One of the hazards of publishing tech books is that they become obsolete so quickly. Software changes, hardware is improved, and the latest book is in need of revision two months after its publication date.
O’Reilly has offered online errata for its books for some time now, and the Missing Manuals books also have a Missing CD component online that offers samples, software downloads, and updates. Now, they are taking things a step further: Rough Cuts.
Rough Cuts is really a component of Safari Books Online, which is O’Reilly’s online publishing arm. Safari has always offered subscribers access to the O’Reilly library with integrated search and other features, but now they are offering pre-publication versions of upcoming books.
The idea is to get feedback from customers before the book is released. As the January press release puts it:
Readers who buy a Rough Cuts title get immediate access to an evolving manuscript. They can read the book online or download and print a PDF version. The initial version of a Rough Cuts book will not be fully edited, subjected to final technical review, or completely formatted. Similar to the nightly build in a software project, the Rough Cuts PDF is updated every time the author and editor make changes as they progress toward the finished book. Using the Rough Cuts service’s built-in Notes feature, readers can send feedback, suggestions, bug fixes, and comments directly to the author and editor.
I’ve been reading the Ubuntu Hacks: The Rough Cut for the past several days, and I can see that the Rough Cuts idea will be very appealing. For starters, it’s easier to search the book to find the exact answer you need when you’ve got it on the computer, and when you’re ready to start your installation you can print out just the pages you need to refer to. If you find something that doesn’t work for you, you can let the author know.
The system sounds a bit like blogging a book – the author puts out the text, gets feedback and revises accordingly. Obviously, not all the feedback will be incorporated into the book, but something like this will go a long way in cutting down typographical errors, mistaken URLs, etc. that really can confuse people reading the book.
In short, I think that the Rough Cuts concept is an idea whose time has come. Right now, you can purchase the “rough cut” of an upcoming book for a lot less than you’d pay for the print copy, and you can purchase the “bundle” (rough cut and final print edition) for a bit more. There are eight available right now, with more surely to come. I really have the feeling that this is the way many tech books will be written in the future.Powered by Sidelines