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Advice On Creating an Open Source Textbook? 178

Posted by kdawson
from the not-for-mammon-alone dept.
Occamboy writes "I wrote a slightly successful (30,000+ copies sold) computer communications textbook a number of years back that was published via the traditional textbook publishing route. The royalties were nice, but, frankly, the bigger money came from the boost in my professional standing (I'm a practicing engineer, not a professor). I also felt bad when the publisher hiked the price dramatically every year because students were stuck once a professor adopted a text — $50 for a smallish paperback seemed very high (although I like to think what they learned was worth it!). I'm thinking of writing another textbook, this time about the practice of software engineering in critical systems, using the experience I've gained in the decades I've spent developing, and managing the development of, software-driven medical devices. Poking around on the Net, I've found several intriguing options for distributing open source texts, such as Flatworld Knowledge, Lulu, and Connexions. This concept of free or inexpensive texts intrigues me — the easy adoption and lack of price-gouging. Do any Slashdotters have experience with this new paradigm? Any suggestions or experiences to share from authors, students, and/or professors, who've written, read, or adopted open source or low-cost texts from any source?"
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Advice On Creating an Open Source Textbook?

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  • by CDMA_Demo (841347) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @10:52PM (#29114827) Homepage
    Have you looked at Wikipedia?

    You can try some ideas from books already available in print as well as in electronic versions.
    SICP [mit.edu]
    Stony Brook Algorithm Repository [sunysb.edu]
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 19, 2009 @02:11AM (#29115749)

      Have you looked at Wikipedia?

      Or, more specifically, Wikibooks [wikibooks.org]?

    • Wow! Lulu is expensive [lulu.com], in my opinion. For a 300-page hardbound book, 1000 copies: "Manufacturing cost: $72,000.00 Per unit cost: $72.00".
      • Gorham Printing quote [gorhamprinting.com], 300 pages, 1,000 copies, paperback: "Your Price: $5,130.00 ($5.13 per book)".

        Anyone have experience with book printers?

        The "self-publishers" I found in a Google search all seem to take advantage of the desire of authors to see a paper copy of their book.
        • My experience with book publishing is that, in general, a 10x increase in printing volume causes a 2x increase in costs. The reverse is also true in general. On demand printing of PDF files can skew that for smaller print runs, but that is a good general rule.

          As for comparisons between one printer and another, there are issues like paper quality, colors used, printing processes, and even technical quality of the printer themselves.

          The technology does exist for printing large volumes of books on a one-off

      • by mrjb (547783)
        That's because you've chosen to make it expensive.

        Unit costs for a 300 page paperback on publisher-grade paper, black and white contents, full-color cover, perfect bound is only 7 dollars for a single unit, or 6.50 for 1000- and that's for on-demand printing.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Tsu Dho Nimh (663417)

        That's full-color inside printing ... even if 290 pages are only black and white, the printer is expensive to use to get the other 10 pages in color.

        If you go to black and white inside pages, the price drops considerably:
        1000 = Manufacturing cost: $20,500.00 Per unit cost: $20.50
        And even a single copy run = Manufacturing cost: $22.50

    • Wikibooks is the best source of open source educational books.

      The folks at CK12.org also probably know a thing or two, since they get most of their content from Wikipedia and were recently distinguished by the governor of the state of California for producing three books which meets the state requirements for an elementary school text book.

  • Flexbooks (Score:5, Informative)

    by fbsderr0r (601444) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @10:52PM (#29114829)
    This site's work seems interesting. http://www.ck12.org/ [ck12.org]
    • Re:Flexbooks (Score:4, Informative)

      by fbsderr0r (601444) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @11:20PM (#29114967)
      In case people are too lazy to click on the link.
      "CK-12 Foundation is a non-profit organization with a mission to reduce the cost of textbook materials for the K-12 market both in the U.S. and worldwide. Using an open-content, web-based collaborative model termed the "FlexBook," CK-12 intends to pioneer the generation and distribution of high quality educational content that will serve both as core text as well as provide an adaptive environment for learning."
  • Wiki Books (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Soldats (1282896) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @11:00PM (#29114867)
    If you truly want to go the open source route I would strongly suggest just putting it up on wiki books. I discovered it recently by accident and have learned an enormous amount from that place, I only wish they had a detailed text on programming in assembly code.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Shikaku (1129753)

      http://sourceforge.net/projects/nasm/files/ [sourceforge.net]

      Tada!

