But I don't think it is any measure of quality. In general, an author that can't trim it down is not spewing quality just quantity.

Re:Yep (1)

shaitand (626655) | more than 3 years ago | (#35536254)

I'm not following? This is an author posting a success story. His assertion about possibly making more through traditional publishers isn't really accurate. Feel free to ask an IT author going that route. First time authors generally get far less from a book.

Not only has he made more money but from the quote below we've determined that about 450 times as many people are able to enjoy the content. Sounds like a win for everyone.

"I have to give away 446 copies of the eBook for every sale of the print edition"

Re:Yep (1)

larry bagina (561269) | more than 3 years ago | (#35536692)

Read the article. His own conclusion is that he would have made more had it been traditionally published. More importantly, he's not a first time author; he has other published books and regularly writes for magazine, which means he has a better understanding of the industry and more experience writing and editing. Maybe you like your books to read like a slashdot post, but I prefer books with good typesetting, proper spelling, proper grammar, and maybe even some fact checking thrown in.

Re:Yep (1)

Evets (629327) | more than 3 years ago | (#35536946)

I think the assumption is that he'd have more sales if it was sold by a publisher. Sure, he would have. But he shopped the idea and it was rejected. Even if his sales quadrupled, it probably wouldn't have been a book that traditional publishers would have been looking to publish.

Selling 1800+ copies of a book no publisher would touch is an achievement, and not an easy one to reproduce.

If you can come up with a really good idea 4 times a year and follow through to completion within a reasonable deadline you're only looking at a $36k income. That's not very good as a full time job. However - if you can do that in the evenings it's a heck of a side income, and the more you can consistently perform, the more you'll sell.

There's also the question of investment. Amazon's options are zero or minimal investment. Spend a little bit of money and have 100 or 1000 copies printed at a time and handle the delivery yourself and you can double your profits - plus you have the capability of handing over copies to local booksellers to see if they'll sell in store.

For every person looking to go down this path, there are a lot of paths you can go down. The easiest path and most potentially successful is a publisher. They have marketing plans, distribution contracts, and above all else - talent on hand who are pretty good at determining the sell-ability of a given book. They aren't the only answer, though. 2000 copies sold is nothing to a publisher, but for an individual it can be huge. Personally, I think that before writing anything you have to determine your target market and how to communicate with them.

Re:Yep (1)

_Sprocket_ (42527) | more than 3 years ago | (#35536374)

Many times you see pro-piracy guys on slashdot suggesting, or might I say demanding publishers to use alternative ways to get money. Or just do it for the fun. Well, here again we see that those guys cannot see things clearly from both sides. They just want free stuff.

How many times do you see the anti-piracy guys on slashdot suggesting, or might I say demanding that every free copy of something is a guaranteed lost sale? Or just producing a product is guaranteed financial success? Well, here again we see that those guys cannot see things clearly from both sides. They just expect money.

See? I can do that too.

Re:Yep (1)

No2Gates (239823) | more than 3 years ago | (#35536406)

Excellent point. Bottom line is that publishers of (insert media choice here) need to make money. They deserve money for producing the products.
This guy is doing it right. If someone can't afford (or doesn't want to) spend money on the book, they can download the PDF file.
If you like it and prefer hardcopy, then purchasing the printed version is a great way to pay him for his work. Or the other way is the Donate button so you can give him at least a token of your appreciation for his work for the PDF version.

That wasn't smart. (3, Insightful)

lwsimon (724555) | more than 3 years ago | (#35535434)

The guy missed out - he could have made a fortune by charging a couple of bucks for it.

Re:That wasn't smart. (3, Interesting)

LordStormes (1749242) | more than 3 years ago | (#35535460)

Agreed - Should have given the first 3 chapters free as an Ebook, then charged $5 for the full Ebook or $X for the print version.

Re:That wasn't smart. (0)

Frosty Piss (770223) | more than 3 years ago | (#35535530)

The guy missed out - he could have made a fortune by charging a couple of bucks for it.

Even .99 cents would have been more profitable.

Re:That wasn't smart. (3, Informative)

nametaken (610866) | more than 3 years ago | (#35535690)

He does this for at least two of his other books. He sells .99 kindle ebook versions. I just bought one of them.

