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I’m ticked

Many O'reilly books are seriously delayed (or never appear at all) in Safari Online Books.

Many O'reilly books are seriously delayed (or never appear at all) in Safari Online Books. Yet Safari, which is owned by O'Reilly, list a primary benefit of a Safari subscription as "Immediate access to the newest books - New books are added in conjunction with, or in advance of, their print publication."
I've spoken at length with Safari staff about this, and they put the blame on O'Reilly, saying ORA is exclusively in control of the release of books to Safari. It's madenning that some of the best books are delayed in coming to Safari for weeks or months. Technical books, in particular, contain time-sensitive information, and this exclusion dramatically reduces the value of Safari.
I have supplied Safari staff with detailed examples of the problem, which is neither "occasional" nor "minor". From my point of view, it looks like O'Reilly is trying to milk as many sales as possible from popular titles before releasing them to Safari. Some of these books O'Reilly actually sells as PDFs! So clearly the issue isn't that they aren't in electronic form.
Please communicate this issue upstream to TIm O'Reilly. I'm certain he's interested in this perception of O'Reilly's Safari Online Books.
-mel beckman
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  • EMPLOYEE
    I’m confused
    2
    I'm confused. As far as I know, our policy is to get books into Safari as quickly as possible. In fact, some books are in Safari before they are in print. There is usually no more than a delay of a couple of weeks at most, as the books are converted into Safari's format. Some books go more quickly than others, depending on what authoring environment they were created with. If they are in our docbook xml format to begin with, conversion is quick and automatic, but other formats require more intervention.

    I do know that for a long time, we didn't have the Head First books in Safari, because they were graphically too complex to represent in XML. We solved that by introducing "page fidelity" as an alternative view, and now those books are all in the service.

    I'd love more details about what books you haven't been able to find.

    I can categorically assure you that we don't "try to milk as many sales as possible from popular titles before releasing them to Safari." If I could get books into Safari before getting them into print, I'd be glad to do so. This is our most strategic channel, our bet on an electronic future for book publishing. If we were so shortsighted as to hold back titles until they were stale, that would be really silly.

    Oh wait. I think I realized what might be going on. We had licensed a subset of Safari to a number of training companies, like Thomson NetG, who wanted a lower priced offering to bundle with their courses. We thought this would be a good "teaser" for the full service, but cancelled the offering when we realized that these resellers weren't making clear that this was a subset but were positioning it as if it were the full service. There are still seats out there, which should get flushed out over the next year of so. (You get what you pay for -- these seats were being bundled for a tiny fraction of the regular Safari price.) Someone from the Safari team can probably say more.

    How are you getting your Safari access? If via a corporate library or training service, tell them you want the full Safari offering.
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  • I am an individual Full Library Safari subscriber. "iPod: The Missing Manual" was published in October (6th edition). Only the more-than-a-year-old 5th edition is in Safari. This is what I mean when I refer to timely content being withheld. The "Big Book of Windows Hacks" is another example from October. The most recent book on this subject (by a different author) dates to 2005. Obviously it lacks any information about Vista, which is already a year old.

    I can find dozens of other examples, most more than a two months old. For example, "Fonts and Encoding" from September, "Photoshop Lightroom Adventure" from July, "Adobe Photoshop CS3 One-on-One" from June (although the author's videos are in Safari -- so licensing doesn't seem to be an issue), "Building Extreme PCs" from February - 2006!

    Stubblebine's "Regular Expression Pocket Reference" 2nd edition came out in July -- but the very outdated 2003 edition is all Safari readers can access. Yet O'Reilly sells a PDF version, so it can't be a content formatting issue!

    One title I am very disappointed isn't in Safari is "Mac OS X: The Missing Manual, Leopard Edition", which was actually being sold by O'Reilly in November (despite a December publishing date), yet is STILL not in Safari almost two months later. The information in this book is very time critical, as users are switching to Leopard and there is little other quality information in print. When I asked Safari staff when it would be available, they could not even confirm _if_ it would be available, and they themselves have been waiting on O'Reilly for an answer.

    Although you're saying that titles should get into Safari "within a couple of weeks" of print availability, I'm mystified why they aren't _always_ available sooner. I'm in the print business, and I know the lead times for print publications. You don't have those leads for Safari, so by rights Safari availability should always occur first.