      Open Source X86 assembler, with a textbook sized help file. Check the NASM documentation tab.

      I can also mention that a lot of assembly is similar, and if you can get a good handle of this one, it's mostly the same. The only difference between architectures is the instructions available and sometimes what they do.

      • by tepples (727027)

        The only difference between architectures is the instructions available and sometimes what they do.

        "What they do" can vary considerably. A microcontroller based on an 8-bit 6502 core needs a really different programming style from anything i386. Some architectures (like 6502) prefer structure-of-arrays; others (like anything with a shifter in its address generator) prefer array-of-structures. (There's a difference [blogspot.com].)

      • by Teancum (67324)

        I love NASM... I really do. What Wikibooks offers that is different is to provide a repository of several open source texts on one place, on a wide variety of topics. See: http://en.wikibooks.org/ [wikibooks.org]

        Having written a few wikibooks myself, throwing up some documentation and trying to turn it into a real textbook are two different tasks, even though they are related. Getting good, well written content is an important step, and without the content is it hard to create the textbook. But unfortunately you are on

      • The only difference between architectures is the instructions available and sometimes what they do.

        Ummmm, yeah... different instructions and different results... that would generally cover it. The thing is there can be quite significant differences between architectures. CISC vs RISC is very different. Stack oriented vs register oriented is a big difference. And so on. Now compared to a language like, say, Scheme, all machine architectures and their assembler languages might look almost the same but com

  • Interesting (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Rehnberg (1618505) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @11:01PM (#29114871)
    Perhaps the new model could be something like what Cory Doctorow has done, in that textbook authors publish at physical book and, at the same time, release a free digital download of the textbook. That way, professors and students who felt like they needed the full versions could buy it, while those who don't need the printed version and/or can't afford it could simply download it. Of course, there might have to be incentives to buy the physical book, but, in my opinion, they should be limited to what is absolutely necessary to ensure that the publisher and author can actually make money; the free version should still be substantive.
    • Many of us like online textbooks because they're free, but I still see quite a few of my classmates purchasing books (SiCP is a great example). Given that ebooks are available free whether or not legally, this may not be a bad idea.

      HOWEVER: I imagine doing the online route will make it far harder to get published.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by julesh (229690)

        HOWEVER: I imagine doing the online route will make it far harder to get published.

        Yes. You'll have to find a sympathetic publisher, and while some do exist in the field of fiction publishing (Baen and Tor are two that spring to mind, both having published books while giving away free downloads of them, but I think there are others too) and others in references works (ISTR that a lot of the Coriolis open-source titles were distributed like this, and I've seen some of the Addison Wesley Professional titles w

        • by PCM2 (4486)

          The thing about fiction publishing is that it's an entertainment medium. It's a basic fact of human nature that neither war nor economic depression nor famine nor "growing up" will ever eliminate the human desire for entertainment. Can you say the same of elementary algebra?

          Give a man a fish, and he'll feed himself for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he'll never need to buy an illustrated guide to fishing.

          In a sense, what Tor and Baen are doing is comparable to what Google is doing with software. Google can

        • What about "Print on Demand" (POD) books? Just offer a PDF on your website and have a link for a POD book for those students that prefer a physical book. There are many, many POD publishers out there. and most are pretty good/indistinguishable from "regular" printing. And if you use Amazon's POD publisher, Booksurge, you automatically get listed with them. To me this seems like a "no fail" system that provides both free (ebook) and physical (POD) versions of your book while side-stepping an outdated publish
          • by julesh (229690)

            There are many, many POD publishers out there. and most are pretty good/indistinguishable from "regular" printing [...] To me this seems like a "no fail" system that provides both free (ebook) and physical (POD) versions of your book while side-stepping an outdated publishing industry.

            No, they aren't, although it isn't in the quality of the printed copy you'll notice the difference: it's the price tag that'll do it. POD printing costs many, many times more than regular printing does. To pick a random exam

            • by julesh (229690)

              I said:

              From Lightning Source, the printer almost all of the POD services you talk about use, the same book would cost $6.10. You'd then have the POD service's cut on top of that, so you'd be lucky to get the book in your hands for less than $7.

              Having just priced one up in Lulu, it seems they want $8.50 for it.

