When I published the first four chapters of the Ruby on Rails Tutorial in 2009, it represented an experiment: would it be possible to give away a book for free online while still making a successful product business? The answer, happily, turned out to be yes. I have been pleased at how many people have been able to use the free online version of the Ruby on Rails Tutorial book to learn web development. At the same time, right from the beginning sales of the Rails Tutorial ebooks and screencast videos have made it profitable as well. It’s been deeply gratifying to be able to play a role in lowering the financial barrier to acquiring such a valuable skill as web development while still building a sustainable business.
Now, I’m pleased to announce Softcover, a publishing platform based on the Rails Tutorial production system and business model. Using Softcover, authors can build multi-format ebooks (HTML, EPUB, MOBI, and PDF) from common source files, optionally bundle them with media like screencast videos, and publish them to Softcover’s integrated sales platform with a single command. Of course, Softcover also outputs an HTML version of each book—which, as with the Rails Tutorial, authors can (optionally) make available for free online.
To see what a full product on Softcover looks like, check out Conquering the Command Line, a book and screencast series on Linux and Unix commands by author Mark Bates, which (like the Rails Tutorial) includes a free online version. In addition, there is already a version of the Rails Tutorial book that builds on Softcover, and in the coming weeks I plan to move the full tutorial over to the Softcover platform (taking care to preserve things like legacy download links). Watch for an announcement once the change-over is complete.
My hope is that Softcover will help allow many other authors to replicate the success of the Ruby on Rails Tutorial. If you’re interested in using Softcover yourself, you can learn a little more about it on the Softcover home page. Then sign up for an account and follow the instructions on the start page.