Update (7/15): 30 O’Reilly titles are now available as ebook bundles. Full information is available here.
Update (6/19): On his New York Times blog, David Pogue has noted O’Reilly’s pilot in the context of the recent discussion prompted his column on ebooks and piracy (which brought insightful responses from Adam Engst and Mike Masnick, along with a follow up from David).
Ebooks are certainly nothing new for us at O’Reilly. We’ve offered PDFs of hundreds of our titles for some time now, and until quite recently Safari Books Online, our online-publishing joint venture with Pearson, generated more revenue than was typically associated with the entire downloadable ebook business.
But it’s clear that things are changing in the ebook market (though precise numbers are proving hard to come by), so we’ve decided to officially announce two new e-publishing programs that have been in the works for some time:
- First, through oreilly.com we will offer a select number of books as a bundle of three ebook formats (EPUB, PDF, and Kindle-compatible Mobipocket) for a single price — at or below the book’s cover price — starting in early July. Since we began selling PDFs directly some time ago, we’ve given those customers free updates to the PDFs to reflect published changes in the books; the same will apply to the ebook bundle, which will replace the PDF option on those titles. That also means that although the ebooks aren’t yet available, if you buy the PDF now, you’ll receive the EPUB and Mobipocket versions as a free update once they’re available in early July. These files (like all our PDFs currently for sale) will be released without any DRM, though we are exploring some custom watermarking options. With these three formats, customers should be able to read the books with most current ebook software and devices, including Adobe Digital Editions, Kindle, Blackberries, and Sony Reader (Sony announced in May that EPUB support is forthcoming in a firmware update for their Reader).
- Second, O’Reilly has agreed to sell select ebooks for the Kindle through Amazon. We hope to see those ebooks available for sale through the Kindle store in the near future.
While we would have liked to make these ebooks available sooner, we felt it was important to first contribute to building some of the tools needed for other publishers to follow our lead, such as enhancements to the open-source DocBook XSL stylesheets, which can now generate EPUB from DocBook XML source files.
We do intend to eventually offer as much of our catalog as possible as ebooks (some titles have rights restrictions; others are so old they present challenges from a format-conversion standpoint), but the July pilot program will be limited to a few dozen, including the titles listed below. Any of these can be purchased as a PDF right away, with the full ebook bundle provided in early July as a free update:
- iPhone: The Missing Manual
- Windows Vista: The Missing Manual
- Facebook: The Missing Manual
- Making Things Happen
- Open Sources 2.0
- The Art of Agile Development
- Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, 3ed
We’ll announce the full list of titles when they’re all available in early July.
Why just a few dozen? Besides wanting to limit this to an experimental pilot before committing resources to some not-insignificant ecommerce updates, much of our catalog relies heavily on computer code and complex tables — two types of content that are not rendered well on most of today’s ebook readers. Sure, there are some ugly hacks to make code blocks look a little better on a Kindle, but we’re holding out for true monospace font support. Ditto for support of many of the special characters used in books like Unicode Explained and Fonts and Encodings. Even Adobe’s Digital Editions chokes on a lot of the non-standard characters we use in many of our books (yes, it’s possible to embed fonts, but many more characters should be supported out of the box). Our hope is that in the coming months, ebook readers will improve enough to make more of our titles truly usable for ebook customers. (And when there is uncertainty stemming from rendering, customers will also have the full-featured PDF in the bundle as a reference.)
Whether the future of books (and of publishing) revolves around ebooks is certainly debatable; ebooks may be just a stepping stone toward truly digital and networked reading. Until that future is more certain, we’re excited to be on the frontier, and look forward to seeing other publishers follow.