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Article:
  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 09:29:11
From:   timoreilly
Response to: Easy to say when you titles have a 6 month shelf life

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.

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  • 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.