BOB GARFIELD: We at On the Media get a lot of books for free. But you don't, because publishers want your money. But there's a brand new business model that posits the idea that you will pay for a book because you can get it for free. At least a certain kind of book -- one with a title like Imbedded Configurable Operating Systems. The book is part of a series that publisher Prentice Hall is making available for free on the Internet. If you'd rather curl up with your technical reading you can pony up 50 dollars for a hard copy at the bookstore, or you can just get a photocopy of it -- with the publisher's blessing. Sound like a strange business model for a major publisher? Well, it turns out that a similar model has been the modus operandi for years in the community that is the target audience for these books. It's called open source, whereby software geeks write their programs, share them and benefit from the improvements made by other geeks. And Prentice Hall thinks that these folks have a thing or two to teach the publishing industry. Joining us to talk about the Bruce Perens Open Source series are Prentice Hall editor in chief Mark Taub and Bruce Perens, the open source advocate for whom the series is named. Gentlemen, welcome to the show.
BRUCE PERENS: Thanks!
MARK TAUB: Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: Bruce Perens, before we get to the book series, please explain to me the principle behind open sourcing in software and how developers are rewarded for their efforts.
BRUCE PERENS: The genesis of open sources was a guy named Richard Stallman who did his work in the early '80s, and Stallman was frustrated because he had a printer, and he could not fix the software in his printer, and he asked the people who made the software for a copy of the source code, and they said no, it's proprietary, which was actually a new thing in the industry. Until then, software was all open source. One of the problems that we've had from the proprietary model -- the one that Microsoft follows -- is that it pretty much stops collaboration from people who would otherwise help you. So in the open source world we say we are going to share and share alike. We will give you our source code -- any modifications to that, please make them open source as well.
BOB GARFIELD: Okay. Fine. Mark Taub, tell me how that communitarian model can possibly work in publishing.
MARK TAUB: You know one of the things we're hoping for out of the series is that we will see the kind of collaboration around the intellectual property represented by these books as you see around the intellectual property represented by software. Now once the electronic copies of the books are available -- that's the point at which collaboration becomes a possibility.
BOB GARFIELD: Mark, you're selling these books for 50 bucks a copy. Why would I, as a customer, spend 50 dollars now if I can just download it for free in the spring?
MARK TAUB: We believe that this makes good business sense. We believe that making free electronic copies of the books available will allow people to literally test-drive the book. If they determine that this book is likely to meet their needs, we believe a good number of these people are going to opt to go and buy the printed book, because it's a whole lot easier to consume a book on paper than it is electronically.
BOB GARFIELD: If all goes well, actually the open source aspect of this will just be an ongoing promotion for the hard copy version of the books.
MARK TAUB: But it also serves an editorial function --you know, our expectation is the collaborators will emerge over the Internet which will help the authors create better books. Better books sell better. Books that sell better generate more royalties for authors. So you know, it, it could be a virtuous cycle.
BRUCE PERENS: And the other thing is -- think of all the people whose books go out of print. This is something they've put a lot of their lives into. It hurts! I mean they can't maintain the book. People can't get it any more. These days, authors aren't even getting electronic rights from their publisher. For that kind of author, there's the option to continue the book either electronically or in print -- and you don't need the cooperation of the publisher to do so. So this is very advantageous to the author.
BOB GARFIELD: I'm curious. Back in the hoary old days of the beginnings of open sourcing, it seems to me that your fellow open sourcers were the sort of peripheral hacker types with the libertarian slants -- the kind of people that they make fun of on The Simpsons. By teaming up with the world's largest publisher of technical books who ultimately does have the profit motive, do you think you're going to be regarded in your community as some sort of sellout?
BRUCE PERENS: Oh, no! First of all, Karl Marx did not invent helping your neighbor. As far as my own community is concerned, they are very happy about the series, because what this says is -- here is a brick and mortar paper publisher -- they call them dead-tree publishing -- and these guys have got the open source thing -- they've realized that they can still make money while putting out open source versions.
BOB GARFIELD: Mark Taub, Bruce Perens, thank you very much!
BRUCE PERENS: Thank you!
MARK TAUB: Thank you, Bob.
BOB GARFIELD: Mark Taub is an editor in chief at Prentice Hall. Bruce Perens is the author of the formative document of the open source movement. They are editors of the Bruce Perens Open Source series of computer books --the largest ever application of open source principles to mainstream publishing. [MUSIC]