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Self Publishing

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Self-publishing is a difficult game to play. It is still an unorthodox method to get your ideas to the audience and as such it is more difficult and challenging then conventional publishing and bookselling. But it solves one important and difficult to solve to an aspiring author problem: you do not need to put efforts to get attention of the publisher. The self-publishing author just need be creative and hard working to do well. But "doing well" means different things for different people. Ability to earn income can be illusive. Self-publishing can also be an avenue to getting commercially published. After all publishing is a business of reputation.  One of two successful books build your reputation as an author and you became interesting to commercial publishers.

And it is only partially connected with the intrinsic difficulty of writing a good book.  There are several other fundamental problems that you need to be aware of:

  1. Authors often tend to chose a vanity publisher who overcharge them. For vanity publisher the author is a profit center and they behave accordingly.
  2. Inability to chose a proper niche. For a self-publishing author, this is a matter of life and death.
  3. In case of print media overestimating the amount you can sell by a large margin (enthusiasm vs demand issue). Please understand that there are several hundred thousand books published each year. In other words any self-published author faces the same dilemmas as traditional publishing hopefuls have always faced – getting noticed in the slush pile.
  4. Difficulties to find a good editor and proofreader. To get good result here requires a lot of an author’s time and money, and without them the process will more than likely be a failure. One way to cut costs is to use temp labor sites and spread the load by chapter. This way you can compare the quality. As soon as you found a contractor who produce nice results for a reasonable fee you need to write down the cost for others and submit all chapters to him/her.
  5. There is a Stigma attached to self-publishing. The major retailers refuse to carry self-published titles, which is their own safeguard against being flooded with titles that are difficult to sell and can lead to losses. The reviewers in newspapers and magazines typically do not review self-published books and MSM will usually not print reviews of self-published books. The same bias is also evident in libraries -- they seldom buy self-published books (What’s the Problem with Self-Publishing) although with time it became less biting:

    The longest-standing barrier is the stigma associated with self-published works. Long synonymous with “vanity publishing,” these works have been rejected for decades on the grounds that if they weren’t good enough to appeal to a traditional publisher, they were unlikely to serve the needs of library users. On the publishing side, the business case for self-publishing as a profit center is forcing many in the industry to reconsider this attitude.

    Penguin parent company Pearson last year acquired self-publishing company Author Solutions, with an eye toward acquisition prospects. At the time of the deal, Penguin CEO John Makinson told told PaidContent that Penguin’s partnership with Author Solutions “will fall somewhere between self-publishing as presently defined and Penguin publishing as presently defined.” Meanwhile, the increasing number of anecdotes of breakout self-publishing successes—such as Amanda Hocking, E.L. James, Hugh Howey, and many others—indicate there are gems among the self-published offerings, even if not every title is equally compelling.

  6. Self-publishing is a very lonely business. One has a hard time surviving for long all alone

Attractiveness of electronic publishing

One way to avoid the first two problems (and partially forth) is to use electronic publishing. It does not solves all the problems (and creates some new one) but at least for the first edition of your book it might be a viable solution. If people are interested, then the second edition can be on paper.

While eBooks will never completely replace paper books, electronic books are cheaper to produce and easier to distribute to foreign countries which increases your audience.  And that means that they are sold in larger numbers. There are even a special classes of electronic book that sells for the priced typically reserved for issues of magazines. So called $0.99, $4.99 and $9.99 ebooks. For every 100 hardcover books has sold, it claims that it has sold around 150 Kindle books (of course this might be marketing data which inflate real picture, but still, even if they are equal, that's important fact).

Millions of people now own Kindles and other eReaders. Kindle books are also available of tablets and smartphones.  I've become a big fan of the Barnes & Noble in-store promotions for the Nook where you can buy the hardcover edition of a book and get the ebook for a substantially reduced price.

Producing electronic books is also slightly cheaper then paper book as creation of additional copies is seamless. Many people prefer them as keeping a large library of paper books requires a lot of space:

7/19/10 6:43pm

I've been a long time fan of the Kindle, but even more so since I started packing for a move this weekend. I'm thinking to myself "why do I even have these books? what's the point of carting them around from place to place, only to have to buy new bookshelves to put them on?" I'm tempted to throw them all out and just get digital copies of them, though I can't do that for some because they're not available or hard to find in ebook form. It's the same way I felt about tapes and then CDs a few years ago - at first I was nostalgic and thought it was important to keep them, then I realized that they were just a waste of space and materials. I have the content, I don't need the container.

I need someone to make an app that scans the barcode of a book that I own and then point me to the free and unDRM'd digital download of that book. Then I'll be ready to get rid of all my books forever.

I live in Chile, at the bottom side of South America. I use to buy books from Amazon because you can't find Terry Pratchett's books anywhere else.

So, when i got into the Amazon Store the other day and compared a) having the book being flewn from the USA to my door in about two weeks and b) having it sent wirelessly in a couple of seconds so i could read it right here right now FOR A LOWER PRICE AND A LOWER CARBON FOOTPRINT...

You can't beat cheap.

Also with Kingle burning books in a style of Fahrenheit 451 became much less attractive proposition ;-)

NOTE: If you have an account, you're already signed up with Kindle Direct Publishing (you might need to add additional information)!

Biggest problem with self-publishing

The key problem with self-publishing is absence of a good editor and proofreader. Here is a comment from Slashdot story (Thinking of Publishing Your Own $0.99 Kindle Book - Slashdot):


The biggest problem with self publishing

Self editing. Applies equally to ebooks and old fashioned paper ones.

Man Eating Duck

Re:The biggest problem with self publishing (Score:5, Insightful)

Self editing. Applies equally to ebooks and old fashioned paper ones.

Bravo. I'm a voracious reader, I prefer reading on E-ink, and I've read quite a few self-published stories for free or very cheap ($4). Some are very good stories, some are weaker, but without exception so far all are marred by poor flow, sentences that not quite work and even grammatical and spelling errors.

A good copy-editor could work wonders, an editor who is involved in the shaping of the book is even better. It takes a good author to write a compelling story or a good non-fiction book, but to end up with a good final result you need professionals somewhere down the line.

This doesn't mean that self-publishing is inherently bad, if you write a good story you can rise above the rest by spending something like $1500 to have a professional copy-edit your book. If you're serious about your writing this is not a huge investment, especially if you compare it to the time you put into writing your story. And no, your friend who got an A+ in $language is almost certainly *not* a good substitute.

I love to see a lot of promising fresh writers being able to publish their work without needing a publishing contract, but even an ace racing driver can't win without his team of mechanics and support crew. Something similar goes for writers (-1, car analogy).

Disclaimer: I've worked at an academic publishing company since 1999 and have participated in publishing hundreds of works. I *know* how important a good editor, proof-reader and copy-editor are for getting a good result. A good percentage of our authors don't understand why they need it until they see the finished book :)

Kindle format for ebooks

On the e-reader front, Amazon rules with its Kindle line. Barnes & Noble's Nooks was a solid second, but recently run into troubles. Kobo still hangs around, with more support in its native Canada than in the United States.

With Amazon self-publishing program you can choose get up to 70% royalty (It's 35% originally, and just recently 70%, if you agree to keep prices lower then the physical book). No sign-up fee, no publishing fee.   If your book sells (big if), it can be delivered to on Kindle or to a free Kindle application on any supported platform which includes Windows, iPad and Android.

There are two versions of Kindle format:

Amazon hosts author forums at:

If you have an account, you're already signed up with Kindle Direct Publishing (you might need to add additional information)!  But remember there is a Stigma attached to self-publishing (What’s the Problem with Self-Publishing), which is especially noticeable in how libraries deal with such books:

The longest-standing barrier is the stigma associated with self-published works. Long synonymous with “vanity publishing,” these works have been rejected for decades on the grounds that if they weren’t good enough to appeal to a traditional publisher, they were unlikely to serve the needs of library users. On the publishing side, the business case for self-publishing as a profit center is forcing many in the industry to reconsider this attitude.

Penguin parent company Pearson last year acquired self-publishing company Author Solutions, with an eye toward acquisition prospects. At the time of the deal, Penguin CEO John Makinson told told PaidContent that Penguin’s partnership  with Author Solutions “will fall somewhere between self-publishing as presently defined and Penguin publishing as presently defined.” Meanwhile, the increasing number of anecdotes of breakout self-publishing successes—such as Amanda Hocking, E.L. James, Hugh Howey, and many others—indicate there are gems among the self-published offerings, even if not every title is equally compelling.

Kindle 8 format

Kindle 8 format is close to ePub and you can first create and debug the book in ePub and then export it to Kindle format using command line utility KindleGen. It will provide the necessary warning for marking that should be changes but generally it accepts many ePub books without any problems.

vasp_performance.shtml.                                                                                                                  19:40
*** org () => /cygdrive/f/Bulletin/0725/High_performance_computing/Vasp/vasp_performance.shtml
Current remote FTP directory: /
Created new file: 10751

===== SUMMARY FOR DOMAIN org =====

Total number of transfer failures:
Sucessfully transfered files: 1
Created Directories:
Botched files:


 Amazon kindlegen(Windows) V2.9 build 0523-9bd8a95
 A command line e-book compiler
 Copyright and its Affiliates 2013

Usage : kindlegen [filename.opf/.htm/.html/.epub/.zip or directory] [-c0 or -c1 or c2] [-verbose] [-western] [-o ]
   zip/directory formats are supported for XMDF sources
   -c0: no compression
   -c1: standard DOC compression
   -c2: Kindle huffdic compression
   -o : Specifies the output file name. Output file will be created in the same directory as that of input file.  should
 not contain directory path.
   -verbose: provides more information during ebook conversion
   -western: force build of Windows-1252 book
   -releasenotes: display release notes
   -gif: images are converted to GIF format (no JPEG in the book)
   -locale  : To display messages in selected language
      en: English
      de: German
      fr: French
      it: Italian
      es: Spanish
      zh: Chinese
      ja: Japanese
      pt: Portuguese

C:\Utils>                                                                                                                                    ↑

See more at Notes on Kindle publishing

EPUB format

The EPUB format has gained popularity as a vendor-independent XML-based e-book format. The format can be read by the Kobo eReader, Blackberry Playbook, Apple's iBooks app running on iOS devices such as the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad, Barnes and Noble Nook and several other devices. It also can be read via the Mozilla Firefox add-on EPUBReader, and Okular

It also can be used as a debugging format for Kindle books as conversion to Kindle format is easy and can be automated.

An EPUB file uses XHTML 1.1 to construct the content of a book as of version 2.0.1.  An EPUB file is ZIP archive containing a group of files that conform to the OPS/OPF standards. The OCF specifies how to organize these files in the ZIP, and defines two additional files that must be included.

