October 13, 2008
How to you create a well-respected, major force in technical publishing, complete with award-winning and best-selling books, in just five years? Start with two guys and a couple of laptops.
Close to ten years ago, two programmers got together to complete a difficult project for a mutual friend. Together, they knew that there was a better way to build software, so they set out to write a book to help their fellow developers. That book, The Pragmatic Programmer, became a classic in the field.
Five years ago this month, in October 2003, they wrote and published the first two books as the Pragmatic Bookshelf: Pragmatic Version Control with CVS and Pragmatic Unit Testing in Java. Today they have some seventy titles in print, in addition to tutorial screencasts, podcasts, and live in-person training.
Authors Dave Thomas and Andy Hunt are the founders of the Pragmatic Programmers, founders of the Agile software movement and coauthors of its Manifesto for Agile Development. From these roots, it seemed only natural to create an agile publishing business: the Pragmatic Bookshelf.
In an age when traditional publishers may be struggling, we’re doing quite well, because we do things a little differently. We’re developers ourselves—we know the issues that developers face, and we offer things that will help make developers’ lives easier.
As developers, we can spot new technologies when they’re still relatively unknown, and have helped create communities around these emerging trends. We’ve helped do that with the Agile movement, with the Ruby language, and with the Rails framework, and we’ll continue to do that with worthwhile ideas in the future.
As developers, we know all about the little things that make a difference. For instance, all of our titles are available as eBooks in PDF format. And we sell a lot of them. We try and make them useful for developers, by using color, live hyperlinks to book sections and websites, syntax highlighting for code, full searchability, and so on.
But our books are not encumbered with DRM; we trust that our readers are not common thieves. Instead, we pioneered a very pragmatic approach that some have called “Social DRM,” where each PDF is personalized with the reader’s name. That personal touch extends throughout the Pragmatic Bookshelf, from personalized RSS feeds on our site to real, old-fashioned customer service from actual human beings.
Developers want cutting-edge information as quickly as possible, so we took a page from software product releases, and launched our innovative Beta Book program. With beta books, readers can purchase a book that’s still in development in PDF form. They receive the final PDF (and or paper book) when the book is completed. There’s a link on each page of the PDF to report errata, which the authors use to correct problems or add explanation or content where needed.
Readers get to help steer the direction of the book, and our authors get real-time, up-to-the-minute feedback on what’s helping, and what’s not.
Developers have wide-ranging interests and concerns that aren’t always just about technology, so our authors cover how to best engineer your career, your teams, your own mind, and how to get the most out of the latest technology, whether it’s Ruby and Rails, Erlang or Java-based.
And developers are real humans, too. We know you have a life away from the keyboard and outside of the cubicle. We’ll soon be launching a new series of books aimed at pragmatic programmers everywhere who want to extend themselves and take a practical, pragmatic approach to the rest of their lives, including hobbies and lifestyle titles.
Technology marches on, and times can be hard, but the Pragmatic Bookshelf will be here to help keep you on top of your game.
Thanks again to all of you for your continued support,
Andy & Dave
The Pragmatic Programmers