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O'Reilly's Online Book Safari

By sugarman in Internet
Wed Mar 21, 2001 at 10:38:14 PM EST
Tags: Books (all tags)

O'Reilly, a publisher of computer books, including open source notables such as the Camel and The Cathedral and the Bazaar has recently unveiled it's Safari service. This service is a subscription-based access to their books online.

But how well will that content fare when it is exposed to the wild and free web?

O'Reilly have long been leaders in providing copyright content online. Their CD Bookshelf compilations for Perl, Unix, and Networking have proven popular, (or at the very least, convenient). They have also experimented with the serilaization of some books (Lego Mindstorms), or providing them in their entirety online for free (DocBook).

Jon Udell talks a bit about some of the features of the Safari project. Among them is the concept of 'renting' books, and being able to swap books in and out of a pool that belongs to each account. Another one of the touted features is the interactive searches across the entire catalogue, which may be a boon for developers, as oppsed to wading through a stack of dead tree editions.

But in the anarchic wilds of the web, even the product that was released for a profit like the Bookshelves has a tendency to find their way online somewhere for free. O'Reilly makes it clear in their ToS that this reproduction is not permissible. But how do they plan to enforce this?

The age-old adage of letting the genie out of the bottle has been taken to the nth degree on the internet. Some authors have recently expressed their outrage about the free distribution of their work online. The impact for O'Reilly may be significant.

So, what do you think of O'Reilly's move? Will you subscribe. Do you belive in the idea of 'renting' books, having a rotating assortment of 5 or so? Or will this seriously undermine O'Reilly's target audience who may likely be able to acquire the catalog for free?


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o Don't like 'em, don't read em 40%
o Only get em if I have the dead-tree version 30%
o Prefer them to the physical 15%
o Gotta get 'em all 13%

Votes: 65
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o O'Reilly
o Camel
o The Cathedral and the Bazaar
o Safari
o talks
o ToS
o outrage
o Also by sugarman

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O'Reilly's Online Book Safari | 29 comments (14 topical, 15 editorial, 0 hidden)
Regular updates critical (3.66 / 3) (#1)
by jasonab on Wed Mar 21, 2001 at 05:25:55 PM EST

In house, wehave several HTML/DHTML books from O'R that are a couple of years old. Their age diminises their worth, what with all the DHTML developments (and DOM developments) in the past few years. If I knew that DHTML book (or Java book) would be automatically updated for me on the web, I'd seriously consider it.

America is a great country. One of the freest in the world. -- greenrd
Not a new step (4.00 / 2) (#3)
by ucblockhead on Wed Mar 21, 2001 at 05:30:52 PM EST

O'Reilly already sells some of their books in electronic form, albeit on CDROM, not on-line. But it'd be easy enough to copy the CDROM, so I'm sure they already have a notion of how much they'll get ripped off.

I have their perl collection and find having it available electronically is wildly useful. Since I've got a copy available on every machine I'm likely to use Perl on, the information is always available, moreso than if it were in paper form. I wouldn't want to have to lug around 5-6 books. Having it online would be even better.

And no, I won't send you a copy. :)

This is k5. We're all tools - duxup

Agreed (none / 0) (#27)
by sugarman on Thu Mar 22, 2001 at 01:13:44 PM EST

Yeah the Perl Bookshelf is nice. I tend to use it without the search engine though, as I find that the interlinking is more than sufficient. I;m wondering how the Unix one stands up? (Didn't care for the Networking one, personnally).

Still, the point is that now this content is making itself directly available online, in a non-proprietary format. What's to stop someone from bulk downloading them and then firing up on a NG? Having the content and the channel so closely linked may cause problems.

Case in point, I recall a ALL_OREILLY_BOOKS.zip being posted to the ebook NG within the last 3 weeks. Not 100% sure off the contents, it may have just been the already available Bookshelves. But won't this become more prevalent in the future? Will we be seeing a 'Bookster' in short order?

