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Do You Want to Take Control?

It’s been a long time since I’ve been this excited. This week we’re unveiling a completely new publishing project called Take Control, which is a series of electronic books written by leading Macintosh authors. With Take Control, we’re creating a new publishing model for the 21st century that integrates the best practices of online, magazine, and book publishing to bring you the timeliest, most focused, most cost-effective, and highest quality technical documentation possible.

To make Take Control possible, we combined my years of publishing experience and numerous contacts, Tonya’s editing and project management skills, and the expert knowledge and writing abilities of some of the best authors in the Macintosh world. Our initial group of authors includes such familiar names as Jeff Carlson, Glenn Fleishman, Dan Frakes, Joe Kissell, Kirk McElhearn, Matt Neuburg, and Todd Stauffer, along with Tonya and myself.

Let me explain what the Take Control series will do for you.

Why Take Control? At some point or another, we’ve all felt as though we’ve lost control of our computers, as though we’re at sea in a rough and increasingly complex world. Perhaps the fault lies with a poorly designed interface, bad documentation, a bug in a program, or even low-level disk corruption. But for most of us, identifying the source of the problem isn’t nearly as important as getting our work done.

That’s where the Take Control ebooks come in. We want to help you regain control in the fastest, most cost-effective way possible. We’ll be publishing practical Take Control ebooks on specific topics, starting with Mac OS X 10.3 Panther (if that’s not a topic people will want to take control of, I don’t know what is!) and expanding our coverage from there.

Our first title will be the essential “Take Control of Upgrading to Panther,” written by Joe Kissell to help you start off on the right foot with Mac OS X 10.3. Should you rely on the standard upgrade, or does Archive and Install make more sense for you? What if you’re upgrading from Mac OS 9? What if you want to revert back to Jaguar? Joe answers all these questions and many more, providing the kind of expert advice you need before you slide the Panther CDs into your Mac. Next up will be “Take Control of Customizing Panther,” written by TidBITS Contributing Editor Matt Neuburg. Matt picks up where Joe leaves off, showing you a selection of the best ways you can customize the Panther experience so your Mac looks and works the way you want, so you’re in control of the Mac, rather than the other way around.

We plan to release these titles shortly after Panther’s launch on 24-Oct-03; send email to <[email protected]> to sign up for a low-volume announcement mailing list that will alert you to new titles (confirmation is required to keep spam and worms from subscribing). You can also visit the in-progress Take Control Web page to learn more about individual titles.


Size, Cost, and Focus — Take Control ebooks occupy the sweet spot between magazine articles and books. Magazine articles are generally quite short, starting at about 500 words for reviews and 1,500 words for features. Magazines aren’t necessarily cheap, ranging from about $3 per issue for a year’s subscription up to $8 for a newsstand copy, and you can never assume that any given issue will contain the information you need. On the other end of the spectrum, you’ll seldom find a book under 100 pages due to binding, handling, and perceived value issues. Even the smallest computer books cost $13 to $15. Most books are well over 100 pages, with some tomes pushing 1,000 pages. Many people find such books too long and full of information they don’t need, and they dislike paying for, storing, and later disposing of the entire thing just for a few choice bits.

We’re aiming right between magazine articles and books. Take Control ebooks will start at about 5,000 words (the size of an average TidBITS issue) and increase in length as necessary to cover the topic at hand. But each Take Control title will focus tightly on a single topic, so you can be sure it contains just what you need to know, written and edited by experts. As I’ve been saying to authors, a Take Control ebook should tell you something you don’t know and can’t figure out with a three-word search in Google. As far as cost goes, our introductory pricing is simple and affordable: $5 per ebook. We’re confident that every Take Control ebook will provide far more than $5 of value.

We’re publishing in PDF format because it currently offers the best features for ebooks. It’s easy to read a Take Control ebook on screen, because we’ve carefully designed the layout to be highly legible, and we’ve employed all the PDF niceties such as bookmarks, internal links, and live links to Web sites. Also, our PDFs are completely searchable. For those who prefer to read on paper, our design prints well on both inkjet and laser printers. With Adobe Reader for Palm OS software, you can even read a Take Control PDF on a Palm OS handheld. If you have a low opinion of PDF, we encourage you to refine that to having a low opinion of the lousy PDF files that most people generate. And with Panther’s new version of Preview, reading PDF files on the Mac should get even better.

< readerforpalm.html>

We won’t be applying any copy prevention technologies to Take Control ebooks. Aside from the fact that we’re philosophically opposed to such measures, we strongly believe that if you treat your customers like decent, honest people, they’ll reward that trust in kind.

The other advantage of an electronic format is that it will be easy to update an ebook to address minor program updates, newly discovered information, or small mistakes. Small updates will be free to those who purchased the initial version of a Take Control title; you’ll just have to download a new copy. Here’s how the Take Control model ends up benefiting readers:

  • Timely information from top authors
  • Just what you need to know, nothing more
  • Instant gratification from buying online
  • Less expensive than books or newsstand magazines
  • Unprotected PDF files are compatible with many platforms
  • Looks good on screen and when printed
  • Free updates for minor changes

Authors Take Control — We like to pull back the covers on our projects so you know what’s going on behind the scenes. So, here’s how the Take Control series works for authors.

Our ideas for the Take Control series stem in large part from years of experience writing for book and magazine publishers. Since the best books and articles I’ve written have been for publishers with whom I had good working relationships, we designed the Take Control project around authors from the beginning, and our initial group of authors have helped greatly in refining the details.

The main attraction for authors is that Take Control ebooks have an excellent risk/reward ratio. The risk is entirely bundled up in the amount of work necessary to write the ebook, but for a professional author who is expert in a field, a Take Control ebook shouldn’t take more than a couple of weeks from start to finish. On the reward side of the equation, we split the profits equally with authors; it’s a straight 50:50 split after transaction fees, which we’re minimizing with a new back-end approach made possible by our friends at Kagi. So, the advantages for authors work out to:

  • Excellent risk/reward ratio
  • Quick turnaround time
  • No earning limits for a popular title
  • Easy updates to modify details
  • Fast, collaborative publishing process
  • Strong author community

The upshot is that we believe we’ll be able to convince even more top authors to write Take Control ebooks, and that will result in even more Take Control goodness for readers. (Interested in writing for the Take Control series? If you have writing experience and are an expert in your field, drop me a note.)

A Few Days of Patience — We wanted to announce Take Control before Panther shipped so you’d know about Joe’s “Take Control of Upgrading to Panther” ebook before next week’s issue of TidBITS (which arrives after Panther ships on 24-Oct-03). But that does mean waiting for a few days, so in the meantime, please sign up for the Take Control Announcements list by sending email to <[email protected]> and feel free to ask questions on TidBITS Talk. Now if only we had a few more hours in the days between now and October 24th…

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