The recent survey that we ran to seek views and opinions about the “Office 365 for Exchange Professionals” eBook attracted 1,097 responses. We promised a draw for five Amazon gift cards, which were duly won by Heather, Katishna, Adam, Peter, and Jack. Paul Cunningham is in charge of getting the cards to our winners and this will happen in the near future.
We are very grateful for the time people took to provide comments and insights. I’ll post something else to let everyone see the comments as well as the response we hope to achieve in the third edition, due sometime in early May. Given the amount of non-Exchange content in that edition, we might end up renaming the book “Office 365 for IT Professionals”!
A surprising aspect revealed by the survey was that 27.3% of respondents said that print books were their favorite way of consuming technical material and 20.8% said that print books were their second most popular method. We offer good electronic coverage with PDF (PC), EPUB (iPad and other eReaders), and Amazon Kindle, but up to now we have steered away from printed books, largely because the time required to produce books and the amount of control that authors cede to publishers when you go down this route.
We actually produced printed books for the Microsoft Ignite conference in May 2015. The exercise was funded by Microsoft as they wanted to have books to give to conference attendees. Overall, the project was expensive, time-consuming, and the resulting product wasn’t as good as we would have liked (in particular, the book binding was terrible). A lot of the issues were caused by lack of time, funding (perfect binding costs more), and a lack of experience on our part in terms of formatting text for different output. Substantial effort was needed to take our content (produced in Word) and format it using Adobe InDesign so that PostScript files could be given to the printer.
Investigation has proved that an easier route exists that might make it possible to consider print books again using Print-On-Demand (POD) through a service such as BookBaby.com. Nothing good comes with zero cost or effort and investment has to be made to repurpose the eBook content for print. For instance:
- Reformat pages suitable for printing in U.S. 6” x 9” (trade) or U.S. letter size books
- Replace hyperlinks with in-line text or footnotes
- Create graphic files for front and back cover
Excepting the graphic design, it’s probable that a week’s effort will be sufficient to get the job done.
Doing the editing and formatting work isn’t such a great problem. The substantial up-front investment required to pay for the production of printed books is more of a concern. Without sponsorship, printing is likely to be a loss-making project. We’re talking to some potential sponsors to see whether this route can be used.
Most importantly, we cannot update books once text has been committed to the printing process, even when using POD, as the companies who offer this kind of production rely on creating a set of files that can be printed as required to fulfill demand from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other booksellers. We would therefore have to settle on text and create a print version from that content in the knowledge that changes would not be possible thereafter. At least, not without redoing the book at substantial cost.
After the content is formatted, the process of preparing and printing copies requires some additional time, all of which means that a print edition will lag the current content by a minimum of four weeks after it appears and up to eight weeks for POD copies. The additional delay for POD is accounted for by the need of Amazon and other vendors to build their inventories by ordering copies for sale on a POD basis. Again, the time lag is acceptable for books whose subject matter is static or at least (as in the case of traditional software releases) doesn’t change all that much over a period of a year or so. It becomes problematic for a topic like Office 365 where changes happen all the time. The basics and concepts would be OK, but the detail might suffer.
Although issues exist, the demand for a print version seems to be present. It might be possible to generate one after the third edition is released in May and we have some time to bed down the content to eliminate any initial glitches and formatting errors. With this in mind, producing a print version with a target availability for the Ignite 2016 conference (end September) is a possibility. Just a possibility.
The question that we’re grappling with is whether sufficient demand really exists to warrant taking on the work and the cost. Is it sufficient to keep going with our EPUB strategy or is now the right time to have a print edition? Your opinion is welcome – please comment here to let us know what you think.
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