Archive of UserLand's first discussion group, started October 5, 1998.

Opening Up Linux Journal and O'Reilly

Author:Dave Winer
Posted:8/25/1999; 7:45:37 AM
Topic:Opening Up Linux Journal and O'Reilly
Msg #:9840
Prev/Next:9839 / 9841

Doc is my friend

Doc Searls, the senior editor at Linux Journal, is my friend. I love Doc. That's not "I used to love Doc", because he's still a trailblazer and a great writer. Doc is one of the Cluetrain guys. Excellent! The guys with the great picture..

It's in the spirit of love and friendship that I want to raise an issue here, as I try to puzzle out the supposed philosophy behind open source. In order to understand it, I want to try to apply the principles of open source to an industry I'm not at all invested in, print journalism. Where better to start than with a beloved icon of the Linux world, one that is very closed, and very much needs a clue.

Maybe Doc, with a little support, can help Linux Journal turn the corner and catch up with the rest of the print world. Maybe he can help the open source world understand why their judgment is a little harsh when it comes to software, by understanding the resistance that shows up in the print publishing world.

Bottom-line -- I've rarely seen an organization more in need of a clue than Doc's employer, Linux Journal.

A challenge

In response to yesterday's DaveNet, an interesting challenge came back:

"I'm fascinated that O'Reilly doesn't release its own books on open source terms."

I must admit, that as I try to parse the philosophy behind open source, this has puzzled me too. If it works so well for software (according to its evangelists) why not apply the same economics to books and magazines?

At lunch yesterday I was lucky to be at the same table as Phil Hughes, the owner of Linux Journal. I probed him on just this question.

Phil is quite strong is his belief in open source software. We had this discussion once before at a breakfast meeting at Buck's in June.

I asked him how about opening up Linux Journal (they don't even publish most of their content on the web, and when they do, it's only for the print subscribers, you and I can't even read it).

When pushed, he passes the blame on to his advertisers. He claims that they have told him he can't publish on the web. I have trouble believing this. His advertisers are Red Hat, O'Reilly, VA Research, etc. I wonder if they would approve of him using them as the scapegoat.

He also says that he has to pay the US Postal Service $40K per month to mail the magazine. If he gave away the content, how would he pay the Post Office? (Get a clue Phil, if you published via the web you wouldn't be paying the post office any money.)

I asked him to reconcile this with a software development company's belief that a good development team costs almost as much! (An understatement.)

I don't think this question can be swept under the rug any longer. The open source advocates are influencing the rest of the industry. That's good! We can always benefit from having our beliefs challenged.

However, as with all previous euphoria, scientific reasoning has been thrown out the window, but only for a while. Eventually the dust settles, and people resume their rationality, and the questions can be asked, and people, like Hughes and Linux Jounal, who haven't thought it thru, will be like the armadillo in the Cluetrain picture. Frozen in time and left behind.

The irony

The web has already happened! This isn't even a new issue.

So to Linux Journal,which is an emperor without clothes on this issue, get a clue and either modify your philosophy to include software that costs money, or get prepared for a philosophic deluge.


I love O'Reilly too! We had a great meeting yesterday about syndication technology, and if it comes to fruitition wonderful things will happen. We want to work with everyone who has something to contribute. But, in my opinion, we aren't doing our friends any favors by overlooking contradictions. Their philosophy has, to some extent, made it more difficult for us to do business with our customers. So if that is OK, let's be fair and return the favor. Their industry could benefit from closer scrutiny, as well as ours.

I heard that O'Reilly is doing an experiment with one of their books, they're going to open source it and see what happens. They should be admired for this courage, but it may not be enough. The question is certainly out there. I heard it raised privately in hallroom conversations at the O'Reilly conference. Software developers who have made the investment in open source wonder why O'Reilly books aren't freely downloadable, indexed thru a search engine and available in HTML on the O'Reilly website.

This is a really excellent question. If open source is so good for software, why isn't it equally good for books and magazines?

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