Re:That wasn't smart. (3, Insightful)

pixelpusher220 (529617) | more than 3 years ago | (#35535754)

I believe the mentality goes like this:

"I'm not sure I'd really want a $0.99 'tech' book. However, something free is worth at least looking at - hey this is pretty good I'll tell my tech friends." And some of them buy it.

There was just a guy who lowered his published his fictional eBook from $2.99 to $0.99 and made more money due to higher sales - linky [techdirt.com] . I think the difference is spending a dollar on recreation is fine for people, but if it's for 'work', I'm going to want to spend a decent amount to make sure I'm getting a quality product. The 'free' stuff gets noticed but the 'super cheap' stuff is still viewed as being lower quality.

Re:That wasn't smart. (1)

Govno (779519) | more than 3 years ago | (#35535874)

I've purchased books for $0.99 just to check them out. In one case, the author's writing style was crap (imo .. who the heck writes fiction in present-tense?!?) so I won't buy any of his (much higher priced) sequels, but I'm not sweating the dollar it cost to find out I didn't like the author .. and the others I've purchased for .99 were good reads.

Re:That wasn't smart. (1)

pixelpusher220 (529617) | more than 3 years ago | (#35536026)

Which is exactly my point. I'm willing to spend a buck on my recreational reading. For work? not so much, I'll look for something higher quality.

Re:That wasn't smart. (0)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 3 years ago | (#35536086)

Quality = Price, in you mind?

HAHAHAHA, I guess it is true a sucker is born every minute.

Re:That wasn't smart. (2)

Obfuscant (592200) | more than 3 years ago | (#35536344)

Quality = Price, in you mind?

In my experience of looking for free reading material for my ebook reader, yes, for modern works, price is a good indicator of the chance of quality. Not a direct relationship, but I've found most of the time that the "free" ebooks from current authors are not worth the time and effort of downloading them.

Not always, but most of the time. Removing the barrier to publishing a quality book means more crap gets published.

I'm already suspicious of the quality of the book being talked about here, since the author of the book is an alleged IT professional and the link he provides to the book website is wrong. He's got ubuntupocketguide.org, it's really a .com.

Re:That wasn't smart. (1)

oliverthered (187439) | more than 3 years ago | (#35535916)

well sell the electronic version cheap and the one you can stick on a shelf at a higher price and only in hard back.

Re:That wasn't smart. (1)

pixelpusher220 (529617) | more than 3 years ago | (#35536054)

Which is exactly what the author did...just instead of 'cheap' he chose 'free'.

But getting back to my point. You think people would buy a $0.99 technical reference? or would they buy something from O'Reilly that has demonstrated experience? Or go find something free like google books?

Re:That wasn't smart. (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 3 years ago | (#35536162)

If he gave away the first 3 chapters? Sure.
If it had good reviews? Hell yes.

$0.99 is a reasonable price for an ebook. They are low value items as they cannot be resold, and don't look impressive on my shelves. When you cut out the middlemen and have very low distribution costs, why should it cost anymore? Paying more than a few dollars for one is madness.

Re:That wasn't smart. (1)

pixelpusher220 (529617) | more than 3 years ago | (#35536592)

"$0.99 is a reasonable price for an ebook"

I would say that depends greatly on what the book's content/purpose is. Trashy romance novel? sure. How to correctly wire your house panel? I think I want something more definitive than $0.99.

My point was the subject matter and purpose have an effect on what people are willing to pay.

Re:That wasn't smart. (1)

oliverthered (187439) | more than 3 years ago | (#35536166)

well, it's nice to see more than one side to an argument or more than one way of doing stuff if you want to write good software.

Now let's say 1/4 of the people who pay for books (at some point) may also buy one at .99c to see if the author is any good and worth paying for,

And they find that his stuff is as good as or better than, or even just a bit of a different angle to the stuff they usually buy.

Next time they may buy his book instead... and then it adds more to the word of mouth... And that build over time and may in the long run generate much more income than going a classical publication route.

I've certainly had benefits from work from doing stuff for free and giving it away that I don't think I would have had otherwise.

Re:That wasn't smart. (1)

lwsimon (724555) | more than 3 years ago | (#35535932)

So... your idea is to sell at a loss, and make it up with the increased volume?

Re:That wasn't smart. (1)

pixelpusher220 (529617) | more than 3 years ago | (#35536080)

Um, yes. If a certain percentage of your views result in sales, giving it away in an unlimited and free format can drive sales of your limited physical good.

