Books, Early chapters and Wheel Reinvention

How many books for beginners exist for your programming language /technology of choice? I’m assuming that if you are reading this site you are a tech of some description and so have some exposure to coding, if not stay with me ;) How many times, and in slightly different ways, has the same basic introduction to Perl, Python, TCP, Linux or Java been written? Now include the how-tos, on-line articles and tutorials. I’d guess a lot.

With the invention of the Creative Commons license you can now choose to distribute your own work under a relaxed set of rules. For example you can allow full use except for commercial purposes, permit your work to be published any ware but restrict modifications etc.

I’m going to go off on a tangent for a couple of second. Most publishers (in the tech world at least) put a sample chapter books online to drive up interest in the book. Now I’m going to make an assumption and say that this can’t actually hurt the sale of the book otherwise they wouldn’t do it.

Now I’ve thrown that into the mix lets combine the two ideas. A publisher puts the first chapter of their beginning books online under a Creative Commons license, the exact one can vary based upon how altruistic they are, putting this chapter online has cost them nothing more than it would to put it up as usual. This is where it gets interesting; to me at least.

The people writing the books, articles and how-tos can now draw upon the professionally edited chapter to add a beginning to their own work, this saves them the effort of re-inventing the wheel and providing yet another intro chapter. From the publishers angle they get some extra (and free) PR from people reading any of the resources that use the chapter. If the chapter is actually good quality then people will read it and hopefully go and buy the book.

O’Reilly has a service called Safari that allows college tutors to pull together material for their students, imagine the gain that could be made from opening a few sample chapters like this. Even with just the basic details of TCP/IP the number of sysadmin how-tos, networking guides and network programming books that could reuse the work is staggering.

Does this idea have holes in it? Yep. Does it warrant thinking about? I think so.