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Buy O'Reilly Books by the Chapter

One of the compelling lessons of the digital music revolution was that people wanted to acquire and share songs, not albums. The analogies to books are imperfect, because books tend to be more of an essential organic whole than albums, but even with books, especially reference or tutorial books, it’s certainly possible that someone wants only part of a book. Based on this idea, we’ve had a goal for quite some time to enable “by the chapter” purchase and download. We’ve finally got this working, just in time for rollout at our Tools of Change for Publishing Conference, which starts on Monday with tutorials, and with the full conference program on Tuesday.

Go to virtually any O’Reilly catalog page (well, actually, 350 books are live as of Saturday night), and in addition to the existing options (buy this book, buy a downloadable pdf, buy reprint rights, read online with Safari), you can now buy individual chapters for $3.99 each.

Here’s an example:

Click on the “Select Chapter” button, and you’ll be taken to the browsable TOC (in which you can click on any section to expand it and take a look at it) to choose the chapter you want. In the screen shot below, I’ve selected chapter 2, which I can now choose to purchase by clicking the “Buy PDF of Chapter” button.

This capability is a direct outgrowth of the Xquery infrastructure we originally built for SafariU, our remixable textbook initiative. Allen Noren, our director of web marketing, provided a bit more detail and kudos to those involved:


After years of plotting, and many hours of dedicated developer time, our customers now have the ability to buy our book content by the chapter in PDF format. This feature is being rolled out on 714 books initially, the same books that are part of the CCC RightsLink project, but does not include HF or Digitial Media titles. For the rollout, pricing per chapter is $3.99.

Note that each chapter has its own TOC and index, which is possible because of the infrastructure we built with SafariU. Each chapter is also bookmarked and searchable. What they are still lacking is a book cover, and the ability to click [the embedded] TOC or index entry and be taken to that part of the chapter, but those are coming.

I’d like to thank several people who were instrumental in making this possible. Tim, Laura Baldwin, and CJ for backing the idea and making sure the resources were available to get it done. Pascal Honscher, John Haren, Charles Greer, Eric Parker, Julie Delany, and Robert Ottaway for their excellent programming skills. Ryan Grimm (now at MarkLogic) built the xquery code for SafariU that the pdf formatting relies upon. George Humphreys and Matthew Woodruff provided graphic support, and Tim Hinton and Michelle from PickBasic worked the magic on CISPub so these can be sold. As always, I sincerely hope I didn’t miss anyone.

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  • Steve

    Hi,

    What kind of DRM is used with these chapters?

    Is printing allowed, obviously for use only by the owner of the PDF?

    Is it password protected? Am I going to have any trouble with any PDF readers?

    Thanks,

    Steve

  • http://www.freshview.com Mathew Patterson

    This is an excellent example of adaptation to market changes. I look forward to seeing future charts showing the uptake of chapter purchases.

    Do you think this will affect the way chapters are written (given that they may need to standalone a bit more)? Or will some styles of tech book lend themselves more to this type of purchase?

  • http://projectfailures.com Michael Krigsman

    Will be very interesting to downstream effects on your authors and how it influences the rest of the publishing industry. I blogged about this here.

    Michael Krigsman

    http://projectfailures.com

  • http://www.ibmeye.com IBMer

    I think it’s certainly true that some topics and writing styles lend themselves to chopping up more so than do others. I was just on an e-learning site here and it is obviously built by splitting up an ebook into many pages. (That e-book doesn’t lend itself to that sort of standalone chapter-chopping, in my opinion) On the other hand, I was reading a book last night, and the author in the preface encourages you to skip to the most interesting parts for you. I suspect given that statement, the book would lend itself very well to having stand alone chapters. Just my 2 cents…

  • http://needmorenotes.com/ Raymond Brigleb

    Very interesting, Tim. Do you have to be a member of Safari to purchase a chapter? Are the PDF’s in the same high-quality format as your books, or are they in the poor quality of your Safari Online offerings when printed?

  • Allen Noren

    Steve asked:

    >>What kind of DRM is used with these chapters?

    As with all our PDFs, there is no DRM except the trust we place in you to treat the document as you would a print book.

    >>Is printing allowed, obviously for use only by the owner of the PDF?

    Absolutely.

    >>Is it password protected? Am I going to have any trouble with any PDF readers?

    No password required. Our PDFs word best with Adobe reader, but others work too.

    –Allen

  • Manu T

    I’m a long time subscriber on safari.oreilly.com, and I already had the ability to download PDF chapters for free with my Safari subscription for a few years now I think, is this the same feature as on Safari?