The greater the number of views, the more sales. And he didn't have to pay a publisher a cut of his revenue.

Re:That wasn't smart. (1)

lwsimon (724555) | more than 3 years ago | (#35536142)

And yet he provided no basis for his belief that the ebook drove sales of the printed copy. An assertion like that should be backed up with data - money is, after all, Serious Business.

Re:That wasn't smart. (1)

pixelpusher220 (529617) | more than 3 years ago | (#35536512)

He documented what he did in pretty good detail. What sort of 'proof' are you looking for?

He 'self-published'. What more then putting it on Amazon for free did he do? He described decent traffic to his online version. From which he sold the physical copies. It wasn't available unless people asked for it because he self published. It was publish on demand.

Re:That wasn't smart. (1)

Suki I (1546431) | more than 3 years ago | (#35535770)

The guy missed out - he could have made a fortune by charging a couple of bucks for it.

Even .99 cents would have been more profitable.

That depends on if the same amount of people would have bought the eBook for $0.99 vs. free. After that recent $0.99 story went up, I told my friend who I helped with some books and he hosts my only eBook on his account. He reduced the price of almost everything to $0.99 and the only effect (as of yesterday anyway) the only sales increase was the paperbacks in bookstores and none of us think that is related. His free stories are popular and one does okay as a re-edited pay version on Kindle. I don't know enough about marketing world to make sense of it.

Re:That wasn't smart. (1)

lwsimon (724555) | more than 3 years ago | (#35535936)

Actually, if one person bought the $.99 ebook, he'd be ahead. I didn't see any correlation between book sales and ebook distribution proven in the article.

Re:That wasn't smart. (1)

Suki I (1546431) | more than 3 years ago | (#35536192)

Actually, if one person bought the $.99 ebook, he'd be ahead. I didn't see any correlation between book sales and ebook distribution proven in the article.

Yes, that is a true point. $0.99 is more than $0 for the eBooks. From the post it sounds like it cost him money to have the eBooks up, so he would be "less behind" if he had made something to offset what he paid out.

Re:That wasn't smart. (1)

shaitand (626655) | more than 3 years ago | (#35536720)

"I didn't see any correlation between book sales and ebook distribution proven in the article."

Correction, there is a correlation between ebook distribution and $9000 worth of sales. What isn't proven is causation. There is no proof that any form of advertising increases sales.

A first time author having very high (i.e. $4500 net for two years and counting) sales with no other advertisement is certainly better evidence than you will get from any advertising firm and it is greater success than the average first time author gets with the advertising provided by publishers.

Re:That wasn't smart. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35535660)

You're assuming any of those 446 would have paid for it. Chances are, one of the 446 would have broken the DRM on the E-book, and the other 445 would have stolen it.

His net loss by providing it for free: $0

Re:That wasn't smart. (1)

lwsimon (724555) | more than 3 years ago | (#35535994)

I'm assuming a nonzero number of those people would have been willing to pay $.99.

His loss depends entirely upon opportunity cost. It wouldn't have been 446 - the article (I know, it's /.) says he saw at least 500,000 downloads. If 1% of those had paid a buck, that's $5,000... over half of the realized profit for the book. For what it's worth, it is reasonable to estimate that 4% of hits would have converted at $.99.

Re:That wasn't smart. (1)

shaitand (626655) | more than 3 years ago | (#35536794)

It isn't reasonable to assume he would have had 500,000 hits if the book weren't free in the first place so no percentage of that number is a valid conversion estimate. Giving the ebooks away reasonably resulted in a 500% increase in hits which in turned converted at about 1.12% into print sales.

Re:That wasn't smart. (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 3 years ago | (#35536210)

You suck at math.

One buyer at $0.99, he strips the DRM and gives it to 445 of his closest friends.

His net profit for charging $0.99: $0.99

Re:That wasn't smart. (1)

More_Cowbell (957742) | more than 3 years ago | (#35535672)

This is what I came here to say. even $0.99 would be better than nothing. My bet is most of the 446 people that got it free would have been happy to pay some small sum.

Re:That wasn't smart. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35536582)

True, if you believe that benefiting lots of other people has exactly zero value. There are, however, other ways of looking at it. Given the fact that the Internet exists, I would not advise anyone to intentionally make a career out of selling information. I have personally been careful not to make a career out doing that so I could make it give it away as a hobby. It hasn't made me rich, but I have added a lot of value to the world, and that has a lot of value to me. (Incidentally, I'm also making your career slightly harder by spending all of my free time generating useful information and giving it away. Do I care? Naw, people who want every last $0.99 to fall in their own pockets deserve to have hard careers.)