A minimally conforming EPUB bundle has several required files root directory and two folders with fixed names:

The specification is quite strict about the format, contents, and location of those files within the EPUB archive. This section explains what you must know when you work with the EPUB standard.

The basic structure of a minimal EPUB file follows the pattern :


Note: A sample book following this pattern is available from Downloads, but I recommend that you create your own as you follow the tutorial.

To start building your EPUB book, create a directory for the EPUB project. Open a text editor or an IDE such as Eclipse. I recommend using an editor that has an XML mode for example Microsoft XML Editor which is included in Visual Studio Express Web Edition.

The mimetype file

This one's pretty easy: The mimetype file is required and must be named mimetype. The contents of the file are always:


Note that the mimetype file cannot contain any newlines or carriage returns.

Additionally, the mimetype file must be the first file in the ZIP archive and must not itself be compressed. You'll see how to include it using common ZIP arguments in Bundling your EPUB file as a ZIP archive. For now, just create this file and save it, making sure that it's at the root level of your EPUB project.


At the root level of the EPUB, there must be a META-INF directory, and it must contain a file named container.xml. EPUB reading systems will look for this file first, as it points to the location of the metadata for the digital book.

Create a directory called META-INF. Inside it, open a new file called container.xml for writing. The container file is very small, but its structural requirements are strict. Paste the following code   into META-INF/container.xml.

<?xml version="1.0"?>
<container version="1.0" xmlns="urn:oasis:names:tc:opendocument:xmlns:container">
    <rootfile full-path="OEBPS/content.opf"
     media-type="application/oebps-package+xml" />

The value of full-path (in bold) is the only part of this file that will ever vary. The directory path must be relative to the root of the EPUB file itself, not relative to the META-INF directory.


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[Jan 29, 2017] Not all authors are able to afford MS Word and the equipment. So using open source publishing system is the most proper for academic publishing

Notable quotes:
"... It is not just a matter of the author being able to afford Word and the equipment and other software to use it productively. E.g. how do you prepare your graphs and images? Also business partners accepting or returning the documents will have to buy into the "ecosystem". ..."
"... Academia is a highly collaborative venture, and one has to consider overall cost and productivity. ..."
"... Today there is PDF as a pretty established (readonly) document format, back in the day the standard in academia was Postscript. ..."
"... I used Word when writing my thesis in '94-95 - each chapter a separate doc, figures inserted by creating artwork separately and then using a high-end copy machine to integrate text and figures. It was an ugly process. ..."
Jan 29, 2017 |
cm -> Chris G ... Sunday, January 29, 2017 at 12:21 AM , January 29, 2017 at 12:21 AM
The comparison comes 20 years late. In the 90's, MS Word was unsuitable for academic and scientific writing, period. Even for short documents like a conference or term paper. It was geared entirely to corporate users. In addition it was riddled with bugs and layout "quirks".

In reality, you also have to fiddle with Latex, and in the 90's embedding images was big PITA.

What I did not see in the comparison is price. I suppose one would need to compare legally-owned copies of one product vs. the other.

It is not just a matter of the author being able to afford Word and the equipment and other software to use it productively. E.g. how do you prepare your graphs and images? Also business partners accepting or returning the documents will have to buy into the "ecosystem".

Academia is a highly collaborative venture, and one has to consider overall cost and productivity.

Today there is PDF as a pretty established (readonly) document format, back in the day the standard in academia was Postscript.

Chris G -> cm... , January 29, 2017 at 06:35 AM
>In the 90's, MS Word was unsuitable for academic and scientific writing, period... It is not just a matter of the author being able to afford Word and the equipment and other software to use it productively. E.g. how do you prepare your graphs and images?

I used Word when writing my thesis in '94-95 - each chapter a separate doc, figures inserted by creating artwork separately and then using a high-end copy machine to integrate text and figures. It was an ugly process.

> Also business partners accepting or returning the documents will have to buy into the "ecosystem".

That's what led my employer to switch from WordPerfect to MS Word and from Lotus 1-2-3 to Excel in the late '90s. Our customer, the US Govt, imposed a requirement that all reports and supplementary material, e.g., presentations and spreadsheets, be submitted in MS Office formats.

> What I did not see in the comparison is price. I suppose one would need to compare legally-owned copies of one product vs. the other.

Figure the business owns legal copies. Purchase price is one consideration, another is the cost to maintain the software and keep staff trained in how to use it. The inertia - the tendency to stick with what you've got - can be huge when taking the latter factors into account. In an academic research group not only is there a mentality that you want to use the best available tool for the job but there's constant turnover, which supports rapid adaptation and evolution. Inertia is low. In contrast, turnover in (non-startup) business environments is comparatively slow. Those businesses make cost-benefit assessments of adopting new software. The tendency is to stick with what you've got until it's absolutely positively unsustainable to do so.

R_Frederick Riddle's Blog - The Difficulties of Self-Publishing - August 11, 2014 1121

with Author House (formerly 1st Books). My first book! You can imagine my excitement.

But that excitement didn't last long. I soon discovered that although the whole process brought my book to market 2 -3 years faster, I still had a lot of work to do. In today's world, whether traditional or self-publishing, the author must do the leg work, the actual marketing.

... ... ...

• upfront cost (except for America Star)
• you must refuse publisher editing if you want editing control
• you must purchase marketing tools
• you have little to no control over pricing
• you have little to no control over a series
• and more.

The Real Costs of Self-Publishing a Book Mediashift PBS

At every writers conference or self-publishing panel the question that almost always inevitably comes up is: "How much will self-publishing really cost me?"

Because the book publishing industry is one of the last industries to go digital, it's going through a quick transition. As a result of this shift, authors no longer need to go through the traditional gatekeepers to publish high-quality books and are instead moving toward self-publishing. Launching a book is like launching a startup. Putting together a quality book involves not just writing it, but getting it edited, then formatted, designing a cover, and having a marketing strategy around it.

Below, I break down the costs of how much professional services will cost you for a high-quality book.

(For the purposes of calculation we'll assume you have a manuscript that is 70,000 words.)

1. Developmental editing

Once you've written your book, a developmental editor is important. Many authors think they don't need an editor. Everyone needs at least some type of editor. Not having an editor is like not QA'ing a software product or not testing a drug before it goes out into the marketplace. An editor will evaluate and critique your manuscript, suggest and provide revisions, and shape it into a smooth, workable piece. They'll look at the big picture and make sure everything flows and is consistent.

1-5 manuscript pages/hour for a manuscript page that's 250 words, according to the Editorial Freelancers Association.
$45-65/hour based on the experience of the editor
70,000/250 = 280 pages
280 pages /5 pages per hour = 56 hours
Low end is 56 x $45 = $2,520
High end is = $18,200

2. Copyediting

Once your manuscript is in good shape, the next thing you need to do is hire another editor called a copy editor or line editor to go through and catch spelling mistakes and adjust for grammar, punctuation and consistency.

2-10 manuscript pages/hour
$25-50/hour based on the experience of the editor
Low end: $840
High end: $7,000 (if it needs a lot of work)

3. Cover design. Yes, books are judged by their covers

Readers judge how a book looks on a shelf and how it looks on an iPad or black-and-white Kindle. For iPhone users, a thumbnail of the cover is probably the first thing a reader sees. It's important that your cover design be optimized for print, digital, thumbnail sizes, and how it looks on an e-reader or mobile device. You might have your own images, or you might need to buy a license to use the images. Some designers even sell premade cover designs for as low as $50.

But if you want to hire someone to make a custom cover design, you can expect to pay anywhere from $150 to $3,500. The higher end is for award-winning designers who have done Random House- or HarperCollins-type covers, according to book design maven Joel Friedlander.

Low end: $150
High end: $3,500

4. Formatting for print and digital conversion

If you're tech-savvy, you can set up your book on your own for free using programs called Sigil, Calibre or Pages. If you're looking to hire an expert, you can find someone to do the print-on-demand conversions for as little as $150 or as much as $2,500 to convert from Word or InDesign. The costs will usually be $200 for a text book that's less than 400 pages. The higher costs are if your original file is in PDF, has a lot of pictures, or is highly illustrated. PDFs are much more complex to convert.

Low end: Free
High end: $2,500 or more based on interactivity and pages, according to book design maven Joel Friedlander.

5. Getting an ISBN

An ISBN (International Standard Book Number) is recommended if you're doing a print book or want it placed in a library. A lot of third parties sell ISBNs, but if you don't purchase your own ISBN you may not be listed as the publisher of your own work! Not everyone believes you need an ISBN. If you plan on only selling your book in e-book form, then you do have the option of skipping the ISBN and using the default numbering system for Amazon, iBooks or BN.

$125 for one ISBN
10 ISBNs for $250
Bowker is the authorized ISBN retailer in the U.S.

6. Distribution: FREE

You can do this yourself by following the instructions to get your books distributed into the various retailers. However, if you use a third party they do take a percentage of each book sold.

7. Getting your book printed

You no longer have to pay upfront for printing costs because now there are so many print-on-demand options. With print-on-demand services like CreateSpace or Lightning Source, the book only gets printed when someone buys it. It's also not recommended to print books if you don't already have a distribution deal in place. Otherwise, you might end up housing 1,000 books in your garage.

8. Getting reviews pre-publication

There are many resources for authors to get professional reviews. Sites like Kirkus, Blue Ink, and Publishers Weekly all sell review packages for indie or self-published authors. There's also a great list of bloggers that you can reach out to for reviews for your book.

9. Marketing & PR

This is probably the toughest part after you've written the book. You can pay someone to help you market and set up blog tours for $10 to $40 per hour on BiblioCrunch (my company). For $10 you can get a college student, for $40 to $65 an hour you can get a professional marketer. We recommend you pay someone at least 10 hours to market and on the high end 40 hours. If you have the time, you can do a lot of the marketing yourself. Also, good book publicists can get you radio spots and press pickups for anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 per month.

Low end: $100
High end: $5,000 and up.

It's a lot of information, but spending money on quality editorial services will set your book apart from the sea of books in the marketplace.

Miral Sattar is founder and CEO of BiblioCrunch, an award-winning author services marketplace that matches authors with quality, award-winning professionals to get new books and apps to market. She has worked in the media industry for 11 years, most recently at TIME where she launched several digital initiatives including an iPad and mobile site, mobile apps, a video and podcast channel, blogs, and SEO strategy. Her writing has been featured in TIME, CNN, NY Daily News, among other media publications. She has a MS in Publishing (Digital + Print Media) from NYU and a BS from Columbia University in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. You can follow Miral on Twitter @miralsattar or @bibliocrunch.

[Aug 27, 2014] Legal Issues in Self-Publishing What Authors Need to Know by Bernard Starr

12/24/2012 |

Starr: Whew. I'm glad you got me off the hook. Now to the sensitive issue of naming and portraying real people in fiction and non-fiction works.

