Linux as a Publishing Platform
Taking care of customers after they purchase a product is an important part of developing a good reputation as well as repeat business. Because book authors and publishers thrive on repeat business, this kind of after-purchase care is especially important for Clinton. Open-source software is helping Clinton address that issue in two different ways. The first is through his Web site, where he posts supplemental materials for his books, which often is material provided by his customers. The contents of the Web site are maintained as a text file and are converted with Python DocTools. He uses CVS to maintain version control on those contents, including the text of the book itself. This work is done at Clinton's home, on his Linux machine.
The single largest part of after-purchase care is the player forums Clinton maintains at The Forge, an on-line site for independent game publishers. Hosted on Linux and using the popular phpBB forum software, it provides a low cost, highly effective mechanism for building a community out of existing customers. These customer forums suggest new ideas and serve as a good introduction to the product for new and prospective customers. The forums also help provide inspiration to existing customers when they read what other customers have done.
Although many technically inclined people are out there with something to say, there are many more small publishers that are not technically inclined. When I asked Clinton about this, he said that the combination of OpenOffice.org, Scribus and The GIMP is suited perfectly to willing users, even if they aren't technically advanced users. As the IT director for a printing company, Clinton has helped introduce many non-technical employees to OpenOffice.org and The GIMP. Most if not all of the people he introduced to these tools stopped using the commercial software equivalents. The users cite the superior features and ease of use as the reasons for their switch to open-source tools.
The single biggest hurdle for most people is installing Linux itself. Converting to a new operating system is no small move, even if it is more powerful and offers a serious price advantage. Linux distributions such as Ubuntu make the move easier. To help address that concern, Clinton is presenting sessions on self-publishing at gaming conventions. He also will be giving away copies of Ubuntu, his preferred distribution. Ubuntu is designed with the end user in mind and is intended to be a desktop Linux distribution.
The first steps to capitalizing on Clinton's work, however, may not involve Linux at all. OpenOffice.org and The GIMP already are available for Windows and Macintosh OS X systems. Users who become comfortable with these new tools on a familiar operating system then may become more open to trying a new operating system where all of their tools are already available.
The compelling story here clearly is the ability to publish without fear of expense. Although print-on-demand publishing isn't appropriate for every book, it is suitable for a lot of books. Low overhead coupled with a low initial investment in tools can make it possible for many more authors/publishers to distribute their work.
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