Re:That wasn't smart. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35536160)

Or even a quarter. If he's selling at $13 a copy (which he says on his website) and he's made $9k from book sales, with 446 ebooks given away for every copy sold, that's ~309,000 copies downloaded for free. Assume he sold them for a quarter apiece, and if even 50% of people who downloaded the free copy would've paid the quarter to get it, that'd be ~$39,000... Although you might have to charge more just because I don't know of a micropayment system set up for sub-$1 increments, off the top of my head.

Re:That wasn't smart. (1)

lwsimon (724555) | more than 3 years ago | (#35536274)

He made between $2.25 and $4.50 per copy, depending on where it was sold, and he gave away over 500,000 ebooks direct from his site. It's in teh article, which is of course why no one on /. knows this :)

Re:That wasn't smart. (1)

HuckleCom (690630) | more than 3 years ago | (#35536800)

Well let's see... He claims $9000 in income. He's selling it for $12.99 on amazon.com (Let's assume $10/copy, I dont know what amazon's cut is)

If he sold 1 per 446, and made ~$9000 at ~$10/copy: ~900 were sold.

~401,400 were downloaded (Unique)?

Iet's say the fact that he charged $0.99 for the ebook version, sales would have been lower, I think 66% LOWER is a pretty conservative number:

~401,400 - (~401,400*0.66) = ~136476 'sold' ebooks.

~136476 * 0.99 = ~$135,110

Yea. prolly screwed himself :P

Re:That wasn't smart. (1)

HuckleCom (690630) | more than 3 years ago | (#35536846)

According to another post "He made between $2.25 and $4.50 per copy".

Which basically means that the $135,110 would be ~2-4 TIMES that.

IT books are dead (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35535444)

They are always out of date before you can buy them, they are of variable quality compared to what you get from the olde dayes with fully documented reference and user guides that took up several meters of shelf space. And unlike yesteryear, developers learn as they go, often filling in the blanks when they get there. As such, there's invariably someone that has had the same problem, bad functionality, bug, wrong docs, that's asked in a forum, mailing list, usenet et al.

Re:IT books are dead (1)

SQLGuru (980662) | more than 3 years ago | (#35536032)

Yep. I do a lot of "coding through Google" because that's where the most current / most relevant information is.

I wonder (3, Insightful)

Haedrian (1676506) | more than 3 years ago | (#35535452)

I noticed a donate button on that website.

I wonder how many people just donated, compared to the % of people who bought. I'll be taking a look at this book, it looks interesting and rather useful.

Re:I wonder (2)

wygit (696674) | more than 3 years ago | (#35535580)

I do that quite a bit... I'm quite happy to kick in for a book I liked, fiction or non-fiction.
I don't WANT the dead-tree copy, and there are quite a few authors who are doing 'donate' or 'pay what you want' for their work.

What I won't do is pay a stupid (to me) price for a book I can read on one device, for as long as the publisher deigns to allow me to read it on that one device.

I won't pay hardback prices for a limited license to read a book.

Re:I wonder (1)

Desler (1608317) | more than 3 years ago | (#35535668)

What I won't do is pay a stupid (to me) price for a book I can read on one device, for as long as the publisher deigns to allow me to read it on that one device.

And what e-book format can only be read on one device? Pretty much all e-book formats (PDF, e-pub, even Amazon's) can be read on e-readers, computers, phones, etc. All of them can also be decrypted if you want and you can then convert them however you want. The only way you would be restricted is by your own ignorance.

Re:I wonder (3, Insightful)

HungryHobo (1314109) | more than 3 years ago | (#35535702)

" The only way you would be restricted is by your own ignorance."

as long as you're outside america.
Inside you'd also be restricted by the laws which make it illegal to circumvent copyright restrictions.

Re:I wonder (1)

alostpacket (1972110) | more than 3 years ago | (#35535974)

I think copyright restrictions are only part of the problem. I feel like the ability for companies to designate the selling of products, (either tangible or digital) as license grants is just as serious an issue. How did we let it get so bad? I don't think the right to engage in contract would not be infringed by designating that goods sold to consumers for long term use must have the first sale doctrine applied and must be "sold" outright. And I dont think the "well just buy from someone who doesn't make the sale a license" really work either when effectively all media and products are being treated this way by all companies. The consumer here is at a clear disadvantage and this is something market forces seem unable to work out.