    Another annoyance: Safari readers are supposed to get a 35% discount on O'Reilly titles, but ironically this is only possible for books that Safari readers can already read online for free! It's a mechanical catch-22: you can only click on the "35%" discount button on a book's page in Safari (not in O'Reilly's store), although Safari assures me that the 35% discount applies to all O'Reilly books.

    -mel
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  • I will definitely look into this. It's certainly my goal to have books up as quickly as possible. I'm not deep into the details of the workflow and the conversion queue, though.

    However, I would note that most of the books you mention fall into the "difficult formatting" category that I mentioned earlier. And others are not more than a few months old, which could certainly fall into the category of conversion prioritization. Contrary to what you suggest, I would be very surprised if they are not doing their best to prioritize the bestselling titles for conversion first, rather than holding them back. But I'm sure we'll definitely be hearing from the conversion team with details.

    In addition, I think you may be being misled by the publication date on a couple of these books, which isn't necessarily when they are actually available.

    For example, checking bookscan, I see the first print sales for iPod: the Missing Manual, 6th edition, being as October 29. I'd be surprised if it isn't up very soon.

    Regarding Mac OS X: The Missing Manual, Leopard Edition, I can assure you that it was not available in November. It may have been on sale for pre-order in November, but I get advance copies from the printer, and my copy didn't show up till a few weeks ago, well into December. Bookscan confirms that copies first went on sale the week of 12/15.

    Regarding PDF vs. Safari -- it's trivial to generate a PDF from the files sent to a printer. Non-trivial to produce Safari XML or HTML. I would imagine that the regex pocket reference is one of those.

    Re. the discount -- I'll be watching for a reply from the Safari folks on this one. Doesn't make sense to me.
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  • Brian Jepson (Editor, Maker Media, Inc.) December 26, 2007 20:49
    I can address one of the books here--the Big Book of Windows Hacks. This book is on its way into Safari, and the delay on this book is due to technical reasons. This book, and many future hacks books, are produced by the same team that does Make and Craft, using a different set of book templates than what the rest of O'Reilly uses to produce books. Because of this, the Big Book of Windows Hacks couldn't flow into Safari as easily as other books. Because we're smoothing out that flow, Big Book of Windows Hacks will be in Safari soon and future hacks books will get up there more quickly.

    - Brian
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  • I’m a fan of the O'Reilly books
    These are all great answers to a great set of questions. I know, coming from a publishing background myself, that there are a zillion nit-picky problems with moving publications away from the tools used to layout books and into an online format. Or, to put it another way, to separate content from design after the fact -- when design was considered first! This is a challenge a lot of publishers are facing, and although I have seem some publishers make marketing-based decisions like the ones you suspect (e.g., holding back "hot" titles from subscription programs), I personally don't see O'Reilly fitting into that category at all.
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  • Tim,

    I do appreciate everyone's rapid replies to my question. If the delay isn't a deliberate marketing move by O'Reilly, then I'm glad to hear you confirm it. I suspect, then, that it's just a case of O'Reilly management not realizing how far behind the promised "Immediately" Safari delivery has actually become. For example, in December O'Reilly lists 30 new titles in its New Releases page, but only three of those are available in Safari. Even considering averages, it looks like most of these titles are going to be at least a month in print distribution before Safari readers can read them, and given the trend, even longer.

    I only examined a trend of two months, but of November's 18 new title's, more than half (eleven) are still not in Safari. Based on that I would predict 50% of O'Reilly titles to take more than two months to get to Safari. It may be a slanted sample, but I can, if you wish, provide a list of many more Safari-less going back months (although I hope you have better means to extract this data than I do).

    My concern is that such lengthy delays seriously degrade the value of a Safari subscription, which isn't cheap for an individual (I pay nearly $500/year). Safari, by which I mean O'Reilly (a major owner of Safari) promises its subscribers "Immediate access to the newest books" and that "New books are added in conjunction with, or in advance of, their print publication." When I signed up I thought "Great, no more waiting for the postman to get these new titles, plus the advantages of online search".

    As a paying customer, I went first to Safari with my concerns. They said, in a nutshell ;), "It's not us, it's O'Reilly." It seems odd to hear the left hand disowning the right hand, but I'm guessing there is some kind of internal business partitioning that prevents the Safari staff from getting the explanations that you've provided to me in a single day.

