The future of Autotools Mythbuster

You might have noticed after yesterday’s post that I have done a lot of visual changes to Autotools Mythbuster over the weekend. The new style is just a bunch of changes over the previous one (even though I also made use of sass to make the stylesheet smaller), and for the most part is to give it something recognizable.

I need to spend another day or two working on the content itself at the very least, as the automake 1.13 porting notes are still not correct, due to further changes done on Automake side (more on this in a future post, as it’s a topic of its own). I’m also thinking about taking a few days off Gentoo Linux maintenance, Munin development, and other tasks, and just work on the content on all the non-work time, as it could use some documentation of install and uninstall procedures for instance.

But leaving the content side alone, let me address a different point first. More and more people lately have been asking for a way to have the guide available offline, either as ebook (ePub or PDF) or packaged. Indeed I was asked by somebody if I could drop the NonCommercial part of the license so that it can be packaged in Debian (at some point I was actually asked why I’m not contributing this to the main manuals; the reason is that I really don’t like the GFDL, and furthermore I’m not contributing to automake proper because copyright assignment is becoming a burden in my view).

There’s an important note here: while you can easily see that I’m not pouring into it the amount of time needed to bring this to book quality, it does take a lot of time to work on it. It’s not just a matter of gluing together the posts that talk about autotools from my blog, it’s a whole lot of editing, which is indeed a whole lot of work. While I do hope that the guide is helpful, as I wrote before, it’s much more work for the most part that I can pour into on my free time, especially in-between jobs like now (and no, I don’t need to find a job — I’m waiting to hear from one, and got a few others lined up if it falls through). While Flattr helps, it seems to be drying up, at least for what concerns my content; even Socialvest is giving me some grief, probably because I’m no longer connecting from the US. Beside that, the only “monetization” (I hate that word) strategy I got for the guide is AdSense – which, I remind you, kicked my blog out for naming an adult website on a post – and making the content available offline would defeat even the very small returns of that.

At this point, I’m really not sure what to do; on one side I’m happy to receive more coverage just because it makes my life easier to have fewer broken build systems around. On the other hand, while not expecting to get rich off it, I would like to know that the time I spend on it is at least partly compensated – token gestures are better than nothing as well – and that precludes a simple availability of the content offline, which is what people at this point are clamoring for.

So let’s look into the issues more deeply: why the NC clause on the guide? Mostly I want to have a way to stop somebody else exploiting my work for gain. If I drop the NC clause, nothing can stop an asshole from picking up the guide, making it available on Amazon, and get the money for it. Is it likely? Maybe not, but it’s something that can happen. Given the kind of sharks that infest Amazon’s self-publishing business, I wouldn’t be surprised. On the other hand, it would probably make it easier for me to accept non-minor contributions and still be able to publish it at some point, maybe even in real paper, so it is not something I’m excluding altogether at this point.

Getting the guide packaged by distributions is also not entirely impossible right now: Gentoo has generally not the same kind of issues as Debian regarding the NC clauses, and since I’m already using Gentoo to build and publish it, making an ebuild for it is tremendously simple. Since the content is also available on Git – right now on Gitorious, but read on – it would be trivial to do. But again, this would be cannibalizing the only compensation I got for the time spent on the guide. Which makes me very doubtful on what to do.

About the sources, there is another issue: while at the time I started all this, Gitorious was handier than GitHub, over time Gitorious interface didn’t improve, while the latter improved a lot, to the point that right now it would be my choice to host the guide: easier pull requests, and easier coverage. On the other hand, I’m not sure if the extra coverage is a good thing, as stated above. Yes, it is already available offline through Gitorious, but GitHub would make it effectively easier to get offline than to consult online. Is that what I want to do? Again, I don’t know.

You probably also remember an older post of mine from one and a half years ago where I discussed the reasons why I haven’t published Autotools Mythbuster at least through Amazon; the main reason was that, at the time, Amazon has no easy way to update the book for the buyers without having them buying a new copy. Luckily, this has changed recently, so the obstacle is actually fallen. With this in mind, I’m considering making it available as a Kindle book for those of you who are interested. To do so I have first to create it as an ePub though — so it would solve the question that I’ve been asked about the eBook availability… but at the same time we’re back to the compensation issue.