  • http://radar.oreilly.com Tim O'Reilly

    Manu –

    This is not the same feature as the downloads in Safari. You have to understand the difference in business model. Safari is a subscription service; the downloads on oreilly.com are sold individually. Our goal is to offer our content with multiple business models and let people choose the one that’s best for them.

    Safari is designed to be our “best deal” for heavy users of our content. If you get an “all you can eat” subscription, you get access to thousands of high quality technical books from O’Reilly, the Pearson family of technical publishers (Peachpit, Sams, AW, PH, etc.), Microsoft Press and others. And if you have the “Max” option, you can indeed download chapters.

    The oreilly.com offering is pure retail. You don’t need to be a subscriber. You can buy a whole book (in print or in pdf) or just a chapter (pdf only, but we could offer print as well.)

    Because the oreilly.com offering is built with more modern rendering technology, the pdfs are closer to the book than those that are available from Safari. We hope to upgrade the Safari PDFs as well, but that’s on a different development timeline.

  • Manu T

    Thanks for the clarification, Tim! The quality of the PDF’s on Safari are far more than satisfactory, at least for me, but it’s good to know you’re going to make them even better, thanks!

  • Jon

    It’s a great idea, but there doesn’t seem to be any way to know how long a chapter is. How do I know I’m not going to shell out $4 on a chapter that happens to be 5 pages long?

  • Anonymous

    This is a great point, Jon. I’d love to add pagination to our chapters, but I couldn’t get that feature for launch. The reason is because we’re transforming the chapters from our raw XML, and the XML does not have a notion of pagination. I’ve talked to our developers and there is a pretty straight forward path around this, but not one that I wanted to delay the launch for. And while I want to add this feature, I think it’s less meaningful than one would first think. By that I mean I’d pay more for a solution I could get in one page than for one I have to read a fifty page document for. I know that’s a bit of an aside, and it doesn’t detract from my own desire to include pagination, but I think it does point out that value shouldn’t always be equated to page count.

    –Allen

  • Neville

    Buying chapters is nice … a little like buying a song on iTunes.

    But I’d still like to be able to buy the full book in PDF form.

  • Neville

    oops – I looked a few moons ago and some books I wanted were not available as PDFs – but it looks like I can buy full PDFs now.

    Thanks

  • Adam Hodgkin

    Interesting development, and in my posting I wonder how many different e-commerce options O’Reilly now offers (including the various options that come through Copy Right Clearance etc).

    http://exacteditions.blogspot.com/2007/06/oreilly-is-now-selling-chapters.html#links

    Can there be too many ways of selling the same content? Channel conflict? I guess its possible……

  • Neville

    Ahh, there are still some books I want that are available by chapter in PDF form, but not available as a whole PDF.

    For example:
    http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/jscript5/index.html

  • http://www.jobitems.com Ivan

    I agree with “Jon” there should be another model to set up the price.

  • http://www.rheaperlman.com Rhea

    Adam,

    What would be the downside of selling through too many channels or methods? I guess customer confusion, but there isn’t really much cost associated with doing it I wouldn’t think.

  • Jules

    Hi Tim,

    Great idea to allow consumers to buy chapters individually. I have a question regarding purchasing a chapter or two and then buying the whole book.

    Will you provide a way of allowing a user to buy multiple chapters (say 3), realise that they want the book and then purchase the complete book at a discounted price? (i.e. as they already have brought three chapters)

    I ask this with that understanding that as a business model, it is not something you probably want.

  • Richard

    I will second Neville’s earlier comment. WTF is up with being able to buy individual chapters in PDF but not the whole book? I was interested in LDAP System Administration (http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/ldapsa/index.html#top) but I no longer buy print books if I can help it, and this title is only available in PDF form by the chapter. What gives? I know the digital content is there, so why isn’t it available as a single monolithic file?

  • Allen Noren

    Hello Richard,

    The reason for the discrepancy is that we use one process to create complete books in PDF format and another to create the chapters. The complete books are generated from the final production files we send to our printers, while the chapters are generated out of an XML repository that is also used to create files for our Safari and SafariU platforms. We’re working as quickly as we can to get all books in sync, and to that end we’re in the process of adding an additional 400 books in full PDF, one of which is LDAP System Administration. I’ve noted your contact info and will let you know once this books is available.

    Regards, –Allen Noren

  • Srikanth Muroor

    Kudos to the Oreilly team for allowing users to purchase books in PDF form. I’m impressed that for once there is a publisher willing to put trust in the buyers with regards to copyright and not making these books completely unusable by slapping on excessive DRM.

    I’m going to buy a few tonight! Thanks!