        • by bcrowell (177657)
          Your examples of Baen and Tor are a little off the mark, since those are fiction publishing houses. Generally fiction publishers are never interested in reading submissions that have already been published. (Yes, there are tons of exceptions, but that's the general rule.) In academia, it's quite common for authors to release their textbooks for free online, and then get a contract with a publisher. Fifty years ago, the professor would run off copies of his book on purple mimeograph paper and test drive it w
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Perhaps the new model could be something like what Cory Doctorow has done

      While not a bad idea, per se, I would strongly advise anyone against any behavior or course of action which may result in an increased similarity to Cory Doctorow.

    • by julesh (229690)

      Perhaps the new model could be something like what Cory Doctorow has done, in that textbook authors publish at physical book and, at the same time, release a free digital download of the textbook.

      I've seen this applied to reference works as well, and see no reason it couldn't work with textbooks too. The lesson to learn from how Cory does it, though, is one that isn't at first obvious: talk to the big publishers first, and tell them exactly what you want to do. Your book is likely to see a lot more circul

  • unfortunately... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Odinlake (1057938) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @11:10PM (#29114903)
    ...I suspect many professors still feel a textbook lacks legitimacy unless it's hard cover, thick and there is a substantial price tag connected to it. I say this so as to suggest that "free" might mean it won't be as widely adopted as the authors first one.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by spankyofoz (445751)

      I have to agree with this. Too many people still stick to the old adage "you get what you pay for", and are wary of free things.

      Plus I have a large suspicion that there is some sort of kickback for professors enforcing textbook requirements. It might be a bit of a conspiracy theory, but it all fits together too well...

      • One of my professors would give us seven page numbers for every reference to a page he made and every problem he assigned...one for each of the seven versions of the course text. Obviously this is more than a little effort to put in, and we appreciated it. This guy did NOT like the textbook racket.

      • by Roger W Moore (538166) on Wednesday August 19, 2009 @01:18AM (#29115523) Journal
        I have never heard of any prof ever getting a kickback from a publisher and I have certainly never been offered one myself....and I ever were offered one I guarantee I'd pursue the appropriate action against the offending publisher. Frankly I, and a lot of my colleagues, find the frequent new editions where nothing but the problem numbers change to be a huge rip-off for the students and we would love to do something about it.

        I'm certainly not suspicious of "free" books...but have you ever actually looked at the texts which are available? at least for physics? I have, and while I am not a fan of the big, glossy 1st year physics text books they are far superior to the free offerings available. The free books are generally unedited, full of mistakes, have few to no chapter problems or worked examples and/or are written by an author trying to push some bizarre methodology or point of view. They are simply are not suitable as a course text. They are not, at all, like Open Source software where the code is generally of higher quality than the commercial stuff just less polished.

        Perhaps if things were to somehow get organized like an Open Source project then things would be a lot better since it would allow faculty members to write a chunk of the book and the central maintainer could then act as editor. However the number of people with adequate expert knowledge, plus an Open source-like attitude plus the inclination and time to write such a chunk is low enough that without a very high profile it would be hard to achieve critical mass...and without critical mass how do you achieve a high profile?

        If you have any suggestions I would be very interested to hear them....
        • by digitig (1056110)

          I'm certainly not suspicious of "free" books...but have you ever actually looked at the texts which are available? at least for physics? I have, and while I am not a fan of the big, glossy 1st year physics text books they are far superior to the free offerings available.

          That doesn't seem to be what California [slashdot.org] found.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by jellomizer (103300)

          Are you sure?

          Kickbacks are often modified quite carefully so it doesn't seem like you may be getting one.
          Publishing Company Sponsored events, where you are "networking" with other professors from different colleges to help others write their books for them, (or some research fill a paragraph get you name in the book, and some royalties) Chances are you will be pushing your book to your class. Or carefully presented to show you how to use all the features of the publishing company. Work Books, CDROMs, Web Si

          • I've been a grad student for a number of years and I've never heard of publishing company sponsored events. I'm in the humanities though in a field where anthologies or single author books are most often used and not textbooks though.
          • The New trend of customized text books. where you can get mixed version of the book (only the chapters you need) and because you are making a mix you get royalties from the sales.

            I looked into that once but never saw any mention of getting royalties. In fact the reason I looked into it was to see if we could strip out some of the book sections that we did not want to save the students money but the costs of producing the custom version meant that the savings were practically nothing.

