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I working on a book, and plan to continue to make the pdf available. I thought it would be great if people could buy hard copies, and approached publishers (not really interested in the hassle of self-publishing). Obviously publishers have to make money, and they are only interested if I don’t make the pdf available.

Springer publish open access books, but the authors have to pay the publishing costs. One of the editors shared the sales volume of one such book, it was pitiful. He told me that fewer and fewer people were buying hard-copy books; I knew that students rarely buy books, but I am aiming for professional developers.

In my case, the book contains lots of color, which would make local printing expensive; so buying from the publisher would be more cost effective (unless it was the printer at work).

I’m typing this surrounded by paper books. Is that just me stuck in the past, and should I stop being interested in a paper version? What do Lobste.rs’ think?


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    I personally, very much like paper books. I do not like reading technical books on small screens and there is a certain tactile feeling that comes from having the real thing that I miss every time I buy in digital form.

    What about making your book available as print on demand?

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      Another benefit of physical technical books is how easy it is to quickly flip between various sections when you need to look something up.

      Or maybe I just haven’t gotten the hang of bookmarks etc. in ebooks yet.

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        I might use Amazon’s print on-demand, so at least I can have a copy :-) It looks like Amazon does not charge upfront, but I am getting close to their maximum limit for color.

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          i have an amazon printed book and the quality is rather good. i’ve seen really bad print-on-demand, and this feels like a proper book. ymmv though :)

          note: it’s black and white, no colors.

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            I’ve had good luck with KDP (like @rbn, on black and white books), for both printing & distribution. If you’re already working with a publisher & professional editor & such, that makes less sense, but if you’re not… well, basically the same process can produce ebooks and paper books, and if the content is sufficiently original you can enroll it in a program where you also get paid by number of pages read. It doesn’t require you to buy a proof (like Lulu does), it handles a lot of markets, and you revenue direct-deposited three months after the end of the month where the sales occurred (in order to handle returns). I went from manuscript to being able to purchase copies of my book in a couple hours. (The remainder of the hassles of self-publishing – stuff like promotion – are things that I didn’t really care about, since I was publishing things I had already written/edited & considered any sales of the book to be pure cream, but if you’re depending upon sales then obviously you’ll need to concern yourself with that.)

            I find that, for books I consult frequently (or even read all the way through) I prefer to have a paper copy, but because paper books can be quite costly, I feel like I need to sample using a PDF & then only actually buy a paper copy if the PDF proves that it’s a book worth finishing. (I’ve gotten bitten by really low-quality books whose authors are professionals in the field and that have gotten glowing endorsements – mostly in pop psychology rather than in tech – and it’s made me very careful about what I actually invest money in.) Because of this, it’s important to me that paper copies are available.

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              Glad you mentioned Lulu, I came here to mention them. They have been around a long time, I came across them years ago and have yet to find what I consider a real competitor. They have a few good options for book format and you can just upload a PDF, and then buy copies. Print-on-demand has become a big thing in the industry but nobody else seems to be passing it to consumers in the same way, which is a shame. I recently got hold of Nettitudes 1 which is really nicely stitch-bound, really made me appreciate books again, one of the nicest bound books I’ve seen in a while. I’d love to see a company offering print-on-demand at that level.

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                Lulu charge $94.15 for 500 pages, printed in color. This drops to $75.32, per book, when ordering the maximum volume (1,200). This is for perfect binding, saddle stitch is limited to 88 pages (at least for color).

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                  Yeah, this is absurdly expensive IMO. And then, on the other end, they’ll sell on their site but (imo) they won’t hook you up with distribution at all.

                  If you don’t mind supporting the evil empire in some minor way, KDP is a lot more viable: books remain book-priced, and they show up in the place people already go to buy books.

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                  Lulu turned me off the last time I looked at it, because at the time they had the policy that the author had to buy a proof & the proof was like $150 regardless of the price of the final book (which, to me, defeated the point of print-on-demand: it added a big up-front monetary cost to self-publishing that, in many cases, will never be defrayed by sales). I don’t know if they still have that policy, since it’s been nearly a decade since I seriously looked at publishing through them (and these days I can afford the expensive proof – it was a lot scarier when I was a broke student).

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            I prefer dead tree versions of books because it forces me to concentrate on the book and not be distracted by notifications on an electronic device. I suppose an e-reader could solve this but I’ve not encountered one I liked enough to warrant the cost for how rarely I read books anyways. I’m a voracious reader but I tend to prefer short pieces such as essays and blog posts.

            Looking at your draft, this book is beautifully typeset. I definitely understand your desire for color and hope that you can find a publisher that meets your needs. Maybe shop this around to No Starch, Apress, O’Reilly, PragProg, etc. even if just for advice on how you could handle reducing the colors strategically. IIRC at least among those No Starch always publishes a PDF version…

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              I agree with this completely.

