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gnat (29)

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Journal of gnat (29)

Friday September 05, 2003
11:29 AM

O'Reilly Gripes

[ #14513 ]
Ziggy posted a journal entry standing up for O'Reilly. Thanks for the vote of confidence, Zig! I guess it's nice to be the guy out in front that everyone takes shots at, rather than the bumbledick at the back that nobody cares about :-)

Some replies to the gripes that he mentioned hearing ...

Why can't they publish more Perl books?

Finances, mainly. We do publish new Perl books (Perl and XML, Perl and LWP, Programming Web Services with Perl, Perl Graphics Programming) but these new Perl books don't do as well as, say, new Missing Manuals. So if we devote a lot of editorial, printing, and marketing dollars to new Perl books, someone else is going to be making all the Missing Manual bucks. And if you want us to keep publishing Perl books, we need those Missing Manual bucks. Wrox's bankruptcy was a chilling reminder of the need to pay attention to the shekels.

Why can't they publish updated editions sooner?

Yup, we're bad about this. I can point to at least three Perl books that are overdue for revision. Sometimes it's because of the authors, sometimes it's because we forget. On the up-side, you haven't had to buy a newer copy of Programming the Perl DBI for a VERY long time :-)

Why are their books so damn expensive?

Because all tech books are so damn expensive? In terms of average book price, we're cheaper than basically everyone but Que. In terms of price per page, Sams is the only major competitor who clocks in cheaper and the difference is very small. At least, that's what the amaBooks database of wisdom tells me.

If you were wondering why tech books are more expensive compared to, say, fiction, it's because (a) more people buy Tom Clancy than buy Larry Wall, and (b) fiction publishing companies back a lot of books expecting most of them to fail but assume they'll sell enough of the rare successful book to cover their losses. Tech publishing just doesn't work that way. If we sell a Perl book for $19.95, it'll have to sell many more copies to break even than if we sell it for $29.95 (and so on for $34.95, $39.95, $44.95, etc.) There aren't that many people buying Perl books. And no matter how well "Microsoft ADO.NET in a Nutshell" does, we can't afford to squander any profits it makes to support an underpriced Perl book. So every book has to pay for itself, and with fewer and fewer people employed and needing to buy books, prices just tend to go up. Until we start printing money instead of books, them's the facts of life.

Why are the books so damn fat?

As I said earlier, if you buy 1000 pages from us, you know it's 1000 pages of information and not 400 pages of whitespace, 200 pages of pointless diagrams, and 400 pages of information. So, for example, Programming Perl is enormous because Perl's enormous. I'm open to suggestions on how to drop the size of that puppy. Perl Cookbook is bigger because people do more with Perl now than they did in 1999 (and because we entered the expository quagmire that is Unicode). Are there any other too-big Perl books? The most recent Perl books we've published are Perl 6 Essentials (208 pages) and Learning Perl Objects, References & Modules (205 pages). If anything, those books are almost too small to be visible on the shelf!

They fired Larry. What's up with that?

Tim had to fire a lot of people in the last three years to deal with the fact that the tech industry collapsed and suddenly far fewer people are buying books. It wasn't personally about Larry--the entire O'Reilly software group was disbanded at the same time. Tim and Larry are still friends. In short, sometimes shit has to happen even though nobody wants it to.

I bought the 1st edition of the Perl Cookbook at full retail price; why should I have to pay again now that the 2nd edition is out?

Thanks for buying the 1st edition! Why should you have to pay again? Because O'Reilly has the same authorial, editorial, and printing costs for the second edition as for the first--the authorial royalty is still 10%, they still had to pay Linda's salary, they still have to work hard to convince book stores to stock the second edition, they still have to place advertisements and get the word out, and book stores still want their cut. If you want to subscribe to books, take a look at Safari. You can easily swap the 1st edition for the 2nd edition there, and the 2nd edition came online before it was available in stores.

No one cares about XP, so why spend so much time and effort on the XP books?

Correction: you don't care about XP. Many folks do, however--it's one of the biggest selling categories of books. See earlier comments about needing Missing Manual money to keep doing Perl books. Most consumer titles (Missing Manuals, XP) make more money than most Perl books. Most of our new books are squarely in the area of programming and sysadmin. We are trying to do more consumer books, but we're not letting go of our programmers.

Why are the Missing Manuals so fluffy and useless?

Hang on, I'll forward your question to David Pogue :-) No, seriously ... I'm afraid you're not the target audience for the Missing Manuals. These are aimed at the "for Dummies" audience, only they don't insult the reader. You're like a "Clerks" fan complaining that "Chocolat" sucked even though they were released by the same distributor, Miramax, and both were shown at your local theater. We try hard to make it obvious that the Missing Manuals are not animal books for programmers, and the back cover copy and a cursory skim should make it clear that you (the technical person) aren't supposed to buy them.

