Ruby on Rails creator David Heinemeier-Hansson spoke out against “traditional” publishers in Shaking up tech publishing. The comments were at least as interesting as the main course. Check out Tim O’Reilly’s comment as a response from an established publisher. Tim puts the whole thing into perspective and makes a good point about the way royalties are paid out for the purposes of apples-to-apples comparisons.
Mark and I chose a traditional publisher, Prentice Hall, for our TurboGears book. I was initially reluctant to write up a response to DHH’s post, because we haven’t gone through the complete process on the book yet. But, Tim O’Reilly’s post backed up what I thought based on my impressions thus far: publishers do offer a service for their cut of the book. Copy editing, support for reviewers, overall project management and guidance, international distribution and sales, cover art, translations and more.
And as for their status as a “traditional” publisher: our book is written in text files stored in SVN, we have a Trac site for it, camera-ready pages will be done in inDesign, Prentice Hall is supportive of us posting parts of the book for public review and they’ve also been known to publish entirely open books (like the Bruce Perens series). And our book will likely be available in some kind of electronic form before it’s available in print. Does that sound “traditional” to you?
One last bit: while I believe our book will be a success and the TurboGears community continues to grow at a good clip, Prentice Hall is taking a calculated risk on our book. Back in December when we signed up with PH, the TurboGears mailing list had under 1,000 members and there aren’t that many useful stats available to predict the total size of the TurboGears community and market for the book. With all of the services they provide, PH has to sell a fair number of books to reach breakeven. To be able to take risks like this, PH needs to have a balance of riskier ventures and less-risky ventures. That kind of portfolio allows them to cover all kinds of technology, but it costs a bit more to do it.
From my experience with Prentice Hall, they’re not at all a dinosaur that’s just waiting for extinction. The moves they’re making seem far bolder than the moves of the music and movie industries. There are lots of publishing options available today, and publishers like Prentice Hall seem well aware of it.