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Cashing in on Drupal…

Submitted by John on Tue, 2010/03/02 - 4:50am
And so should you!

So this post is going to be a big “duh” for anyone who has written a book covering an open source project, but it was a bit of a surprise for me…

As anyone who’s taken a look at the Zen project knows, I’ve written a lot of documentation for free. And I’m a big fan of (and a member of) Drupal’s documentation team. They rock! \m/

And every time a new Drupal book comes out, there’s a considerable amount of congratulations to the authors and little bit of grumbling about it being a missed opportunity to improve drupal’s free docs.

I was recently asked to co-author an upcoming book on Drupal 7 module development, writing the chapters on the theme system. Now, for the past year I have been wanting to write a ton of tutorial-based theme system documentation (something we are sorely lacking), but I never had time (too many D7 core patches!) So I began to wonder if I would be “cashing in” by writing a book instead of the free docs I had intended to write.

However, this past week I realized that writing a book is very analogous to writing a custom module for a website. It is because you are being paid to write that custom code that you have the opportunity to work with and contribute back to the free software.

The example that made me come to this realization was that last week I was writing about Drupal 7 theme hooks when I wanted to point at the existing API documentation. And its then that I realized that those free docs needed some big updates before I could even put the URL in my chapter. Many of the theme hooks were simply missing from the @ingroup themeable page. And because I was getting paid to write this book, it gave me the motivation and opportunity to fix the free docs.

With every Drupal site that gets built, a portion of them will contribute back. So the more sites that get built, the more code gets contributed. Same with documentation! The more Drupal books get written, the better Drupal’s free docs will get.

So, yes, I am “cashing in”, but it just means more free docs for everyone!

Edit: Thanks to some comments below, I’ve changed my original phrase “cashing out” to “cashing in”. Laura et al. were correct! “Cashing out” means to dispose of a long-held asset for profit. And I’m definitely not disposing of Drupal! :-)


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I saw "cashing out" and thought you were leaving! But you're talking about cashing in, and you should!

Looking forward to that book!

Indeed, I was also confused about "cashing out". Nothing wrong with cashing in on your efforts, we all have to pay the rent.

I'm ok with the idea docs should be free. Information, not even software, should be free. But I also love to read a well-written, organic book that renders me able to do my job and I'm always happy to pay for it.

And most of all: starving open source enthusiasts can give nothing back, while happy ones have time and effort to spend without stressing themselves out.

Writing good stuff is always a good way to give back; sharing high quality knowledge often has its cost and it's right to pay for it. This keeps O/S alive and healthy. ;)

PS: looking forward for the book!!!

u rock dude. ur work is awesome. i've learnt and grown so much from following what you do. THANKS. I hope your loved ones are livin large, kicking it on a beach sippin pina-coladas. looking forward to the book.

Livin’ Large-ish!

Pierre, well as I read your comment, my wife is sitting in front of her computer drinking a Coke Slurpee. I think they were out of Pina Colada flavor. :-)

And Laura and John, you are correct! I changed my “cashing out” refs to “cashing in”.

By far my greatest volume of work comes when I'm on the clock - its also usually some of the best work I do.

Of course you should sort out a way to get paid for work you do. Also, your issue runs both ways - people like you should be writing books and making money from your time spent, and people like me should be buying those books in support of your efforts and the Drupal community in general.

I've fully embraced the open source ideals, but really draw the line when people suggest that you shouldn't receive remuneration from your work. With only 24 precious hours per day in which to sleep, eat, cook, commute, Tweet, sweep the floor, pet your cat, answer emails, spend quality time with your family, spend quality time with your family, and finally, spend quality time with your family - of course you should find ways to get paid for at least some of the work you do on Drupal.


Many authors put free licenses on their books. Cory Doctorow and others say they sell more books exactly because their books are available under a free license.

Me personally, I'd be much more willing to buy Drupal books if they were available under a license that would allow people to copy information back into the Drupal documentation. I also don't want to accumulate stuff, including books, so I prefer to buy books that I happily give away. So the fact that I know I can get a (legal) copy of a book online will make it more likely that I buy the book.

Kasper and dmitrig01,

There is more to licensing than many people think of. For example, books are often written through publishers like oreilly. The publisher is the one who gets the book on store book shelves. They provide editors to help make the content human readable and consistent. And, they are the ones who set the license. It is rarely the case where a technical book author working with a publisher can set the license.

If someone wants to license it themselves they need to self publish. Self publishing means the financial incentives are different which relates to the opportunity to write them.

So, it is not as simple as setting a license.

To add to what Matt said, it is in fact even more complicated for the vast majority of us.

At this point, I have written five books, dozens of articles, and even a handful of articles for scholarly journals.

Of the books, I have written *all* of them as "works for hire", which means I do not even have copyright over my work. I legally CANNOT release them under ANY license. It's not mine to release.

Of my articles, most of them are works for hire, as well. So, for example, I do not have rights to re-publish my own articles on my own website.

Some articles and all of my journal articles are different. In these cases, I have given the publishers "first publication rights", which means I keep the copyright, but retain rights to publish my work later. HOWEVER, in most of these cases, I have had to sign something that says that I will *not* make the work freely available over the Internet (along with other stipulations).

Okay... so I've been writing for many years, and while I often hear people suggest that I could make as much money (which, admittedly, is but a pittance now) by giving it away under a CC license, I just laugh.

That model *might* have worked for a select few -- particularly those who have a cult following already, like Doctrow. But for a work-a-day writer like me, I have a choice: make a meager "living" off of my work, or do it for free.

If you want to convince me otherwise, you'd have to show me numbers; not anecdotes from one or two celebrity writers like Doctrow.

I've been asked to write a few books... Never followed through with committing... The part that always blocked me was:
1) The coding part of brain seems to be connected to the writing part - if I code all day, that part of my brain is too exhausted to write. Actually, maybe its just me, but if someone calls me while i'm deep in drupal madness, it takes me about 20 seconds to regain my ability to speak fluidly.
2) When you freaking build drupal sites all day, and once liberated from your computer, you find yourself in front of a computer writing an outline, you begin to wonder weather its something you really want to do.
3) Writing to me is sort of like being funny. In the sense that when someone says "Hey Nick! Be Funny" there's no way i'll be funny.
4) Drupal is a moving target, and what's good practice is almost scarily debatable. I'd argue if you know what you're talking about, somewhere around 30-60% of topics the proper answer is "well, the typical approach sucks, the alternatives also suck, and no really knows... i guess its a question of your ability to pull it off"
5. echm.... online resources are out of date in about 6 months
6. Trying to figure out a structured way to teach people what i know drives me nuts. The only way thus far I've found that i can effectively teach is face to face, introducing topics one by one, presenting scenarios, and testing them.

::shrug:: maybe technical writer is not my calling lol.

bmissen's picture

You having lots of cash is good for the rest of us. I hope you make tons of money, wheelbarrows full. The more money you make, the more time you'll have to work on all the "free" stuff. Sign me up for a couple of copies. Good presentation at drupal camp chicago. cheers, b.