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  Piracy is Progressive Taxation, and Other Thoughts on the Evolution of Online Distribution
Subject:   Easy to say when you titles have a 6 month shelf life
Date:   2002-12-13 00:30:21
From:   anonymous2

It is easy for you to talk about how copying and wide distribution helps increase awareness and does not cause a significant hit to your bottom line when your catalog of titles is composed primarily of technical reference books and pop-culture-meme du jour that are the literary equivalent of yogurt. You live or die by moving a lot of volume quickly and need to make sure that everyone knows what you are pushing this week, this is not the standard publishing model. Let's see you convince one of _your_ peers that online copying of their works is a good idea, it would make your argument more convincing if someone from a publishing house that distributed a book that had multiple print runs over a five or ten year period would validate your conjecture. Online "maintenance" updates and collections are viable for technical subjects and reference works (particulary in fast-moving fields such as the ones you cater to) but I doubt that it is going to keep many poets fed or let truly creative people keep a roof over their head.

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  • Tim O'Reilly photo Easy to say when you titles have a 6 month shelf life
    2002-12-13 09:29:11  Tim O'Reilly | O'Reilly AuthorO'Reilly Blogger [View]

    I don't know where you get the idea that O'Reilly books have a 6-month shelf life. That actually describes the vast majority of publishing, but O'Reilly less than most. A few representative titles that are still going strong (selling tens of thousands of copies a year) after ten to fifteen years:

    Unix in a Nutshell - first published in 1984
    Learning the Unix Operating System - 1985
    Learning the Vi Editor - 1986
    Sed & Awk - 1990
    Programming Perl - 1991
    Essential System Administration - 1991
    Sendmail - 1993
    DNS and Bind - 1993
    Java in a Nutshell - 1995

    And these aren't just a few outliers, though they are some of the best known. We have hundreds of books that sell year in and year out. And it's precisely because we engage with our community of users and keep awareness of our backlist that this is true. It's the frontlist publishers, who rely on marketing and store placement, who are living with short shelf life.

    Unfortunately, what you say "is not the standard publishing model" IS the standard publishing model, and that's the problem.
    • Easy to say when you titles have a 6 month shelf life
      2002-12-15 17:44:17  tlilley [View]

      Indeed. Just ask fans of Jonathan Carroll (http://jonathancarroll.com/), who have historically had the option of buying his books new within about 6 months of their publication, or getting gouged on the aftermarket once they've passed off the radar of the big houses.

      Fortunately for him and his fans, he seems to be in better hands now (Tor), with an actual publicist, promotional tours, and so forth.

      I personally would love to see the new petitioners to the traditional publishing house's role succeed. Print-on-demand, micropayments, direct contact with creators, and so forth could make all the work we're doing worthwhile.

      Fortunately, companies like O'Reilly "get it", and will likely weather these changes, understanding that their role, at the end of the day, is to facilitate the relationship between the creator and the customer. The megacorps forget this every day. Sadly, so do most customers.