When looking at your book, Struts Live, at the SourceBeat website, I was very intrigued by its concept. I am a huge proponent of e-books, and prefer them to physical books. I personally like them for:
the ability to have a full resource library with me at all times via e-books on my laptop
the ability to search them.
the fact that they are cheaper (usually 50% cheaper) then the equivalent hard covered books
they don't take up a ton of room in my office, home, or desk
I don't feel guilty about holding a dead tree in my hand
Moreover, I feel that if any industry should embrace the power of e-books, it should be ours. With tech books often being outdated a few months after they are published (or some even being out dated while still in a "pre-order" state at Amazon) I think e-books afford a great opportunity to reduce the publishing time line so as to provide more current titles. I love the fact that SourceBeat is taking this concept to the next level and providing a year's worth of free updates. To me that is the power of e-books. Since for the few publishers that offer e-books, the e-book is simply a different delivery medium, they do not make updated versions available. In fact with some publishers, you even have to go through errata for the book and make notes of the corrections; the publishers are not updating the e-books with these corrections. Then when a newer edition comes out, you need to buy a new copy of the e-book; I think publishers should make the newer editions available at a discounted price to previous purchasers.
Despite all these advantages, most publishers still do not offer e-book options. Manning is one of the few strong supports of e-books. There are many publishers (including some of the big publishing names in the IT industry) that offer e-book "rentals" via the Safari Tech Books Online (to which I subscribe), this process is a little more cumbersome. In many instances, I would prefer to own the e-book flat out since the virtual bookshelf concept of Safari can be a pain to manage at times, especially if you want a large repository of reference books.
I know one of the biggest hindrances to e-books being offered by more publishers is the piracy issues. Some deal with this issue by "stamping" the e-book with the original purchasers name. For example, I recently purchased a book from www.PragmaticProgrammer.com. The e-book (PDF based) I downloaded has my full name in the footer of every page. I think such measures can help with the piracy issue, but is obviously not a complete deterrent. While I would hate to have to deal with some kind of activation process, I could deal with it as a necessary evil in exchange for more e-books being available. At same time, I can't help but wonder if any publisher has done research on total profitability of an e-book title (even with piracy occurring) as compared to a physical book. I think the reduced costs of an e-book (and potentially higher profit margin due to lower publishing & distribution costs) would result in more copies being sold and thus prove more profitble to the publisher, even with the losses experienced due to those nitwits that feel a need to pirate someone's work.
I know that a second hindrance to e-book usage is that many people find it difficult or uncomfortable to read a book from a screen. I personally don't have this issue.I am curious if this issue will be come less of a phenomenon as the younger generations (who are use to this type of thing having grown up with computers and spending hours reading web pages) slowly being to saturate the profession over time. I also know some squawk at the lack of sentimentally and loss of tactile feel in an e-book. After all, one cannot curl up on the couch in front of the fire on as winter night quite the same way with a laptop (or PDA) as they can with a nice paperback. But I think that is an issue more in the realm of literature rather then reference & technical books.
So now that I have had my opportunity to get up on my e-book soapbox, (which I never miss an opportunity to do ), I am curious to your opinion, as a author, on the subject, as well as the opinions of other JavaRanchers.
Glad to hear that you're a fan of e-books! Like the old saw about the cobbler's son having no shoes, it is a bit ironic that the IT publishing industry has moved so slowly on this front. Having worked with one of the larger publishing houses (Wiley), I know from experience that their business processes and institutional knowledge are based on many decades of working successfully with the traditional hard-copy publishing model. There's bound to be a good deal of inertia in a system of that magnitude and duration, and I would guess that given the profitability of their current model, larger publishers won't be likely to make significant changes until they are pushed to do so by market forces.
Manning is a much younger, more nimble player, and like all new entrants they are under extreme pressure to gain market share, so it's not surprising that their support for e-books is stronger than most. O'Reilly is also a relatively young and innovative company whose roots do not lie in traditional publishing, and their Safari offering is only the most recent evidence of this.
The reason my fellow authors and I are so excited about the SourceBeat model is that it moves the process of publishing books on open source software closer to the model of software development that generally works best: iterative development, with frequent releases to production. Given the rapid pace of change in open source projects, it seems almost self-defeating to publish in hard-copy. Many of us have experienced the frustration of writing a book that wound up out of date before it reached the shelves because the had already changed during the ordinarily lengthy production cycle.
And as in iterative software development, a SourceBeat book can be updated throughout its lifecycle to stay in sync with their rapidly evolving subjects. As well, authors have a free hand to add new material, correct errors, and otherwise enhance the existing material. Perhaps the most unique and rewarding aspect of the SourceBeat model for its authors though, is the degree to which we get to interact with our readers. It's great to be able to get feedback on my blog, through email, or in person at conferences and then be able to incorporate that feedback in an update the next month.
As to reading books on a computer screen vs. in hard-copy, SourceBeat now offers the best of both worlds through its print-on-demand capability. To my mind this should be truly compelling for folks who prefer to do most of their reading on paper copy. You can order a SourceBeat book from Amazon, or Barnes & Noble, etc., but still have access to updated and new material, corrections, etc., which of course you can either print out or read on-screen. So this is bonus material you would never get with the traditional publishing model. I think it's a true win for readers and authors alike. (But then again, of course I would think that -- that's why I write for SourceBeat!)
Jonathan [ April 09, 2005: Message edited by: Jonathan Lehr ]
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