safari (was Re: Writing solid code book)

Alex Martelli aleax at
Fri Sep 5 17:11:20 CEST 2003

post400 wrote:
> yes Safari seems ok , you get a few days for free to browse but it's
> not totally free.I think the electronic version should be free.Some

safari is only free for two weeks; then, if you like the service it
gives you, you can choose to continue a (paid) subscription.

I'm not sure on what basis you intend your use of "should".  Do you
mean that you believe it would be in publishers' best interests to
offer electronic versions free -- that it would enhance the sales
of their paper versions producing a greater total profit than having
online books as a for-pay service does?  If so, then it would be
interesting to understand on what basis you form that judgment.

O'Reilly, in particular, publishes paper versions both of books that
are also available for free download elsewhere, _and_ of books that
are not thus avialable.  Presumably, therefore, they have available
very good historical data to convince them that their policies are in
fact the best currently available to them -- knowing Tim O'Reilly's
ideas, policies, and openness to novelty, you surely can't be
accusing him of "persevering by sheer inertia" in his policies.

Or is your "should" predicated on some ethical objection against
such people as book authors and editors receiving compensation
for their efforts?  Speaking as a book author, I can confirm that
the amount of money I earn from writing, divided by the number of 
hours I spend writing, is roughly comparable with legal minimum
wage (depending on jurisdiction -- such minima may be higher in
most of Europe than in the US), and *WELL* below the hourly income
I can make by professional consulting.  Were I to contemplate the
possibility of would-be freeloaders trying to dictate what I
"should" do (without deigning to mention WHY they think I should),
it might perhaps anger me just enough to deter me from my former
intention of making my next coming book freely available.  So, I
would appreciate some explanation of your assertion.

> people offer their books for free , Bruce Eckel for example and his
> Thinking in Java which seems to be a good book.Maybe more writers
> should do the same !

"Thinking in Java" is indeed excellent, and no doubt the feedback
from people who freely downloaded it helped Bruce make it so.
However, I do notice that Bruce's long-planned "Thinking in
Python" seems to be languishing without end.  Perhaps this means
that books addressing a huge market for which there are hundreds
of competitors (Java, C++) _are_ indeed profitable to make freely
downloadable (at least if only a minority of authors are so doing,
assuming part of the profit comes from competitive considerations),
but books addressing a smaller market, such as Python, aren't.

As for me, I'm operating on a different assumption (which is not
necessarily contradictory to the possibility outlined in the
previous paragraph) as to what distinguishes books that are best
made freely available online from those which are not; but I have
as yet no experience to back me up (the only "free book" I have
out on the net -- a primer on win32 API GUI programmin in C, in
Italian -- is incomplete and not available in any for-pay form,
only in the free online version).

Several other authors have experience publishing both books that
are also available for free, and ones that aren't.  Hearing from
them would be very interesting, at least to me.


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