The digital publishing revolution starts now

I am a writer. I make my living helping people use technology to become more productive.

My first book appeared in bookstores back in 1995, when the World Wide Web was still shiny and new. I’ve been writing books steadily since then, always with traditional publishers, always following the same basic model.

I still believe in books. The web might be the best option for finding a specific answer to a specific question, but there’s nothing like a well-written, carefully edited book to help you understand a new technology or quickly master a new product.

The trouble with the traditional publishing model is that it hasn’t changed much in the last 15 years, despite the revolutionary changes in technology we’ve seen during that time. Traditional publishers still start with a print edition and eventually get around to digital formats. That model has to change.

That’s why I’ve joined a new company, Fair Trade Digital Exchange, as a founding author and partner and why I’m leaving traditional publishing behind.

It’s the first shot in what I am confident will be a revolution in tech publishing.

We’re “digital first” for a reason.

Technology changes at breathtaking speed these days. One of the advantages of a digital-first approach is that we can produce smaller titles with a smaller price tag, and get them into the market quickly, while print-first publishers are still arguing over proposals.

My first book for Fair Trade DX, Ed Bott’s Windows 8 Head Start, is practically a case study in the difference between the two publishing models.

With a traditional publisher, I would start writing when the first beta appeared. Four to six months later, my co-authors and I would have a finished, fully edited manuscript. After two more months of post-production and printing, that 1,000-page book would finally be available for sale.

By contrast, the first edition of Ed Bott’s Windows 8 Head Start, based on the Windows Developer Preview released in September at Microsoft’s BUILD conference, is already fully tech-checked, professionally copy-edited, and available in every popular digital format. (You can buy the EPUB version at our website, get it for your Kindle at, or download it to your Nook from The first edition is 130 pages. I’ll have an updated, expanded edition within weeks after the beta is released. And I’ll update and expand that book again when the final version is released to manufacturing.

Our digital-first process lets us work fast, update quickly, and stay relevant. If you’re an early adopter, you can follow along with those early editions and have a genuine head start on the competition by the time the final product is released. If you prefer to wait for the final edition, you’ll still have a head start of weeks or even months compared to competing products from traditional publishers.

At Fair Trade DX, authors are 50/50 partners.

I’ve been fortunate to work with many fine publishing professionals through the years. We’ve shared a long list of successful titles together, but those successes have always been on the publisher’s terms. They keep 85-90% of the revenue; the author gets 10-15%.

That split made sense in a print-first world. After all, it costs a lot of money to print books by the thousands and ship them around the country, and there’s always a risk that the booksellers will return those copies if they don’t sell.

Digital publishing changes that cost structure completely. There’s no manufacturing cost for e-books, distribution uses web servers instead of trucks and warehouses, and there’s no risk of returns.

But publishers still insist on keeping their traditional revenue split with authors when they sell a book in digital format. That doesn’t seem fair. Which is why we’ve changed the split to a straight 50/50 for revenue on an author’s work.

At Fair Trade DX, we share the responsibilities and the rewards. Authors are the subject-matter experts. We provide professional development, editing, proofreading, cover design, and translation into every popular digital format. Not to mention the tricky details of placing titles where readers can find them.

This arrangement allows Fair Trade DX to publish titles that might never get considered by a traditional publisher because they’re too small. And it allows authors the chance to make a living without having to spend time mastering self-publishing tools. Instead, they can do what they do best—write.

And best of all: there’s no DRM.

At Fair Trade DX, we hate copy protection as much as you do. For titles aimed at IT pros and computer professionals, it’s especially annoying and counterproductive. If you buy a new title, you probably want to read it on your Kindle, your iPad, your smartphone, at least two PCs and a Mac, and eventually on devices that don’t even exist today.

We say, go right ahead. Our titles have no restrictions on the number or type of devices you can use them on. In other words, we trust our customers to do the right thing.

Why now?

We’ve been asking traditional publishers to make these sorts of changes for years, and every time we asked, they said the time wasn’t right. They always seem to have a reason to keep doing things the way they’ve always done things.

So finally we got tired of waiting and decided to get it done ourselves. That’s why we founded Fair Trade DX.

If you’re looking for our first wave of computer books, you can find them at our online bookstore. If you’re a technology expert and you’d like to talk to us about how Fair Trade DX works and how you can submit a book proposal, we’re ready to listen.

Come and join our revolution.

20 thoughts on “The digital publishing revolution starts now

  1. BRAVO!

    Congratulations on breaking some important new ground.

    (And, oh, by the way, congratulations on getting a Windows 8 book out the door!)

    The business model looks great. Titles are timely, authors extraordinary, the price is right and the lack of DRM speaks volumes. It’ll be very, very interesting to see how things go…

  2. This is exciting, Ed. I’ll be buying at least your Windows 8 Head Start–I haven’t browsed yet. Best wishes. Lots of work ahead, but you knew that.


