Safari Rough Cuts disappointment

In June, the Sixth Edition of JavaScript: The Definitive Guide went into the “Rough Cuts” program. That means you can give O’Reilly (really the Safari Books Online) $25 up front to get access to downloadable drafts of the book in PDF and other formats. When the print version shipped, you’re automatically charged another $25 and shipped a print copy. Because we’ve always found this book, “The Rhino,” such a great resource, we decided to sign up for the Rough Cuts edition of it.

At first, the book was only available in PDF format, which seemed like no problem, because I was already reading many of my technical books as PDFs on my Kindle DX. There was a problem, though. Every page of the PDF had a full-width notice of copyright at the bottom, serving as a watermark. By putting this at the extreme edges of the page, auto-cropping PDF viewers were fooled: it looked like the whole page was used. I ended up not looking at the book until it came out as a mobi file in February.

JavaScriptTheDefinitiveGuide.pdf (page 27 of 1106)

This was pretty frustrating, because I knew that O’Reilly actually sells great PDF editions. I’ve purchased quite a few of them, and they’re great. (Even better, most of their books also come in epub and mobi.) Still, $50 would be pretty close to the price for the final (correct format) PDF and print bundle, so it was easy to shrug off.

It turned out that I didn’t use the draft version all that much, but I looked forward to the final release and figured I’d get an idea of what bits I wanted to reread when I was flipping through the final, printed copy. Unfortunately, shortly after the print release, I got a notice that:

We were unable to process this charge successfully so this title will not be shipped.

In other words, my credit card on file had expired, and they couldn’t charge me for the second half of the bill. I asked how to update my information, and Safari Books Online told me that I could phone their customer support to do it over the phone, but that I’d probably be better off just buying it from Amazon for a comparable price and a faster ship date.

Then I asked when I’d get the final “no annoying watermark” copy of the PDF, and they explained that they don’t deliver the ebooks as provided by O’Reilly, but as built by their online books software, and that these are put on the PDFs per the wishes of O’Reilly.

The bundled print and electronic copies of the book are $55 from O’Reilly – about $50 with my “owned previous edition” discount. So, with no actual savings, whether to buy Rough Cuts becomes a very different proposition than it seemed at first: the purchasing process can be jerky and the final delivered product is not the same as you’d get from the publisher. You obviously get the value of early access to a rough copy of the book, but you also don’t end up with the same thing as later purchasers, at least in the case of O’Reilly books.

I think from now on, the only reason I’d buy a Rough Cuts edition would be a pressing need to get access to material as soon as possible. If someone was offering a Rough Cuts edition of the first book about a new tool, and I trusted that it would be better than online resources, and I really wanted to start using the tool right away, I might buy the Rough Cuts. Otherwise, it seems better to wait.

I passed these complaints along to Safari Books Online. They were very polite and refunded the purchase price, and I’d do business with them again in a heartbeat… if only they’d start selling what I want to buy.

Written on May 5, 2011
books