The commonsware publishing model

From an interview with author/publisher Mark Murphy, who publishes technical books around Android. The interview was conducted by email.

* Can you explain your concept of commonsware and how it fits in your publishing strategy.

CommonsWare’s publishing strategy is fairly simple: try to give readers a fair deal.

Digital publishing with a price tag attached — whether it be books or music or movies — is trying to leverage an artificial scarcity. For all intents and purposes, there is really no additional costs for delivering 200 copies than there are for delivering 2 copies. However, the alternative revenue models are works-in-progress.

Some publishers try to ignore the “artificial” part. They are the ones who charge 15 USD for a single copy of a single digital book.

The CommonsWare model is designed to charge less for the books and more for the service of knowledge transfer. Subscribers get books, but also updates to those books, and access to subscriber-only “office hours” for questions and answers outside of what the books cover. Over time, I hope to add more benefits to what Warescription members get, besides the ever-expanding library.

By delivering continuous new value, and by pricing that value fairly, I hope that developers will feel comfortable with the fact that, indeed, CommonsWare still charges for its materials.

* You proposed a Four-to-Free Guarantee some time ago, but as I understand it; your first book realizing this principle is just out. How long did it take and what does that say about the experience? Is your experience significant for other people?

The Four-to-Free Guarantee is part of the social contract CommonsWare makes with the public. Rather than using copyright to keep books locked up for eternity, CommonsWare commits to releasing its books under a Creative Commons license after four years or 4,000 copies sold (where “copies” includes both print copies and Warescriptions).

CommonsWare’s first book, _The Busy Coder’s Guide to Android Development_ was published in mid-2008. In theory, that means we would not need to release it under the Creative Commons license until 2012. However, sales have gone well, so we crested the 4,000 mark quite a bit early. Hence, that first edition of that book is now CC-licensed. As sales continue, newer editions will be similarly licensed.

In the end, this forces CommonsWare to keep adding value.

* Any plans for the future?

Books continue to be updated, particularly _The Busy Coder’s Guide to Advanced Android Development_. I am working on a fourth Android book (_Android Beyond Java_), and the first alpha release of that book will be in subscribers hands by late April. My goal is to release 2-3 new titles per year, plus update existing ones, alternating between topics (so I’ll be doing some non-Android stuff soon).

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