[ Parent ]

Online content (3.33 / 3) (#8)
by spaceghoti on Wed Mar 21, 2001 at 05:42:22 PM EST

Those industries (music, literatary, etc) that are experimenting with online products are operating on the assumption that given the choice, consumers would rather pay for services than break the law.

While the Internet tends to change the rules, I don't think that's a bad assumption. There's always going to be a group of people who want to abuse the system, but by and large I think more people will attempt subscriptions rather than try to steal the books. It all depends on the implementation, and how topical the books are. Reproducing a sociological text on the McArthy years would generate far less interest and income than, for example, Ursula K. LeGuinn's "Left Hand of Darkness."

"Humor. It is a difficult concept. It is not logical." -Saavik, ST: Wrath of Khan

Digital books not so useful to me (4.20 / 5) (#9)
by Keslin on Wed Mar 21, 2001 at 05:47:07 PM EST

This is interesting and all, and I'm all in favor of digital content distribution, but the value of an O'Reilly book for me is in it's tangible, physical nature. When I'm going to go out sunbathing by the pool and I want to learn something new in the process, I grab an O'Reilly book. I originally learned Perl that way, lounging around in the Florida sun with a Randall Schwartz book. If I wanted to sit in front of a computer, then I would just get a free FAQ, or go straight to the support site for whatever open source product I'm learning about. I certainly won't rent an O'Reilly book.

The value of a book is its tangibility, the value of online research is its flexibility. With a book, you have something in your hand that you can hang out and dedicate your attention to in an environment of your own choosing. Online, you can search through multiple documents from multiple sources and access a very wide body of knowledge. An online subscription to a digital book is the worst of both worlds, you are bound to sit in front of your computer and read it (or waste a bunch of paper and toner) and you don't get the advantages of a broad web-based research.

-Keslin, the naked nerd girl.

"You can't grep paper" (4.00 / 2) (#16)
by rusty on Wed Mar 21, 2001 at 08:32:33 PM EST

...but the value of an O'Reilly book for me is in it's tangible, physical nature.

I agree with this for almost all books, with probably the sole exception of technical ones. I think, actually, I would like to have a package deal, where I could buy the book and get online access too.

When I was first learning perl, my copy of the Camel got incrediby dog-eared and dirty from my constantly flipping through it to find out how to do this or that. As time goes on, though, I look at it less and less, because mostly what I need now is quick-reference to syntax, not conceptual help.

Thge distinction is in how you use the book. I think reference works can really be improved by having access online, but "learning" books will always work better on paper.

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

Definitely (4.00 / 1) (#17)
by Keslin on Wed Mar 21, 2001 at 09:43:32 PM EST

Yes, I really like the way that Dr. Dobbs does it. I can have the magazine for reading on a plane or on the beach or whatever, and when I want to do a search I can use the CD-ROM. Very useful.

<generalization>Also remember that when you're sitting around by the pool reading in-depth about some new concept, you're not so worried about grepping for some specific keyword.</generalization> If you are looking for some keyword, then you're probably doing it because you're sitting in front of a workstation about to write some code, in which case it would really be a lot simpler to just run a search at perldoc.org or perl.com or even cpan.org. Why would you want an O'Reilly book at that point, searchable or not, if you had the web in front of you?

-Keslin, the naked nerd girl.

[ Parent ]
Concepts that aren't searchable (none / 0) (#25)
by rusty on Thu Mar 22, 2001 at 02:10:44 AM EST

<generalization>Also remember that when you're sitting around by the pool reading in-depth about some new concept, you're not so worried about grepping for some specific keyword.</generalization>

True, in theory, but I virtually never use technical books like that. My brain appears to be wired in such a way that reading about programming (from a technical details perspective) makes me fall asleep faster than a double whisky with Ny-Quil. There's just too much great literature out there to spend my time reading the Camel for fun. :-)

Why would you want an O'Reilly book at that point, searchable or not, if you had the web in front of you?

