We started the Take Control project, about a year ago, with one goal: to publish in a whole new way. The key to our approach was the production of electronic books, which are more timely, more focused, more economical, and more easily updated than print books can be. In this way, we felt, we could avoid the problems that bedevil the traditional publishing industry.
Nevertheless, we’re cognizant that, much as ebooks have many advantages over print, a lot of people prefer to read on paper, and many people think only of traditional books when they need technical documentation. Of course, if you have an ebook, you can print it out on your own printer; our ebooks look quite good when you do that. But not everyone has a printer or wishes to consume that much paper and ink, and besides, for most people the presentation and experience of reading a nicely bound book is better. Another good thing about print books is that they already have a large marketing and distribution channel, and it makes business sense for us to try to take advantage of that.
Therefore, to better serve those who prefer traditional print books, we’re pleased to announce that our first Take Control collection is now available: Take Control of Panther, Volume 1, published in association with our friends at Peachpit Press. It costs $30 (discounted to $20.39 at Amazon right now) and is a 272-page collection of our first four Take Control ebooks: Joe Kissell’s "Take Control of Upgrading to Panther," Matt Neuburg’s "Take Control of Customizing Panther," Kirk McElhearn’s "Take Control of Users & Accounts in Panther," and Glenn Fleishman’s "Take Control of Sharing Files in Panther." The print book collects the latest versions of these ebooks in a nicely designed, full-color layout. In addition, I’ve written an introduction, and the book includes a professionally created index.
What’s Different — Even though Take Control of Panther, Volume 1 looks like a normal print book, it benefits from many of the advantages of the Take Control model.
Perhaps most notable is that everyone who buys the print book is entitled to download free copies of each of the ebooks inside. Although it’s hard to compete with the resolution of print and the familiarity and accessibility of a physical book, there’s no question that our ebooks still offer benefits such as internal links for references (no flipping around trying to find a section), clickable URLs and scripts (no extra typing), and of course, free updates. So we expect that a large percentage of the people who buy the print book will also download the ebooks, thus also gaining a gentle introduction to the brave new world of electronic books. While it’s a simple matter – and economical – for us to provide a free copy of the collected ebooks for print book buyers, including minor revisions as they appear, the finances of print publishing sadly don’t allow us to offer the print book to existing ebook owners at a larger discount than provided by Amazon.com, other online booksellers, or brick-and-mortar bookstores.
I’ve released electronic versions of my last few print books, but the experience has been somewhat unsatisfying, since a design that looks great in print generally works poorly when viewed on screen. Unfortunately, the effort of reformatting a print book for online display, particularly one that’s as heavily formatted as a Visual QuickStart Guide, is far too great to consider. With Take Control of Panther, Volume 1, we were able to move in the proper direction: electronic to print. We publish all of our ebooks using Microsoft Word, and we’re careful to rely on styles at all times. As a result, it was relatively easy to import the Word files into InDesign CS, and future books will be easier yet. The tricky part was creating the InDesign template, since most book templates aren’t set up for ease of import, but Jeff Tolbert (whose day job is a freelance designer and illustrator, when he’s not writing ebooks about GarageBand) came up with such a template (we did have to buy a tool to augment InDesign – the Smart Styles CS plug-in from WoodWing Software).
A big problem with traditional print books about software is that the software can change soon after, or even before, the book goes to print, thus making the book wrong and out-of-date. And once a traditional print book is published, there’s no calling it back. Our approach eliminates this problem. All of our ebooks went through at least one revision before being included in this print collection. Those revisions have enabled us to keep pace with Apple’s upgrades to Panther, incorporate user feedback, and eliminate mistakes. For example, Glenn’s book "Take Control of Sharing Files in Panther" put considerable effort into explaining soft mounting – which Apple eliminated entirely in Mac OS X 10.3.3! So Glenn updated the ebook, and the print book includes that updated version. And what if, in the future, Apple brings back soft mounting, or makes some other drastic change? No problem: we update the ebook, and every print book customer downloads a free copy. Thus our books are more accurate than traditional print books both before they are published (because they’ve had a history as ebooks) and after they are published (because they continue to evolve as ebooks)."
We also anticipate increasing the timeliness of print books. To be sure, this book is coming out a long time after Panther was released; but most of the slowdown came in the contract negotiations, with actual book production requiring only a few weeks. And the production itself will speed up as we learn to make our Word files more appropriate for import into InDesign, and as our collaborative editing process improves. Plus, many of our print books, like this one, will probably be by multiple authors, who can all be working at the same time, which should contribute to speed of publication as well.
The print books also contribute to the sustainability of the overall Take Control model in another way. We’ve negotiated with Peachpit so that authors receive, proportionally, a considerably greater percentage of the book’s price than has traditionally been the case. And republishing in print means that the author receives some revenue that wouldn’t have been there if the ebook were the only outlet for that content. The result is that our authors, who put significant and ongoing efforts into writing and maintaining their ebooks, are more fully recompensed for those efforts. This encourages the authors to keep their ebooks up to date, and that, in turn, benefits readers.
More to Come! Take Control of Panther, Volume 1 will soon be joined by two additional books (by the beginning of November, since we’re just finishing the layout now): Joe Kissell’s Take Control of Apple Mail (bringing together his two ebooks about Mail) and Glenn Fleishman’s Take Control of Your AirPort Network (which was long enough after its 1.1 revision to stand on its own in print). Both will be a bit shorter and less expensive – 160 pages and $17 are our current estimates – but they’ll still be full-color and offer free copies of the ebooks. They’ll also sport different cover designs from Take Control of Panther, Volume 1, since we’re still working with Peachpit to refine the overall look of the cover.
So take a look, and if you’ve held off checking out our ebooks because you prefer traditional print books, we hope you like what we’ve done.