            Free Textbooks as samples or as thanks for having your classes use them

            I've only ever got free textbooks to evaluate the text or, if we adopt a text, to work from to set reading assignments etc. If the publisher did not provide it for free then the University would be pur

        • by Teancum (67324)

          I hope that at least for a college-level physics textbook that you have at least considered http://lightandmatter.com/ [lightandmatter.com] ?

          This text is already the primary introductory physics text that includes chapter problems and has been vetted over the course of several years of experience in actual classroom usage at several colleges. Besides, I happen to like the principle author of the book as well, who has considerable experience in open source textbook publishing.

          They don't have to be full of mistakes, and the prob

        • by dunng808 (448849)

          I have been working on a related project for roughly ten years and made very little progress. The obstacles to free textbooks are many, and include:

          o Author reluctance due to
          - the dream of publishing a hit and making money
          - fear that associating with such an endeavor (e.g., Wikipedia) will damage their reputation (corollary: a successful publication improves reputati

    • ...I suspect many professors still feel a textbook lacks legitimacy unless it's hard cover, thick and there is a substantial price tag connected to it. I say this so as to suggest that "free" might mean it won't be as widely adopted as the authors first one.

      That's fine -- just take a leaf out of David MacKay's book (ha). His textbook (Information Theory, Inference, and Learning Algorithms [cam.ac.uk]) is available online for free, but is also published by Cambridge University Press, one of the world's top academic publishers.

      It's also one of their best-sellers.

      (I own a copy of the above textbook; it's excellently written, typeset and bound. One of the best books I own!)

    • by Shikaku (1129753)

      One of my class textbooks was this:

      http://sourceforge.net/projects/nasm/files/nasm%20documentation/2.07/nasm-2.07-xdoc.zip/download [sourceforge.net]

      Then again, my CS department had a Linux lab.

    • by bradley13 (1118935) on Wednesday August 19, 2009 @05:14AM (#29116539) Homepage

      Speaking as a professor, I absolutely detest the practice of issuing new editions every year to screw the students. It is (a) never clear what has changed, (b) there is no reason students shouldn't be able pass on their used textbooks if they no longer want them, and (c) if you need translations, they are always a year or so behind, meaning that editions do not match across languages.

      So, as a potential customer of textbooks, what is important?

      • The book must come up in Google. I find books by searching both in general and specifically within publishers sites. The best textbook in the world is useless if I never find out about it. Unfortunately, this means that the known academic publishers have a big advantage.
      • Content, content, content. I want real, useful, practical content. Stay relevant, cut the fluff. Take an example from the operating systems text by Tanenbaum: No student now alive gives a damn how the IBM 360 used to work. Heck, I cut my teeth programming an IBM 360, and I don't care how it worked. So why does he keep blathering on about it?
      • Price. I dislike the feeling that my students are getting ripped off. For my sins, I am teaching a new intro-to-CS course for business students next semester. The only half-way-decent textbook I could find is a 300 page, overly fluffy paperback - and it costs 50 Euros (that's about 75 bucks). Oh, yes, and there is a new edition out this year, great...
      • Online resources. I mention this almost as a negative point. Many publishers make much ado about online resources. It is nice to provide source-code and basic illustrations in electronic form. Perhaps solutions to some exercises. Anything else is useless - for example, I cannot imagine any competent professor using pre-prepared lecture slides.

      For what it's worth, I would not be a fan of a purely electronic textbook. Electronic resources are great, but having a written reference on the side is still very useful - if only because you may need to see the reference while looking at stuff on your screen.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by geminidomino (614729) *

        For what it's worth, I would not be a fan of a purely electronic textbook. Electronic resources are great, but having a written reference on the side is still very useful - if only because you may need to see the reference while looking at stuff on your screen.

        The lazy ones, though, make that pay off for them. It becomes the equivalent of the gamestop exclusive DLC, to damage the used book market. When you get one who actually tries to REQUIRE it (I did), you either rebuy the book brand new (eating the cost of the used one) or drop the section/class.

      • by asylumx (881307)

        Electronic resources are great, but having a written reference on the side is still very useful - if only because you may need to see the reference while looking at stuff on your screen.

        There is also much to be said for being able to pencil in quick notes directly in their context, IMO.