Rapp: If the person is famous you can say pretty much whatever you want, particularly if it's an opinion; the first amendment protects your rights on that. If you state a fact you know is untrue, that may cause the famous person harm, and that most people will tend to believe, that's over the line. Now if it's a private person, someone who is not famous, and you write about that person by name and disclose things not known to the general public that might be embarrassing or might hold that person up to ridicule then you've infringed their privacy rights -- it's called the public disclosure of private facts.

This happens a lot in non-fiction books where the author portrays a non-famous person in a very unflattering way. Even if what the author says is true the person's privacy rights have been violated.

Starr: What if an author writes about a famous person's romantic or sexual affairs and offers analysis or diagnosis of the person's personality and motivations -- even suggesting psychopathology?

Rapp: Again, if it's a famous person and you are expressing your opinion and representing the truth fairly accurately, the first amendment would strongly protect your right to say what you want. The divide is famous vs. non-famous. And even if you make stuff up about a famous person, if it's not something that's believable you can do it. Hustler magazine ran a fake Campari ad featuring evangelical pastor Jerry Falwell talking about having sex with his mother in an outhouse. Falwell sued and the case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled that since no reasonable person would believe the claims, Falwell had not been harmed. I have a client who just wrote a fake memoir of a famous rock star. Since the book will be marketed as a fake memoir, there is likewise nothing for the rock star to legitimately contest.

Starr: How important is registering a copyright?

Rapp: Prior to publication, it's a good idea to register the book with the federal Copyright Office. You own the copyright to the book as soon as you write it, but registration gives you greater protection and leverage should someone pirate your book

[Aug 27, 2014] The Tricky Art of Self-Publishing By Foster J. Dickson

It is commonly said that self-publishing is an option for writers whose works are not up to the caliber of the work published by commercial publishing houses. That rumor is perpetuated by the well-spring of writers who self-publish second-rate novels and little collections of semi-poetical ditties for their own friends and families. However, it is far from the whole truth.

... ... ...

Regarding the many online self-publishing companies, beware. It would not be fair to warn against using them at all, but beware of doing business with anyone that does not offer face-to-face interaction and requires large sums of money. I was privy to a conversation about someone we knew who was going to self-publish her full-length novel. One of the large online companies gave her a quote of 13,000 dollars to get editorial services, layout and design, 75 author copies and additional copies at 50% off within the print run of 1,000 books. If she bought all 1,000 books on a full length novel - if the list price was 25 dollars, for example - she would spend roughly 23,000 dollars obtaining them. That would mean that she might make a profit of 2,000 dollars if she sold every book at full price, which would be almost impossible to do, considering giving retailers' discounts. Read the fine print and understand fully what is being purchased and what rights are being given. For instance, check into whether or not a proof copy is given to review between editing and printing, because if not they will have the right to re-write your book and it will be too late before the author sees the changes. If thousands of dollars are being spent on self-publication, the author should have more rights concerning his or her own work than the company being paid.

[Aug 13, 2013] ROUGH TYPE Nicholas Carr's Blog

I think what Carr does not understand that you can store thousand of books in e-Reader. It is impossible with physical books.

I speculated in my January post about some reasons why e-books may fall short of expectations:

1. We may be discovering that e-books are well suited to some types of books (like genre fiction) but not well suited to other types (like nonfiction and literary fiction) and are well suited to certain reading situations (plane trips) but less well suited to others (lying on the couch at home). The e-book may turn out to be more a complement to the printed book, as audiobooks have long been, rather than an outright substitute.

2. The early adopters, who tend also to be the enthusiastic adopters, have already made their move to e-books. Further converts will be harder to come by, particularly given the fact that 59 percent of American book readers say they have "no interest" in e-books, according to the Bowker report.

3. The advantages of printed books have been underrated, while the advantages of e-books have been overrated.

4. The early buyers of e-readers quickly filled them with lots of books, most of which have not been read. The motivation to buy more e-books may be dissipating as a result. Novelty fades.

5. The shift from e-readers to tablets is putting a damper on e-book sales. With dedicated readers, pretty much the only thing you can do is buy and read books. With tablets, you have a whole lot of other options. (To put it another way: On an e-reader, the e-reading app is always running. On a tablet, it isn't.)

6. E-book prices have not fallen the way many expected. There's not a big price difference between an e-book and a paperback. (It's possible, suggests one industry analyst, that Amazon is seeing a plateau in e-book sales and so is less motivated to take a loss on them for strategic reasons.)

Has the E-book Peaked The American Conservative

Nicholas Carr notes a steep decline in the growth rate of e-book readership, which increased at only 5 percent in the first quarter of 2013. E-books are still an expanding market-again this is a slowdown in the rate of growth, not a decline in overall sales-but Carr wonders whether they might soon reach at a plateau. He writes:

E-books are still taking share from printed books, sales of which declined by 4.7 percent in the quarter, but the anemic growth of the electronic market calls into question the strength of the so-called "digital revolution" in the book business. E-books now represent a bit less than 25 percent of total book sales. That's a healthy share, but it's still a long way from dominance. The AAP findings are backed up by a remarkable new Nielsen report indicating that worldwide e-book sales actually declined slightly in the first quarter from year-earlier levels-something that would have seemed inconceivable a couple of years ago.

Carr has number of thoughts about what might be contributing to this slowdown, and he's particularly curious whether the success of multitasking tablet devices relative to dedicated e-readers is a factor. There's a lot more to do with an iPad than just read e-books, which can't really be said about the older generation of Kindle.

I suspect another point Carr raises may be more significant:

The early adopters, who tend also to be the enthusiastic adopters, have already made their move to e-books. Further converts will be harder to come by, particularly given the fact that 59 percent of American book readers say they have "no interest" in e-books, according to the Bowker report.

There's more to this than just early adopters. The book-reading public is presumably disproportionately older (but see below) and therefore less likely than younger Americans to adopt new technologies quickly. A segment of middle-aged and older readers are more technologically adventurous than most, and that segment may indeed have already made their transition to e-books, while their peers aren't interested at all in books without pulp and glue. The bigger question is what becomes of younger Americans: are they going to read books at all, and if they do, will they be more inclined over time to read e-books rather than bound ones?

Here's what Pew reported in June from a study of library use by patrons under 30:

As with other age groups, younger Americans were significantly more likely to have read an e-book during 2012 than a year earlier. Among all those ages 16-29, 19% read an e-book during 2011, while 25% did so in 2012. At the same time, however, print reading among younger Americans has remained steady: When asked if they had read at least one print book in the past year, the same proportion (75%) of Americans under age 30 said they had both in 2011 and in 2012.

In fact, younger Americans under age 30 are now significantly more likely than older adults to have read a book in print in the past year (75% of all Americans ages 16-29 say this, compared with 64% of those ages 30 and older). And more than eight in ten (85%) older teens ages 16-17 read a print book in the past year, making them significantly more likely to have done so than any other age group.

I do wonder whether the study is really evaluating its demographics correctly. I would think that high school and college students are disproportionately likely to use a library, and those users will almost entirely be covered in the under-3o demographic. The same person as a student will use a library more often, and probably read more books, than that person will as a 30-something insurance salesman-or 30-something McDonald's cashier, if we're talking 21st-century jobs.

On the other hand, other data also suggest that younger Americans are more interested in books than their parents are, or at least spend more on them. Last year the Bowker research organization reported:

Generation Y, those born between 1979 and 1989, spent the most money on books in 2011, taking over long-held book-buying leadership from Baby Boomers. That's according to the 2012 U.S. Book Consumer Demographics and Buying Behaviors Annual Review, the publishing industry's only complete consumer-based report integrating channel, motivation and category analysis of U.S. book buyers. The Review, an information staple prepared by Bowker® Market Research and industry trade magazine Publishers Weekly, notes that GenY's 2011 book expenditures rose to 30 percent-up from 24 percent in 2010-passing Boomers, 25 percent share.

I still think it's fair to say the book-buying public skews older than the general public, since Boomers plus other adult cohorts is sure to be greater than the born-after-1979 book-buying blocs, and this influences the "early adopters" argument-in short, I expect to see gradually more "adopters" in successive generations-but it does look as if younger Americans are quite interested in print books as well as electronic ones.

Still, print books are going to face headwinds in the future as chain bookstores continue to close. I don't hold out much hope for Barnes and Noble surviving another five years. Books aren't going to vanish, of course: there'll be good used bookstores, and yes, there'll be Amazon, hiking its prices as its competition collapses. But there'll be fewer places to buy print books overall, and that promises to make e-books more attractive and convenient by comparison-assuming "books" of a few hundreds pages are what even literate people really want to read on their devices.

I've been culling my own bookshelves recently, and doing so only reinforces to me how many books would be better at a third of their length. Instead of every book on, say, the first decade of the 20th century having to cover the same basic ground for the uninitiated before getting to what an author uniquely has to say, a much shorter electronic book could point the reader to an excellent introductory text elsewhere and then get on with whatever new content or perspective the author wants to offer. Books, by publishing convention, are larded with redundancies on the theory-quite right for the longest time-that a reader wouldn't have introductory information at his or her fingertips. But with the Internet, everyone has access to the equivalent of a reasonably good public library at all hours of the day. This ought to permit nonfiction to be more tightly focused.

(I'm all in favor of good general surveys, but you only need or two of those for a particular subject or period-classic works, not every ambitious latter-day academic's attempt to surpass the masters.)

I buy far more print books-mostly used-than e-books, in part because of the price of the latter and in part because most of the things I want to read aren't available electronically at any price. If I seem cold-blooded in my assessment of the future of print, however, it's because the sentimental side of paper and pulp is outweighed for me, in the most painfully literal sense, by the sheer mass of the books I've accumulated.

Moving them, storing them, it's all an enormous burden. My life would be much simpler if books were shorter, better, and mostly electronic.

[Aug 10, 2013] Have eBooks Peaked? by Soulskill

August 09, 2013

An anonymous reader writes "At Rough Type, Nicholas Carr examines the surprisingly sharp drop in the growth rate for e-book sales. In the U.S., the biggest e-book market, annual sales growth dropped to just 5% in the first quarter of this year, according to the Association of American Publishers, while the worldwide e-book market actually shrank slightly, according to Nielsen. E-books now account for about 25% of total U.S. book sales - still a long way from the dominance most people expected. Carr speculates about various reasons e-books may be losing steam. He wonders in particular about 'the possible link between the decline in dedicated e-readers (as multitasking tablets take over) and the softening of e-book sales. Are tablets less conducive to book buying and reading than e-readers were?' He suggests that the e-book may end up playing a role more like the audiobook - a complement to printed books rather than a replacement."