Why aren't they doing more for Perl these days?

I'm always open to suggestions. O'Reilly and Associates donates to the Perl Foundation, sponsors YAPCs, sends books to Perl Monger groups, runs (paying for articles, many of whose authors then donate the money to the Perl Foundation), send quarterly royalty checks to Larry and many others, and so on. I think we do far more than any other publisher, possibly all other publishers put together, but I'm happy to hear suggestions for more we can do.

Whew! Oh, and one more thing: regarding more Perl books, the Template Toolkit book should be out in November, probably appearing in stores late November or early December. Enjoy!


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  • Perl and Chess (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Ovid (2709) on 2003.09.05 11:54 (#23912) Homepage Journal

    You may have heard this anecdote before, but it's worth repeating.

    Years ago, when I was still married, my wife referred to herself as a "chess widow". I played a lot of chess. I can't say that I was particularly gifted, but I tried. Part of my trying was reading a lot of stuff about chess, including back issues of "Chess Life and Review". Many of those issues were written when the cold war was still quite frozen and the Soviet Union sent promising chess players to specials Chess Universities. In reading "Chess Life and Review", I kept stumbling across articles that implied that since chess was so popular in the USSR, it was a great tool for our reaching across cultural boundaries and settling our differences.

    While I could agree that any chance for the different cultures to meet would be a good thing, it's quite a stretch to think that chess was the cure for our diplomatic ills. Some chess players really thought that by playing more chess, we could make the world a better place. Why? Because they were so immersed in chess that they had blinders on.

    I think that's why many Perl programmers need to get out and learn other languages. Sure, learning about functional and logic programming would be nice. Learning a language with better OO facilities (even Java) can teach us much about the limitations of Perl's OO. However, for me it's about removing those damned blinders. Once Perl programmers leave their nice safe language and venture out into the world, they will discover that Perl is not The One True Path and they'll be less likely to ask some of the silly questions that you responded to above.

    • I kept stumbling across articles that implied that since chess was so popular in the USSR, it was a great tool for our reaching across cultural boundaries and settling our differences.

      I accidentally read the stillborn neologism "blog" instead of chess and hurt myself trying not to giggle. Oh well. At least chess players need to play in pairs.

  • Um, thanks for those in-depth explanations. I should have made it clearer that I was posting those gripes rhetorically. :-)

    In any case, it's good to have a place to have those common gripes addressed. You presented pretty much what I've heard every O'Reilly staffer say for years. It's also what I've been repeating to those-who-gripe when I hear people re-raise these issues.

    • Sorry! I should have made it more clear that I knew you didn't personally have those gripes. Glad to have helped.


  • As an author, I have no complaints with ORA at all. ORA was very supportive of a book on a small topic (Mason), and even though I've yet to achieve the fabulous wealth I was expecting, writing the book was a good experience.

    As a reader, while I've been disappointed with a few books (Perl DBI and the MySQL book (1st ed) come to mind), on the whole I still find that I can rely on ORA books being pretty good stuff.

    The prices don't seem any worse than anyone out there, and I do appreciate the distinct lack o
  • I wonder if that new book will make it to the major bookstores that I am aware of (Barnes & Noble/Borders/Books-A-Million). Right now the only ORA Perl books that you will likely find are the best sellers with a sprinkle of new ones (Camel, Llama, Ram, Mouse, Perl 6 essentials, Alpaca, and Bioinformatics). Occasionally, I will see a new release, like Perl for Web Site Management, which will disappear in a few months and never return to the shelf. Ever. I think most Perl books are now bottom-shelved, in
    • I asked Betsy, the Perl product manager, about this. Here's what she said:

      This is a common complaint about all computer titles, regardless of technology. The brick and mortar stores are only carrying sometimes one copy of most titles. When that one gets sold, it's up the the inventory management people to re-order it. Even the popular titles only get a few copies per store. It's definitely a problem. Unless customers ask for titles, the stores don't stock them. It's strictly a numbers game now. If the b

  • The most recent Perl books we've published are Perl 6 Essentials (208 pages) and Learning Perl Objects, References & Modules (205 pages).

    Tut tut, you're forgetting the new volume Games Diversions & Perl Culture: Best of the Perl Journal [] , which ALL MUST BUY NOW!

    Incidentally if you squint and look at it sideways, my new book RTF Pocket Guide [] is a little bit of a Perl book, since all its program examples are in Perl.

    • You know, you really need a Hypnotoad [] to do that sort of thing properly.

      Unless, of course, it's merely the command to SLEEP! Then you'll just need the book Visual Quickstart: How To Hypnotize People And Make Them Willing Slaves.


      You are what you think.