What I have in mind here is something like this. Say I'm sitting here, working on some kind of file manipulation script, and I need a way to quickly read the contents of a directory. I know there's something that does that... now what's it called again? "dir()?" no, that's not it... So now I can either grab my hard copy of the Camel, right there on the desk, and look in the index for "directory", which handily lists all the useful references ("readdir()! That's it!") or I can get out the web browser, go to perl.com, wait for that to load, try to find the doc search, enter directory...

In a lot of cases, when your concept is fuzzy enough, a book search is easier than a web search, especially with a book you're familiar with.

I think I'm arguing the other side now, actually. Anyway, the overall point is that both have their advantages and drawbacks, and stuff that O'Reilly publishes is most likely to be useful in multiple formats. I do hope they offer comprehensive package deals for all this stuff.

Now what we need is books that are written online, collaboratively, and always kept fresh and up-to-date. :-)

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

New poll option... (4.00 / 2) (#10)
by Happy Monkey on Wed Mar 21, 2001 at 05:51:16 PM EST

How about 'Only get em if can't get the dead-tree version.'
Length 17, Width 3
pretty nice (4.33 / 3) (#11)
by rebelcool on Wed Mar 21, 2001 at 05:51:57 PM EST

often times when going inbetween cities, i dont want to lug a big reference book around with me. having it available online would be great, and well worth the money.

COG. Build your own community. Free, easy, powerful. Demo site

I won't subscribe to this (4.00 / 3) (#12)
by AgentGray on Wed Mar 21, 2001 at 06:04:27 PM EST


For one reason and one reason only: I love holding the books in my hand. Easily accessible (and markable), any book is a more valuable tool than online or on a CD-ROM.

Besides, someone's got to kill off all the trees.

I'm kidding about that. :)

Great, sure I subscribe to it... (4.25 / 4) (#15)
by mami on Wed Mar 21, 2001 at 08:25:29 PM EST

I am a compulsive book buyer and buy technical books in advance, just because I know that some day I will want and need to get into the nitty-gritty details of the subject matter. What happens is that before I get to it, the stuff I bought, is already outdated.

So, no doubt that I would subscribe to it. I bet, I will also still buy the books, but less often and only after having read most of it online already.

I wouldn't like though to loose the option to buy a printed technical book and rely exclusively on online subscription mode, simply because I want to be more independent from staying connected to the web overall. So, what I most probably would do with a service like that, is reading the book online and print out everything I think I might need and then study nicely in my disconnected living modus. (What I do very often is actually studying at the cafeteria at Borders or Barnes & Nobles without buying the books. That's why Amazon can't beat them, and why the truely independent booksellers of technical books can't afford to put some nice chairs and a coffeeshop into their brick and mortar stores...:-))

The fact that always connected means always distracted , tells me that both reading modi are necessary.

I've subscribed. (4.50 / 2) (#23)
by argent on Wed Mar 21, 2001 at 10:46:10 PM EST

After getting to see this at LWE, I decided to subscribe based on the following appeals to me.
1) It's a nice way to preview the books in full form.
2) It's very nice to always have the books available to me wherever I am with a net connection.
3) It's extremely handy when I need to bone up on something like bash scripting, or sed/awk but don't want to dish out the cash for a dead tree copy.

After being with it since Feb. (How's that for a valentine's day gift? Love you Hon!) They have brought out about 7 new books so far. With plans to get the whole of the O'reilly catalog online.

Overall, I'm very pleased with it. I would recommend trying it out for a month. A one month subscription with five books is only $10 US. Give it a shot.

cd /pub more Beer
What Tim O'Reilly got to say about this (none / 0) (#29)
by kesor on Mon Oct 15, 2001 at 08:25:13 PM EST

It seems that the O'Reilly CD Bookshelf is widely available online, specially on servers that reside in Russia. Here is what Tim O'Reilly got to say about it: http://archive.develooper.com/beginners@perl.org/msg07059.html

O'Reilly's Online Book Safari | 29 comments (14 topical, 15 editorial, 0 hidden)
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