O’Reilly has released a ‘rough cut‘ version of the book Flickr Hacks in what it’s calling the ‘long snout.’ (Like the other end of the long tail, you see. It applies to product creation and tracking the development curve, not just the demand curve. Read more about it here.) It means that the book is not done and you’re purchasing a rough edit which you can then help edit and shape towards the final version. At point of purchase, it may not even be a full manuscript. (Will they have an RSS feed to notify you about new chapters posted?)
From the FAQ:
Rough Cuts is a new service from Safari Books Online that gives you early access to content on cutting-edge technologies — before it’s published. It lets you literally read the book as it is being written. The beta version of the Rough Cuts service is debuting in January 2006, with four works-in-progress from O’Reilly Media. We’ll be adding features and titles throughout the year.
There are three purchase packages available including an online-only package ($12.99) that will include one download of the final manuscript. For $27.99, you can have online access and feedback as the book is written and O’Reilly will ship you the print version. Or if you don’t have time to help edit a book, place a $16.99 advance order and just get the print copy when it ships. It’s a deal as final retail price is $24.99.
For technical books, this is a fantastic idea. You can have the community help in ferreting out bugs and typos in the text. Coding examples can be tested and corrected before book release. O’Reilly is good about soliciting feedback for their books and providing erratum Web pages with corrections. This process should insure a better quality print version and less erratum.
Just about any non-fiction title could benefit from this process plus you build a community and ownership around the book itself. I could see the system helping in designing the book’s structure and focus. As the community of local bookstores are supplanted by the BIG B’s (Borders, Barnes & Noble) and Amazon, maybe this type of editing community, based globally on the Net, will take shape.
Besides Flickr Hacks, they are also rough cutting Ajax Hacks, Ruby Cookbook, and Ruby on Rails: Up and Running.
I have absolutely no time to try and play with something like this but I am sorely tempted.
O’Reilly publishes free books for downloading under Creative Commons license. It’s called the Open Books Project. The first edition of CGI Programming for World Wide Web is available here. It’s an excellent resource.