Clearly it might be somewhat difficult to define such products, but shouldn't be impossible to discern a service from a product.

It's one thing to say, "you may only sell the quantity which you purchased and may not resell or redisribute massive quantities of this."

Quite another to say "you may only use this as we specify."

Re:I wonder (1)

cdrguru (88047) | more than 3 years ago | (#35537026)

The problem is that with digital goods there is no "sale" that doesn't include redistribution rights.

If I sell you a license for a software product I can put all kinds of terms into it. However, if I sell you "software" itself there are many things that will prevent any additional terms on the sale. There certainly would be no restriction on your selling your "possession" and/or redistributing it. Similarly, most software is sold under terms that disallow certain types of usage, such as reverse engineering or use in life-critical situations. In a simple sale these conditions could generally not be imposed.

Now it might be better for everyone if some type of sale could be constructed and agreed upon by all of the various legal entities that regulate commerce - but that isn't how things grew. Sometime around 1955 or so some folks noticed that selling commercial software to companies had to follow certain rules and doing other things would really mess things up. This led to an entire generation of business managers, accountants and lawyers that heard about this and pretty much followed what others had done. Hence what we have today.

There has been very little change in the selling of digital goods since then. The basic forms were set down a long time ago, far earlier than the first PC or cell phone. And what we have today came in a pretty straight line.

So, in all likelyhood unless a publisher wants to sell you redistribution rights all they can sell you is a license for a book. Regular paper books come with redistribution rights, after all - you are free to pass the book around to friends and sell it. The difference is that redistribution means something different with digital goods.

Re:I wonder (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 3 years ago | (#35536272)

Laws that are unjust, immoral and you can break with impunity in the comfort of your own home. There is nothing wrong with breaking DRM so long as you never distribute copies.

Who Says authors are supposed to be rich? (0)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 3 years ago | (#35535476)

$9000 may not sound like much, but if the guy writes multiple books each year, he's making more than a guy at McDonalds or Walmart. Also there's the opposite example of the man who earned ~$10 million by selling his books for just one dollar each.

Re:Who Says authors are supposed to be rich? (1)

Desler (1608317) | more than 3 years ago | (#35535636)

Also there's the opposite example of the man who earned ~$10 million by selling his books for just one dollar each.

And that guy would be? It's amazing that this opposite example comes with absolutely no citation!

Re:Who Says authors are supposed to be rich? (1)

HungryHobo (1314109) | more than 3 years ago | (#35535742)

ya, I heard the story about the guy who was making money at a rate that projected to about half a million a year if he kept selling books but 10 million? nonsense.

Re:Who Says authors are supposed to be rich? (1)

pizza_milkshake (580452) | more than 3 years ago | (#35535728)

Obviously you've never written a book.

Re:Who Says authors are supposed to be rich? (1)

cpu6502 (1960974) | more than 3 years ago | (#35536074)

>>>Obviously you've never written a book.

I have not.

But Isaac Asimov did: 500+. Even if he only made $9000 per book, that's about 7 per year, or $63,000. He'd be doing "better than a guy at McDonalds or Walmart". Approximately $30 an hour.

Re:Who Says authors are supposed to be rich? (1)

artor3 (1344997) | more than 3 years ago | (#35537068)

So in order to make ends meet, authors should be required to match the pace of one of the most prolific authors in history? Some one like Asimov deserves to be a millionaire, not merely "better than a guy at McDonalds".

Say what?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35535518)

' Since going on sale at the start of 2009, the book has made me $9,000. ... I’ve had worse salaries in my life,"

That amounts to, what, $2.25 an hour? Sorry, even when I was in high school back in the 80s, minimum wage in MA was $3.55 and hour.

Re:Say what?! (3, Insightful)

b0bby (201198) | more than 3 years ago | (#35535730)

It took him 3 months to write, so he considers that he has so far made $3k/month. Better than minimum wage.

Re:Say what?! (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | more than 3 years ago | (#35535884)

In WA state, minimum wage is something like $10.80 an hour. 40 hours a week ... $560 a week .... $2240 a month say ... Not that much more than what someone at Burger King makes.

