The Book as Beta

Broadway South

When books were created in a traditional manufacturing process, with high barriers to entry and a need to print many copies at once, the publication was an end-point of sorts. But in a world of digital media, we can—and in many cases should—rethink the manufacturing model.

We should consider books in the context of software development: always in beta. As publishing machinery allows for small print runs on tight deadlines, this is increasingly possible to think of a book as something we keep iterating and improving.

This model creates problems, of course. For example, how do we know what is the authoritative version? When someone cites something from the book, whose version are they citing? We’ll need to have “benchmark” versions online.

But the potential value outweighs the difficulties. Most notably, if we can keep improving a book, it stays evergreen. And that means it can keep selling. This has benefits for publishers and authors alike.

Photo of Dan Gillmor

Dan Gillmor

The Guardian/Arizona State University's Cronkite School of Journalism & Mass Communication

Dan Gillmor is director of the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship and Kauffman Professor of Digital Media Entrepreneurship at Arizona State University’s Cronkite School of Journalism & Mass Communication. The project aims to help students appreciate the startup culture of risk-taking, and to foster new media products and services.

Dan is also director of the Center for Citizen Media, a project to enhance and expand grassroots media and its reach. The center is an affiliate of ASI and the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. He is author of “We the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People” (O’Reilly Media, 2004), a book that explains the rise of citizens’ media and why it matters.

From 1994 until early 2005 Dan was a columnist at the San Jose Mercury News, Silicon Valley’s daily newspaper, and wrote a weblog for He joined the Mercury News after six years with the Detroit Free Press. Before that, he was with the Kansas City Times and several newspapers in Vermont. During 2005 he worked on media projects at Grassroots Media Inc.

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Adam Engst

TidBITS Publishing Inc.

Adam C. Engst is the publisher of TidBITS, one of the longest-running Internet-based newsletters, and of the Take Control electronic book series. He has authored many best-selling technical books and numerous magazine articles. His innovations include the creation of the first advertising program to support an Internet publication in 1992 and the first flat-rate accounts for graphical Internet access in 1993. He regularly ranks among the top five most influential people in the Macintosh industry and was named one of MacDirectory’s top ten visionaries. He has been turned into an action figure.

Photo of John J. Chodacki

John J. Chodacki

Safari Books Online

John J. Chodacki is Director of Product Management at Safari Books Online (, an online service delivering the most important technical and design content from today’s leading publishers. In this role, John leads the product and audience development and innovation efforts for the company’s direct-to-consumer markets. In addition, he serves as Program Manager for Safari Books Online’s Rough Cuts service. Prior to joining Safari Books Online, John served as O’Reilly Media’s Electronic Publishing Manager for five years. He holds an MBA from San Francisco State University.


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