The ebook experience: Packt versus Manning

Expert Python Programming

Last Friday, I bought two new programming books: Expert Python Programming from Packt Publishing, and IronPython in Action from Manning.


IronPython in Action

Although I bought the PDF version of IronPython in Action, I bought the dead-tree version of Expert Python Programming. The reason is because Packt's DRM measures make the PDF version a lot less convenient. Here's why:

  1. You have to enter your password every time you open the file
  2. Copying text to the clipboard is disabled

You have to enter your password every time you open the file

Yes, this is a small nuisance, but a nuisance nonetheless. Since it's just my email address it's not hard to remember, but I still have to be careful not to make any typos, because the password text box is masked. I don't have to enter a password every time I open a paper book, which makes the paper version that much more attractive.

I note that Manning doesn't make me enter any passwords to view my file, and I really like that level of trust.

Copying text to the clipboard is disabled

This is a huge nuisance to me. One of the reasons I like having programming books as ebooks is that I can quickly copy text out of the book to Google for more information. For languages like Python, I can also just paste code into an editor and run it (albeit with some formatting fixes). Yes, programming books today almost always have downloadable source code, but that's another step I'd have to take, and still doesn't solve the problem of googling terms from the main text.

Again, Manning ebooks allow me to copy and paste text from their books.

Why should Packt care?

This is a good question. It seems pretty obvious that Packt doesn't care, or they wouldn't be using such draconian DRM. But they should care: the PDF version has got to be a lot more profitable than the paper version, even given the lower prices; so selling more ebooks would save them money, thereby allowing them to publish more books (and saving a few trees and some fossil fuel in the process). It also allows the classic up-sell technique of offering the paper and ebook together for a few extra zlotys.

Having a viable PDF version also makes the product more attractive. If I prefer an ebook, and have to choose either a Manning book or a Packt book, the Manning book is going to look more attractive to me.

But the real problem here is the elephant in the room: these DRM tools annoy paying customers, but don't deter pirates. Of all the consumer groups in the world, I'd have to think that programmers would be among the most capable of finding or creating pirated content, were they so inclined. Instead of focusing on me, the person who wants to pay them money, Packt is busy focusing on a battle that they can't win. I feel like giving Packt an electronic smack on the head, and saying, "Hey, Packt! Forget the pirates for a minute, and pay attention over here to the guy waving his credit card at you!"

Given the finite resources of any organization, every extra DRM measure that a publisher implements means fewer resources to serve me. Every time I see an error in a Packt book, or deal with poor usability — like the stupid musical links game you have to play in order to download the blasted thing — I can't help wondering if they would have been able to fix that error if they weren't focused on pirates instead of paying customers.

Coverage Validator

A good illustration of this last point, although it doesn't relate to Packt Publishing, is a code-coverage metrics tool named Coverage Validator. This is a great tool, but they have a rather byzantine process to download an evaluation version, complete with a sign-up form. The first time I tried filling out the form, I got a database error:

Database Error: Cannot connect user svl to localhost

Although the helpful folks at Software Verification fixed the error within a few hours of me notifying them, it's very improbable that this error would have even occurred if they just let people download the evaluation version freely, rather than using some (to me) misguided attempt at piracy prevention, or even more nefariously, possibly harvesting contact information for marketing purposes. It just creates a bad first impression all around, which is a shame, because Coverage Evaluator really is a neat tool.

And the same goes for Pack Publishing: they have a great lineup of books, but these DRM features make their offerings look less attractive, while making the offerings of publishers like Manning look better in comparison. Which leads me to my final point:

Manning ebooks rock

Manning really seems to have embraced the ebook concept better than the other technical publishers out there. Not only does it provide its ebooks in a very open and easy-to-use format, it takes advantage of the unique possibilities of the electronic format with its Manning Early Access Program (MEAP), where pre-publication versions of books are made available (this is how I got my early peek at IronPython in Action). I think that the next couple of generations of portable ebook readers are going to make the electronic book format much more important, and in order to stay relevant, I think other publishers should learn from Manning's example.

6 comments to The ebook experience: Packt versus Manning

  • Hi, thanks for the interesting post. I previously ordered a book from Packt Publishing and the thing that really annoyed me was that they print your name and address on every single page of the e-book. If you open up the e-book at work and someone comes to talk to you, they have a chance of seeing your home address. That seemed incredibly invasive to me as they are forcing you to display your personal information anywhere you read the book. I’m assuming that Manning doesn’t do this?
    Also your IronPython purchase is interesting to me as I thought about buying that book a little while back too! I wanted to use Python’s BeautifulSoup while creating the GUI with .Net. However, my initial mucking around with IronPython was too frustrating and I decided to just write the GUI in C# and call Python scripts as a separate process. The general lack of information, the only experimental integration with visual studio, the lack of support for useful CPython libraries, made me think IronPython was more hassle than it’s worth if you know C#. Maybe I gave up too early and I hope you have better luck with it.
    Also, I hope you don’t mind, but I made a blog entry, http://d.hatena.ne.jp/yakiimo02/20081026/1225016809, about this post comparing the two e-book retailers.
    Thanks for the interesting article.

  • @yakiimo02

    Thanks for the comment and post. I haven’t tried IronPython with BeautifulSoup, but googling around it looks possible but non-trivial. The FePy project appears to have a rewritten version for IP as well.

    “I’m assuming that Manning doesn’t do this?”

    That’s right. Manning only displays your name and email — another point in favor of Manning.

  • Hi, thanks for the reply. Ah, glad to hear that Manning doesn’t display your address. I’ll definitely choose Manning if both Packt and Manning offer similiar books with no other deciding factor; the DRM will be the deciding factor for me too. I’m gonna update my blog with this info. Thanks.
    Thanks for the info on FePy. I did take a look at it since I read somewhere that it includes BeautifulSoup, but FePy was out of date with the newest version of IronPython and had very little documentation. I’m actually a newbie at Python itself, so IronPython turned out to be too overwhelming for me. Maybe I’ll give IronPython another try after I see more people using it.

  • tanay

    hence i get pirated versions of packt ebooks
    they are free, non irritating and allow copy paste..

    packt go to hell.
    if you like the book go to the author’s homepage and there will be a donate button

  • @tanay

    I don’t condone piracy at all, and I hope that you go ahead and buy a copy of your book. But your comment is a good example of the fact that these anti-piracy measures only hurt paying customers. The pirates will always find a way to circumvent whatever measures you put in place. Meanwhile, people actually paying for these books have to suffer with a degraded and less useful product.

    The latest Packt book I’m reading (dead tree version, of course) has a big blurb in the front about anti-piracy, urging us to report any copies we find online. Now we’re supposed to do their jobs for them. I just wish they had spent the anti-piracy money on better copy editing for the book.

  • Verusp

    Dear Ryan,

    I’m Verus Pereira from the Customer Relations team at Packt Publishing.

    I recently came across your above comments on our eBooks.

    We are sorry that you found eBooks less convenient to use. Please accept our apologies.

    However, I felt you will be happy to know that following numerous customer suggestions to remove password protection and enable the copy-paste feature in our eBooks, Packt enabled the copy and paste feature on all of its eBooks in December 2008 and later eliminated the DRM feature in March 2009.

    In our continued efforts to improve our eBooks, we are also looking to develop multi format downloads of our eBooks to make them compatible with most eBook reading devices which are quickly gaining popularity.

    Please feel free to email us at service@packtpub.com if you have any queries.

    Best wishes

    Verus Pereira
    Packt Publishing.

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