Michael Swaine on Computer Book Publishing

code better • have fun

I few weeks back, Michael Swaine emailed asking for our impressions of the computer book publishing situation. He also checked in with some other publishers. His conclusions are posted in a new online Dr Dobbs article.

I know that traditional publishing will never die—people just like holding paper books too much. But the reality of the new world will continue to drive publishers to find new ways of getting information out there. That’s why our business is successful. We started by applying software development project techniques to book creation (version control, DRY, testing, etc). That gave us the lowest cost model of any publisher I know, which in turn let us accept proposals because we wanted to see the book published, and not because some marketing model told us it would sell. We tried other innovations, such as applying agile principles to publishing, gaining early and continuous feedback with our beta book program. And we’ll continue to innovate in the production of books—I still get too much of a thrill from holding the “fresh-from-the-printer smelling first copy of one of our paper books not to.

But, underneath it all, we’re not really book publishers. What drives us is helping the community we know: software developers. The initial starter kit series was simply a way of spreading the information that we gave to teams during our consulting gigs to a wider audience. The Ruby and the Rails books were just a way of sharing a passion. The Erlang book, and books such as Release It! and Design Accessible Web Sites highlight technologies and techniques that we think are cool, and that we think will help other developers. We choose to get that information out in book form because we feel that the process of creating a book helps distill and refine the information. It lets us add value as editors.

I think the problems of the publishing industry will turn out to be a good thing. People get complacent during good times. When when times get harder, the folks who survive are the ones who focus in on the core of what they’re doing. All the publishers still in the field are experimenting and innovating as they refine their focus.

Our focus is a passion for software development and a desire to help software developers have more fun while doing one of the most challenging jobs there is. I’m having a blast.