Why use Creative Commons license?

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.

If you don’t believe me, see what John Resig, Charles Petzold, Jeff Atwood and Eric Sink have to say on the subject.

(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.

4 thoughts on “Why use Creative Commons license?

  1. Congratulations! It’s really great move to release it under Creative Commons. Thanks for writing this book, I missed the story somehow, but now I know – can’t resist to go through it.


  2. This is from a person who has written quite a bit on technical track too. I think one good thing about book writing now is the self-publishing option that you are exercising. I have contributed on an individual capacity to a couple of multi-author books(Wrox). I don’t remember the actual % that we got per chapter, but if you combine all our percentages, it was far lesser than what POD services providers like Lulu and Pothi provide. However, the reach of traditional publishers was tremendous. They are into print as well as electronic(ebooks) formats, and while our revenues went down the curve, I still kept getting checks for non-print formats way past the life-cycle of the product I was writing on (Redhat Linux 9) – a very time limited topic you would agree.

    OTOH, in self-publishing, you have to do the hard work – reach and advertising, that traditional publishers gave you. One day, when the POD folks start ensuring delivery to brick and mortar book shops, where still majority of sales take place, they can give you similar revenues(of course, they would change their price models in the process).

    About the book buying trend, I am not the right kind of people to give an opinion. :) I buy quite a few tech books, some for their reference value and some just because I like to own them :-P. I buy books for more than its purely functional value. I guess, for many people in the industry now, books are purely a means to reach a short term objective, and therefore they are rarely attached to a book just as they don’t get too attached to a subject lest it goes out of fashion tomorrow.

  3. @Abdul Thanks, would love to hear your feedback!

    @Sandip Agreed, the traditional paper copy distribution reach is nothing to be matched yet, hence why I tried contacting publishers in the first place. But since they were not interested, I went ahead anyway. And I’m one of those guys who hold on to books for a long time too, my to-read stack on my desk is getting higher and higher :)

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