For about a decade now, my ColdFusion Web Application Construction Kit has been the de facto standard used by virtually all new ColdFusion developers, and by many who want to brush up their skills as ColdFusion is updated and enhanced. This book (and its Advanced sequel) in many ways helped define ColdFusion, played an important role in the growth and evolution of the product. Over the years I’ve pulled in respected, trusted, and well-known ColdFusion developers to help with the books (most notably Ray Camden who assumed the role of co-lead author on the most recent CFWACK, and who will be doing so again for the next edition). I am genuinely humbled at how important these books have become to the ColdFusion universe, and honored by how many of you have relied on these books to do what you do.
But now I am faced with dilemma, and I’d love any and all input.
Here’s the deal. The books have grown to be huge. We started with a single volume in ColdFusion 2 and 3 days, and quickly had to move to two volumes as of ColdFusion 4. And then two volumes were not enough, so we tried moving the language reference appendixes to a dedicated little third volume in ColdFusion 5 (a decision that did not go over well with most readers, although some loved it and have asked for that book to be revised and updated). For ColdFusion 6 and 7 we put the appendixes back into the book, and thus had no choice but to remove some lesser used chapters, and also made the very painful decision to make some chapters only available electronically (as PDFs on the accompanying CD).
But now things have gotten worse. The books are now several thousands pages combined (taking into account CFWACK and CFADV as well as all of the electronic chapters). And as I work on the Scorpio updates (Scorpio has so many new features that there are lots of updates, and even more new chapters needed) it is becoming apparent that page count is going to be a massive problem. Consider the following:

  • We’ve reached about the maximum page count that can be physically bound as a single volume.
  • Printing costs industry wide have gone up. I have fought hard against book price increases before, but I am being told that there is no way we can continue to print books of this size at the current price.
  • And, as already stated, I really don’t like electronic only chapters. I am fine with chapters being made available in print AND electronic, heck, I’d like for the whole book to be made available as an e-book on the CD. But I don’t like electronic chapters in lieu of printed chapters.

So, what to do?

  • We can eliminate the language reference appendixes (tags, functions, Verity language, etc.). Those ran about 400 pages in CFWCK7, and will be even bigger in the Scorpio edition. We can consider making those electronic chapters, or perhaps try a separate reference volume as we did back in CF5 days. My big concern with this one is that many users tell me that these are the most used parts of the books, and I regularly see copies with colored tabs and the like plastered all over these sections.
  • We can make additional chapters electronic only. Deciding which ones to pick is painful and never what all users will want. Plus, as already said, I really don’t like this idea.
  • Some users have asked me to do away with the intro material, the first several hundred pages of CFWACK. And the truth is, for all but new readers, those are unnecessary. But, at the same time, I get several e-mails every single week from readers thanking me for just those chapters, in particular the ones that explain basic relational database theory and review SQL language basics.
  • For ColdFusion 7 I had chatted with the publisher about breaking the books into three volumes. That would solve lots of problems by allowing us to create three thinner books with a greater total page count. But, three thinner books will cost readers more than two thicker books, and so I decided not to go with this idea because I felt guilty charging readers more money (especially those who only buy CFWACK who would now need to buy two books to replace it).

As you can see, we have no great ideas, just lots of imperfect options. So, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject. If any of these ideas make sense, tell me. If any are flat out wrong, tell me that too. And if you have other ideas we’ve not thought of, please share those as well.
Thanks!

115 thoughts

  1. Ben:
    Basic thoughts:
    I wouldn’t worry so much about increasing the number of volumes. I certainly understand your concern for "making people pay more", but I also would agree with a previous comment that these are ‘tools of the trade’, and therefore, if you don’t have the money – work up for it! Earn it, and be proud when you make that purchase that will no doubt enhance your mental existence. Oh, and I wouldn’t numerically order the volumes for sure. I like Alexei’s post and demarcations of subject matter, just hack off the volume #’s and it seems perfect. Make people understand what they’re buying, rather than somehow prioritizing content. That would make me feel like I need to own the whole set, just to own it. Could be just me.
    I feel like I should say, your WACK for CFMX was my introduction to programming beyond JavaScript. 4 years later, I’m now working as a full-time ColdFusion developer for a very large international logistics & shipping company. Thank you, and keep up the good work!

  2. I just finished going through the CF MX 7 WACK from cover to cover. My thoughts as I went through it:
    1. I wish it were broken up into at least two volumes for convenient carry. Making the reference sections an independent volume would seem like a good step.
    2. I wish the entire book was on the CD-ROM so that I could reference it on the laptop when the book is inconvenient to carry.
    I encourage the CD-only chapters for subjects that are specialized, so that you won’t be tempted to leave out or treat superficially any important specialized material in the interest of controlling page count. In this book it would be nice if chapter 33 had much more on WAP apps.
    Note: I loved this book. I wish I had found it sooner. I did notice dozens of typos, incorrect wording, and other breakage. (Sorry, I have a gift, or curse, of seeing such things without trying.) Please contact me if you have been wishing for some additional help in reviewing the final draft of your next version.

  3. Ben,
    I learned CF by reading your books. They have been an invaluable reference source for me throughout my career.
    I still have and held onto the Advanced CF 4.5 book, because of the language and tag reference.
    Even when I was a struggling student, I always shelled out for the CF Reference books. Now that I am an IT manager I always get company approval for getting whatever CF Manuals we need.
    So I strongly urge you to have a separate CF Language Reference with all the Tag and Function definitions. Even if I didn’t get company approval for it, I would buy it.