Assuming it was only 40 hours.

Lawyers make a lot of money, but they work very long hours, and thus make less per hour than a decent IT worker who bills at 70 to 100 an hour.

Re:Say what?! (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 3 years ago | (#35535996)

If he has the knowledge to write a technical book at an expert level, and considers $800/week good pay, then he's never been paid anything near the value of expert technical work.

Which in this shitty economy where the corporate executives hold all the cards and have their foot on the necks of the workers, is not improbable.

Re:Say what?! (1)

b0bby (201198) | more than 3 years ago | (#35536278)

He doesn't consider it good pay, he says he's had worse salaries. He concludes that self publishing isn't really worth it.

Re:Say what?! (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 3 years ago | (#35536412)

$41,600 is not a great wage, but I know people who could write books on what they do in IT and make that or less.

You last statement could not be more true.

Re:Say what?! (1)

Sectoid_Dev (232963) | more than 3 years ago | (#35536456)

The time it took him to write the book is a sunk cost and can only be compared against what other opportunity costs he might had incurred if had he chosen to spend his time doing something else. I didn't RTFA, but if this wasn't his primary income, then this is a good way to set up a passive income stream, aside from whatever marketing he needs to do. If he is good enough to write a passable book, then he should be working in the industry to pay his bills. There is something to be said for knowing you will bring home $X,XXX every week.
    It certainly is a better use of time than sitting around pounding your pud to Christie Allie on DTWS and not getting paid. It also opens the door to other opportunities or a better selling next book.

Your next book? (4, Interesting)

Bilbo (7015) | more than 3 years ago | (#35535552)

Here's another angle that's hard to quantify: What happens if you decide to publish another book? The fact that you've distributed all those free copies along side of the pay-for editions means you've got a *LOT* of people who know your name. This fact alone should give your next book a big head-start if you ever decide to publish again, either through a "vanity press" or through a more conventional channel.

Re:Your next book? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35536340)

The fact that you've distributed all those free copies along side of the pay-for editions means you've got a *LOT* of people who know your name.

Not to mention the fact that you're now on the front page of Slashdot.

I'm a bit puzzled... (1)

b0bby (201198) | more than 3 years ago | (#35535716)

I'm a bit puzzled - in TFA he says that publishers weren't interested:
"Nobody was interested. The profit margin is too low on cheap books, they said."
He then concludes:
"I’ve had worse salaries in my life, and I’m very grateful, but I know total royalties would probably have been higher had I gone through the traditional route of working with a mainstream publisher."
The publishers weren't interested, so it seems that he'd have saved the 3 months and not written the book. Once you start thinking that a book, had it been the sort of high profit book the publishers are looking for, would have made more money than the actual, low profit book you self published, you're off on a tangent. IMHO, of course.

and another factor .... (1)

oneiros27 (46144) | more than 3 years ago | (#35535976)

If it took him 3 months to write, you have to weigh that against the time to write a longer book. 9 months? 12 months?

I don't know what book royalties work out to be, but if it's 1/4 the time to write for 1/2 or 1/3 the paycheck, it's not bad ... he just needs to find another cheap book to write to fill the rest of the time.

again: download != actually reading a book (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35535720)

1) Niche book.

2) Gave away copies, instead of charging a buck or two.

3) Seems to equate the amount of people who'd download it for nothing (many of whom will probably never even read it) to people who spent money on it in print. Repeat after me: DOWNLOADING A FILE FOR FREE COSTS NOTHING, SO EVERYONE DOES IT EVEN IF THEY ARE ONLY SORT OF INTERESTED. IT HAS NO BEARING ON THE ACTUAL 'POPULARITY' OF YOUR BOOK.

Fewer books, more cards (1)

Animats (122034) | more than 3 years ago | (#35535760)

Something I'd like to see more of are those stiff plastic cards that provide a quick reference for something. You see those for "Algebra I" in most bookstores. Ones for programming languages and programs would be useful.

Writing one of those cards is a useful exercise for designers. If you can't cram the essential instructions onto one card, the interface probably needs a redesign or something needs to be automated.

Why do you hate Trees so? (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | more than 3 years ago | (#35535850)

No, seriously, why?

If you were a decent writer, you'd write an iPad eBook or a crippled version for the Droid.

Let me guess, you included lots of glossy pictures too, right?