[Jul 19, 2013] Self-publishing a book: 25 things you need to know by David Carnoy


Updated 7/27/10

After much deliberation, I chose BookSurge, a print-on-demand (POD) outfit that Amazon owns along with the more no-frills POD operation CreateSpace. In 2009, after I published, Amazon merged BookSurge and CreateSpace under the CreateSpace brand name, so when I say Booksurge going forward, you should think CreateSpace. For those new to self-publishing, it's worth noting that CreateSpace is considered a subsidy press or author-services company. The key to these companies--and why POD is hot--is that books are printed only when someone orders a copy; neither author nor publisher is forced into buying a bunch of books and having to hawk them.

Royalties are better than what "real" publishers offer, but there are caveats, and true self-publishing pros prefer to cut out the subsidy press (which takes a cut) and go straight to a POD printer like Lightning Source to maximize profits. But I was less concerned about making money from this venture and more interested in putting together a well-packaged product that I wouldn't be embarrassed to sell and some strangers might be willing to buy. If I did it right, I thought, and managed to get it some attention, some "real" publisher might come along and discover what a gem those 20 some odd publishers had passed on.

... ... ...

The odds are against you.

The average print self-published book sells about 100-150 copies -- or two-thirds to three-quarters of your friends and family combined (and don't count on all your Facebook acquaintances buying). I don't have a source for this statistic, but I've seen this stated on several blogs and as a Publishers Weekly article titled "Turning Bad Books into Big Bucks" noted, while traditional publishers aim to publish hundreds of thousands of copies of a few books, self-publishing companies make money by publishing 100 copies of hundreds of thousands of books.

7. Creating a "professional" book is really hard.

Barrier to entry may be low, but creating a book that looks professional and is indistinguishable from a book published by a "real" publishing house is very difficult and requires a minimum investment of a few thousand dollars (when all was said and done, I'd put in around $7,500, which included about $2,500 in marketing costs). You wonder why "real" books take nine months to produce -- and usually significantly longer. Well, I now know why. It's hard to get everything just right (if you're a novice at book formatting, Microsoft Word will become your worst enemy). And once you've finally received that final proof, you feel it could be slightly better.

8. Have a clear goal for your book.

This will help dictate what service you go with. For instance, if your objective is to create a book for posterity's sake (so your friends and family can read it for all eternity), you won't have to invest a lot of time or money to produce something that's quite acceptable. Lulu is probably your best bet. However, if yours is a commercial venture with big aspirations, things get pretty tricky.

9. Even if it's great, there's a good chance your book won't sell.

If your book is really mediocre, don't expect it to take off. But even if it's a masterpiece, there's a good chance it won't fly off the shelves (and by shelves, I mean virtual shelves, because most self-published books don't make it into brick-and-mortar stores). In other words, quality isn't a guarantee of success. You'll be lucky to make your investment back, let alone have a "hit" that brings in some real income. Don't quit your day job yet.

10. Niche books tend to do best.

This seems to be the mantra of self-publishing. Nonfiction books with a well-defined topic and a nice hook to them can do well, especially if they have a target audience that you can focus on. Religious books are a perfect case in point. And fiction? Well, it's tough, but some genres do better than others. Indie romance/erotica novels, for instance, have thrived in the e-book arena.

Bradley "Non–traditional book publishing" by Jana Bradley, Bruce Fulton, Marlene Helm, and Katherine A. Pittner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution–NonCommercial–NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

In a hyper–abundant book world, how do consumers find what they want to read? It is no longer possible to assume that the author and source that produced the book will provide a book that meets your requirements (if indeed it ever was!). Availability is no longer enough. Consumers need reliable ways to discover what will be right for them. This is particularly true if consumers are using online retailers and want to limit the likelihood of purchasing reused material.

Discovery is the major challenge in a contemporary book environment that blends mainstream published books, independently published books, author published books and books consisting of reused material. While marketing is an activity of mainstream and non–traditional publishers, discovery refers to how readers become aware of titles.

Marketing by mainstream and author publishers is, of course, intended to serve a discovery function. Through marketing initiatives, readers become aware of titles and begin the process of deciding whether or not the title is a fit for their reading interests. Perhaps the most often advice offered to self–publishing authors who wish to be successful is to focus on marketing. In our contemporary book market, this is sound advice for mainstream authors as well.

[Jun 05, 2011] Quotulatiousness February 2006 Archives

February 17, 2006

This article was forwarded to a tech writing mailing list, where our professional experiences are remarkably close to those of our reporting kin:

We writers, while getting the credit on the page, have to deal with a group of folks called editors. Editors are the threshold guardians of the printed word. Their job is to take a writer's vision and bluntly tell him that it's not clear and that he must state it in half the space.

(Ed. note: be careful, laptop jockey, this piece could be dropped...)

Editors are the heroes of the printed word, the kings of the First Amendment.

(Ed. note: well . . . a bit flashy but we don't want to get in the writer's way. keep this line.)

They can also be impossible, short sighted, and cruel . . .

(Ed. note: three of us think these are still compliments, two are unsure.)

. . . And, of course, clueless.

(Ed. note: it's almost unanimous that this is NOT the compliment section.)

Many times a writer looks at his finished work with sadness. He thinks of how much better it could have been had he been allowed to keep certain lofty and majestic lines.

(Ed. note: you mean the lines we put up on the dartboard at the office?)

Of course, I don't think this way about my own editor. Hi Anne!

[Jun 05, 2011] Bookonomics (or, why writers barely make min. wage) By Barry Ritholtz

February 6, 2010

One of the questions I get all the time is about the economics of the book: How much did it sell, what was your advance, what did it cost to produce. I was thinking about this as I prepare for April 15th, so I did a quick run down of costs.

Here is the skinny: The initial advance for Bailout Nation from McGraw Hill was $50k. You get half upon signing, and the other half when there is an "accepted manuscript" by the publisher.

Recall that there was a small problem with McGraw Hill over my treatment of their S&P division and the rest of the criminally corrupt rating agencies (gee, why did they object to that?). My publishing contract with them gave me final edit, so when they balked at what I had written, I exercised my right to buy the back my manuscript. Once I signed with another publisher (Wiley), I was obligated to return the $25k (which I of course did).

The Wiley contract was a $100k advance, plus back end royalties. The old joke is your agent should insure you never see royalties (i.e., get it all up front). I think I need to sell another 40-50,000 copies before any royalties come in.

Now, $100k sounds like a lot of money, but in Bookanomics terms, its not much at all. There are all sorts of costs, and they come right off of the top. I ended up with about a fifth of that.

20%? How does THAT happen?

  • Well, right off the bat the agent takes 15%. (That's gross; my next book deal will be net). That takes us down to $85k. I had to return $25k to McGraw Hill, bringing the net to $60k.
  • Aaron, who was much more of a collaborator than an editor, was paid $15k. I paid my team of researchers over $10k for their work. (That brings us down to $35k).
  • I paid for all the cartoons in the book ($3,000) The artwork for the cover (under $1,000), and a few other small incidentals (also ~$1,000). That doesn't include all of the blog readers who contributed research, artwork, ideas, notes, editing, reading drafts - all for free.

The final tally:

Advance $100,000

Agent $15,000
Editor $15,000
Research $10,000
Artwork $4,000
Other $1,000
Pretax net: $50k
After tax: ~$40k

Pretty astonishing when you see it in black and white.

Now consider this: Over the course of the year, I spent nights, weekends, vacations, and towards the final deadlines, days in the office working on this. My best estimate is I put in about 20-30 hours a week for 15 months (not counting promotional tour, which adds another few 100 hours). Let's ballpark it and say ~2,000 hours.

So, my pay scale for writing what has been called the best reviewed book on the bailouts is a little better than the current minimum wage.

And a few other writers tell me how lucky I am, that very often, its a break even proposition or worse.

Of course, there are other benefits - People who otherwise wouldn't have thought twice about you (Him? He's an idiot!) suddenly start to take you seriously. You become "the guy who wrote the book." Your speaking fees double, your regular business benefits. Other publishers start pitching you book ideas. In general, your personal brand becomes more valuable.

There are many intangible benefits as well (book groupies!).

But Bookonomics means that making a living writing books is something very few people seem to be able to do . . .

UPDATE: February 6, 2010, 2:37 pm

As several readers observed, the 1st advance/return was a wash (+$25k -$25k = 0).

They are correct.

But as I noted above, I was thinking in terms of taxes - since I already paid the tax on the $25k in 2008, the $25k that went back in 2009 comes off the top of the income statement for this April 15th.

But if we are not talking taxes, the total income for the book increases. That makes the gross $125k, leaving me $55k after costs, with a net after NYS and federal taxes a gain of about ~$33k, which is better than a sharp stick in the eye.

This raises my pay scale from under $10 to to $16 per hour.

52 Responses to "Bookonomics (or, why writers barely make min. wage)"

  1. Drewbie Says:
    February 6th, 2010 at 12:47 pm

    If you factor in the 25k you had to return to McGraw Hill, then you have to factor in them giving same to you in the first place, so you could have just left that out completely.

    Unless they charged you interest on that $25k :^)

  2. Mannwich Says:
    February 6th, 2010 at 12:50 pm

    I think that's it, BR. The book certainly adds to your credibility, so I'm sure you've made a lot of money you wouldn't have otherwise made if you didn't write it.

  3. changnao Says:
    February 6th, 2010 at 12:55 pm

    BR: Drewbie makes a point, you didn't lose the $25k from the McGraw return since they gave you the $25k in the first place.


    BR: I guess that's true - but as I noted, I am thinking in terms of taxes - and I since already a paid tax on the $25k in 2008, the $25k that went back on 2009 comes off the top.

    But you are correct - I should add another $25 to the top line

  4. call me ahab Says:
    February 6th, 2010 at 1:06 pm

    but I'm sure there'll be a movie !!!

  5. franklin411 Says:
    February 6th, 2010 at 1:07 pm

    What you have to remember is that labor is the only commodity in the world that is treated as worthless. =)

    Anyway, if it makes you feel better, academics generally do more work for $0 advance. Our reward is that some day we might have a chance at landing a job making $40k (until the next time the state goes broke and you get laid off.).

  6. drey Says:
    February 6th, 2010 at 1:10 pm

    Uhhh….not sure I want to think about what the average book groupie looks like when the subject is economics, Barry – middle aged, paunchy white dude, perhaps?

    To improve your groupie demographic you should transition from economist/market watcher extraordinaire to rock documentarian, then hire me to take care of security at all future book signings. With that Hendrix post last night you're halfway there!

  7. gregh Says:
    February 6th, 2010 at 1:10 pm

    so if you initially stuck with McGraw you wou've netted 5K pretax?

  8. TrembleTheDevil Says:
    February 6th, 2010 at 1:12 pm

    Thanks for the informative post, I'm taking a page from the music industry and the XKCD comic and putting the colloquially-written non-fiction book on terrorism that argues our gravest threat is from radicalized convicts up online for free, as soon as I get it compiled I'll be offering e-reader downloads of it for about five-bucks:

    The music industry experience with downloading seems to indicate that exposure is key, and that people will ultimately pay for convenience, and even though every XKCD comic ever written is up online for free, people have flocked to pay for the book.

