Friday, July 21, 2006

Building an Internet Server with FreeBSD 6

I received a review copy of Bryan Hong's new book Building an Internet Server with FreeBSD 6. This is the first book I've received from Lulu Press. I am surprised by the physical quality of this book. It looks just as good as any softcover book you might find at a store, and you can purchase it through Amazon.com or other sellers. Based on the page count and form factor, I estimate it cost Bryan about $6.45 per copy to publish the book (181 pages, 100 copies). I am not sure what it might cost to get the book listed at Lulu or Amazon, and I am not sure if Bryan ships every book himself.

Services like Lulu are a great idea if you don't want to publish with a formal publisher. I personally enjoy working with Addison-Wesley. Why?

  1. AW's production team is top-notch. I think every book I publish is formatted and printed in just the right manner. They convert my lousy PowerPoint scribblings into real artwork. They know how to lay out the pages properly. The text is easy to read. Doing all that work myself would result in a lower quality product that takes more time to write.

  2. AW's editing process is excellent. They challenge authors to write the right books. They circulate proposals and drafts among peers who more or less provide helpful feedback. Their copyeditors are usually grueling taskmasters who ensure the book reads well. (I prefer writing to copyediting any day -- oh, the pain, the pain.)

  3. AW's marketing never stops. They get space on bookshelves. They set up shop at conferences and sponsor USENIX. They create and print flyers for me to hand out. They work with magazines and news sites to get content to potential readers. I literally have a team trying to sell books on my behalf. They even ship a few freebie books here and there as give-aways when I speak.

  4. AW fights pirates. This is an argument for letting the publisher hold copyright. If I held copyright for my books, I would have to personally fight every pirate who copies and distributes my books. AW has a team that works to shut down sites distributing pirated books.

  5. I've had three great publishing experiences with AW. I hope they will consider publishing my work in the future.

I'm sure a dozen or more of you want to jump all over my piracy comment. Here's my thoughts on book pirates: stop kicking a guy when he's down. It takes months, usually years to write a book. Once published, the content may not be relevant in three years (or shorter, depending on the book). You might still be listening to the Beatles in 2014 (50 years after their hey-day), but you won't be reading my first book 10 years after it was first published!

My understanding is that the best-selling security book of all time, Hacking Exposed, has sold over 500,000 copies since it was published in 1999. That's about 72,000 copies a year (6,000 per month -- easy math). With three lead authors, royalties are split three ways. I can't publicly say how much royalties I would expect on a book like that, but I'm guessing the average security consultant salary would easily exceed the yearly royalty amount.

So where does the "kicking a guy when he's down" come into play? Guess how many books must be sold to consider a title "a hit" in the security space. 500,000 is considered the king. So what is it -- 200,000, 100,000, 50,000? Try 10,000 or less. Imagine spending a year or more, full-time, writing a book, and then getting a third or less of your normal salary -- over several years after the book is published. Remember -- that's for a "hit"! Most technical books sell 5,000 copies or less.

In other words, nobody gets rich writing technical books, and hardly anyone could afford to live off royalties. Seeing one's book distributed on p2p networks is just a final insult.

Of course being a published author has advantages beyond royalties, but how many of you are willing to devote such a large chunk of your time to an endeavor that might result in gain somewhere down the line? In conclusion, most authors write for the opportunity to share what they know and advance the state of the practice.

8 comments:

LonerVamp said...

Planning a review of it, perhaps? I always like your pre-reviews and reviews. Good insight!

Richard Bejtlich said...

Yes, I plan to read this book and review it. I just added it to my reading page. I intend to get back on a regular reading schedule again soon.

Joe said...

I agree with your comments about piracy. My former boss wrote a few books and I was shocked when I learned the numbers...or lack thereof. Keep up the good work. Tao of NSM is still a keeper!

PS. At the same time, I love books on PDF. I just bought the new cisco press ccna books (5/06) and they come on PDF so I don't have to carry the books with me. However, I can see how easy it is for malicious people to upload to p2p networks and undermine the authors' hard work.

Richard Bejtlich said...

I think digital access to books is helpful too, especially for searchability. Maybe a Safari account is a good compromise, although my book was pirated by custom code that scraped Safari content and republished it as a .chm.

Brian said...

I think if you take a deeper looker at Lulu Press you'll see a problem. There are many, many (too many) people out there who are publishing real unrated flith at Lulu. It looks like the only age appropriate rating that happens on the site is left to the author. Big, big mistake.

Anonymous said...

A lot of tech books are published nowadays and it's hard to distinguish between a quality and a so-so book. I have huge respect for books and book authors, but my time and budget are limited. So I try to seed out the most comprehensive and quality title on a specific subject, but that is hard, especially with books providing no sample chapters. I usually download pirated PDFs of the books I'm considering and start reading those till I have a clear winner (or two) and buy those ones. Usually when a book has no pirated copy spreading and not all of the reviews are in its favor the chance of me buying it is close to 0.

Anonymous said...

I have a lot of respect for you Richard.

I have to admit that i own shit loads of pirated pdf (just because i can and they are everywhere). But owning them doesn't mean i don't buy books from Amazon (i paid for every single one of your book Richard and i bought about 10-15 books from Amazon every year).

To be honest owning books make my bookshelf looks better (and there's better chance of me reading them too). Most of the pdf i own just sit in a DVD or something and i hardly ever touch them. I am sure i am not the only one that enjoy reading a real physical book instead of ebook infront of computers....

Chris_B said...

Brian,

To combat the problem you describe, I for one advocate the abolishment of the free press and the re-institution of government censorship. The office should be run by widely recognized authorities on religeon and morals. Perhaps the Taliban might serve as a good model for this council.

The alternative might be more individual responsibilty including parental oversight, but that might be asking a bit much in this day and age.