    • by db32 (862117)
      That is a tough one, especially in the field he is discussing. I would routinely gripe about the cost of books and the instructors would simply throw their hands up and say "nothing we can do". However, in my technology classes it was different. I got one of my books used for $5. I figured that couldn't possibly be correct so I called the instructor to make sure this was the right book. He explained that he read through the new version, didn't find anything significantly different, and decided to go wi
  • by ceoyoyo (59147) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @11:16PM (#29114935)

    Do you want to write a free textbook, manage an open source textbook project or host/start a wiki textbook?

    If you want to write a free textbook, go for it. There are several examples you can find, some by pretty big names.

    If you want to manage an open source textbook project be warned that if you want a professor to use it you're going to have to assume the role of editor and put up your reputation to vouch for whatever goes into it.

    If you want to start a wiki textbook project, there's no shortage of wiki sites, but nobody is going to use it in an official capacity. Just like Wikipedia doesn't fly in academia, wiki texts don't either.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      I don't know, my professors regularly referenced wikipedia as supplemental reading. The more open minded/younger generations are starting to accept that it's a damn good reference at an encyclopedia level. Of course any kind of real paper requires a lot more depth, but it's a good place to start.

      I've also had ones who just stubbornly ruled it out and refused to discuss it. But at least they had the common sense to make this policy clear in advance, rather than marking students down for it.

      Yes, there is tras

      • by ceoyoyo (59147)

        As supplemental reading it's a gutsy move. As the primary resource for the class (ie the textbook), it would be either irresponsible or a nightmare of extra work.

        The professor is responsible for what he teaches you. With a properly edited textbook the editors, authors and publisher (if there is one) take responsibility for the accuracy of contents. With a wiki there's no one to do that. So to use a wiki textbook the professor really should have edited it himself, which is a lot of work.

        As for a referenc

        • I'm glad my professors didn't see it that way. To be fair, I usually used wikipeida as you suggest: read it, read the references, cite them, but I cite wikipedia as well and always did fine.

          It was most useful in science, math, and engineering classes for quick fact lookups in class.

          • by ceoyoyo (59147)

            If you confirm any encyclopedia citations with a second source it's okay, but that's pretty redundant.

            I'm pretty sure it was grade four when they weaned us off the encyclopedia. All encyclopedia cites were required to be backed up by a non-encyclopedia citation. In grade five we just dropped the redundant citation.

            If you're writing a scientific paper for publication the only acceptable citation is really a peer reviewed paper. Even textbooks are out, except under special circumstances.

      • by shmlco (594907)

        Paul Revere's famous "Midnight Ride" occurred on the night of April 18/April 19, 1774, when he and William Davies were instructed by Dr. Joseph Warren to ride from Boston to Arlington to warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams of the movements of the British Army...

        Fine. Except it was 1775, not 1774, he rode to Lexington, not Arlington, and it's William Dawes, not Davies.

        But if any of the above were represented on Wikipedia as fact, how would you--not knowing any better--separate out the "bullshit"?

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by rtfa-troll (1340807)

          Key fact Wikipedia is as accurate as Britannica [cnet.com]. This is even taking into account the risk of vandalism. I don't care about the detail; there seem to be ways of counting which make Wikipedia win and ways that make Britannica win; what matters is that this means that statistically, a fact in Wikipedia is much more likely to be true than not. If you wouldn't worry when using a different Encyclopaedia, then you shouldn't worry when using Wikipedia.

          Now, if you care about a fact enough that you are worried eve

        • by tlhIngan (30335)

          Paul Revere's famous "Midnight Ride" occurred on the night of April 18/April 19, 1774, when he and William Davies were instructed by Dr. Joseph Warren to ride from Boston to Arlington to warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams of the movements of the British Army...

          Fine. Except it was 1775, not 1774, he rode to Lexington, not Arlington, and it's William Dawes, not Davies.

          But if any of the above were represented on Wikipedia as fact, how would you--not knowing any better--separate out the "bullshit"?

          That's what r

    • by bcrowell (177657)

      Lots of incorrect statements here.

      If you want to manage an open source textbook project be warned that if you want a professor to use it you're going to have to assume the role of editor and put up your reputation to vouch for whatever goes into it.

      Open-source is not the same thing as multi-author. My own physics textbooks [lightandmatter.com] are open-source, but I'm the only author. Open-source, in the context of a textbook, simply means it's under an appropriate copyleft license (e.g., CC-BY-SA), and it's in an open, edita

  • I understand O'Reilly publishes a number of books under " various forms of 'open' copyright [oreilly.com]".