    Here's hoping the model holds up!!

  9. The Window Washer Says:
    February 6th, 2010 at 1:19 pm

    Aren't Book groupies an impairment?

    Or do you pull em in like the Ramones?

    Thanks for the book Barry I've read a lot in my life and your style has a voice that comes right off the page. A great gift. I can't remember an educational book that was such a joy to read, you pulled it all together wonderfully.

    Pass along a thanks to Aaron, because I'm not going anywhere near his comments section.

  10. The Window Washer Says:
    February 6th, 2010 at 1:29 pm

    You should always have a book pitch ready to throw back at those publishers.

    How about "Fear and Loathing in Davos" with HR Giger. He's from just down the hill in Chur, is into guns and is has perfect art form for the financial world, he could be your Steadman.

  11. SS Says:
    February 6th, 2010 at 1:46 pm

    Thanks for sharing that Barry I think it is a very important experience to share. I don't recall you mentioning it but your book certainly sold much more than the typical non-fiction work, and fiction is worse. I heard recently that in the classical music market the situation is still worse again, the best selling disks reaching 3-4,000 copies sold maximum. There are serious challenges for the arts and meaningful content going forward. Just to take one example from the press and news world. My wife and I were listening to RFI – Radio France International. They had extensive coverage of the wind-down of the civil war in Sierra Lanka. Every day they devote an hour of news to Africa. How can we possibly function well abroad without information? Yet all of our press bureaus have cut back drastically on overseas coverage for business reasons. So too has the BBC though they started from a much better place. To quote Cramer about our elites "They know nothing" and will know even less as we go forward.

    If you do write another book though, an area where you could save some not so minor change is editing. I had a terrific editor for a non-fiction work. Her fee was so low, in the low single digits, that I paid her a 40% bonus and she still cost less than a third of what you paid. She was real nice to work with too.


  12. zot23 Says:
    February 6th, 2010 at 1:47 pm

    wait a minute here Barry.

    If you are subtracting the 25k you were already paid by publisher #1 from the 100k advance, don't you also have to include +25k from publisher #1? That money didn't just vanish into thin air, I assume it was deposited. So that 25k is a wash, it should not be here.

    What is this? Banker's TARP valuations?


    BR: Heh heh - you are correct - see tax discussion above

    I'll change the headline to "Bookonomics (or, why writers barely make min. wage)"

  13. torrie-amos Says:
    February 6th, 2010 at 1:59 pm

    you're advance was, depending on stats you use, 2-3's average, right place right time means alot in book world as you know

    in non-fiction it's publicity driven, thus your years of being fast money, yahoo tracker and others were mucho imporatante'

    the hours don't surprise me as i got a half dozen in the drawer, re-writing is a biotch, especially for the 3-4th time, pacing and flow of language mean so much to those pesky editors

  14. The Window Washer Says:
    February 6th, 2010 at 2:03 pm


    Barrys editor was worth every penny. I found myself saying " I think Aaron cleaned that up." about every other chapter. He has a great common man/devils advocate point of view.


    BR: When I was contributing on a regular basis to, I would get columns back from Aaron and think "Sonuvabitch! He made that better!"

    Other than Tom Donlan at Barrons, I cannot say that about a lot of editors.

  15. hgordon Says:
    February 6th, 2010 at 2:07 pm

    It does seem that authorship mainly serves a marketing tool and validator, with the bulk of the payback coming through other channels. Bill Clinton only made $400k per year as Prez, but afterwards got that per day in speaking and consulting fees, though he got a pretty hefty advance on his book. And look at the coin that Sarah Palin (ugghh) is minting these days.

  16. investorinpa Says:
    February 6th, 2010 at 2:10 pm

    Thanks for this post…I always was curious as to the economics behind books, esp financial books. Just as a point of discussion, what is the most profitable business book of all time? I would venture a guess that it would be from the Rich Dad Poor Dad series by Robert Kiyosaki?

  17. JDinCT Says:
    February 6th, 2010 at 2:27 pm

    Hey Barry,
    As a published author and recognized financial expert, wasn't there anything in Friday afternoon's rally off the lows that made you think it was the Fed "adding liquididty" via SP futures that brought the market back?


    BR: It made me think –"Boy, we sure traded pretty close to 1038 - missed it by 6 points!"

  18. bobmitchell Says:
    February 6th, 2010 at 2:33 pm

    It doesn't seem like NR is at a loss for company. Is it just his accent? Try that out, next find his agent.

  19. ToNYC Says:
    February 6th, 2010 at 2:40 pm

    As a patriot in this great war to take this great Country back to its roots in Independence, you have might well consider that comparing the result of your effort to a minimum wage is much like saying the human body is worth a few dollars worth of the chemicals into which it can be destructively digested and harvested. What does it pay to be an Olympic gymnast? You need to enjoy being an authentic reflector of the light of the Sun; put away and bury that old reductionist economics and get busy finding how many licks it takes to get to the center of it.

  20. Barry Ritholtz Says:
    February 6th, 2010 at 2:53 pm

    BTW, I could easily do a cheaper book - less research, editors, art, etc.

    But then, that would not be as lovely a finished product

  21. keithpiccirillo Says:
    February 6th, 2010 at 3:28 pm

    Meb Faber was expounding on the same thing as you. There are a group of Americans at all levels, who do things not just for their intrinsic, but residual value.

    The body of work that Ralph Nader comes to mind. I referee high school basketball to stay active in the winter, and put in many hours to give these students, coaches and parents my very best.

  22. wunsacon Says:
    February 6th, 2010 at 3:51 pm

    >> Uhhh….not sure I want to think about what the average book groupie looks like when the subject is economics, Barry – middle aged, paunchy white dude, perhaps?

    Oh, shit! I've been made!

  23. John R Says:
    February 6th, 2010 at 4:18 pm

    One thing that is interesting about your comments is how the ebook market and Amazon's demands on it could possibly destroy the publishing industry. Basically, I'd be interested in how much money you get for your ebook sales. Amazon seems to want to view all production costs on ebooks as the same-$9.99 or less for everything!! It seems to me that it may only be a good business decision to write childrens books in the future.

  24. Mark E Hoffer Says:
    February 6th, 2010 at 4:20 pm


    with this Post, are you contributing to lack of understanding of Economics? seems, to me, you're speaking of Book Finance.. I know "Bookanomics" sounds kitschy, and cute, but, maybe, in this context, it needs to be Retired.

    It leads to Questions/statements, like this one: "There are a group of Americans at all levels, who do things not just for their intrinsic, but residual value."

    while not a major deal, he's looking for "extrinsic", in place of the use of "intrinsic", no?

    this: "BTW, I could easily do a cheaper book - less research, editors, art, etc.

    But then, that would not be as lovely a finished product" from you, above, is as close to Economics as you get, in this Post..

    At the Risk of sounding pedantic, I bring this up because 'fickle Finance is, forever, severing the thinking Head of Economics..

    past all that, seems like you made a few schillings Writing a Book that you'd be Proud to Own, it's an accomplishment, all by itself..with that, Nice Going~

  25. John R Says:
    February 6th, 2010 at 4:21 pm

    So, in the future, express your ideas in cartoon form, in about 20 or 30 pages, and 9.99 and below should work for you.

  26. dsawy Says:
    February 6th, 2010 at 5:23 pm

    Thanks for writing this up Barry. I've been approached a couple of times about doing a book, and both times I waved off, saying "It sounds like a lot of work for not a whole lot of compensation…"

    From your posting, it appears I was right.

  27. Joe Facer Says:
    February 6th, 2010 at 6:01 pm

    Years ago I financed my motorcycle racing in part through freelance motojournalism. Tech articles generated by doing research and acquiring and disseminating new information ran as low $5 an hour payback. Being stuck at the house convalescing was the only way that made any sense. Articles based on current industry controversies where I essentially voiced an informed opinion as an experienced and involved party streamed off the monitor and more than one netted me between $50 and $100 an hour.

    But payback can't be measured as simply by the hourly rate. There is psychic satisfaction, reducing ignorance and shedding light, rage expressed, minting karmic currency, moving the state of the art forward, and justice being delivered. And some of the $5 and $10 an hour articles bought me the experience and stature to do the high rated articles. Money is important and more money is better, but the money diminishes bigtime in the rear view mirror and the accomplishments and pride not so much.

  28. rileyx67 Says:
    February 6th, 2010 at 6:20 pm

    Cute and "humble", as usual, article Barry, and the realities you expressed re. the pay for most writers were the reason this Journ/NROTC Major decided I'd best drive airplanes vice trying to write that "Great American Novel"!
    BUT, did NOT have the sense to sell some more Ultrashorts at low of 1045, holding off for your (and others) 1038 or lower. (See Zero-Hedge for WHO swung into support at 1045 incredible!) Did sell another fourth of after second bounce off lows less than an hour later, but still holding about half of Ultrashorts had bought as a hedge…what to do NOW wondering?
    Any thoughts? And nothing on your Fusion IQ site, so possibly you are in the dark as much as the rest of us?

  29. Kent @ The Financial Philosopher Says:
    February 6th, 2010 at 6:36 pm

    If all writers wrote for money, the world would exist in literary poverty. We have a paradox: The world is rich in written works because those writing the greatest material were not (and are not) incentivized by thought of being rich (monetarily) - they write because they have something to say…

    "Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something." ~ Plato

    Barry, you are among the "wise men."



  30. DL Says:
    February 6th, 2010 at 7:59 pm

    "The world is rich in written works because those writing the greatest material were not (and are not) incentivized by thought of being rich (monetarily) - they write because they have something to say"

    . . . . . .

    If one excludes those who are employed at academic institutions (or who are endeavoring to attain such employment), I think that the pursuit of financial gain is a significant motivating force among writers of non-fiction books, provided that in undertaking such an analysis, one includes all income that results, DIRECTLY OR INDIRECTLY from the publication of the books.

  31. WaveCatcher Says:
    February 6th, 2010 at 9:07 pm

    IMO they key to being a profitable author is to have a powerful platform where you can continuously pimp your book. Think Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly, Steven Colbert.

    Their POV may not be as sophisticated as yours BR, but their platform reaches LOTs more people, and their often controversial POV generates a loyal following of lovers and haters.

    TBP is one of the greatest blogs on the planet, but as a promotional platform, doesn't come even close to a highly rated TV show.

  32. Kent @ The Financial Philosopher Says:
    February 6th, 2010 at 9:24 pm

    @ DL: You are correct. I would agree that most people who write books of any nature are looking to capitalize on something other than the intrinsic value of writing. In my humble opinion, any person writing a book for the primary purpose of making money is not a writer - they are a salesperson; and that's not to speak in a derogatory sense to salespeople!

