Why My Book Is Free

As you may have noticed (I hope), I wrote a book this year. It’s not an epic volume, more of a novella than a novel; except, of course, it’s entirely non-fictional. I’ve written analytical books before, but trying to distill a few decades of experience into something readable was a different challenge. 

And now it’s out there, and it’s available completely for free. If you’re into managing digital experience, it’s your Christmas gift, and I hope you like it.

Faster - A Guide To Speed For Digital Leaders - Book Cover

So why would I simply give this away for free?

Earlier this year, as I was trying to slowly detract myself from a decade of building sites, apps, and complicated infrastructures at a major broadcaster in the Middle East, I had a lot of conversations with the people I’ve worked with over the years. Where to next? It was great to catch up with people and very insightful. And it’s why I’m now working on a dozen or so projects, having a lot of fun jumping between different topics.

One of those conversations was with Rasmus Skjoldan at Magnolia, and as we were discussing all things digital, it very quickly turned into “why not pick up writing again?”. I missed having the time to write (I have averaged only about a blogpost or two a year for quite a while now). But it snowballed from there – resulting in blogposts, a video, and a book. Centered on one thing: with the experience all of us have with digital experience by now, why is it still such a struggle? Why does it take so long? Why can’t we be faster?

But that still doesn’t answer the question why it’s free. 

To be fair, it’s “free” as in “free speech”, not “free beer”, as Richard Stallman would say.  It’s under a Creative Commons license, CC BY-SA 4.0 to be exact. That allows you to do pretty much everything you want to with it, though. Quote it in your pitch? Sure, as long as you credit it. Take entire chapters and turn it into a better book? No problem, as long as you release it under the same license. You’re free to use it to advance your own projects in any way you see fit.

It was something Rasmus proposed, and I loved the idea. By contrast, when I talked to my sister about it, she wasn’t convinced. She’s been published before and just finished writing another book (fiction, unlike my relatively boring guide). “How would authors make money that way?”, she said, and at my suggestion that it’s the way of the future, she scoffed, “that’s easy for you to say”.

And I completely appreciate that point of view – this is not for everyone or for any content. And I’ve had to leave my views on copyrights at the door when leaving for work for much of my career. You don’t get very far building a streaming video service if you suggest DRM doesn’t work and shouldn’t be necessary. Adhering to contractual obligations, locking down content, and preventing piracy is an important part of it. (Though I’d still advocate that making it “better than free” is what will encourage people to pay for it.)

Meanwhile, though, Open Source Software has been proving there’s another way for intellectual property in other areas. It’s shown that innovation is a fast game, played at pace, and speeds up when everyone is free to re-use, re-purpose, and improve on what’s available. It’s accelerated the internet from a hobby in academia to major business.

But then, if you’re like me, and knowledge and experience is your currency… why would you give it away for free?

So, to get to the answer, there’s two major factors there.

1.     This is how we all get better at it.

If you can take everyone’s knowledge and build on it, you can stand on the shoulders of giants. I may be a parrot on a limping pirate’s shoulder by comparison, but if I can inspire one good thought, it’s worth it. I’ve learned by listening, reading, and mostly, interacting, with hundreds of people over my career. Many have tolerated my stupid questions, and patiently answered them. If I can answer questions because of it, it’s because they were kind enough to share, as well.

2.     This is the future.

The risk of many professions is digging into trenches with your specialized knowledge, and making yourself indispensable by being the expert. “I’m the only one who knows the details of the secret procedures that nobody else understands.” I’ve seen this with lawyers, electricians, doctors, plumbers, and our pool guy, Tom, without whom the water would turn green in a week, and I wouldn’t know what to do about it. 

I’m in Spain now, and around here, you’d be lost without a “gestor”. The colloquial definition of a gestor is “someone who knows the arcane bureaucratic procedures and knows how to get through them”. Your gestor gets you permits, appointments, and sorts the paperwork. Nothing moves without a gestor.

The literal translation of “gestor”, according to Google Translate, is… “manager”.

Tech is different, and I think leading the way. You don’t get very far by obscuring your specialism. The closest thing is single-handedly building a “black box” that nobody else can figure out. But even though there’s still a lot of people making money off fixing Cobol code or running AS/400s, it’s not generally a recipe for success in a tech career. It’s how you end up being in the basement with a stapler. And other careers are going the same way – if Tom doesn’t fix the pool, I can google what to do.

Because of this, I’ve told people over the years, “I should be able to tell you everything I know, and write down anything that’s useful, and still make a good living out of it.” I should already be thinking of what’s next, rather than keeping secret what I’ve learned so far. And as a manager over the past decade… I never wanted to be a gestor. In short, I’d much rather be like Tom, who will happily explain what’s wrong with the pool over coffee. 

And that’s why, with help from Rasmus and Magnolia, I’m giving away the book for free. As I said in the beginning, I hope it makes for a good Christmas present and hope you’ll have time to read it.

All I ask is that you “share-alike”, and let me know where I’m wrong, where you totally agree, or what I should have expanded on. I’ve had great feedback so far, filling my holiday reading list, giving me topics to follow, and several great ideas. So comment here, tweet at me @adriaanbloem, or mail me at bloem@radagio.com. Let’s move forward in 2022 together!