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Select O'Reilly Books Soon on Kindle, and as DRM-free Digital Bundles (Including EPUB)

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:

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.

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Comments: 28

  1. Excellent news!

    Any chance that you might offer your Safari Books Online subscribers the ability to download book chapters in e-reader friendly (ie. reflowable) formats other than PDF? Furthermore, is this likely to be offered retrospectively for chapters for which I have already used tokens to download?

  2. Great decision. Maybe I will be able to go paperless soon. Also, thanks for not using DRM. I’m so sick of it and won’t be buying any digital content with DRM anymore.

  3. > Whether the future of books (and of publishing)
    > revolves around ebooks is certainly debatable;

    i say it does. want to take the other side?

    > ebooks may be just a stepping stone toward
    > truly digital and networked reading

    i’m sorry, it sounded like you have some mush
    in your mouth. would you please repeat that?


  4. The complete Safari Library would be fantastic but probably not likely. For what reasons exactly I’d like to better understand.

    I’m waiting for the Kindle that does the web though.

  5. I’d buy a fistful of Kindles if I could have the exact same access I currently have with my online library subscription, but accessible via the Kindle infrastructure directly. I.e. Instead of my laptop, I’d rather ‘lug’ 🙂 around a Kindle and have the entire library at my fingertips. Amazon would bring on a new Kindle user that has no reason without Safari to become one, I’d be happy to pay $10-15 more than I pay for the library access per month to cover the margins and I’d probably buy other eBooks that are now ‘one-click’ easy. I’d see it as a huge win for both in the geek-sphere….Pretty Please?? 🙂


  6. Is the Kindle the only solution? I’m looking for an eBook that has wifi connectivity and a few other options (like usable outside the US), and have found no information (despite direct questioning) as to what features the Kindle 2.0 will have.

    I’m looking out about a year, and for multiple thousand units for a project I’m working on.

    Any pointers to kindle rumours, alternative providers? I’d like to buy test units now in order to understand the dev environment.


  7. This is great news. I just recently purchased an iRex iLiad and would love to be able to read O’Reilly content in a reflowable format on it.

    Besides owning many O’Reilly books, I am also a Safari subscriber. Having the Safari library available in Mobipocket format would also be great!

  8. @James Webster:

    Right now, the best I can do is say, “we’re working on it.” Stay tuned …

  9. This is very good news, except for two things – only one of which has anything to do with O’Reilly.

    The “at or below” the price of a real book part has always been my biggest reason for sticking to real books over “e-books”. Paying $40-60 for a piece of digital ephemera that I need a separate expensive device to even view (or a printing and binding setup to turn it into a real book) is just plain silly. Surely the cost of producing a real book is much higher than producing a copy of PDF data? Drop the price to at least 1/4 of the dead-tree edition and I’ll seriously consider it, though – especially for books that I can’t readily find in bookstores any more (I don’t think I’ve ever spotted “Zero Configuration Networking” in an actual bookstore, for example.)

    The other problem is of course the cost of the reader, which obviously isn’t something O’Reilly and Associates has any control over. I’m not rich enough to justify spending half-a-grand on a single special device (possibly tied to a single company’s service e.g. the Kindle®) which will hold my entire library, and thus cause me to lose my whole library when it inevitably gets lost, broken, stolen, etc. While I have computers to read them on, I really don’t want to be tied to my computer every time I want to read a book.

    Anybody know a good, genuinely inexpensive (say, less that $100) portable .pdf reader?

  10. Oh, in case it wasn’t clear, DRM would have been a major third problem with the concept, but obviously O’Reilly and Associates has taken care of that one. I’m not sure I made my praise for this obvious enough…

  11. Excellent! I just bought a iRex iLiad (which, Brent, has wifi and works very well in other countries, plus isn’t restricted to Amazon).

    My next step was to be looing into a Safari subscription -as there has been conjecture over how well it would work on the iLiad. This sets it up just about perfectly for me.

    Thanks, oReilly

  12. @Epicanis: Your point about the costs of print vs. digital is valid, though many of the books we publish do have substantial up-front costs unrelated to the direct unit costs of individual printed copies (things like editing, design, proofing, and corporate overhead). And we have made this a bundle of multiple formats to up the utility for customers.

    As mentioned, this is definitely an experiment, and we’re eager to learn more about what kind of pricing makes sense for ebooks.

    One option we’re looking at is to include the ebook with the purchase of the printed book. This has been quite successful with our “Rough Cuts” program, where you get both the printed book and online access for a bit more than the cover price.

  13. As long as ebooks cost as much as print (or even more than a tenth the cost) and readers are above $200, I don’t think the ebook is really going to take off.

    We’re trying to do something about the ebook cost: FREE — with advertising targeted at the reader. In exchange for a free ebook, the reader has ads in the front two pages and the last two pages of the PDF.

