REDMOND, Wash., May 14, 2001 — If you have ever gone to a bookstore looking for specific technical information, only to find that that what you need is contained not in a single, tidy tome, but spread among several books, you’ve probably faced the dilemma: whether to buy all the books for the small amount of relevant content in each, or leave in frustration with only part — or none — of the information you need.
Technology professionals encounter this problem frequently, according to James Mastan, Director of the Professional Product Group at Microsoft Press.
“We do a lot of focus-group research with our customers, who tell us time and time again that they want to be able to buy individual sections from multiple books to create a unique solution,”
Now Microsoft Press has an alternative — custom books. Customers who visit the Microsoft Press Web site can browse and compile individual chapters from selected works, and have them delivered as a single, custom book — either in printed or electronic form.
“As a publisher of technical materials, we understand that all our customers have unique technology needs. There are infinite combinations of software out there, and we cant publish an infinite number of individual books for everything,”
“But what we can do now is point people with a SQL Server issue, for instance, to a place where they can find multiple pieces of relevant content, and take those pieces to build a unique package of content, customized to help them solve their problem.”
How the Custom Book Service Works
Creating a custom book is simple. Customers go to http://mspress.microsoft.com/ and click Order Custom Books from the left navigation menu. From the Custom Books page, they can view available titles organized by topic, and drill down to view chapter listings. Chapter content can be previewed while building a custom book, and search capabilities are built into the site to help customers identify relevant material. Once the desired chapters have been selected, users can organize the contents of their custom book and create their own title.
Customers can order their book either as a printed and bound book, as an eBook in Microsoft Reader format, or as an Adobe Acrobat PDF file. Printed books will be shipped in as little as four days, and e-books in as little as four hours. Pricing is based on a flat per-chapter charge, which decreases as more chapters are selected. Chapter prices begin at US$8 and slide to approximately US$5 per chapter.
Initially, customers can select chapters from 30 works on Windows 2000, Exchange Server 2000, SQL Server 2000, Office 2000 and XML. Microsoft Press will make more titles available, as determined by customer feedback and demand, said Mastan.
Industry Professionals Predict Custom Books Will Catch On
Early impressions from technology workers have been consistently positive, according to Mastan.
“People we talk to are excited about this program. The promise of being able to create a custom solution for their distinct technology need is very compelling to our customers.”
Microsoft Press previewed the Custom Book Builder at a recent meeting of the Back Office Professional Association, a Seattle-based user group, and two members shared their thoughts.
“I was really impressed,”
said Alan Carter, a consultant and author of technical books for professional certification.
“If I was preparing for a certification exam, I wouldnt typically need the whole book because I have some areas of expertise. So I could pull content on my weak areas from two or three books to help me prepare, and spend a lot less than buying the books separately.”
IT professionals and developers are reluctant to acquire countless books that theyll only refer to a few times, Carter added.
“If shelf space was a premium — and shelf space is always a premium for tech guys — I could just download it in PDF or Microsoft Reader format. Thats also very nice, if youre only going to use the information for a short period of time, or if you need it right away.”
Steve Proudlock, an enterprise software salesperson and Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) for Windows 2000, sees the benefit of creating a compilation of information in one document, even though he may already own some of the source books.
“A huge benefit I see is the ability to gather information from different sources into one easy-to-find resource that relates to a single topic,”
“For example, although Ive got half a shelf in my bookcase devoted to DNS (Domain Name System), its great for me to be able to say, Heres this guys thinking about a particular tenet of DNS applied to the Active Directory, and heres what this other guy over here thinks about using a Windows 2000 machine as a router, and combine them into one reference guide to pack around with me.”
Its this ability to get to the crux of the matter — eliminating nonessential content — that makes the custom book program so compelling for customers.
“I think the key benefit a lot of the people I encounter are going to perceive is the ability it gives them to focus on a particular topic without having to read entire books,”
“I certainly plan to use it.”
Beyond the immediate impact the custom book service will have on Microsoft Press customers, it will also help the company publish more high-quality material faster, said Microsofts Mastan. Because the traditional printed book publishing cycle is relatively intensive for both time and resources, Microsoft Press only puts out roughly 150 titles per year. However, if the custom book program is successful, it will open up a new channel for distributing more works about Microsoft products — and not just entire books — giving customers greater opportunity to obtain the leading-edge content they need.
At this time, custom books are only available directly from the Microsoft Press Online Web site. Microsoft Press plans to expand the number of titles available and explore opportunities for partners. Customer research will also be conducted to help determine how the program will be expanded.
“A positive customer experience will depend on how accessible the information is, how relevant it is, how discoverable it is. Is it the right information to solve their problem? Thats the kind of thing well be looking at,”
A New Model for Publishing
Among the unique features of the custom book program is the ability to order the compilation as an eBook in Microsoft Reader format. Microsoft Press already offers some of its books in Microsoft Reader format through resellers, namely Barnes and Noble.
“Theres absolutely demand for the Microsoft Reader format. Given the distribution of the Reader client, it is by far the leading eBook reading application out there right now — having the largest installed base,”
“And we have research evidence that IT pros and developers are starting to migrate increasingly toward eBook format, so the goal of Microsoft Press is to support that.”
“For the publishing industry in general, new technology presents a lot of opportunities. There are a number of different eBook formats, including the Reader format, and theres the Microsoft Open eBook standard that the Microsoft Reader product group is engaged with. Its a growing part of our business right now, and were actively engaged in taking a thought-leadership position in electronic publishing– our goal is to help move the industry to the next level.”