Indeed, if I decide to set up ePub generation and start selling it on the Kindle store, I’d be publishing the same routines on the Git repository, making it available to everybody else as well. Are people going to buy the eBook, even if I priced it at $0.99? I’d suppose not. Which brings me to not be sure what the target would be, on the Kindle store: price it down so that the convenience to just buy it from Amazon overweights the work to rolling your own ePub, or googling for a copy, – considering that just one person rolling the ePub can easily make it available to everybody else – or price it at a higher point, say $5, hoping that a few, interested users would fund the improvements? Either bet sounds bad to me honestly, even considering that Calcote’s book is priced at $27 at Amazon (hardcopy) and $35 at O’Reilly (eBook) — obviously, his book is more complete, although it is not a “living” edition like Autotools Mythbuster is.

Basically, I’m not sure what to do at all. And I’m pretty sure that some people (who will comment) will feel disgusted that I’m trying to make money out of this. On the whole, I guess one way to solve the issue is to drop the NC clause, stick it into a Git repository somewhere, maybe keep it running on my website, maybe not, but not waste energy into it anymore… the fact that, with the much more focused topic, it has just 65 flattrs, is probably indication that there is no need for it — which explains why I couldn’t find any publisher interested in making me write a book on the topic before. Too bad.

7 thoughts on “The future of Autotools Mythbuster

  1. I’ve never signed up for a github account. I suppose if it’s easier/better or more useful I could. And I am job searching as well atm and taking a free python class at edx.org. Sadly they are using 2.7.3Had not pulled or looked at the thing lately. At a glance- I like the new look, very slick looking. The ‘previous’ and ‘next’ links on each page could be more prominent -larger and/or bolder(my bad/old and tired eyes). I initially did not see them. I still notice the need for more minor edits here and there. And yes… editing it is a time consuming task ;-) The libtool section seems to be quite improved.Not that I have done that much- but my reward has been satisfaction from making a contribution somewhere, less software install issues on my Gentoo and to see your English writing improve. Never felt like money would come from it. Still it would be nice to see a mention without having to pull git. <sarcasm> If/when your income from the project hit $100,000- a nice tablet wouldn’t hurt my feelings </sarcasm>I always thought the topic a bit too specialised and a more general book might draw more interest from a publisher if you included CMake and Rake guides. Could contract with a publisher fpr a cash advance on a more general text maybe? The real money from these kind of technical books comes from being a text in a college level course. I know the text for my Engineering Mechanics (a combined statics and dynamics) class in college was written by the professor and expensive. ;-)

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  2. The navigation link indeed needs to be improved, I have some draft here (starting with changing its colour), but I haven’t finished it yet.Also, thanks for pointing out that the contributors’ list is not currently outputted on the HTML — that’s probably a missing parameter on the XSL and I’ll fix it ASAP (you’re listed in the docbook sources, so you should appear).As for CMake/Rake — no, the whole idea of this guide is to be about autotools, and just that in the right way, I guess I need to write quite a lot more still, but it’ll get to it soon, I hope.If I’ll ever get to $100k through this, I’m pretty sure you’ll be the first one to know!

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  3. I doubt anyone is offended you’d like to make money off this project; I personally wish you all the best in the endeavour. However, what is offensive is seeing posts like this where you’re begging for money on the Gentoo blogroll.

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  4. You’re free to read Planet Gentoo rather than Gentoo Universe — this post is only syndicated on the latter, as the latter gets the full content of everybody’s blog, not just the in-topic one.In the case of my blog, the latter syndicate all English posts, the former only the Gentoo related one. If you don’t care about off-topic posts, you should subscribe the former, not the latter.

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  5. For what it’s worth, I’d like to read a PDF version of the guide. I find it a valuable resource for changes over time to the Autotools, and I want to thank you for the effort you’ve put in. Calcot’s book is great (and I have it) but unfortunately as the tools evolve the text needs to as well, especially how to make packages portable and easy for package maintainers to deal with. A PDF would make a good offline tool.

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