Many people have asked me on why I released my Vim book under a Creative Commons license instead of getting it published.
(1) First of all, I did try to talk to publishers, hoping that I would convince them to release the book simultaneously under a free license as well as a printed version (which is true for many technical books these days). All the publishers I spoke to said there is no market for such a book and said no to the idea. But that didn’t deter me, because I really wanted to see such a book out there, so I wrote it anyway.
(2) Technical books readership is on the decline. It seems very few techies buy and read books, they just google it and solve their immediate problems vs. reading a whole book.
(3) I had a concern bigger than not getting it published, it was that nobody would get to know about the book and hence the book would go in vain. Since money was not a motivating factor in this particular case, I was far more interested in seeing lots of readers and widespread usage than to see fewer readers with the published book although the latter would make me more money.
Tim O’Reilly’s words remained stuck in my mind:
“Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy.”
Of course, I did have a printed books option, so I still could have made money just like 37 Signals did with their “Getting Real” book which was free to read online plus available as a paid PDF download. Unfortunately, it seems I lack their marketing pizzazz.
(4) The book was intended to be a contribution back to the open source community. We constantly keep taking and taking – whether it is using Linux, Vim, Firefox, or countless other software, so it felt great to be useful to the community in return.
As Steve Jobs said:
You know, we don’t grow most of the food we eat. We wear clothes other people make. We speak a language that other people developed. We use a mathematics that other people evolved… I mean, we’re constantly taking things. It’s a wonderful, ecstatic feeling to create something that puts it back in the pool of human experience and knowledge.
(5) My experience has been that a lot of people would like to translate such books to their native languages to help more people use the software. So, I’m happy to see volunteers now translating the new Vim book to Chinese, Russian and Swedish languages!
I needed a balanced approach to what I was trying to achieve, and all the above reasons led me to use a Creative Commons license.