    Once again I will dilineate between true writers and those who are not true writers with the Plato quote:

    "Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something." ~ Plato

  33. gms777 Says:
    February 6th, 2010 at 9:26 pm

    Barry, you also reveal what most readers are totally unaware of….that is that the writing of many, many books is a group effort in which "the writer" uses a collaborator and researchers. For example, Churchill hired PhD history students to write reports for him. He perused them and then dictated his"text" to a stenographer, oft times as he lounged in his bathtub sipping a watered-down scotch. Conclusion: Next time get a bathtub and liquor.

  34. Ophir Says:
    February 6th, 2010 at 9:29 pm

    You convinced me, I ordered the book @ amazon.

    It's probably doing very well, I saw the paperback edition is expected on June 2010

  35. hpinRaleigh Says:
    February 6th, 2010 at 9:35 pm

    I'm personally grateful that you wrote your book and found it highly informative. I spent 26 yrs in the college textbook business, mostly in sales, and worked for the two companies you mentioned and two others. I once met a history author/professor who, when he calculated the 3 or so yrs he spent writing his manuscript, found that he earned 7 cents an hour. Of course he was an author who wasn't asked to do a 2nd edition. On the other hand, there were a few authors I met, very few, who made several million.

    When you do your next book, get the signing situation totally COMPETITIVE. Signing Editors or "Publishers" can blow their budget at the beginning, middle, or end of their fiscal year if they think they're losing their grip on the next bestseller and fear it'll be signed by a rival. Making money on books is very tough these days. But please keep writing.

  36. Winston Munn Says:
    February 6th, 2010 at 9:51 pm

    @ wunsacon
    "Oh, shit! I've been made!"

    In that case, Donnie, you are a friend of o-u-r-s.

  37. Mark E Hoffer Says:
    February 6th, 2010 at 9:53 pm

    and, in this vein/viewed through this facet: "TBP is one of the greatest blogs on the planet.." WaveCatcher, February 6th, 2010 at 9:07 pm

    this, to continue parsing Finance, from Economics, : "That doesn't include all of the blog readers who contributed research, artwork, ideas, notes, editing, reading drafts - all for free." BR, above..

    I'll submit that your "blog readers who contributed research, artwork, ideas, notes, editing, reading drafts" did so, not for Free, but in (exchange for/endeavor toward) adding to the substance, of a Forum, that you, BR, have germinated.

    While those 'benefits', as you noted, accrue, to you, at no Net additional Cost ("What is SEEN.."), remember, that avenue would not have been available, to you, but for your effort at paving the road, and paying the Tab, thereof..("What is UNSEEN..")

    that interplay/dynamic is at the Heart of successful Customer Centered Innovation..

    and, to use my own segue`, with that in mind, during your, recent, 'open thread'–dawning of a new 'Glasnost'–others had mentioned ~"What about a 'Tip Jar'?"

    personally, 'Tip Jar' sounds like something one would see at a Hack-Dive "Where the Microphone smells like a Beer" (yes, Billy Joel..)

    I'd suggest, with a predicate, that you, using your Quality Counsel's advice, set up 501(c)(3), or similiar, titled "Bandwidth Fund", 'for Educational Purposes'..

    w/that, "What could a contributor, to such a Fund, reasonable, expect, in exchange for doing so?"

    regardless, "Keep on, Keepin' on"..

  38. I-Man Says:
    February 6th, 2010 at 10:31 pm


    But you didnt do it for the money now, did you?

  39. wunsacon Says:
    February 6th, 2010 at 10:34 pm

    Winston, had to google for that. Was that a "Donnie Brasco" quote? Huh. Pacino, Depp… I guess I should watch that!

  40. Mark E Hoffer Says:
    February 6th, 2010 at 10:42 pm

    and, just to clarify, and note that Idiocy knows no bounds, with this

    I was intending,

    here: "I'd suggest, with a predicate,…", or, at least, I think so.. (;

  41. I-Man Says:
    February 6th, 2010 at 10:52 pm

    Which kind of raises the question:

    Why do we write?

  42. philipat Says:
    February 6th, 2010 at 11:10 pm

    Plus, at cocktail parties you can call yourself a writer, which sounds frightfully intellectual!

    So, in summary, book publishing is as big a rip-off on the "Talent" as is music publishing? Perhaps the book publishers need to learn from the experience of the music Companies, especially now with the Kindle and all?

    Assuming a COGS of 25%, it's clear that the only ones making much on a book are the publishers?

  43. genesis315 Says:
    February 7th, 2010 at 12:00 am

    Mr. Ritholtz, a BIG thank you for breaking this down. Really an eye opener for someone who is looking to embark down the writing road.

  44. Drewbie Says:
    February 7th, 2010 at 12:12 am

    Getting back to the tax equation, if you claimed the original 25k as income, then on your next return you should be able to claim the repayment as an expense of some sort (to get a tax credit) or even refile your return for that years, since it didn't turn out to be income in the long run (more of a loan).

    But I'm not a tax accountant, advisor or anything close.

    But hopefully you already have one of those that will put you right. :^)

  45. jjay Says:
    February 7th, 2010 at 12:13 am

    Barry, next time "Securitize" the rights to your book and sell 21,000% like "The Producers" did.
    If anyone calls you on it, just tell them you are "Doing God's Work"!

  46. Bthewee Says:
    February 7th, 2010 at 12:32 am

    Advance $100,000

    Barry – Love Ya – but…..

    Under "Revenue" shouldn't you include any future estimated revenue??

    I mean – You did sign a future Royalties agreement, please say you did, right???

  47. tamaragranger Says:
    February 7th, 2010 at 1:14 am

    Maybe if you add some vampires, diet advice you could be able to make a living of it. Well, writers (except for some novelist) have never been exactly rich. And after taxes, your profits really shrink but like you said there could some quality changes in your career, like you level up. And your opinions could weight more.

  48. Chris Says:
    February 7th, 2010 at 2:29 am

    I think in all of history the person actually doing the work never earned much. Maybe the stoneage hunter. Isn't it the underlying problem of the current crisis? Work doesn't pay anymore, so everybody is trying to manage something and the actual production is done in China?

  49. Sunday Hot Links: Quotables The Reformed Broker Says:
    February 7th, 2010 at 6:55 am

    [...] Book writing as minimum wage vocation. Insane. (TBP) [...]

  50. JazzMe Says:
    February 7th, 2010 at 7:43 am

    Well, I understand you Mr. Ritholtz, but I dare to say that this excellent book helped to raise your reputation tremendous. The intangible assets of yours are increasing enormously, which will pay off surely with time in professional life…

  51. mguerreiro Says:
    February 7th, 2010 at 7:47 am

    yes, maybe it wont turn a fortune, but to make sure all the numbers are out and a full picture is shown, you should explain how will the royalties work, what is the level they start kicking in, how much do you expect, how far are you now, etc..
    Great job anyway.

  52. rktbrkr Says:
    February 7th, 2010 at 7:49 am

    OT, I'm not anti union but the developing financial crisis in the state and local govs are going to force some drastic actions with pay and benefits. It's not unusual for a state/local worker who retires after 20-25 years to earn more from his pension than he earned on the job. Many of these jobs had generous benefits to compensate for low wage scales, but the low wages aren't true anymore and the total costs have exploded. The unions have done a great job for their members while the elected officials have just rolled over, similar to UAW and Big 3 management. The question in my mind is if the unions will accept big cuts in pay & benefits or force the governments into bankruptcy.I guess there is one more option – shift the costs onto the US gummint similar to GM.

    Union comments from Mish blog

J.A. Konrath eBooks And The Ease Of Self-Publishing

October 19th is the release date for "Draculas," a horror novel that I wrote with Blake Crouch, Jeff Strand, and F. Paul Wilson. How four guys were able to collaborate on a single narrative is an interesting story, but not as interesting as the way "Draculas" is being released.

Though together we have over sixty years of experience in the print industry and have worked with dozens of publishers, we've decided to make "Draculas" a Kindle exclusive. Not only that, but we're publishing it ourselves.

The choice to circumvent Big New York Publishing was easy. We all have print deals, and probably could have sold this project to a major publishing house, but the reasons to go the indie route instead of the traditional one were numerous.

First was an issue of time. We wanted "Draculas" to launch before Halloween, but we'd only finished writing and editing the novel in September. There was no possible way a major publisher could go from first draft to live within three weeks. But we did.

With Amazon's assistance, we were able to put up a pre-order page and a free teaser last month, though we'd only written the first few chapters by that point. Like a traditionally published book, this allowed us to build buzz and accrue some advance sales.

Based on some of my experiments on Kindle, we're pricing "Draculas" at $2.99--something no Big Publisher has done for a new release (except for AmazonEncore, who is releasing my thriller novel "Shaken" next week at that price point.) We're also releasing it without DRM (digital rights management), which is another thing no publisher will allow (except for AmazonEncore.)

"Draculas" will be exclusive on Kindle for a year, as a favor to Amazon since they've been so helpful. But those with other brands of ereaders will be able to buy "Draculas" from Amazon and convert it to the format of their choice with free ebook software like Calibre or Stanza. We have instructions for doing this on our website, We also plan on doing a print release later in the year, using Amazon's CreateSpace.

Since professionalism is essential, we hired a cover artist and an ebook formatter. A publisher providing these services takes 52.5% of an ebook's cover price, and the retailer gets 30% through the agency model. That leaves only 17.5% for the author. By absorbing these sunk costs ourselves, we're able to earn the full 70% royalties and not have to share them with anyone. Though we're splitting the profits four ways, we're each earning only slightly less per copy sold (51 cents each) than we would on one of our own paperback books (64 cents each), and still only charging the reader $2.99.

Of course, a publisher provides more services than cover art and formatting. For one thing, they edit. But among the four of us we've written over eighty novels, and we were able to edit each other and do our own copyediting with relative ease. What we missed, our beta readers caught.

Publishers also do promotion and marketing, though I haven't seen much of this for ebooks. Drawing on our fan bases, we sent out 260 advance reading copies of "Draculas." Come October 19, if only half of them come through for us, we'll launch our ebook with over a hundred reviews on,, and dozens of blogs. We're also doing some niche advertising, and our combined newsletters reach over twenty thousand readers.

"Draculas" includes many bonus extras, which could only be done with a digital version. The more pages a paper book has, the more it costs to print and deliver. Ebooks have no such restrictions. So besides the 80,000 word novel, readers who buy "Draculas" will also get another 80,000 words of supplemental features, including interviews, deleted scenes, alternate endings, short stories, excerpts, and an exclusive, behind-the-scenes look at the writing of "Draculas" delivered through a collection of over seven hundred emails between the writers while we were brainstorming and writing the book.

