Free as in freedom, not free as in no cost

I’ve been telling writers early and often about the upcoming Firefox Book Sprint at DocTrain West March 17 and 18 to write a manual for Firefox 3.0 along side of Chris Hofmann, Director of Engineering for the Mozilla Foundation! I can’t go to DocTrain for various reasons, mostly because March is a busy month in Austin with SXSW in the middle of it. But I do plan to help out with writing each day by noon Pacific time and working until I have to pick my kids up from preschool. :)

One of the responses I’ve gotten that I think is typical for many professional writers is “I can’t write for free right now.”

So I’ve been working on my statement of value, and here it is. I have found my volunteer work to be invaluable as a learning experience and exercise in connecting to others. But I will also admit that I’d personally love to sell enough books that a “big time” publisher notices and says, wow.

Before the OLPC Book Sprint in August, the FLOSS Manuals community had quite a nice discussion about money and free documentation and I am hoping to convey it accurately to you. Adam Hyde states it much more eloquently than I can in this video.

FM doesn’t intend to necessarily make a profit on book sales, but we aren’t afraid to make money either. Income from book sales is typically used to further fund FM’s goals, though, which is a non-profit model – invest your gains to further your aims.

We have a 2 Euro markup on printed books sold through Lulu but anyone can download the PDF for free from FLOSS Manuals, always. If a book sold 10,000 copies (or some other high number), that book’s Maintainer could give all the money back into FLOSS Manuals, or use the money to do things like pay for development on the project itself, pay themselves a writer or organizer fee (such as 1000 Euros per Book Sprint), pay for travel and accommodation for writers to attend a Book Sprint, or sponsor a Book Sprint to start another related book, and so on.

My point of this post is to try to ensure that writers know that FM is about free as in freedom. FM is in its startup phase but growing fast. If innovation in book publishing is an interest of yours, or if you think you could some day “profit” by contributing to a particular book on FM, then you might want to find out more about involvement in a Book Sprint. It wouldn’t have to be the Firefox one coming up, but it’s a wonderful opportunity to get started.

I’d love to hear what you think about this model.

One comment

  • March 10, 2009 - 6:40 pm | Permalink

    I think another key phrase is that FM is about free as in empowerment. FM gives people information they need to do things they want to do, and it lets them do what they want with that information (within the limitations of the GPL). I think a lot of people don’t see why they should care about open-source software, because they are not programmers, and couldn’t modify the code even if they wanted to. In that case, the freedom that free software provides is like the freedom to take your car to an independent mechanic instead of to a dealer; nice but not earth-shaking. But with free documentation, the skills needed to modify, remix, and adapt the content to your needs are available to any literate and web-savvy person. And that is empowerment.

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