Online Book vs. eBook

So I have a crazy idea for something that I want to do for my book – am I off the deep end here?

In my experience, eBooks are highly pirated. If someone wants to get a free copy of the book it’s trivial to make that happen. (My last book was pirated on Bitorrent within a couple days of its release and you could trivially find copies on Google.)

1/3 of the book (possibly more, depending on page count) will be on dealing with cross browser issues. There’s a reason why no book really tries to tackle this: It’s a highly volatile subject, shifting a couple times a year. Something moving that quickly demands that there be a web site with the content on it being updated frequently.

So here’s the problem: I’m not terribly excited by the prospect of undercutting book sales by having the book be completely free online, nor do I want to succumb to rampant piracy. My proposal is that, to accompany the book, there be a subscription site that completely replaces any sort of ebook/early-access program.

This site would be both an early access program and an eBook rolled into one – but completely designed to encourage and produce more book sales. Here’s sort of how I’d imagine it working:

Anyone who purchases a book (Amazon, in stores, etc.) and sends in a picture of themselves with it gets free access to the site.

Anyone can purchase access to the site, only, for a reduced cost (say, if the book was $40, then the site-only could be $20) and upgrade at any future time (+$20) and get a copy of the book.

Users could purchase access to the site immediately and become part of the editorial process, helping to sculpt the book as it grows. This has been successfully implemented before (the best example being the Django book) and I would like to continue it here.

Lots of new, original, content is released to complement the book. This would include material that wasn’t completely appropriate for immediate inclusion (such as working with text ranges or building a WYSIWYG editor) but are valuable nonetheless. Additionally, community-centric parts like a forum could be included for additional discussion.

Occasionally free bits are released (chapter parts, code, etc.) to build excitement and interest for the site and book.

I think this would be really interesting for a couple reasons:

  • It builds an exclusive, and enthusiastic, community around the book.
  • It provides an up-to-date resource without giving away the entire book.
  • It allows people to participate in the early access editorial/feedback process from an early stage without – again – giving away everything.
  • It provides exclusive content and community that would make it more lucrative to would-be-pirates.
  • It encourages people to purchase more copies of the book (both through the upgrade process and through buzz/community).

Now, just in case you’re worried, there would be an offline copy of the book that you could download. The significant difference from a traditional PDF is that this would be HTML and JavaScript (allowing you to run examples, etc. – all the stuff that you can’t do with a static PDF).

I should emphasize that this won’t stop piracy – nor do I care if it is stopped (I’m not in a position to be throwing down life lessons) – however I want to try my best to make it as lucrative as possible to have a dynamic version of the site that you can use to completely complement the book-reading experience – and reward those who choose to ‘upgrade’ the physical version of the book, in the end.

I think this particular model is quite interesting and has a lot of potential – thoughts?

Posted: January 18th, 2008

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