Putting this project together was an exercise in speed and simplicity. We did the majority of the writing and the marketing within an eight week timeframe, while we were each working on other projects. By releasing it ourselves, we were able to maintain full control over the entire process, set our own price, eliminate DRM (which readers hate) and earn four times the royalty rate we would have through a publisher. By going ebook-only, we could add a bunch of fun supplements for no extra cost, while also releasing it super-fast.

Is this the future of publishing? Are publishers still needed in an ebook world when authors can do it on their own?

We'll see. We own all the rights to "Draculas," so any subsidiary rights are 100% ours to exploit. My agent has already sold audio rights to thirteen of my self-published books, and film rights to one of them, and the burgeoning foreign and translation markets for ebooks will no doubt become lucrative as the market expands worldwide.

Because we self-published "Draculas," we control the rights. Not just for now, but forever.

Forever is a very long time. Authors need to decide if they want to keep forever to themselves, or share forever with a publisher who takes over half the cover price.

Dave Bricker 2 hours ago (8:52 AM) 1 Fans

Having written the One Hour Guide to Self-Publishing, I'm certainly an advocate for bypassing big publishers in many (but not all) cases. The reasons you cite around scheduling and royalties are all valid. Working with a good designer and eBook formatter is crucial.

My issue with your article is that it trades in POTENTIAL earnings. You may have enough readers of your traditionally-published books to leverage them as a customer base and make a profit, but otherwise, 70% of nothing is nothing.

A book sold for $2.99 will net $2.09. Split 4 ways, it's 52 cents per book. This is exclusive of sales lost when people give away your non-DRM book. DRM is not a disadvantage to paying customers.

Writing a good book is an accomplishment that takes longer than eight weeks. If your team has the special talents and circumstances to pull that off, you have my profound respect, but your article is an exercise in self-aggrandizement. It has little to offer aspiring writers in the way of practical encouragement.

Too many people are led to believe self-publishing is easy and fast. The result is countless shoddily-edited books with mediocre covers. Good books take time. Marketable products are stamped out every day.

I'm all for self-publishing, but burning bridges with your hard-won traditional publishing connections to chase pennies on your own sounds like poor advice to aspiring writers.

Do let us all know how it works out.

-Dave Bricker Dave_Bricker: Having written the One Hour Guide to Self-Publishing, I'm certainly Permalink | Share it HUFFPOST COMMUNITY MODERATOR raven119 2 hours ago (8:05 AM) 162 Fans

Konrath is a fiction writer and this "article" appears to be pure fiction. Konrath is a rabid Kindle fan and even has a blog on Amazon touting all the wonders of ebooks, making him a shill for Amazon.

This "article" seems more like an ad for Amazon than advice to writers. While there are many ways to get published these days, beware of authors with simple solutions and ulterior motives. raven119: Konrath is a fiction writer and this "article" appears to Permalink | Share it v eyepete 4 hours ago (6:18 AM) 200 Fans

Some of these comments seem like false testimonials. I suppose I have grown overly suspicious of the world and the media. v_eyepete: Some of these comments seem like false testimonials. I suppose Permalink | Share it eric14 2 hours ago (8:33 AM) 178 Fans

I had suspicions until pondering over the subject matter, I realised that its total originality serves as a badge of genuineness and authenticity. What other subject could be more surprising, more innovative, more ground-breaking? 'Draculas'! A book about vampires, I guess. Amazing. I am dumbfounded. eric14: I had suspicions until pondering over the subject matter, I Permalink | Share it Caroleeena 17 minutes ago (10:06 AM) 198 Fans

Especially when they come from people with 0 fans who, when you do a little more research, just created their profile prior to posting. Hmmm... I think you're right to be suspicious. I think some (at least one, for sure) of these testimonials are false. Caroleeena: Especially when they come from people with 0 fans who, Permalink | Share it Caroleeena 13 minutes ago (10:11 AM) 198 Fans

Actually, make that five suspicious testimonials from Huffpo accounts set up immediately prior to commenting. Again, hmmmmm...


Would you like to be the next big thing in the book world? Here is the recipe.

  • Write fiction; it sells better than nonfiction.
  • Write in conversational rather than academic tone.
  • Write about a topic that has a broad rather than narrow appeal.

Got that? Do you meet all the criteria?

Most writers don't, nor do they aspire to.

But…assuming you've met the above-listed criteria, let's talk about your odds of making it big.

There are 200 thousand books published (in English) each year. Book super-sellers (like Barnes and Noble) will carry 20% of that inventory.

  • On average, an author (in America) can expect to sell 500 copies.
  • Out of 1.2 million books tracked by Nielsen Book Scan (as of 2004);
  • 950 000 books sold fewer than 99 copies.
  • Another 200 000 sold fewer than 1000 copies.
  • From these 1.2 million books (basically all books ever published with a UPC code), only 25 000 sold more than 5000 copies.

Note: These statistics were culled from the most excellent work done by Chris Anderson in his book The Long Tail (aff).

Let me summarize those numbers I just gave you.

ONLY 2% of the books (when published using traditional channels) will be commercially viable. The remaining 98% will be a financial swan dive for the publishing house as well as you, the author.

Given these factors, do you still want to sign with a publishing house?

I DO Want to Sign With a Large Publishing House

There is at least one great reason to sign a book deal with a large publishing house.

Prestige. Let's not kid ourselves. Saying "I'm a self-published author" just doesn't have a ring to it. On the other hand, imagine having a "published author" on your resume.

Getting a book deal with a large publishing house can be a great catapult for speaking gigs, new clients, future book deals, etc. As long as you don't think of your book-deal as an end onto itself. Instead, think of it as a platform for bigger and better things.

If "prestige" is your goal, getting a book deal is the way to go. But what if you care more about making money?


We mentioned earlier that an average book will sell 500 copies. If you decide to self-publish, and use print-on-demand service like Lulu, you can expect to keep most of the profits from each book sold.

Financially speaking, this will make you lot richer than if you were to sell the same number of books via large publisher. Downside?

You will have to do all the marketing yourself. But guess what? Most authors who sign book-deals have to do that anyways.


Ok, that's cool Dino, I hear you saying. But I don't really need to have my ego stroked, nor do I particularly care about making money. I have this great idea, and I just want everyone to read about it.

Fear not my dear friend. Self-Distribution to the rescue.

Once upon a time, the benefit a publishing house would provide to an author is distribution. However, the Internet has made the "distribution" part of the equation available to anyone with a high-speed modem. You don't even have to physically print your book. You can distribute it as a file (in .pdf format, aka E-Book) from your computer (or a hosted server). Better yet, make your E-Book available via Bit Torrent services.

To learn how first time authors like Wanda Shapiro use Bit Torrent for large-scale distribution, click here.

So, are you going to sign with a large publishing house, self-publish or self-distribute?

Only YOU can answer. But I imagine the answer will depend on your motivation and goals. I hope this post has helped you examine:

  • Why you chose to write? (prestige, money or proliferation of ideas)
  • What you hope to get out of writing?

Which path will you take? Don't think that you have to do only one.

  • •Seth Godin has distributed his first book, Unleashing the Ideavirus (aff) via Bit Torrent only to have it published "for real" later on.
  • •Dr. Brad Blanton has self-published his book, Radical Honesty (aff) only to have it picked up by a large publishing house when it proved to be a nimble seller. I think it all comes down to this.

You have no more excuses to finish your book. So get to writing.

Start by leaving a comment and let us know what YOU think of these 3 options?

Is there a fourth option we didn't think of?

Do you have experience using any of these 3 methods? Tell us about it.

Thanks Dino ~

Please check out Dino on Twitter @dino_dogan and at his website

Dino Dogan spent many years researching ways 'adults learn, seek and receive information, communicate (both internally and externally) and apply learned info, specifically as it pertains to Human-Dog Relationship.'

In his quest to develop the Human-Dog Problem Tree he still finds time for his music and fitness. He is a singer/songwriter who is also a biker. But mostly he calls himself 'a life-long student'.

"All who have accomplished great things have had a great aim; have fixed their gaze on a goal which was high, one which sometimes seemed impossible."

Orison Swett Marden – Writer

CURRENT STATUS: Reminder, Motivator and Review Meeting (Read on if you want to join me in my Corporation of One meeting)

What l have learnt:

•When to withhold suspense in a novel and when it shouldn't be done (via Edittorrent). •10 Steps to a better story (via The Blood-Red Pencil). •Boost your book sales with the magic of niche marketing (via •Digital animated e-books – being creative with e-books (via DGLM) •10 Common Query Mistakes (via Bent on Books). •10 Dos and Don'ts for the first page of your novel Act First, Explain Later (via The Blood-Red Pencil). •Mobile marketing. Writers: Should Your Book Be An App? (via Time to Write). What I have done:

•Wrote my very first guest post. Read it here. •Put the two Twitter accounts on my website. It's an experiment. Not sure how it will go. WORD COUNT: Night Walker 144,000 words in total.

[Sep 04, 2010] Launching the ShipIt Workbook

Six months ago, I put together a workbook that would help Linchpin readers ship.

After testing it out on hundreds of people, it's now ready for retail sale. [UPDATE on 9/2--yesterday, the workbook was so popular it went to the top 10 of all books on Amazon. And they sold all the warehouse could take. So it's sold out... I have shipped more to them, but they probably won't go on sale until the 8th. I'll update this post then. Thanks guys.]

You can find details here, or jump right to the buy page. The goal? To make you uncomfortable at the beginning of a project (and successful at the end).

Here's the core idea: it's weird to write in a book. When you do, you're making a commitment. You're combining the open-mindedness that reading brings with the physical action of writing. If you do that at every step in a project--and if your co-workers do too--the seemingly slippery decisions that get made appear a lot more solid.

The ShipIt workbook is designed to be worked on in groups (hence the five pack) and it delivers. If you can confront the mechanics or the fear that's slowing down (or even killing) your project, it's easy to fix it now, before it's too late.

There's no digital version, because without writing things down, it can't work. But there is an mp3 interview that will help you get your arms around how each page works. I'm pricing this first batch at $3.20 each in a pack of five just for the launch. [PS Amazon is having trouble shipping to Canadians right now. It may take a while to figure this out, and all I can do is apologize...]

Trust, Search, Google, Times Select, and the Future of Journalism

Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal
Felix Salmon writes:

How Google Killed Web Subscriptions: How Google Killed Web Subscriptions: Everybody knows that Google has won the search-engine war. But what's much more important is that Google has won the search war – and the latest casualty is TimesSelect. The subscriber firewalls at the WSJ and the FT will be the next to go.

Until Google came along, most content-based websites had a similar business model: users would come to the site's home page, search for what they were looking for, and then find it. So if you wanted a NYT story, you'd first go to, and then search. If you wanted a Wikipedia article, you'd first go to, and then search.

No longer.

