If you're a geek, a do-it-yourselfer, a maker, or just plain curious, you need to get your hands on some reading material from No Starch Press, which bills itself as "The Finest in Geek Entertainment." I have used its books as reference materials when teaching students about the Linux operating system and helping them learn to code.
I recently chatted over email with Bill Pollock, owner of No Starch Press, which he founded in 1994. Bill didn't set out to be a book publisher; he enrolled at Amherst College to study biology, with the goal of becoming a medical doctor, but became fascinated by his political science coursework and, in 1983, earned his bachelor's degree in that discipline. Even so, he put his interest in medical science to use in his first editorial job, with Springer-Verlag Publishing, where he edited medical books for fun. While there, he tried (and sometimes failed) to teach others how to use the new personal computer in the office.
He later joined Osborne/McGraw-Hill, which marked the beginning of his entry into computer book publishing. He discovered Linux and open source in 1997, three years after launching No Starch. That was momentous for him and the publishing house. "When I discovered open source and the hacker community, I felt like I had found a home, and I'm not leaving," he says.
He says No Starch focuses on geek and hacker culture because, "I publish books on topics that I care about. I like to support passionate communities and passionate people. Our books are my gifts to the hackers and geeks of the world."
The most popular of those books are Python Crash Course, Automate the Boring Stuff with Python, How Linux Works, Linux Command Line, and Hacking: The Art of Exploitation. Other interesting titles include Absolute FreeBSD, Absolute OpenBSD, and Android Security Internals.
No Starch authors and editors have a talent for making computing, programming, and hacking very inviting, and this approach drives the popularity of its titles. "Our titles have personality and attitude, our authors are passionate about their subjects, and we read and edit every book that bears our name. Our goal is to make computing accessible to technophile and novice alike, and our readers appreciate our straightforward presentation and fearless approach to the complex world of technology," says Bill.
Open hardware platforms like Raspberry Pi and Arduino offer new opportunites to impact No Starch's publishing and sales. He says, "We're excited about Arduino and Raspberry Pi, but we've only recently begun to increase our publications on Arduino, and we're just getting started with Raspberry Pi."
Bill emphasizes that No Starch is primarily in the book-making, rather than book-selling, business, and its products are sold by a variety of vendors. Even so, the publisher takes steps to make it easier for people who want to access its books. For example, it provides coupon codes or discounts online or at conferences to make the books more affordable. It also makes its books available as e-books, in PDF, MOBI, or EPUB format, in addition to traditional bound copies. Even though the e-books aren't restricted by digital-rights management (DRM), readers are expected to use and share them in a manner that is consistent with Fair Use. Some titles are licensed openly under Creative Commons, but that is determined by the individual authors.
Bill says he is excited about the future, in part because No Starch's growth has expanded annually for the last 20 years. From my perspective as an open source user and advocate, as well as a reader of the publisher's titles, I'm looking forward to many more years of geek entertainment from No Starch.