Like open source software, a book is more than its content

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putting the pieces together

Since launching the The Open Organization in June, I've received questions about why we chose to distribute the book via a traditional publisher. Some have wondered why we didn't release the book with a Creative Commons license so people could remix, redistribute, and even translate the book as they wanted. Others wondered why we didn't crowdfund it so its audience could be more tied to its success. Several have asked why we didn't simply release the book online as a free download.

Instead, we chose to partner with Harvard Business Review (HBR) Press. In many ways, HBR does for books what Red Hat does for open source software; it collaborates with creators and adds value to the products of these collaborations. Like any piece of open source software (such as Red Hat Enterprise Linux, for example), a book is far more than the content it contains. Like a software application, a book is a project with multiple stakeholders. It involves an agent that works to put the book on publishers' radars. It involves an editorial team that reviews manuscripts and suggests improvements. And it involves a marketing team that decides how best to develop and target potential audiences.

HBR brought to this project an outstanding record of success in selecting, editing, publishing, and promoting business books. What's more, while we were writing The Open Organization, HBR editors provided invaluable knowledge of our target audience, and helped us organize and outline the book in ways business-savvy readers would appreciate.

HBR also provided something else: the trust of its readers, who expect it to deliver something valuable (the same way our customers expect Red Hat to deliver valuable, tested solutions). We knew that by enlisting such a respected partner, we'd benefit not only from HBR's resources and expertise, but also from the HBR's strong reputation.

Like Red Hat, professional presses incur expenses when they do their work. They therefore require a revenue model that will make their businesses sustainable. In the case of HBR, this model involves selling material licensed via traditional copyright terms. HBR taught us that retail outlets are the primary drivers of demand for business books like The Open Organization, and those outlets (with their valuable consumer-facing shelf space) require a physical book to sell. They typically don't want to invest in showcasing a book that someone can download for free.

In the end, we decided that pursuing a traditional book publishing model would best help us achieve our objectives: distributing The Open Organization as widely as possible, and growing the community of leaders with whom we hope it resonates. Incidentally, growing that community also requires effort and resources. HBR has invested heavily in the book's success by promoting it at industry events and securing table space at major retail outlets. We've matched those contributions with our own community-building efforts, particularly the launch of a special section of where conversations about the book's ideas can take place.

In addition, it's important to recognize that Red Hat will not profit from the book. While we'll use some of the book's revenue to cover the costs we incurred writing it, once we cover those costs, we'll be donating all remaining proceeds to the Electronic Frontier Foundation—a nonprofit organization defending civil liberties in the digital world.

Running an organization means locating opportunities to work with all kinds of partners on the road to success. Publishing a book about an open organization is no different.

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Jim Whitehurst is President and Chief Executive Officer of Red Hat, the world’s leading provider of open source enterprise IT products and services. With a background in business development, finance, and global operations, Whitehurst has proven expertise in helping companies flourish—even in the most challenging economic and business environments.


HBR Press is reputed for Timeless and Timely content and it is good to see "The Open Organization" in that category for this new century.

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