When I want to find one of my old blog entries on, I just type the search terms into the Google window in my browser. When I want to find a Wikipedia entry, I do the same thing, in the knowledge that Wikipedia's PageRank will guarantee that entry a top-two spot. Google's even very good at finding books on Amazon...

And if you think what you want is probably at a particular site, just add the site's name to your search string: "amazon", "wikipedia", "portfolio."

But Google is very bad at pointing people to anything behind a subscriber firewall – and rightfully so. What changed, The Times said, was that many more readers started coming to the site from search engines and links on other sites instead of coming directly to

"What wasn't anticipated was the explosion in how much of our traffic would be generated by Google, by Yahoo and some others," Ms. Schiller said.

When was the last time you saw a WSJ or FT article on a web search? As people increasingly get their information from Google and not from home pages, the WSJ and FT websites have a choice: go free, or become irrelevant. The WSJ certainly can't be happy that Nick Denton, with his shoestring operation, gets more traffic, and more visitors, than they do. As Jeff Jarvis says today, the really valuable thing that the WSJ and the FT provide is not their news, but their relationship with their readers.... It's the relationship that is profitable.... That is the essential media moral of the internet story. It has taken 13 years of internet history for media companies to learn that.... Google doesn't weaken the strength of the relationship.... [I]t just changes the way that readers find their trusted content. If a WSJ story comes up top of a Google search, people will click on it because they trust the WSJ. And because people trust the WSJ, WSJ stories will come up top of a Google search. It's win-win for all concerned, and, yes, Rupert Murdoch knows it.

Except for the money flows. It is not clear how large the advertising money flows will be in the long run. Especially if people continue to offer print-format versions of their articles that allow you to escape the ads.

I suspect we are headed for a winner-take-all situation here as well: journalists who acquire reputations as experts will do very well as they become draws for advertisers. Institutions--not so much. Anybody who trusted the New Republic under Michael Kinsley and then encountered the New Republic under Andrew Sullivan, Michael Kelly, and Peter Beinart learned a very painful lesson about focusing on institutions rather than people.

EPrints Home

Soros Funds Open-Publishing Software

NewsPosted by Hemos on Thursday February 14, @11:46AM
from the opening-the-channels-of-communication dept.
blair1q writes "BBC has a story reporting that George Soros and his Open Society Institute are funding "open access" media for scientific publishing. These outlets will compete with the quasi-monopolies held by the journal industry and provide information to researchers whose institutions can't afford to subscribe to large numbers of overpriced periodicals. Part of the funding will go to improve the open-access enabling EPrints software, which is under GPL."

These outlets will compete with the quasi-monopolies held by the journal industry and provide information to researchers whose institutions can't afford to subscribe to large numbers of overpriced periodicals.

Sort of like how Slashdot competes with the quasi-monopolies held by the magazine industry in order to provide information to geeks who can't afford to buy magazines that check their facts, etc. :-)

Scientific journals serve a purpose, despite the rants by frustrated pseudoscientists who can't get their work published. Though the system may not work perfectly, at least they make some attempt to review articles and weed out the crap.

Words like "free" and "open" and "no censorship" are not necessarily good for science, because it really just means "hey! we'll publish your manifestoes on how the world *really* works, even if those self-proclaimed scientist types keep telling you to talk to a psychologist..." Readers Journal - KISSING FROGS THE GREATEST RISK

KISSING FROGS: THE GREATEST RISK (John Joss, August 20, 2007)

"Ability is of no account without opportunity"
≈≈Napoleon Buonaparte

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.

[May 11, 2007] theShepler How to publish your book for a dozen friends

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 (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 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.

Wikipedia founder remakes Web publishing economics Financial News - Yahoo! Finance

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 ( 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, which makes money through advertising.

Wikia calls the free-hosting service "OpenServing" ( It runs on an easy-to-use version of MediaWiki software developed by, 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.


"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 (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, 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.

Warnings and Cautions for Writers--Print on Demand

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?
  • 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.
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.

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.

Slashdot Examining the Era of Print-on-Demand

IMHO Lulu is too expensive... I saw one book from it was overpriced and badly written.
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

(Score:5, Informative)

by rdwald (831442) on Friday July 21, @04:44PM (#15759869)

I played around with'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.

  • Re:Experience with

    (Score:3, Informative)

    by bcrowell (177657) on Friday July 21, @10:23PM (#15761406)

    My experience with lulu has been a little more mixed. I have some free-information textbooks that I sell in print. (Even though they're free to download, sometimes it's nice to have a real printed, bound copy.)

    I had been buying them in batches of about 500 from a local guy, storing them in a closet, and selling them to schools and individuals.

    The problem was, it was just an incredibly inefficient way to do business. Recently, I've been experimenting with lulu. The good news is that they're incredibly efficient, and can produce a single book at about the same unit price as I'd been getting from a traditional printing process (or maybe just a little more).

    When I get an individual retail order, they take care of it. I've canceled my credit card processing account (which was a major pain to have). No more trips to the post office to mail books. Most importantly, I no longer have to keep ~$10,000 worth of inventory in a closet.

    There have been some problems, though:

    1. They sometimes do a lousy job of packaging books, and the books arrive damaged. If you complain, they're willing to send replacements, but only if you send them digital camera pictures to show the damage. It doesn't seem that reasonable to me to expect my customers to go through that kind of hassle for something that's basically due to lulu's sloppy packaging.
    2. A bigger problem has been that they don't do a very good job of supporting the pdf standard and OSS. Basically the situation seems to be that they have a number of subcontractors who actually produce the book, and which subcontractor it's sent to may depend on the geographical location of the customer. These subcontractors don't fully support the pdf standard. Part of the issue seems to be that some pdf documents take a lot of cpu time to print, so they put arbitrary, undocuments limits on various things. Also, there are things you can do with fonts (such as subsetting) that are allowed by the pdf standard, but that certain subcontractors may not allow. The machines (docutechs?) they use are totally proprietary. What it adds up to is that some of my books would print 10 or 100 times just fine, and then on one particular order I'd get a message passed back from the subcontractor saying that it failed to print. You can post on their forums about problems, and people there have been very helpful, but you actually can't get any information back from the subcontractor. Basically lulu says that if you use Acrobat to produce your pdf, and embed all fonts without subsetting, it will work, but if you use OSS to produce your pdf, it may or may not work. A little ironic, since IIRC the founder of lulu was one of the guys who started Red Hat. It's a little like web designers who only test their sites on IE; lulu only cares if their system works on Acrobat output.
  • Jack Action (761544) on Friday July 21, @05:49PM (#15760294)

    If you know how to use LaTex, you could set up a book in about 10 minutes.

    LaTex has had a "book" template for years, and true to its purpose as "type-setting sofware" (created by Donald Knuth at Stanford), it creates an absolutely picture perfect document with chapter headings, and eye-pleasing margins and hyphenation. This is all done automatically according to the principles of typography printers have been using for hundreds of years (though of course they can be manually over-riden). All that is required is that you learn a few html-like mark-up commands to format your text.

    I've printed one novel with and LaTex, and the inner text was easily as good as hard-cover books from the 50s and 60s (which I consider kind of a golden age of printing). The cover though does require some graphic design skill , as I think a professional designer noted above (though does have a gallery of about 50 stock covers you can use).

    Also, was started by Bob Young, founder of Red Hat Linux, because of the terrible experience he had publishing a book through conventional means. I believe runs on FOSS software.

Technology Rewrites the Book - New York Times

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.

Steve Mandel, above, created his book "Light in the Sky" using software from; the cover image is of the Hale-Bopp comet.

"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 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.'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 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, 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. 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

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, 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."

The Coming Ecology of Ebook Publishing

In a recent Salon story on ebooks, I was struck by the following comment: contends that Simon & Schuster's decision not to let join other online retailers like and in selling King's book was a way of punishing 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 from That makes mightywords your publishing arm. Now, maybe you can find a way to get 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:

  1. The author/publisher can produce the work once, and have it resold by many parties.
  2. 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.
  3. Specialty distributors/retailers/publishers may make the work available in alternate versions.
  4. Third parties will catalog and review the various published works.
  5. 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
  • portals
  • 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 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

What do you think about self-published books by Tim O'Reilly

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

Beta Books RULE! Authors, please do this more often!

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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  • Here's another one
    2005-07-13 08:00:15 alexfarran [Reply | View]

    Peter Seibel's book, Practical Common Lisp, is available on his web site and was discussed on the comp.lang.lisp newsgroup as he wrote it. Didn't seem to hurt the sales at all.
  • Re:
    2005-07-13 03:12:00 aristotle [Reply | View]

    Interesting. In essence, this takes the principle of wiki, in a restricted form, to the book authoring process. The strenghts (and weaknesses) of wikis are well-known.

Better writing skills for business, thesis, creative, and technical writing Publishing Inc.

The Culture of the Internet and Usenet

UpsideToday Ebiz

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.

Xlibris - Where writers become authors.

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."

Xlibris Bookstore

1stBooks Library...Where getting published is easier than you think! -- looks like more expensive that Xlibris

ZDNet eWEEK Boom time for online books By Grant Du Bois

Boom time for online books?
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 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 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 Microsoft Reader will be the preferred format for's future e-book store.

Microsoft and Adobe have similar relationships with Barnes&

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."

[Mar 03, 2000] How do I publish my eMatter

Jacqui Bennett Writers Bureau For Writers Writing

[Sept 20, 1999] Slashdot Interviews Interview Tim O'Reilly Answers

Dominican asks:
How often are books revised? Open to the author?

Tim responds:
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.

t-money asks: 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?

Tim responds:
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, or books24x7, or 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.

the_tsi asks:
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?

Tim responds:
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.

Tet asks:
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?

Tim responds:
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.

maelstrom asks:
(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?

Tim responds:
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.

howardjp asks:
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?

Tim responds:
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'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.

chromatic asks:
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.

Tim responds:
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 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.

Crutcher asks:
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.

Tim responds:
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 We also have a Web site to support this effort at

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?

zilym asks:
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.

Tim responds:
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?

jzawodn asks:
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?

Tim responds:
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?

Tim responds:
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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List of self-publishing companies - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Author mill - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

An author mill is a publisher that relies on producing large numbers of small-run books by different authors, as opposed to a smaller number of works published in larger numbers.[1] The term was coined by Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware, as a parallel formation from diploma mill, an unaccredited college or university that offers degrees without regard to academic achievement, and puppy mill, a breeding operation that produces large numbers of puppies for sale with little regard for breed purity, puppy placement, health, or socialization.

Predatory open access publishing is a closely related practice. However, the aims and the business model are rather different: predatory publishers will charge the author up front for publishing in a supposed scientific journal. Since academic evaluation is largely based on publication count or other bibliometrics, even well-meaning authors may be willing to pay to bolster their career prospects.


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