    The publisher gets paid by the advertiser, the advertiser has an ad targeted at tech savvy potential customers, and the reader gets a free book with only a little bit of extra page turning.

    So far it’s been win/win/win for all involved.

    I don’t know that this is the future of publishing, but it isn’t too hard for me to think it might (after writing/publishing for 20 years in the industry). My advice: Try ’em, you’ll like ’em:


  14. An excellent idea, and I commend you for it. However, I would like to humbly ask you to make some of your more technical texts available for purchase as ebooks, such as Programming Perl or Apache: The Definitive Guide. The books you have listed so far are excellent in their own right, don’t get me wrong, but I think that many of us would be more likely to carry around electronic copies of your technical references rather than books that we’d only be able to read during downtime at work (which for many of us is as rare as hens’ teeth).

  15. @The Doctor:

    For this pilot, we deliberately chose titles that generally were light on code and tables, because that type of content is rendered poorly (if at all) on the Kindle. There are some hacks to make things passable, but we’re holding out for native support of constant-width fonts and tables. As the rendering improves, you can expect to see more code-heavy titles released in ebook format.

  16. I was wondering if an ‘upgrade’ discount would be possible – this would certainly be an incentive to stick with O’Reilly books.

    So, when I buy ‘CSS Pocket Reference, 3rd Edition’ I would receive a discount once the 4th edition is released.

    On the surface it makes sense, although looking back at your comment about, ‘substantial up-front costs’ perhaps it is just a little unrealistic.

  17. Jean-Charles Carelli

    Please format your digital book layouts to work in landscape view. Most devices are wider than tall. Some of the Addison Wesley PDF’s are formatted this way and reading them on my laptop or iphone is a pleasure.

    The O’Reilly PDF’s are harder to read. Between a vertical layout and too much watermarking there is very little content to see on each page.

    Ok, enough complaining. O’Reilly has the best content!

  18. This is exciting news. I have been seeing a lot of information now about the EPUB standard. I am still not sure how it all will work. Will the Kindle and Mobi formats disappear and everything go to EPUB?

  19. I’d merely like to underscore the difficulty of putting technical books on the Kindle. The Kindle’s HTML support is pitifully bad, so it works fine for books that are straight text with a few chapter headings and maybe a picture or two that looks OK in greyscale. But for a modern technical book, tables and diagrams and sophisticated layout are the norm, and the Kindle falls so short in such situations that it isn’t funny.

    You want to see more books from publishers like O’Reilly and our Take Control series on the Kindle, get Amazon to support PDF in a real way. PDF isn’t perfect, but at least it’s relatively easy to create a decent PDF using readily available publishing tools, and it supports all the aspects of a modern ebook.

    Barring that, make some decent tools that serious publishers can use to write, edit, and publish books that can be output in a wide variety of formats. The level to which current tools stink is appalling.

    cheers… -Adam

  20. @Mike: We actually already have a discount like that for print books (see http://oreilly.com/order/upgrade.html), and I’d expect we’ll find a way to do something similar for the ebooks.

    @Vivian: I certainly hope so (or at least to see EPUB become a standard format for ebooks the way MP3 has for music files).

  21. That’s cool Andrew…it’s just a shame you don’t give this for those of us outside the U.S.

    Hopefully when you transfer this to your eBooks, you will be able to offer the discount to all countries.

  22. I would like to be able to buy my development bookshelf for my (new) Kindle. I hope you’ll be releasing your wonderful Javascript and CSS definitive guides.

  23. It sure would be great if we could use safari books online with our Kindle devices. Any chance of that happening?

  24. I hope you’ll also consider releasing your Safari Rough Cuts titles in a bundle (EPUB, PDF, and Kindle-compatible Mobipocket) rather than just the current PDF format. A re-flowable format would make reading on a laptop less tedious. And I would love to be able to read Rough Cuts on my Kindle.

  25. Your business model is so outdated. I don’t want online access the beauty of Kindle is it’s off the grid I can take my content anywhere and read it. In Safari’s model to access an entire book costs 10-15 tokens that 20-30 bucks. What!! Get clue the world has moved on Mr O’Reilly. Get your content over to Amazon so I can buy it. I’d never subscribe to Safari, it’s been around for years but it’s not the right model for what I need. Smell the coffee it’s brewing and the cup of delivery is eBooks.

  26. Your business model is so outdated. I don’t want online access the beauty of Kindle is it’s off the grid I can take my content anywhere and read it. In Safari’s model to access an entire book costs 10-15 tokens that 20-30 bucks. What!! Get clue the world has moved on Mr O’Reilly. Get your content over to Amazon so I can buy it. I’d never subscribe to Safari, it’s been around for years but it’s not the right model for what I need. Smell the coffee it’s brewing and the cup of delivery is eBooks.

  27. hi i have a question. Where do you think DRM will be in 20 years. at this rate I dont think it will be around.

  28. No matter what I love my Kindle!