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A new chapter in programmer publishing

At a time when electronic publishing is quickly becoming a mainstay in the literary world, a young company headed by best-selling Visual Basic programmers is looking to reshape traditional publishing.

Computer book publisher Apress L.P. of Berkeley, Calif. wants to pioneer the first big change in the industry "since the Gutenberg Bible," according to president and co-editorial director Gary Cornell.

He believes traditional publishing companies focus too intently on the bottom line, often releasing insignificant books written by inexperienced programmers.

"The ideal situation is to have someone [as an author] who's really worked with [code] as a professional as opposed to coming up with toy code that demonstrates nothing that corresponds with reality," Cornell said.

"In an attempt to be first on the market, people will write books based not even on beta software, but on alpha, and then don't clearly identify that the book is based on a very preliminary version," he said.

Apress' idea is to appeal to authors with a new revenue model. Apress authors not only receive royalties, but also have the opportunity to obtain equity in the company.

"One of the things that Microsoft and other companies have shown is that if you want to get talented engineers and talented professionals working for you, you have to give them something besides just giving them salary," Cornell said.

He and fellow editorial director Dan Appleman founded the company because as programmers-turned-best-selling writers, they saw publishing companies thrive while many authors did not receive the compensation they deserved.

"Publishing companies exist for the benefit of shareholders, but Apress exists for the benefit of the authors, who are the shareholders to some extent," Appleman said. "It's probably the most author-friendly contract in the business."

Appleman said that his company's model has helped attract quality writers who turn out quality publications. However, Apress does not expect programmers to beat down their door with book ideas.

"If I go to a talk and someone impresses the hell out of me in their talk, I'm going to be on the horn trying to get them to try to write a book for us," he said. "We like people... who say, 'I've been living this stuff for years."'

Also helping to increase the value of the end product is that as long-time writers and programmers Cornell and Appleman know what other programmers can benefit from.

Appleman said Jonathan Morrison's new book C++ for VB Programmers is a great example of a text providing information that Visual Basic programmers can really utilize.

"This book doesn't waste any time teaching... Between not only Morrirson's but our understanding of VB programmers, we can come out with a book that doesn't cover material that [VB programmers] don't want," Appleman said.

Meanwhile, despite the threat of continued growth in the electronic publishing industry, Cornell said it isn't time to close up shop yet.

"When it comes to reading a tutorial, I want to put little yellow stickies on the pages and underline things," Cornell said. "It's going to be a long time until the in depth tutorial is going to be displaced by electronic books.

"I think [electronic books] will serve as a supplement for keeping things up to date. I'm not sure for this kind of tutorial people are going to want to read 200 pages on the screen," he said.

Apress has been in business for about 18 months. To date they have published roughly a dozen books and expect to release about that many more by year's end.

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