We live in interesting times with regard to the availability of technical material. We have lots of free written material online in the form of vendor documentation online, forums, blogs, and Twitter. And we have written material that we can buy in the form of books, magazines, and training materials. Online videos and training – some free and some not free – are also an option. All of these formats are useful for one need or another.
As an author, I pay particular attention to the demand for books, and for now I see no reason to stop authoring books. I assure you that I don’t get rich from the effort, and fortunately that is not my motivation. As someone who likes to refer to books frequently, I am still a big believer in books and have evidence from book sales that there are others like me. If I can do my part to help others learn about the technologies I work with, I will continue to produce content in a variety of formats, including books. (You can view a list of all of my books on the Publications page of my site and my online training videos at Pluralsight.)
As a consumer of technical information, I prefer books because a book typically can get into a topic much more deeply than a blog post, and can provide more context than vendor documentation. It comes with a table of contents and a (hopefully accurate) index that helps me zero in on a topic of interest, and of course I can use the Search feature in digital form. Some people suggest that technology books are outdated as soon as they get published. I guess it depends on where you are with technology. Not everyone is able to upgrade to the latest and greatest version at release. I do assume, however, that the SQL Server 7.0 titles in my library have little value for me now, but I’m certain that the minute I discard the book, I’m going to want it for some reason! Meanwhile, as electronic books overtake physical books in sales, my husband is grateful that I can continue to build my collection digitally rather than physically as the books have a way of taking over significant square footage in our house!
Blog posts, on the other hand, are useful for describing the scenarios that come up in real-life implementations that wouldn’t fit neatly into a book. As many years that I have working with the Microsoft BI stack, I still run into new problems that require creative thinking. Likewise, people who work with BI and other technologies that I use share what they learn through their blogs. Internet search engines help us find information in blogs that simply isn’t available anywhere else. Another great thing about blogs, also, is the connection to community and the dialog that can ensue between people with common interests.
With the trend towards electronic formats for books, I imagine that we’ll see books continue to adapt to incorporate different forms of media and better ways to keep the information current. At the moment, I wish I had a better way to help readers with my last two Reporting Services books. In the case of the Microsoft® SQL Server™ 2005 Reporting Services Step by Step book, I have heard many cases of readers having problems with the sample database that shipped on CD – either the database was missing or it was corrupt. So I’ve provided a copy of the database on my site for download from http://datainspirations.com/uploads/rs2005sbsDW.zip.
Then for the Microsoft® SQL Server™ 2008 Reporting Services Step by Step book, we decided to avoid the database problem by using the AdventureWorks2008 samples that Microsoft published on Codeplex (although code samples are still available on CD). We had this silly idea that the URL for the download would remain constant, but it seems that expectation was ill-founded. Currently, the sample database is found at http://msftdbprodsamples.codeplex.com/releases/view/37109 but I have no idea how long that will remain valid.
My latest books (#9 and #10 which are milestones I never anticipated), Building Integrated Business Intelligence Solutions with SQL Server 2008 R2 and Office 2010 (McGraw Hill, 2011) and Business Intelligence in Microsoft SharePoint 2010 (Microsoft Press, 2011), will not ship with a CD, but will provide all code samples for download at a site maintained by the respective publishers. I expect that the URLs for the downloads for the book will remain valid, but there are lots of references to other sites that can change or disappear over time. Does that mean authors shouldn’t make reference to such sites? Personally, I think the benefits to be gained from including links are greater than the risks of the links becoming invalid at some point.
Do you think the time for technology books has come to an end? Is the delivery of books in electronic format enough to keep them alive? If technological barriers were no object, what would make a book more valuable to you than other formats through which you can obtain information?