Back in a more primitive time I used to lug copies O’Reilly Media’s massive technical books home from the local bookshop. I’d drop $50 on copy of Unix Power Tools and six months later a new edition would be released. Not only did those books eat up shelf space, they ate up my bank account.
O’Reilly is, without question, the leading technology book publisher. Their books are generally regarded to be the gold standard for technical information. They publish a mind boggling array of titles covering every minute detail of the Internet and programming. How’s this for a title: Checking C Programs with Lint? No technology topic is too esoteric for O’Reilly, and no technology is too new. If it’s worth knowing about, O’Reilly will have a book coming along any day now.
Not only does O’Reilly publish great tech books, they’re also technology leaders in the publishing industry. While other publishing houses struggle with the concept of eBooks, O’Reilly launched a subscription based eBook service way back in March of 2001. Five years later Safari Bookshelf is still the only service of it’s kind.
Safari, which gets it’s name from the menagerie of animals featured on most O’Reilly titles, features thousands of titles from dozens of imprints, with most books appearing on, or before, their physical release date.
Like eMusic, Safari takes the risk out of exploration. Safari Subscribers have access to a virtual bookshelf that holds anywhere from 5 to 30 books at any given time, depending on the plan they’ve signed up for. Books can be easily browsed online, have no DRM (books are presented as standard web pages that you can cut-and-paste from), and can be bookmarked and annotated. Best of all, the price is reasonable with plans ranging from $9.99/mo to $34.99/mo.
Subscribers are allowed to swap titles that have been on their bookshelf for at least 30 days. Theoretically, a 10 book subscriber could access as many as 120 books over the course of a year. And if all of this weren’t convenient enough, there’s also Safari Max, an enhanced service that allows subscribers to download PDF files of individual chapters. Subscribers get to keep the chapters even after they’ve swapped the titles out of their list of active books.
I’m hard pressed to say anything negative about Safari. O’Reilly has done amazing job of identifying the needs of their customers and delivering a service that solves so many issues:
- I now have room on my bookshelf for non-technical books.
- I no longer have to lug books with me when I’m on the road. I can access my entire library from my laptop.
- I no longer fear the release of new editions. I simply swap the new edition onto my bookshelf, and download any new chapters I might need.
- Because the entire Safari catalog is searchable I can easily find answers to even the most obscure technical problem by searching across thousands of books.
While it may seem hard to believe, there’s even more to this story. O’Reilly has a couple of innovative related services that are worth noting:
- Safari U gives teachers the ability to create custom textbooks from any of O’Reilly’s titles. The books can either be printed or accessed online as eBooks.
- Rough Cuts gives readers access to books about emerging technologies while they’re being written. Rough Cut readers are encouraged to review digital drafts and provide feedback to the authors and editors. This collaborative approach provides authors with access to direct peer review prior to the book release.
If you’re the sort of person who buys more than a couple of technical books a year you should definitely take a look at Safari.