              I simply can’t do any serious reading on any Apple device that’s used for anything else because there is no way to universally disable all the notifications without turning them all off individually. The problem with that is that when you have either several hundred apps installed (as many people do) or apps that you are required to have for work (ugh) that use notifications, you need to remember which specific apps were previously enabled, and never forget to change the setting back or you risk missing important notifications, getting fired, etc.

              Mobile device usability compared to a Linux desktop is complete nightmare. Someone told me to try using the “Do Not Disturb” feature in iOS, setting it for 1 minute in the future and to turn off in a few hours. It’s an annoying potential solution so I’ve never tried it. (I also doubt it will work because enabling the “Do Not Disturb” via the Settings menu only silences calls and notifications, but they still interrupt you visually!)

              While I certainly don’t own anything Android (nor would I ever in a million years use anything remotely connected to Google, including their search product), I hear the situation there is no better and no different - there is no way to disable notifications and simply get work done.

              Simply put, it is my opinion that mobile devices are not still serious work devices, and they certainly aren’t serious reading and study devices by any means. They aren’t for productivity. They are subsidized anti-consumer anti-productivity platforms designed to monetize your interactions with them. You are better off avoiding them altogether, if you can!

              I’ve also considered getting a eBook reader, but I won’t a spend a dime at Amazon for political reasons. Not to mention their outright Orwellian anti-consumer bias, and the fact that I’ve never found anything else that’s decent at a reasonable price. I really do like those ePaper displays, however.

              Don’t even get me started on how absolutely horrid XPS/PDF/DjVu are for reading on a mobile device. These formats have legitimate uses in prepress workflows and post-press archival, but eBooks they aren’t. Plain old HTML is much more suitable. Formats exist that solve the problems (FictionBook, iBook, EPUB), but reader support and publisher support is fragmented.

              Essentially, the current state of things is “Give me paper books, or I’m not going to bother.” If it’s an eBook only, either I won’t read it, or I’ll be printing it out. I’d absolutely pay many times the price of an eBook to get a paper version, even if it means having to get it printed myself.

              (I will concede that the eBook’s isn’t completely useless, especially as a companion to a legitimate, real, actual book. The eBook might be more handy when you need to do a full-text search, for example.)

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                All these publishers want to sell the electronic version, and won’t let the author make the pdf available for free. The No Starch agreement looks fairly standard.

                Publishers have approached me, but loose interest when they learn I am committed to making the pdf available for free.

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                For me it very much depends on the type of the book. If I expect a book to have a lasting value, such as yours, then I generally prefer to have a paper copy (ideally would have both paper and ebook, but pricing rarely makes that sensible).

                On the other hand, if it is a book with a more ephemeral value such as describing a particular technology (e.g. Using Angular X), then I prefer not to kill trees.

                Our personal library has about 1000 paper books. I also have around 250 ebooks, mostly related to my work as a developer. I recently thrown away more than a meter of bookshelf worth of tech books because they were utterly useless. I still like learning from books, but this habit is being challenged with progressively worse quality (even from established authors). I am 45, so who knows how much of this is true for younger generations.

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                  If I expect a book to have a lasting value, such as yours, then I generally prefer to have a paper copy. On the other hand, if it is a book with a more ephemeral value such as describing a particular technology, then I prefer not to kill trees.

                  My rough rule of thumb is that if a book seems like it would make a reasonable thesis or research project, it probably deserves a paper copy.

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                  I like to buy from Manning. I get PDF/Epub/Mobi and a physical book. For novels and most non-fiction I prefer to read on my eInk reader. It’s nice. For technical books, or where I know I’ll be flipping back and forth, I find it easier to read a physical book, but I also want the PDF because it is very convenient to have it on my iPad.

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                    Pro Git author here. Granted my experience in this space is a bit non-typical, but we’ve offered free PDF and e-book versions since the second edition was released, and sales of the paper version are still strong. If you visit the website you can get a free electronic version with updated content and fixed bugs, and the paper version still sells. On Amazon we’re still #56 in Software Design & Engineering, even though the Kindle version is shown as $0 in the same view (and is #1 in Kindle Software Design & Engineering).

                    Point being, people still like paper books, especially as references. It’s a lot easier to dog-ear the pages you need the most, and flip back and forth from chapter 3 to chapter 7.

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                      Thanks for suggesting Apress (I had not realised they are now part of Springer). I looked at Apress Open, and like Springer, they charge an open access fee. The Springer fee is listed as 5,000 euro, for 50-125 pages, and I know is a multiple of that for books containing more pages.

                      Were things different back when you produced the first edition, or is the deal different for second editions?

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                        Our deal is pretty non-typical – the source for the book is licensed as CC by-nc-sa, we have the rights to distribute updated digital versions, and Apress only has rights to the print edition. I wasn’t involved in the contract negotiations, but I got the feeling Scott leveraged the success of the first edition to make that deal happen.

