Is it time for a new publishing model for IT books?

A couple of years ago, I was approached by a publisher to write a book on VMware resource management. After writing an outline and getting an idea of the amount of research and writing involved in the creation of the book, I passed on the opportunity. Part of my decision was the amount of money I’d make writing a technical book. There are plenty of other reasons to write a technical book. The reasons can range from getting your name out there, the desire to share knowledge and a desire to learn more about a specific technology. From a pure monetary compensation perspective, it’s difficult to justify undertaking writing a technical book. I’m wondering if it makes sense to look to vendors to sponsor the writing of technical books.

In addition to readers, I don’t believe anyone questions the value vendors receive from technical books. I had the of James Patterson’s Novell titles on my bookshelf for years. Prior to the popularity of the Internet and blogs, these books were the defacto standard for learning NetWare. While, I can’t quantify it, I’m sure it helped drive adoption of NetWare simply by being one of the few texts available for learning enterprise networking and file and print.

Today, we have blogs and Youtube videos to help learn new technologies. One of the difficulties in these methods is the lack of organization and consistent voice. You can visit to my blog to learn portions of creating a home lab and go to Jonathan Frappier’s site to learn how to install VMware’s vRealize Automation within the lab. However, if you want to learn vRealize Automation end-to-end, I’d argue next to classroom training there’s no better resource than a book on the topic.

I envision a model in which the vendor would work with a publisher to sponsor an author to write a title. One may argue isn’t this what Cisco Press and VMware press do exactly. I’m not sure. I don’t know if the model is much different than traditional book deals. In a traditional deal, the publisher would give the author an advance on sales to support themselves as they write. The advance can be anywhere from $1500 to tens of thousands of dollars. The amount is based on the author’s experience and the proposed topic. The author would not see any additional monies until royalties surpass the original advance amount.

The difference in the existing model and my proposed model would be that the vendors would make an investment in the author to deliver the book. This wouldn’t be an advance but rather payment for work delivered. The publishing company may have complete rights to the written material similar to a white paper. I think copyright is open for debate. After successful delivery, the author would still receive royalties but at a lower rate since they received some assurance prior to project completion.

This isn’t an issue free approach. I have some questions around what this would do for more general titles that don’t align to a specific vendor. Additionally, I’m sure vendors would like to have their name on the title. I don’t know how well this will be received within the readership. Overall, I do see this as an area ripe for disruption. What other potential challenges or opportunities do you see for this model? Are there other models you think may spur the creation of more IT related titles?

Published by Keith Townsend

Now I'm @CTOAdvisor

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