Dead Trees vs. Bits

Speaking of books, people keep telling me and Peter and Raymond that we should write books based on our blogs.

I probably am going to write another book this winter, but it will have pretty much nothing to do with the stuff in this blog.   The natures of a blog and a book are very different.  Let me list some differences:

Creative control

I can blog what I want, when I want, at what length I want, and can say whatever I want. In particular, I like to ramble on about the scripting technologies — which, though they are widely used, are clearly a 20th century technology.  .NET is the future.  A book has to be on a specific topic, finished by a specific time, at a specific length.  A book has to be about a current technology topic and have a clear beginning-middle-end structure. Books both allow editing and require editing.  Blogs resist editing.

Business model

Books work on the ink-on-dead-trees business model.  Weblogs work on the “bits are free” business model. If I went to a publisher and said “I want to write a short but rambling book about random, arcane, trivial details of the history and internals of a 1996 technology that is presently being made increasingly irrelevant and outmoded by .NET” then the publisher would say “thanks, but no thanks”.   People buy computer books because they have a problem that needs solving, not because they enjoy learning my opinions about proper Hungarian usage.

Books must make money to exist.  My aim for this blog isn’t to make money, it is to dump my vast collection of arcane knowledge into some searchable location.

Scope of readership

My blog is available to everyone in the world with a web browser, and given the subject matter, that’s everyone I want to reach.  Books are available to only the very small number of people who actually buy the book.  If you like my book and you want your friend in Europe to read it, you can’t just send them a link.  Again, books cost money and that limits the potential readership.


My book is no longer available because of circumstances beyond my control.  Now, Microsoft isn’t going to go out of business, but if they did, I could just move the blog file to another machine in about five minutes and be back up and running. This blog will be archived and therefore part of the permanent searchable record of knowledge on the internet. The copies of my book in the Library of Congress (and whatever the British equivalent is) aren’t going to help a whole lot of devs.

And finally, apropos of nothing in particular, this is hilarious:, mostly because it is so self-referential.  One wonders what category the author himself falls into.  Thank goodness my blog falls under one of his acceptable uses of blogs!  I don’ t know how I could continue to face myself in the mirror every day without this guy’s approval.

Commentary from 2019:

The most obvious thing I missed in this rant was the rise of electronic books as a viable business model, which mitigates many of the anti-book factors I mentioned here.

Raymond Chen did of course write a book based on his blog. Peter Torr I believe never did.

The book I mentioned that I was going to be working on was my first VSTO book.

I still edit other people’s books, but I am down to mostly my two favourites: Essential C#, and C# In Depth.

I’m still not super bullish on writing more programming books; I feel like in a world where we’re connected to the internet all the time, that writing a book about learning to program is no longer the best approach. Online interactive tutorials seem like a much better way to go; the question is, how to monetize them? It is an enormous amount of work to develop such a curriculum, and that should be compensated.

1 thought on “Dead Trees vs. Bits

  1. Pingback: Porting old posts, part 4 | Fabulous adventures in coding

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