    I think Safari's doing a great job delivering the content they have, but they've procured customers via a promise that O'Reilly, at least, doesn't even seem close to meeting. O'Reilly's scheduling definitely strains the definitions of "immediately" and "in conjunction with."

    You rightly point out that some books may take longer due to formatting issues, but I gathered from your comments that you didn't mean _most_ of them!

    By the way, when _will_ "Mac OS X: The Missing Manual, Leopard Edition" be in Safari?

    -mel
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  • 2
    I was contemplating subscribing to Safari. I discovered that Steven Feuerstein's "PL SQL Best Practices", 2nd ed isn't available on Safari yet. The 2nd edition of this book has been available since October. This makes me worry about investing in a Safari subscription when some of the books I need for my job are not available.
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  • I'm glad you believe me that we're not doing this deliberately, and I'm REALLY glad you've brought to my attention that our books are not appearing in Safari as fast as I thought they were. I've circulated your question to both our conversion team at O'Reilly and to the folks at Safari, and will hope to have specific answers back to you soon. I would love to have our books in Safari before they are in bookstores, and since that doesn't appear to be happening, I need to find out why.
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  • I’m greatly encouraged
    Tim,

    Thanks very much for taking this to task. Safari will be much more valuable if books really to appear there in conjunction with printing. Beating the print date would be super, but I'll be happy if they become congruent.

    -mel
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  • Tim,

    Any news on any of these questions, especially the availability of "Mac OS X: The Missing Manual, Leopard Edition" in Safari? Thanks!

    -mel
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  • EMPLOYEE
    I’m happy we're able to give you a good answer
    1
    Just heard from Adam Witwer, who manages conversions to Safari, who wrote: "The conversion house took longer than expected on this title because of several inline graphics. We finally received the files from them yesterday. Loading the book into kurt [our internal data store, kurt loader] and posting it on Safari will be high priority on Monday.
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  • Tim,

    Is there any word about when Steven Feuerstein's "PL SQL Best Practices", 2nd ed will be available on Safari? The first edition is on Safari but dates from ca. 2000. That's an eternity in Oracle land.

    Thanks,
    Bruce
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  • I’m thankful
    Tim,

    Thanks for that news! For some reason the screen shots are somewhat blurry, but I'm delighted to have the text and the screen shots are still legible enough to make out. Thanks!

    Have you discovered what is slowing the Safarization process in general?

    -mel
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  • Hi all,

    I thought I'd follow up on this thread.

    The titles that are mentioned above are now either on Safari or on the way in the next week or so, with the exception of Fonts & Encodings, and I'm working on a solution to that one. We managed to track down the files for some of the older titles (such as Building Extreme PCs). Other titles we had had the files all along but they were never converted for some reason or another. We're fixing that now. We definitely do not hold back hot titles intentionally.

    In the past few months, we've worked to identify the kinds of things that delay publication on Safari, and we're taking steps to address those things. For example, at least two books mentioned here (Photoshop Lightroom and Creative Digital Darkroom) had tremendously large file sizes that slowed us down. That might seem like a bad excuse, but moving around and converting 10-15 GB of data for a single book can be a challenge, especially when using international vendors. We've discussed this problem with the production teams working on these graphic-heavy titles so that they can help by providing web-friendly files we can move around and post easier. We're also putting into place better scheduling and forecasting so that we can expect better turnaround times from the conversion houses (and titles most definitely will not be overlooked). And we've expanded the Safari production team (a new employee joined just this past week) to provide better coverage.

    In the next two weeks, look for Oracle PL/SQL Best Practices 2E, Big Book of Windows Hacks, the Dynamic Learning CS3 books, Deke McClelland's latest One-on-One CS3 titles, Regular Expression Pocket Reference 2E, iPod: TMM 6E, Photoshop CS3 RAW, and more.

    As for more recent titles, two of the four O'Reilly titles for January are posted on Safari (Wikipedia: TMM and The Ruby Programming Language), and the other two are on their way. Getting books on Safari as quickly as possible is high priority going forward in 2008.

    So that's the update. I just wanted everyone to know that we did pay attention to the posts here, and we're taking appropriate action.

    Adam
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  • I'm happy to report that Safari has greatly improved its timeliness. I also had occasion to write a short week-in-the-life editorial about Safari Books, published in the August 2008 issue of System i News magazine:

    http://systeminetwork.com/article/saf...
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