Micro Books

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A series of concentrated 100-page books for the IT community.

Dead tree books just won't go away. But they continue to be done badly. This article describes a business model based on publishing IT books less useless than the average. I'm not the only one to have complaints, nor to have had a bad experience with a publisher -- see Philip Greenspun's comments.

This business idea was jointly developed during 2003/2004 by Niall Mansfield and Dan Shearer , both of whom are happy for it to be here as Open Content. Take it and make a fortune! Just please let me know when you have done so :-)

The business model lends itself to publishing books related to Open Source and Free Software because the readership is already thinking along these lines. Samuel Rose has explored this idea further and Adam Hyde has put into practice.

Last updated Dan 21:04, 15 July 2007 (CST)


Problems and Opportunities

Most IT professionals know to skip the first four or six chapters in a technical book. They also expect to use a book for maybe three or four chapters. They pick it up, get what they want for the task in hand and move on. Meaning that most of the time there's 300 or 400 pages wasted.

And no wonder. An author usually isn't a master of all the 500 to 600 pages of material he is expected to write, but must instead study in order to seem one. So writing takes longer, and inevitably covers things uninteresting to the author. The editor will insist on completeness, on coverage, on a gentle start, on setting context and pace. And so on. Slowly.

If only it was possible to work out which 100 pages was useful and then just sell that to technical readers!

Fortunately, it is.

Use Case: Web Developer

A web developer with experience in Apache/PHP serving community sites wants to use Apache 2 for the first time to create secure sites in PHP backed by a Postgresql cluster. This is the set of micro books needed:

  • Apache 2 for Apache 1 Users
  • Understanding SSL for Deployment
  • Postgresql SLONY
  • PHP for Transactional Websites

Four slim books totalling 400 pages, replacing a larger number of much larger books that will have very little on these specific topics.

Use Case: IT Infrastructure

A Linux administrator needs to upgrade some corporate firewalls and is thinking about doing so with a very cut-down bootable CD image, and adding some security monitoring. These are the micro books available:

  • Linux IPtables Recipies
  • No-fuss Bootable CDs
  • Network Monitoring with OSS

General Concept


  • a series of 100-page books (96 actually; a magic number in printing)
  • license decays to an open content licence after one year
  • each focussed on one, well-defined subject


  • written by practitioners, entirely within their core expertise
  • with expert editorial assistance
  • in a well-defined format between author and editor
  • around five times more quickly than a normal IT book
  • optional electronic distribution


  • distilled, concentrated material
  • no fluff. Count the non-content pages in an IT book. None of them appear here.
  • in partnership with community resources on the Web, not competing against them
  • related website


  • fast turnaround, so as up-to-date as possible
  • low price by being small and fast to produce
  • small print runs
  • can afford to cover niche subjects

Author Benefits

  • a 100-page book is quick to write: you can do most of the work in two weeks. Many HOWTOs reach half this size!
  • you can easily share your knowledge and experience with the rest of the community in a quality that few HOWTOs can match because they aren't professionally edited.
  • you write about only what you know. You don't have to research areas outside your specialism just to fill up the pages.
  • standard format makes writing easy. Instead of worrying about typography, format and layout issues, you just concentrate on your subject.
  • we give you expert editorial guidance. We've worked on both sides of the technical publishing fence.
  • We work with you right from the beginning.
  • We don't have you writing chapters, and only give you feedback months later. Instead, our involvement is interactive and structured. Just like software development, it's much easier and less frustrating to change something at the design stage than when it's been fully written.

Reader Benefits

  • the books are quick to read. You get up-to-speed as fast as possible.
  • all content and no fluff: you don't waste time wading through pages and pages containing no real information, meaningless diagrams, reprinted man pages or reference guides etc.
  • "assemble your own custom book". Select the titles you need on the specific topics that are relevant to you. You get (and pay for) only the information you want.
  • the physical size of the books makes them easy to read. They don't clutter up your mind or your bookshelf.
  • the books are practical ­ by expert practitioners, for people working in the field
  • the content is up-to-date because our short production cycle lets us bring out books quickly ­ when they are needed, not two years later.
  • the books are affordable. Because we minimize the production overhead we can pass the benefit on to the reader.
  • the books work with the Web, not against it. The books contain the distilled information you need to get up and working quickly; the associated Web site contain related information to give you knowledge in depth, and allow us to keep the printed books current up-to-the minute.

The Deal for the Author

  • we pay you royalties on all books sold:­ 10% of our net receipts on the first thousand copies, 15% after that
  • you produce the book in our agreed format with output as camera-ready PostScript or PDF
  • you provide any "extra materials" in HTML or other suitable format for the book's associated Web site.
  • we agree an "expected lifetime" for the book as a commercial venture. After that the book is released under an open content licence.

Creative Commons License
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This content is licensed under the Creative Commons
Attribution ShareAlike License v. 2.5:
GNU head GFDL: Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License". (shearer.org uses but does not currently recommend the GDFL and here's the explanation why. )
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