Re:Why do you hate Trees so? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35536566)

Make that "Why do you hate Trees in America?" Then we can skewer this guy from both the right and the left.

My own experience, on the other side (3, Interesting)

jfengel (409917) | more than 3 years ago | (#35535968)

I published a computing book through a conventional publisher (Addison Wesley), and the amounts of money we made were roughly comparable. It's considerably sub minimum wage, given the years I put into writing it (including months full-time, away from a paying job writing software at a wage substantially higher than minimum.)

Which was, in fact, the point. It wasn't going to make me rich; it was going to make me famous. (You've heard of me and my book Programming for the Java Virtual Machine, right? Right?) I wanted to write a book, so I did. The publisher put it in a lot of bookstores and even translated it into Korean. (I've always wanted to lay my hands on a copy of the Korean translation.) It helped that this was a major Java publisher; my book is shelved next to big-name authors, some of whom were involved in reviewing it. That's a kind of expertise I couldn't have purchased.

At the time, it wasn't really practical to self-publish on the web; the print-on-demand services didn't exist and a real printing run had a high overhead. There's literally something buried in my contract about buying the printing plates once it went out of print, but it's still in print, and they send me a small but welcome check twice year.

My book had a limited target market, and even if I kept 100% of the gross it would still have been less money than I would have made at the job. But it's proving useful as an introduction: I'm now working on a different book in a completely unrelated field and can tell potential interview subjects that I wrote a book when I cold-call them.

They do care: if they're going to take the time to talk with me, they want to know that the book is likely to be published. They'd be even happier if I had a contract, but it's getting me into doors I need so that I can write the submission. Some of them might have turned me down if I told them I was going to self-publish.

That may change. The fame-producing aspects of a major publisher are less and less relevant. The money won't get any better, and may get worse, but if you're in it for the money you really should go back to writing code anyway.

Re:My own experience, on the other side (1)

shutdown -p now (807394) | more than 3 years ago | (#35536778)

You've heard of me and my book Programming for the Java Virtual Machine, right?

I have now, and it's actually something I would buy - but do you have an eBook version? I see that it is on O'Reilly Safari BOL, which is good, but how about a PDF or ePub?

On a side note, it's kinda sad that googling for the title of the book gives a bunch of "download free PDF!" links and such on the very first results page.

Childrens book, but maybe not a tech book (2)

TheRealMindChild (743925) | more than 3 years ago | (#35536128)

This idea is great for something like a childrens book. Nobody wants to read to their kids from a laptop or e-book reader. You kill the experience and look like a douche. So you release the book as an E-book so the parent can read the story before buying a nicely bound book you can read with your child.

On the other hand, IT books are probably the WORST to do this with. Your target crowd knows better than most how to pirate your book and are perfectly happy referring to the PDF, which is searchable, over a dead-tree which you have to put sticky notes in to have any sort of indexing past the TOC.

I have done this as well (3, Informative)

cjonslashdot (904508) | more than 3 years ago | (#35536218)

I have also self-published a book: my most recent book, Value-Driven IT (http://ValueDrivenIT.com). Prior to that I had published three books through traditional publishers (Prentice Hall, Addison-Wesley). I will note that the term "self-publish" is a little ambiguous, since anyone who gets an ISBN number and publishes a book with that number is a publisher, by definition.

I also "gave away" the content, by putting it on a wiki, and also making hard- and soft-cover versions available from Amazon.

Unlike many who self-publish, I went through all of the steps that I would have had to go through had I published the traditional way. These included extensive review by subject matter experts, extensive editorial feedback and revision, professional layout (including an index, legal permission for graphics used, etc.), forewords by industry luminaries, and pre-publication commentary (known as "advance praise") by industry experts.

Some of the things I learned from the self-publishing experience are:

  1. Amazon puts one's book near the bottom of the list when you search for it: they put their "partner's" books at the top (the publishers who pay them, it seems). Thus, if one searches for my book on Amazon, by the book's exact title, one finds all kinds of irrelevant things first, and then my book shows up on about page five of the search results - if lucky.
  2. The above is true for many things. The marketing of books and other content are essentially a pay-to-play environment. Getting noticed because something is good is difficult unless someone who is very well known latches onto it and talks about it.
  3. Publishers don't add a-lot of value over self-publishing, unless they think that your book is going to be a hit. (My first book was a big hit.)

