The Future of Technical Ebooks by Tim O’Reilly

O'ReillyTim O’Reilly is the founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media Inc., a major computer book publisher.  He blogged about his ideas of the future of technical ebooks and learning.  For heavy-use technical books, O’Reilly saw that the subscription model would work best and the nature of the book would change.

From his blog O’Reilly Radar:

I was also convinced that moving online would change the nature of the book. “A book is a user interface to information,” I wrote. And it’s not necessarily the best interface. Some kinds of information were books by convenience only – an atlas, say, or a dictionary, or a bird identification guide. Applications can do the same job far more easily.

One early insight I had was expressed with the line “An online book will either be much larger or much smaller than the printed book.” We were seeing how the web was allowing readers to consume content in much smaller bites, but at the same time we were seeing the way that information could be aggregated into huge searchable works. It was becoming clear that search was the killer app, and searching one book at a time wouldn’t cut it.

And that was where we decided to go with Safari: a searchable repository of all our books, with a subscription business model that would potentially give people access to everything we published. But the more we thought about it, the more we realized that important as O’Reilly books were to our customers, we didn’t cover every topic, and the service would be even more powerful if we brought in other publishers. That’s when we approached Pearson Technology Group, one of our biggest competitors, to join us in a joint venture, and invited other publishers to participate as well.


And that leads me to the future: users want choice. They want choice of device (which means choice of format), and they want choice of business model. Subscription is the right model for institutions and for heavy users; pay-per-view (i.e. standalone ebooks) are a better model for occasional users. Ad-supported appears to be the best way to fund fast-changing current content. And of course, some content is better rendered as an app than a book.

Read the entire blog article Thoughts on ebooks triggered by the appointment of Andrew Savikas as CEO of Safari Books Online.