                        Like I said, our experience with publishing probably isn’t very helpful to anyone else. I was specifically referring to the idea that people buy tech books on paper.

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                      I frequently buy paper copies of books from No Starch Press, even though through humble bundle I often have very cheap access to the pdfs. I don’t even mind reading PDFs on my ipad, but I’ll gladly buy a physical copy of anything well written that I will actually read, to me that’s never wasted money.

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                        Since getting my iPad Pro, I am almost completely digital. Prior to this, I used kindle for many things but for technical books, I would still go print. I generally prefer a digital format that is open for technical books that I will read repeatedly and use as references.

                        I helped someone self-publish and had good success with CreateSpace, they are also print on demand direct to Amazon.

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                          Nearly all of my technical books are on paper. I don’t know why, but if I get a technical book on PDF I don’t actually end up reading it.

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                            Book prices for students are ridiculous, that’s why even the genuinely interested students try to not buy books when they can.

                            I usually download a copy of a book first. Then I read a few sections (which can happen in a few days, but usually takes months, sometimes years – I like reading mathy stuff, which takes a bit longer, and I have a long backlog of articles and books). If I like it, and see that there’s enough information in the book to be useful later, I often buy the book.

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                              Have you considered No Starch Press they have a different ethos and do great tech books.

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                                “I knew that students rarely buy books…”

                                I imagine this has more to do with the insane price of textbooks rather than love of eBooks or hatred of the dead tree format. There is very little reason for a student on a budget to pay $250 for a textbook they are going to use for a single course and maybe never look at again.

                                I remember paying $0.11 a page (~500 pages, so about $55) to have a $120 textbook copied by a Kinkos-type place that looked the other way for starving students. That was still a $65 discount. For one book. Remember, you are going to be required to buy 7 or 8 books, as often as each semester - and that’s “back in the day” pricing. I’ve seen some specialty textbooks selling for $400 now.

                                Sure, students might be able to sell the book back to the bookstore, and get some money back, but that’s assuming they had $700 or more to shell out for them in the first place. I remember some students using books that look like they’d been through fires and floods, simply because they were on sale for cheap.

                                It was my experience that book piracy among students was widespread, accepted, and arguably necessary, at least if you wanted to each that month. It was also much more morally acceptable than the alternatives of stealing books from the university bookstore or library. I doubt this has changed today.

                                Of course, the professional developer market is a much different demographic.

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                                  As a student, I much prefer the feel of real books. I scour Amazon and the like to find textbooks for cheap, and primarily read texts in epub format on my jailbroken Kindle.

                                  A non-backlit screen is a very different consumption experience to readin on an LCD. Had I the money, I’d go for the paper every time. For now, the Kindle suits me best.

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                                  Unless I entered something wrong, IngramSpark will print a 500 page paperback color with 70 lb paper, 10 books for $280 including shipping in the US. Here’s a link to their color printing page. (To be extra clear: this is $28 per book! way less than Lulu mentioned elsewhere)

                                  I use both IngramSpark and KDP for my fiction books. IngramSpark has the nice advantage that bookstores will order from them (though you have to give a substantial discount off of retail price for that to work). I’ve been happy with my IngramSpark copies, though again that was black and white.

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                                    Thanks for this, I had not heard of IngramSpark. Their pricing is very similar to Amazon’s, but they offer more options.

                                    You raised a point I had not thought about, selling via bookshops. My experience, as a buyer, is that small bookshops only stock popular technical books; shops in University towns might stock the more technical material.

                                    I’m tempted to keep the price under 30 (pounds of dollars), just to increase sales volume.

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                                      Yeah, bookshops don’t stock my books, but you can walk into basically any book store (in the US, at least, not sure about the international reach) and request to order the book. I have gotten a couple of sales this way.

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                                    the HoTT book is available online as a free PDF, and also as a print-on-demand book. I have a physical copy, I know quite a few academics (including students) who have the same, though probably they all have the PDF too.

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                                      I see a lot of people in CompSci making “drafts” available for free that stay up. Then, the final version goes to the publisher. I think it’s how they bypass the work getting locked into paywalls. Might work for you.

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                                        Yes, several publishers offer this kind of deal. The final version of the pdf cannot be made available for something like 3-years. It would really annoy me to have a pdf containing known errors online (because I could not fix the mistakes found by the publisher paid proof reader).

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                                          I hear ya. You might leave a note next to the free version that there are errors which are corrected in the paid version to give them a choice. That doesn’t look great, though. Alternatively, an errata section that lists them by page right next to the free one. I don’t know if they have rules against that. Might be a grey area.

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                                        You should sell the PDF, IMO. APress publishes PDFs along side paper books and other ebook formats, so they might be worth looking at.

                                        In general, I prefer ebooks as much as possible. My iPad works well for reading them, I can carry an entire library whereever I go, and it takes up virtually no space.

                                        In this particular situation, it’s unlikely I’d buy the physical book if a PDF is legally available.