    O'Reilly has published a number of Open Books--books with various forms of "open" copyright--over the years. The reasons for "opening" copyright, as well as the specific license agreements under which they are opened, are as varied as our authors.

    Perhaps a book was outdated enough to be put out of print, yet some people still needed the information it covered. Or the author or subject of a book felt strongly that it

  • by HockeyPuck (141947) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @11:26PM (#29115005)

    So I work for a "big router company", and like other companies of similar size it has it's own publishing arm. After writing a number of books which were published either for free on the company's website or via their publishing arm. I decided that I had enough of the Editor's, and self proclaimed techwriters. Now my co-author and I wrote all the material and we handpicked our technical reviewers. We have close ties to the techwriters who author manuals/users guides etc. So finding a reviewer of grammar/style wasn't that hard.

    In the end we decided to give away soft copies via download, but if the customer wanted a printed copy then we charged them market value for the book. We decided upon lulu because honestly it was an easy to use interface, they were responsive via email, though I don't believe you can call them up and speak with them. In the end we basically shipped them a .pdf, and then ordered a proof copy to make sure all the graphics/fonts came out as we expected.

    We purchased an ISBN from them, and now you can find it on amazon/barnes and noble etc. Our audience is pretty specific, so getting word of our book is pretty easy. No need to pay for marketing, and "big router company" doesn't really help us. Just word of mouth of sales, tech support folks and visiting clients/customers.

    I definitely like how I can create multiple versions, review copies etc. I'm sure that there are many other lulu.com type companies.

    I would recommend Lulu.

    • by bcrowell (177657) on Wednesday August 19, 2009 @01:09AM (#29115495) Homepage

      For a catalog of free and/or open-source books, see my sig. I've written some free physics textbooks [lightandmatter.com], and have been fairly successful getting them adopted at colleges and high schools (scroll down on that page for a list of adoptions).

      In my experience, college profs and high school teachers tend to be pretty open-minded about adopting free books. I haven't seen much evidence of any stigma associated with the fact that they're not published by a big publishing house. High school teachers at public high schools generally don't get the freedom to choose a book that hasn't been approved by the state bureaucracy, but teachers at Catholic schools and charter schools do. Most of my high school adoptions have been from private religious schools.

      Promoting a self-published book is always difficult. For me it's been mostly word of mouth, but I've also paid for ads in The Physics Teacher now and then.

      I started out by doing the order fulfillment myself. That was nuts. After doing that for years, I was extremely happy to have it done by lulu -- no fuss, no muss. Pros and cons of lulu:

      • They do the order fulfillment. That means I don't need a business license or a merchant credit card account anymore. I don't need to do sales tax returns anymore. I don't have to extend credit to customers, or nag the flaky ones to pay their bills. I don't have to worry about going on vacation in the summer when orders are going to come in. I don't have to lay out capital to print hundreds of books at a time, or fill up all the closets in my house with them.
      • Lulu, unlike almost all vanity presses, offers an option where you don't pay them any money initially. That option is good. Use it. People who pay a vanity press to publish their book are mostly fooling themselves. Money is supposed to flow to the author; if it flows the other way it's generally a scam. With lulu's free option you don't get an ISBN. Don't worry about it. I've never had a college bookstore or high school get upset because there was no ISBN for the book. They handle instructors' course packs, etc., that don't have ISBNs, and they're used to it.
      • Support is more or less nonexistent. They have forums, and the other users on those forums are often very nice, but the chances of getting a helpful response from lulu staff are pretty low in my experience.
      • Don't use their USPS Media Mail shipping options, and make sure to warn your customers not to use it. The books will arrive six weeks late and damaged.
      • I have had lots of hassles with PDFs. Often a PDF will print fine for a year, but then one day someone will place an order, the particular subcontractor that's supposed to print the books for that region will get an error, and then I have a problem. The customer gets an email saying the order couldn't be fulfilled. I get an email saying there was an error, but not what the error was. This always seems to happen when the order is some gigantic order from a big university, and I'm out of town. Not fun. To maximize your chances that the pdf will work, and work reliably, make sure that no fonts are subsetted, and that 100% of fonts are embedded. If you're generating them with ghostcript (or one of the many other pieces of software that use gs under the hood), make sure it's a recent version of gs.