Also, books that are "cross-over" books - i.e., interdisciplinary - are very hard to market, whether one uses an established publisher or self-publishes. This is because people generally read IT books when they want to learn about something that they heard about, and if something doesn't fit into an established niche, then one will not have heard about it. My most recent two books (High-Assurance Design and Value-Driven IT) are both cross-over books and therefore are hard to market.

There is also a misconception that people who write technical books do it for money, and that their motivation is book sales. My first book was a big hit (sold about 30,000 copies: that is a-lot for a technical book). However, if I calculate the money I made on an hourly basis given the amount of time it took to write the book, I earned at the rate of about $30/hour. Not very good, especially considering that I earn about five times that in the other work that I do. The reasons for writing a book (for me) have always been that (1) a book establishes one as a recognized thought leader in the industry, it (2) helps one to organize one's thoughts about something, and (3) it serves as a "calling card" when one does consulting (which I do). Royalties are not a very good reason for writing a technical book.

Downloading = reviewing book in book store (2)

data64 (300466) | more than 3 years ago | (#35536284)

I have downloaded a lot of pdf and other files, only to delete them after 5 minutes because it was not what I was looking for or I did not like the style. Think of a download like someone picking up a book in a book store and looking through it. Sometimes it results in a sale, but usually not (at least in my case). One thing missing from comments is how good is the book that the author gave away for free. Can someone who has read it comment on this ? Just because a book has been written does not mean it automatically has to make money.

Self Publication done here as well (1)

HockeyPuck (141947) | more than 3 years ago | (#35536404)

My company, a large IT_Company has their own publisher for employees to author books. However, this process would well over a year and would require me to submit my draft in msword, instead of Framemaker which is what I was writing it in. The publisher would then convert it from word into framemaker for use with their templates... I dealt with 4 different editors and decided to go the self-publishing route.

I used lulu.com, a 'on-demand' printing/publishing company. They charge a bit for each physical copy to cover printing/shipping/handling etc.. I was able to easily get an ISBN number, and then set a price for the book, which my profits get automatically deposited into a paypal account every month.

The book is listed on Amazon/BarnesnNoble/Borders/GoogleBooks etc...

The whole lulu.com effort took about 3 weeks, which most involved waiting for my proof copies to arrive (i didn't want to pay for expedited printing/shipping).

My next book isn't going through my companies publishing company either. I really have no interest in justifying when I think my 1500th copy will be sold.

Especially since I give away the .pdf for free and only charge for hard copies.

Technical books rarely earn large royalties (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35536438)

You'd be lucky to make that $9k in the traditional publishing world. Your book would have to do very well. Most technical books are only printed in runs of 1 or 2 thousand at a time because overall demand is not that high and the relevancy of the book declines over time meaning shelf supply becomes dead weight, unlike other (non-technical) works which can maintain relevancy for decades.

Giving it away (1)

mwolfam (1996248) | more than 3 years ago | (#35536480)

For an unknown author like me, I can attest that a combination of free and sales is a great strategy. Making 9k isn't bad for a book. I've been doing something similar with my novel, Betrayal. I am releasing the whole book, a chapter at a time, with a link to Smashwords.com, where I have it for sale ($.99). Before I started giving the book away, I had less than 10 sales. On Smashwords, the first 20% was available for free, but I still didn't see the sales. However, once I started posting more free chapters, I've had 50 sales a week! Not sure how sales will hold up once I finish releasing the whole thing, but I am hoping for a result similar to this guys experience. With a .99 sale price, I have been getting enough reviews and sales to make it onto the sales charts at Smashwords. The main point is that without giving it away for free, no one would have ever heard of me. I would have made fewer sales by only giving away a small portion, than I am by giving away the whole book. https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/37846 [smashwords.com]

Flaws of Traditional Publishing (1)

chromatic (9471) | more than 3 years ago | (#35536934)

I do something similar with the book Modern Perl [onyxneon.com] . Electronic versions are free and freely redistributable. Download numbers are at least 10 or 20 times the number of sales of the printed version, but I've made more in royalties than I'd ever see from a so-called "traditional" publisher, as I earn at least eight times as much per copy sold than I would.

If you can find a reputable publisher who won't give you the awful 10-15% of wholesale, or if you can find a credible editor and copyeditor to look over your work, self-publishing or small-press publishing is a much, much better way to make money writing books, even if you give away electronic versions.

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