Extreme Publishing

by brian d foy

Related link: http://www.wired.com/news/mac/0,2125,64563,00.html

Leander Kahney of Wired News reports that Adam Engst (the TidBits guy that Mac users probably already know about) calls his new straight-to-PDF, free updates publishing of technology books "extreme publishing". (Adam is going to talk about this at the Mac OS X Conference in October.)

That's what I was calling it two and a half years ago when I started The Perl Review. Indeed, google "extreme publishing" and my February 2002 article is the first result.

Instead of starting with a print magazine, we just made a PDF. There were no locks or passwords or access control, and people could pass the files around as they liked. We updated the PDFs when we spotted errors or had new information that affected the articles. After a while we asked for $2 donations if readers liked what they got.

It worked to the point that people wanted it on paper too. :)


2004-08-17 12:24:55
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Hey Brian,

I have indeed read your 2002 article about extreme publishing, but it wasn't clear from it that you'd actually implemented any of the ideas you put forth in it, or how it had worked out, or how different it was from traditional publishing. I'd be curious to hear more from your perspective.

Obviously, very little of what we do came through in Leander's article (and in fact, he and I didn't talk all that much about our process), but some of the things we do in the extreme model include:

* Work tightly in author/editor pairs, preferably with fast, iterative turnaround on drafts to avoid wasting time. This works particularly well with people on opposite coasts.

* Authors edit and editors write - it's not a hard and fast rule, but the goal is to have lots of people with the necessary skills.

* Collaborative group proposal review and technical editing.

* Fast iterations to address updates in software, feedback from readers, or mistakes in the text.

* Reduction in project size to manageable levels.

* Frequent short meetings to avoid allowing problems to grow.

* Simplicity and reusability are paramount, which is why we use Word and authors write into final layout, rather than having a production person do layout.

Obviously, we're not perfect, by any stretch, and we're still learning, but the lessons of XP can easily be applied to publishing.

cheers... -Adam

2004-08-17 14:37:16
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Thanks for responding! I tried to find a personal email address for you so I could write to you directly too.

Our "extreme" was not that structured, so everyone seemed to be doing everything, and the line between editors and authors was not very clear. The masthead often had people in both positions, such as Andy Lester and Beth Linker (and me too, i guess).

With the PDF version, once we released an issue we could turn out updates several times a day as corrections came in: it was just a matter of correcting the copy and typing "make".

We didn't use Word since Perl people like POD. From there we went straight to LaTeX, and managed the complexity simply by limiting what we would do in the layout. It was not very pretty, but it got better I think.

Anyway, it's good to know someone else is doing this stuff. :)

2004-08-17 15:30:41
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Wow, you mean there are people who don't know my personal email address? :-)

Sounds like you're releasing more frequently than we are, but your audience is probably more used to that approach, more forgiving, and (if I understand right) not paying.

We're definitely pushing even further into the Extreme lessons, though a lot of it will be behind the scenes, as I suppose it is with software.

cheers... -Adam