Cool Job or Open Source Pariah?

My colleague Jim Minatel, over on his The Average Joe: A Book Publisher Blog, shares that Wiley is looking for an Acquisitions Editor for Open Source Topics. Acquisitions editors are the folk that pay attention to the particular market segment, identify the thought leaders, and communicate with them about the possibility of them writing books for the publisher (Jim Minatel has a must-read piece about The Role of the Acquisitions Editor too).
But while being an AE in just about any market space is nothing unusual – there are lots of them, from health to romance, sports to construction, working for hundreds of different publishers – but there’s something a bit different about the Open Source community, and that’s the long-running undercurrent of information wants to be free.


As a relatively prolific business and technology writer (My new Growing Your Business with Google book marks 19 published books for me, with #20 in the production pipeline), I really don’t agree with the whole information wants to be free mantra, and as far back as the mid 1980’s I was getting into arguments with the Free Software Foundation folk about copyright, intellectual property ownership and the exchange of money to compensate developers (this argument is one major reason that my Elm Mail System never made it into the core GNU software suite, actually)
But amazingly, twenty years later, there are still lots of people who believe that anyone who makes a dollar off of the labor of anyone else is inherently evil somehow, in a weird, incoherent sort of quasi-Marxist interpretation of modern capitalism.
So while the position of acquisitions editor at a world-class publisher like John Wiley & Sons, Inc., sounds like a terrific opportunity, I’m just not entirely sure about whether you’d want to throw yourself to the lions by working within the open source community to find people willing to make a buck off of open source projects.
But maybe I’m just paranoid. What do you think?

13 comments on “Cool Job or Open Source Pariah?

  1. Actually, you’re both sort of right (and wrong). The reason I call my blog “The Average Joe” is because that’s my first name. Jim’s blog is at http://wroxblog.typepad.com/minatel/. I do indeed link to Jim regularly, but the correct opening to this post would have been “My colleague Joe Wikert, over on his…”, or are you telling me I need to turn the keys to The Average Joe over to Jim?… It just doesn’t have the same ring!

  2. I do share the opinion that this would be a uniquely challenging position, and that working between Open Source developers and whatever I imagine big commercial publishers to be would be stressful. However, I think the difference between the license to distribute computer software source code and the copyrights of a book are more significant than your post would suggest. (Heck, the difference between FSF and Open Source is bigger than you suggest. )
    I got lost somewhere between a discussion of “Information Wants to be Free”, and the over-generalization “…there are still lots of people who believe that anyone who makes a dollar off of the labor of anyone else is inherently evil somehow…”
    I think you’re probably getting RMS’s personality confused with the larger original concept that software to which we have source code gives us the freedom to make it better or maybe worse, or the freedom to leave it alone.

  3. > I got lost somewhere between a discussion of
    > “Information Wants to be Free”, and the
    > over-generalization…
    I did too.
    Seems like quite a leap. And it seems like a *massive* over-generalization to say that open source philosophy is fundamentally anti-capitalist and/or anti-intellectual property.

  4. Alright, then, Tom and John, tell me how you can envision development teams who have the passion and enthusiasm to do world-class software development, like The Gimp, as just one example, reacting when someone says “I want to know if you’d like to write a book about it that we’d only make available to people who paid money for it”?
    I could well be wrong, there are certainly plenty of books about open source software on the market. I’m just voicing my impression that when compared to a variety of other Acquisition Editor areas, being an AE in the open source community would seem particularly challenging…

  5. Dude, I think you’ve fallen off the edge of a cliff.
    You state:
    > there are still lots of people who believe that
    > anyone who makes a dollar off of the labor of
    > anyone else is inherently evil somehow, in a
    > weird, incoherent sort of quasi-Marxist
    > interpretation of modern capitalism.
    1. Who are these people? I haven’t met them in the Open Source community just yet. Perhaps they hang around Marxist / Leninist clubs I don’t frequent?
    2. Please describe the “quasi-Marxist” interpetation inherent in the Open Source philosophy. Footnotes, too.
    You then state:
    > I’m just not entirely sure about whether you’d
    > want to throw yourself to the lions by working
    > within the open source community to find people
    > willing to make a buck off of open source
    > projects.
    You mean …. like companies that use Apache to build web sites that generate revenue? (such as yourself).
    You mean … like anyone who wants to create their own (proprietary) version of BSD?
    You mean …. like anyone using Perl? or PHP?
    You mean …. like the authors of all those PHP, Perl and Linux and BSD books?
    Yeah. God forbid anyone should make a dime off of Open Source projects ….

  6. Tom, we’re clearly not going to get anywhere in this discussion. What you’re talking about at the end of your comment doesn’t even seem relevant to what I’m talking about in my original article. That’s fine. We’re obviously not talking about the same thing at all.
    If others would like to jump in and share their perspectives, that’d be helpful, perhaps.

  7. My apologies, Dave. I think I was just getting a bit punchy here due to some events that have nothing to do with your web log.
    I didn’t mean to insult you, nor did I mean to denegrate your original post. I was just getting hyper-defensive about open source (as I often do). I’m not an OS zealot, but my hackles get raised whenever I read anything that kinda sounds like “open source is anti-(fill in the blank)”.
    Again, my apologies.

  8. Dave, I am not disagreeing with you about the challeneges of the AE job. Not to put too fine a point on it, but GIMP is a GNU project, not an Open Source (TM). Your choice of software informs the answer to your follow-up question significantly in my mind. For instance, would the answer be different if you had choosen to ask Mozzilla as an example instead?

  9. The open source community has always sought a balance between “information wants to be free” and “people want to be paid.” But there has always been a good market for books among open-source software users; that’s how O’Reilly built the core of their business.

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