      It sounds like you're planning on selling to colleges. Don't underestimate the insane cheapness of impoverished college students. If your book costs significantly more in print than it would cost them to download it and print it out at Kinko's, they'll download it and print it. No, it's not logical to save thirty-seven cents by printing the book out instead of buying a nice, bound copy. Yes, they'll do it anyway. For this reason, do not expect to make any money on this project. Do it if it makes you happy. Do it if it scratches your itch. The good thing about lulu is that if you use their free option, you're guaranteed not to *lose* any money.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Aussie_Scribe (899692)
      > I decided that I had enough of the Editor's, and self proclaimed techwriters. Forgive me but perhaps ditching the editors was unwise. In only one sentence you've: 1. used an unnecessary capital; 2. used an unnecessary apostrophe; 3. used an unnecessary comma; and 4. omitted a hyphen. Seriously: editors add value.
    • Look at the comments above [slashdot.org]:

      Lulu is expensive [lulu.com] [lulu.com], in my opinion. For a 300-page hardbound book, 1000 copies: "Manufacturing cost: $72,000.00 Per unit cost: $72.00".

      Gorham Printing quote [gorhamprinting.com] [gorhamprinting.com], 300 pages, 1,000 copies, paperback: "Your Price: $5,130.00 ($5.13 per book)".
  • by s0litaire (1205168) * on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @11:34PM (#29115051)
    ...Have you thought of Amazons POD (Print on Demand) service? Think for a basic book, all you need is 2 pdf's

    1) The book itself

    2) A front / spine/ Back images for the cover.

    You upload it to Amazons servers and set a price (Think Amazon charges a fee for inital setup).

    Then list it on Amazon and they are printed as required.

    • by Garwulf (708651)

      I hate to say it, but that's a really bad idea. I'm afraid that as a publisher who has to deal with PoD printers, I know something of the reputation that Amazon's PoD service has - and it's terrible. The company is called Booksurge, and they are known for off-center covers, missing pages, and in some cases typos that aren't in the PDF they were sent.

      If you want a good company to work with for that, use Lightning Source. You need a business number, but they're professional, they have worldwide distributio

      • by bcrowell (177657)

        Slightly different take here.

        IMO the big problem with amazon, versus lulu, is that I believe amazon has no zero-cost option. Money should always flow toward the author; anything else is generally a waste of money, and possibly a scam.

        Big problem with lightning source versus lulu or amazon is that lightning source won't handle order fulfillment. That means you have lots of hassles: maintaining a merchant credit card account, laying out capital for books, storing books, packing orders, state sales tax retur

        • by Garwulf (708651)

          "IMO the big problem with amazon, versus lulu, is that I believe amazon has no zero-cost option. Money should always flow toward the author; anything else is generally a waste of money, and possibly a scam.

          "Big problem with lightning source versus lulu or amazon is that lightning source won't handle order fulfillment. That means you have lots of hassles: maintaining a merchant credit card account, laying out capital for books, storing books, packing orders, state sales tax returns, customers who want to pay

    • by Myopic (18616)

      This is off topic (but please don't mod me down for it). Years ago the internet nerds decided to boycott Amazon, so I did that along with the rest of the nerds, or so I thought. Years have passed, and I never heard that we were dropping the boycott, but nobody seems to be miffed at Amazon anymore. Did I miss a news story about how Amazon made amends and was forgiven?

  • Flossmanuals.net (Score:2, Informative)

    by thatkid_2002 (1529917)
    If you look at the FLOSS Manuals website [flossmanuals.net] you can read a number of Open Source manuals for Open Source software in both HTML and PDF form (IIRC) and if you want a hard copy it redirects you to lulu.com where you purchase a hard copy. It seems to work well for those guys.
    You could probably email them and ask them about their experiences.
  • ask a Prof (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Tumbleweed (3706) * on Wednesday August 19, 2009 @12:21AM (#29115283)

    I was reading about MIT OpenCourseWare in the latest Popular Science, and the references they made about the costs not being totally free because of textbooks, etc. really intrigued me - perhaps you could contact an MIT professor who teaches a course that your proposed textbook would be appropriate for, and ask for advice on what would help open-minded professors use open source/free textbooks.

    I think an education-minded billionaire would be very helpful in providing some free textbook and other materials to go along with this fantastic trend of free online education.

