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Communications of the ACM


Do-It-Yourself Textbook Publishing

Do-It-Yourself Textbook Publishing, illustration

Credit: Andrij Borys Associates / Shutterstock

We have just survived an adventure in do-it-yourself (DIY) publishing by finishing a software-engineering textbook. Our goal was to produce a high-quality, popular textbook that was inexpensive while still providing authors a decent royalty. We can tell you DIY publishing can lead to a highly rated, low-priced textbook. (See the figure comparing the ratings and prices of our DIY textbook with the three software engineering textbooks from traditional publishers published this decade).a Alas, as DIY marketing is still an open challenge, it is too early to know if DIY publishing can produce a popular textbook.b As one of us (Patterson) has coauthored five editions of two textbooks over the last 25 years with a traditional publisher,2,3 we can give potential authors a lay of the two lands.

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Challenges for Traditional Publishers

The past 25 years have been difficult for publishers. The more efficient used-book market, the importing of low-cost books printed for overseas markets, and piracy have combined to significantly reduce sales of new books or new editions. Since most of the costs of book are the labor costs of development rather than the production costs of printing, the consequences have been to raise the prices of new books, to lower royalties to authors, and to force publishers to downsize. Obviously, higher prices make used books, imported foreign editions, and piracy even more attractive to less-scrupulous readers and resellers, creating a vicious circle. Less obviously, publishers have laid off copy editors, indexers, graphic artists, typesetters, and so forth, many of whom have become independent contractors that are then hired by traditional publishers on an as-needed basis. This independence makes them available to DIY publishers as well. Indeed, we invested about $10,000 to hire professionals to do all the work that we lacked the skills to do ourselves, such as cover design, graphic elements, and indexing.


Gunnar Wolf

A very inspiring and interesting read!
We are currently going down a similar path than the article authors Of course, not forgetting the great distance between world-recognized authors and newbie academics as we are. But we are just about to publish a free online textbook on Operating Systems written in Spanish (

There is one more venue the authors didn't explore Maybe our reality in Mexico is too different. But we are publishing through the "formal" university channels. Mexico's National Autonomous University (UNAM) is the largest in Latin America, with ~350,000 students. Publishing via such a huge body, I find it to be almost halfway between what the authors present as their experiences with traditional publishers and self-publishing.

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