Strong opinions, weakly held

Snap verdict on PDF books

O’Reilly has a series of short books that they distributed in PDF form, called Short Cuts. Yesterday, I bought Cody Fauser’s RJS Templates For Rails, which explains exactly what the title says it will. The sweet spot for these books seems to be between finding information about a topic with Google and ordering a book on the topic from Amazon.com. The nice thing about this series is that the books are only as long as they need to be (the PDF I bought is 56 pages long) and the downloadable format provides instant gratification.

RJS is a perfect topic for this kind of treatment because it’s new and somewhat obscure, so it’s not as though it’s easy to find comprehensive information about it using Google, and it’s not documented in any of the current books that are on the market. O’Reilly was able to get to the market first by putting out this slim volume rather than working the topic into the dead trees publishing cycle.

The book itself is quite good. There are some decent examples, a high level overview of the technology, and a useful reference. I suspect that the challenge for O’Reilly is in marketing the books. The ideal customer is the person who’s having a frustrating time and needs something to jump start their knowledge of a topic on short notice. I found this book because O’Reilly got the person who had written the most useful blog posts on the topic to write the book, so naturally he promoted it on his blog.

As an author, I can see the appeal of publishing such books as well. It would be particularly appealing for a first-time author I’d imagine.

The short verdict: best ten bucks I ever spent.

1 Comment

  1. Thanks for the heads up on this one.

    Here’s a list of all books in the Short Cuts series (I had trouble finding this the other day):


    Looks like the RJS and Web Services for Rails volumes are there best sellers — most likely for the reasons you cite (there’s scant little good information I’ve found via Google on these topics, and they’re not really covered in the Cookbook/Recipe books).

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