[ZDP] from another list...

Tom Deprez Tom.Deprez@uz.kuleuven.ac.be
Wed, 26 May 1999 09:48:51 +0200

Hello guys,

   For some time we have heard Richard Stallman talk about how
important free documentation is for the GNU project.  GNOME is a
perfect example of a system that needs documentation, and we are
having a hard time documenting the system: writing tutorials, writing
api definitions, users manuals and other types of documentation.

   Free documentation (Open Source documentation) is important for a
number of reasons: 

       1. If documentation is OpenSourced -we- can maintain the
          documentation gradually even if the original author is no
          longer interested in writing these books.

       2. Users can get online versions of the documentation with the

       3. Documentation can be reused.  Just like software in other
          books, or as part of a system documentation (ie, think
          GNU/Linux distributions). 

       4. People can reuse bits of the documentation in other projects
          for the parts that apply.  They can reuse this documentation
          for a possibly modified/extended version of the code, or to
          reflect a branded-version of the code. 

       5. We can put the books online on the web site.  We can create
          comprenhensive web sites that have tutorials online that
          people can link to from technical information and the other
          way around.  
   I had assumed for a long time that people who wrote books for
publishing companies made piles of money and that this was the reason
we could not get those books open-sourced.  Given that the authors of
those books would get a lot of money for it.

   I recently talked to two very dear friends of mine who are working
on two books about GNOME programming.  With two publishing companies.
One company I will call A and the other I will call B. 

   Both A and B are offering the authors of the books 1 dollar per
book sold plus some money in advance which varies for books that are
sold to the end user for something in the range of 25-40 dollars.
   Companies A and B have estimated selling something between 10k and
20k books.  Company A has shown some interested in exploring making
the source open-source, but the last time I talked to them, they were
no longer going to make the GNOME book free.  

   I have also read this story that my friend Raph Levien pointed me
to: http://photo.net/wtr/dead-trees/story.html

   Basically, I am very dissapointed with the book industry at this
point.  Authors of books are not treated nicely, they are not payed
enough, they do not get a good deal at all. 

   The big winner here is the publisher: neither the book-purchaser,
nor the book-writer, nor the community at large benefit.  It is pretty
outrageous.  Now I understand why the Beatles wanted to create their
own publishing company.  They get to keep most of the money from their
work this way.

   Jim Gettys has pointed out that his book on X programming that was
all the time free (open sourced) was published and that it was used to
pay for his bills for a long time.  And it is still being sold, even
if the source code for the book is available.

   So the idea here is that we should create a company that could pay
authors better royalties per book, and get the results of the money to
fund some software projects and documentation projects.

   I would personally like the FSF take over this, because they could
invest some initial money for making this happen, but anyone can
participate in this.

   I have created a mailing list for those interested in discussing
possible setups for making this happen, to subscribe, type:

   echo subscribe | mail free-docs-publishing-request@nuclecu.unam.mx

It occurs to me that we can do a number of things, my first idea is: 

   1. Get a list of topics that people would like to see.  
   2. Choose the ones that have the most demand.
   3. Ask people for an "advanced" payment on the book.  There is
      little to loose, say 30 dollars contribution.
   4. Use the "advanced" payments to pay "main" authors, and give them an
      advance so that they can devote to writing the book.

We want to get this setup bootstrapped as soon as possible of course. 

ok, that is one idea.  I am sure people with more business experience
can come up with better ideas.

Best wishes,