Don't listen to the deaf, Tony

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Issue 16 of FSM came out a few days ago. The PDF version went out as well, but... out of the window! A lot of people, including myself, cried and asked for it to come back.

I am now writing this open letter to Tony, asking him to just discard many of the requests that wanted the PDF back.

Dear Tony

I was puzzled when you announced that we won't have PDF issues anymore. Many others felt the same. Probably your editorial didn't help me and other people to realize what was under the hood.

Until you finally wrote your explanatory blog entry. You had nothing against the PDF format "per se", but:

Basically, we cannot afford (either time or money) to continue producing PDFs. This decision wasn't sudden - we kept working on the PDF versions as long as we could. However, given the circumstances, I must say that the decision is final.

At that point, I thought the thing was clear: producing PDFs requires time; putting the PDFs on the website available to download requires bandwidth; time and bandwidth require money; there wasn't enough money for the PDF to be produced.

Once upon a time I was a mathematician, but that's a pretty easy equation, isn't it?

So I commented in your blog:

You may have noticed from the start that FSM is different from many magazines that are around on the web. It's different also in its way of asking for your help: it doesn't need 50$/year subscribers, it needs happy readers that want to help it as much as they can: if you can give just 10$/year, do it; if you can give 100$/year, do the same. If you can contribute great articles, also consider doing that straight away.

Six days have passed. Did you get any donations? No, you said. But you got a number of other "give me back the PDFs or I'll stop reading your mag" instead.

In Italy, as you know, we have a proverb that roughly says "the worst deaf person is the one who doesn't want to listen"; you may have it in English as well, but it's not important now.

Tony, just discard them all and go right ahead. You explained the problem, you asked for help, you got nothing. You don't need baby readers that cry and beat their feet on the floor because you took their toy away... That wasn't actually their toy.

In my personal opinion, there are just two ways to bring the PDFs back. The first, as said, is receiving donations. The other would be to have people who take the source of each issue and your code, and volunteer to make the PDF. If none of these options are doable, just don't listen to the deaf men and go ahead. FSM is and will be a great magazine as long as you and the other staff keep up the good work.

Con affetto e stima




Crosbie Fitch's picture

1) Figure out how much the PDF costs to produce
2) Figure out how many of those who downloaded the last one would pay for a copy, e.g. 1%.
3) Visit and create the appropriate group action.
4) If the fund is achieved, collect the money and produce the PDF (for all). If not, no one pays anything.

For example, let's say the PDF cost $1,000 to produce. Let's say it got downloaded by 10,000 readers. Let's say only 100 readers would be prepared to pay. That makes it $10 per reader.

You can tweak the amounts, e.g. try for 200 paying $5.

You don't have to do it per issue, but per annum - to cut transaction overheads.

If you have 800 paying $15 for a year's subscription - that could be cheaper.

My point is that perhaps if you create a collective bargain there'll be more take up than people charitably donating only to find that you're still short of funds to produce the PDFs they want.

It's a choice between a bargain (money for PDFs - or no deal) or charity (money for a warm feeling and possibly a fruitful outcome).

Scott Carpenter's picture

Would be an interesting experiment. I wasn't a PDF downloader, but I'd pledge some money in support of this, wanting to see alternate payment methods succeed.

(Which I guess makes my contribution a cross between charity and investment in free culture.) :-)


Terry Hancock's picture

I posted on Dave Guard's thread about "passing the hat", this is basically one way to do that -- collect funds until it's possible to create a PDF.

In fact, it might be even more sensible to approach the problem as "funding each issue".

Rather than creating "issues" on a monthly basis, continue to accumulated content on the website. Then raise pledges to support an issue (provide some kind of "thermometer" graphic, for example, to give people an idea of how much is needed). Then when you raise enough cash, pay for the process of creating that issue. You could even include the payments for commissioned authors in this budget.

Then you just release an issue whenever the readership is willing to pay for it.

Crosbie Fitch's picture

It's important to emphasise that no money changes hands until the delivery of the product in exchange can be assured - and that no work is commenced until there's enough money.

More info on Assurance Contracts at WikiPedia.

Ryan Cartwright's picture

A nice idea and - like most of the economical solutions to this problem I have seen - it works in theory. I'm not sure it would work in practice though because it relies on the premise that the readers who want PDF are prepared to pay for them - or at least enough of them are.

I'm not sure that given the opportunity to purchase a PDF or read a zero cost online edition whether most of those 100 people wouldn't just plumb for the latter anyway. People will say "I'll pay for it" but would enough of them - I think not and the experience of this magazine seems to confirm this. I think it's likely that most of the people who have whined on Tony's original editorial want PDFs at zero cost rather than PDFs per se. Let's be honest most people would, given the option, go for zero cost content in the first instance anyway and once they had that why would they start paying for it?

Personally I can't see the point of PDFs in this situation. All the arguments I have seen for PDF versions can be met by the existing online version and a few moments work by the person who actually wants them.

Crosbie Fitch's picture

This is why is a safe bet. If there aren't enough people pledging, then no-one pays anything, and no-one wastes any time producing PDFs that there is an insufficient demand for.

I think I downloaded a PDF once - just to see what I was missing. But, I'm ready to believe that there are loads of FSM readers who'd love to print out a copy so that they can read it on their train to work each day.

Who knows?

Perhaps this is a candidate for a Poll?

How much do you want the PDFs back?
1) I would pay $40 or more for a year's subscription.
2) I would pay $20-39 for a year's subscription.
3) I would pay $10-19 for a year's subscription.
4) I would pay $5-9 for a year's subscription.
5) I wouldn't buy a subscription, but I might buy copies occasionally for $5 each
6) I'd search for copies subscribers posted elsewhere
7) FSM should be free - I'll go elsewhere if you start charging people for PDFs

(7 is a shibboleth/honeypot)

Author information

Marco Marongiu's picture


Born in 1971, Marongiu graduated in applied mathematics in 1997; he's now a full-time system administrator for a well known software company in Oslo, Norway. He's also a Perl programmer and technical author and lecturer by passion.
Marongiu has been a Debian User since version 1.1.10 and he helped found the GULCh Linux Users Group (Gruppo Utenti Linux Cagliari), the first one in Sardinia.