  3. Great to see you coming to the party too, Ed. We’ve been publishing our Take Control series – digital-first, DRM-free ebooks with a 50/50 royalty split – since 2003, and have sold hundreds of thousands copies. We don’t much write about Windows, since our focus is more on the world of Apple and the Internet. Check our stuff out at

    The hard part, of course, is finding people who not only know their topic cold but can write clearly and coherently, and who meet deadlines well. Professional authors and editors are still a rare breed.

    cheers… -Adam Engst, Take Control publisher

  4. Nice done!

    Its about time the media industry adjusts to the web rules! I would be happy to support you and buy this book. One question before that purchase…

    You mention that there will be updates to the book.
    I have bought books on the Kindle store (and also have ePub readers in my Windows Phone). So how exactly will this upgrade process work for Kindle and ePub books?

  5. @Bruno, updates are tricky when you’re working through the resellers like Amazon and the iBookstore. I’m not actually sure how they work on Amazon (since O’Reilly Media handles that relationship for us), but I expect that you would have to remove the book from your Kindle or Kindle app, and then download it again. That is exactly what you have to do on the iBookstore – the publisher can upload a new update, but no customer will get it unless they redownload. Worse, there’s no way to communicate with people who buy through these other sites.

    Direct sales are key when rethinking publishing, since you need to be able to communicate with your customer base for things like updates, and it’s difficult to establish that relationship for people who buy through resellers. But, of course, you also want to work through reselllers, since that’s where many people will go to look for titles.

    cheers… -Adam

  6. Congrats, Ed. Picking up a copy now,


    James Clarke (Presentation and Composition team, Windows Client Engineering)

  7. Congratulations, I really hope this works. I’ve been a fan of the Inside Out series since the XP edition. I even bought the Vista edition although I went to Linux during the Vista years because members of my family used Vista. I don’t know how typical I am, but I’m not very interested in Windows 8. At least not yet. For your sake, I hope I’m not typical.

  8. Good luck Ed, though my own experience with authoring IT texts is that DRM free techbooks are posted far and wide on pirate sites visible within the first four results on Google – and are posted more widely than cracked DRM books (apparently not using DRM means “giving permission” to a certain sort of person).

    The publishers of mine that are litigious spend money chasing down these sites and it shows in the royalty statements. The publishers of mine that have thrown up their hands in the air have that result reflected in my royalty statements.

    As long as it is easier for readers to find a free copy of your book through a google search than it is for them to click and use a shopping cart, the vast majority will take the rational option and download from the pirate site. As many readers have admitted to me – “I’ll only buy the book if I can’t find it for free – if I can find it for free, I don’t feel all that bad about downloading it.” It isn’t that some people will always be pirates, it’s that downloading for free is now socially normalized.

    So good luck and I hope that your publisher has a legal team to send out letters as the books end up posted on people’s websites because “they want to share with their friends, even the ones they haven’t met yet” (they’ll also tell you to find a new business model)

    1. John, for the short term at least we are focused on tech. When we’re ready to expand, it will probably be into other scientific and engineering disciplines.

  9. Of course, Ed, I wish you the very best in your new venture. Your are an excellent writer and you care much about your craft.

  10. As @Zobdiakz mentioned piracy is an issue, but I think in many cases the ridiculous cost of these electronic texts has been the issue. This has unfortunately allowed people to rationalize and create a culture that accepts this behavior. I work in a higher education institution and the students perspective is that they are constantly ripped off by the publishers with their textbooks (as we all felt when we were going through college) and won’t hesitate to download for free if they can find a way.

    I applaud Ed and the Freetrade DX approach and truly hope they can show the big publishers that this is a working model. I believe that by pricing these e-books at far more reasonable price points I can persuade my students to buy once again even when the option to obtain them illegally is there. I think the trust factor works much better if people feel they are getting fair value. If we can build that conscience back up again it will be peer pressure that allows this model to succeed.

    Most people I know want to support the author. Those that don’t probably wouldn’t have bought the book anyway. I know it’s hard for some people to accept and let the inevitable piracy that will occur go by, but coming down hard with draconian copyright laws and aggressive litigious behavior is a losing battle. All we can do is try to price the product at a point the general public and author (not big corps looking out for shareholders) feel is fair and hope that peer pressure takes care of the rest. Some may feel this is naive, but I’m hoping not!..;)

    Good luck ED!

  11. Speaking as someone who has been doing this for 8 years, piracy is not a particularly big issue. For many years, we never saw any of our ebooks appear on the file sharing sites, since our direct customers didn’t share them. Once we started working with resellers, it became more common, but we haven’t seen any drop in sales (or increase, to counter the argument that more exposure in this fashion is helpful) that we’ve in any way been able to trace to piracy.

    The simple fact of the matter is that most books sell best in the first three months, and ebooks sell best in the first few month. After that, it’s a steady state, and most people who are going to find the book will do so either from the publisher’s marketing efforts or on a reseller’s site. So the goal is always to reach the largest possible audience as quickly as possible.

    cheers… -Adam

  12. Good to hear this change coming to your books Ed. I’m looking foward to reading more from you in the future now.

  13. Very impressive and innovative. One of my life long dreams is to become a writer, hopefully some day I’ll be able to do it, and it’s great to see innovations on that front that keep luring me… Good luck!

  14. Good luck, Ed. I wish you well. As Adam points out, the model can work. I’ve been working recently with The Pragmatic Programmers, who split 50/50 with authors, publish in pdf, epub, and mobi, are DRM-free, and are doing very well. You’re on a good path.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s