  4. To all the people pleading for Ben to create a separate printed Language Reference, I realize you may not have read all the comments above to see my previous post, but I’ll ask again just in case folks may read "the last few most recent" comments:
    Do you realize that you already have a CF Reference Manual (1108 pages, at that), for free in both PDF form (at http://www.adobe.com/support/documentation/en/coldfusion/) and in print form if purchased from Adobe? That’s in addition to the HTML version at livedocs.macromedia.com as well as cfquickdocs.com and installed in all the CF editors.
    I just have to wonder why Ben should be expected to create another CFML reference when such an extensive one already exists.
    If folks would argue that they wish it was improved, then perhaps instead the doc team could do whatever it is that you like about Ben’s reference, so that everyone benefits (and Ben has one less book to have to produce). Just one man’s opinion.

  5. Ben, I’m sure you don’t want to hear this but it’s kind of like needing glasses as you grow older. Resistance is futile. The books got to be too much to lug around back at the MX edition. I gave in and bought a Safari subscription (kind of pricey though) and learned to live with it. At least I have search capabilities.
    PS. Sure would like to see you do the same thing for Flex that you did for CF!

  6. Cost doesn’t matter to me. Ater 4 years of CF development, I reference the newest CFWACK all the time. More, smaller books would be better, as larger books seem to get damaged faster. I’d rather not have CD-only chapters unless the entire book is on CD (or DVD).

  7. No matter what you do. DON’T take any content out! I own all your books and must say, although there is some overlap, the more detail the better. I like the idea of three volumes.
    Keep writing brother!

  8. I would like to see three books as well. Maybe the language reference could be the third book with examples. That way, if it’s smaller, maybe the costs could be less for at least the language reference book.

  9. Ben,
    I realize I’m coming to the party a little late here, but today I had a conversation with someone in our university’s IT Training division. They used to have an intensive CF class but have had to abandon it. They can no longer find any books that are in the Training from the Source model. They like to use them as the backbone of their longer classes. They do the same with an intensive ActionScript course they offer.
    I know that you should not be expected to pick up any other CF book projects, but based on some of the discussion above, clearly some of the beginning and even intermediate audience could be served by such books. This could change the equation for your books. Based on the amount of feedback you’ve received on this one post I think it’s clear that there are clearly tired, poor and huddled masses yearning to get their hands on more CF books. It’s been too long. Are the publishers listening?
    Thanks for the thrilling publications of yesteryear! I look forward to reading whatever Scorpio Man comes up with next!

  10. I like to know that if I’m buying a book, it has to have EVERYTHING in the one book.
    I am very happy to spend a bit extra to get ONE complete book, than less amounts on seperate books. So at the moment I have bought both of Ben Forta’s books, the normal CFWCK7 and the Advanced edition. I DO NOT WANT TO BUY A 3RD BOOK.
    So my ideal solution would be to have all the really important material in ONE book, have another ADVANCED edition, and then have a website where the extra chapters can be downloaded. This will save you money on producing CD-ROMS. Just have a companian website where the extra stuff can be downloaded. I guess the reference section is good to have as PDFs, because they’re just there for reference.

  11. I’m most people are running out of bookshelf space, so if all the CFWCK books could be availabe as e-books, then I would much prefer that.
    Its not practical to buy so many books and store them anywhere. Theres just no space anymore.

  12. This is one part of application development I need to get better at. Right from my new handle book I would like to quote something that sums everything I have been talking about quite nice.
    The mistake lies in assuming that any decision is cast in stone–and in not preparing for the contingencies that might arise. Instead of carving decisions in stone, think of them more as being written in the sand at the beach. A big wave can come along and wipe them out at any time.
    Mazda spark plug -http://www.automotivemazparts.com/mazda-spark-plug/
    So, take care of your books…

  13. There’s no clear sense of the future for publishing, and many questions remain. Uppermost in the industry’s mind is whether Google will prevail in its quest to make the world’s backlist fully searchable, but the larger issue is whether the publishing industry’s embracing of the digital world arrives too little, too late. Because when it comes to change, those in the midst of it are often the last to know, and the slowest to react.
    __________________________________________________________________________________
    from: Johnny ( d’ fireplace screens – http://fixturesandfurnitures.com/fireplace-screens.html )

  14. For All,
    ColdFusion Open-Source Update – April14, 2008
    It seems lately the world of ColdFusion bloggers has become re-obsessed with the topic of ColdFusion’s place in the industry with more rallies to the defense of the ColdFusion community and calls of "ColdFusion is not dead". Honestly this argument has played itself out so much over the years that it is tiresome and generally gets argued amongst people whose opinions are never going to change anyway. First you have the "ColdFusion Hater" who is generally dead certain of ColdFusion’s impending demise despite a general lack of evidence or knowledge about the place of ColdFusion within Adobe and its current state of development (yes, they are hard at work on version 9). Then there is the "ColdFusion True Believer" who argues the exact opposite position though equally uninformed and who seems to believe statements like "ColdFusion rulez" is a convincing argument. Occasionally voices of reason jump into the debate, but since the point is not about reasonable discussion they are quickly drowned out by the flames.
    see more at http://www.remotesynthesis.com/blog/index.cfm/2008/4/12/Stop-Worrying-About-ColdFusion-Already.
    _____________________________________________________________________________
    brochure printing – http://www.squidoo.com/brochure-printing

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