    • by cpghost (719344)

      I think an education-minded billionaire would be very helpful in providing some free textbook and other materials to go along with this fantastic trend of free online education.

      Beware of Greeks bearing gifts: Bill Gates would only offer free online education in Silverlight format [slashdot.org].

  • ... was "Dive Into Python" (http://www.diveintopython.org/). I don't remember how I came across the book in the first place, but I did, I set and used the text for the course, and the publishers probably got some sales out of it, too, from those who like to have a bound copy for the bookcase. So perhaps you could have a look at that book's publisher for another alternative.
  • by kanweg (771128) on Wednesday August 19, 2009 @12:59AM (#29115441)

    With help from Alex Clarke and Philippe Mougin I wrote a tutorial on programming in Object-C, aimed at absolute newbies. It was released as a PDF and a great success. Over 200k copies were downloaded by people interested in programming for the Apple Macintosh (or perhaps iPhone). You can find it here:

    http://www.cocoalab.com/?q=becomeanxcoder [cocoalab.com]

    It was translated by volunteers in several other languages, amongst which Chinese and Arabic. Cool!

    Bert

  • by drDugan (219551) on Wednesday August 19, 2009 @01:23AM (#29115537) Homepage

    LegalTorrents does hosting and distribution of open licensed content:

    see http://www.legaltorrents.com/books [legaltorrents.com]

  • Sell it on Kindle for $9.95. Students can read it on the Kindle reader, or with a free reader for their iPhone or iPod touch. $9.95 isn't free, but it's pretty cheap for a text book.
    • by cpghost (719344)
      Since Amazon doesn't want to sell the Kindle in the EU (e.g. unavailable in Germany), publishing ONLY on Kindle would unnecessarily restrict the exposure of your book.
  • Freeload Press (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ZPWeeks (990417)
    Thanks to some very sane authors in my Finance department, I took a class using a free text from Freeload Press. They manage to turn revenue by putting ads in the DRM-free PDF files. Other good benefits are very quick error corrections, and students have the option to order an ad-free printed copy for a very sane price (around $30-40). My guess is that authors still get paid. http://www.freeloadpress.com/index.html [freeloadpress.com] (Normally I'm vehemently anti-advertising but as a college student, I'd *much* rather suppo
  • Look no further than http://flossmanuals.net [flossmanuals.net]. Check out the GNU/Linux Command Line manual, the new Ogg/Theora manual and also the "How To Bypass Internet Censorship" manuals for examples of what their platform is capable of (alongside a sense of the energy of the FM community).

    Note there are three core publishing options: HTML, PDF and print-on-demand.
  • Check out http://en.wikiversity.org/ [wikiversity.org]

    "Wikiversity is a Wikimedia Foundation project devoted to learning resources, learning projects, and research for use in all levels, types, and styles of education from pre-school to university, including professional training and informal learning. We invite teachers, students, and researchers to join us in creating open educational resources and collaborative learning communities."

  • I've published a book ('Growing Better Software [growingbet...ftware.com]') through Lulu. It was straightforward to get my book 'out there' on all popular book sites, while maintaining ownership and thus control over pricing etc.

    Getting the book published is the easy part. The hard part is to get the world to know that the book is out there and not to spend more on the marketing than the sales will earn you- unless it is more important to you that the book is out there than to earn back the time you invested in it.

    Did your 'tra
    • I can't speak in a universal context, but if this were my project:

      I would partner with an open courseware "course" or professor.

      That way, free content would promote the free context I was giving away.

      As far as getting the book out there... a website with a PDF, man.

      I would make it free, and make it clear that any edits by the user community would constitute a fork -- that way, you're not responsible for the kid who photoshops "Eat Dicks" into the background of Diagram 3.2-7

  • You enjoyed a significant change in your professional standing by being the author of a very small, very expensive book.

    How would giving away a webpage or PDF help you?

    Heinlein pointed out - you've got to make the rubes pay, or they won't listen.

  • But I don't think it will work....

    People don't buy 'Textbooks' outside of Academia. They might buy a book that covers technical or educational topics - but it won't be a textbook.

    I think the concept of an Open Source Textbook is nice, but again, the only textbooks that are read are the ones assigned to the students by their teachers and professors. And, rarely, does the actual teacher or professor have any choice in the book.

    College Algebra hasn't changed since my Dad went to college - but every year or t

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