So, why has the PDF gone?

Short URL:


I am the founder of Free Software Magazine. My role has always been important, but you must keep in mind that FSM exists thanks to several key people who worked hard on this project.

My latest editorial has received countless comments about us dropping the PDFs. You can see them yourself - some of them are reasonable, while other were along the lines of "I want a PDF version, and I want it right now. If not, I will never be back to this site ever again".

When you manage a site like Free Software Magazine, your skin thickens - it really does. Rob Malda, the much-praised and also much-criticised leader of Slashdot knows this very well. Your skin thickens, but the attacks still hurt - every single time, on a personal level. I have always been sympathetic to Rob Malda, but only now I can say I truly understand some of his reactions.

I had planned on detailing the reasons for our decision to drop PDFs in the upcoming newsletter. However, it seems I need to respond sooner; this blog entry is to answer all those readers who sensibly, and politely, asked me why we made this decision, and even offered help to reinstate the PDFs. If you look hard enough, you'll see a few sensible responses amongst those angry ones.

We did not have the resources to continue producing PDF files. I have personally spent countless hours trying to make it work, with Gianluca (who was heavily affected by our decision) and Dave. Our original plan was to cover the costs of creating the hi-res, hi-quality PDFs (that is, paying Gianluca to produce it) with sales. The result was... well, disappointing to say the very least. The response was understanding though - in order to turn any profit, we had to charge quite high rates and on top of that there was shipping costs. As a consequence, after four months, had made only enough money to cover a couple of meals out in a cheap restaurant. Our readers were not interested in the paper version of the magazine, and the PDF - the electronic version - was an enormous burden on us.

The PDF needs a cover, needs composition, and needs a lot of double-checking. The PDF also puts a strain on the production schedule of the magazine - once the PDF is created, it's hard to change it. Plus, if you want to be able to print the magazine later, you also need to make sure the number of pages is a multiple of 16. This means that sometimes important articles are left behind because they just don't "fit the puzzle". There is also a "flexibility" issue here: without creating the PDFs, we can decide what gets published in an issue much more easily, and are able to make last-minute decisions.

Since the plan didn't work out, I hoped we could cover the PDF costs (in terms of time and money) by selling PDF ads. Unfortunately, selling PDF ads is basically impossible - unfortunately, we are not the only online magazine to have discovered this sad truth.

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.

Somebody suggested that we publish PDF versions of the magazine and charge $1 for each copy. In our experience (we've tried charging for the PDFs before), readers are rarely willing to part with money for information they can get for free. Again, we are not the only ones who have discovered this fact. Further and unfortunately, micro-payments are not the easiest thing to deal with - it's actually quite hard to charge somebody $1 over the internet. There is infrastructure to set up, accounts, and missing payments to deal with and this is only the beginning. We would have to be convinced that it would be a worthwhile venture before we undertook it... and we have already been convinced otherwise. However, if somebody out there is serious about this, is a good graphic designer and wants to create and sell PDF versions of Free Software Magazine, please contact me in about a week (things are a bit hectic at the moment), bearing in mind that we have very little time available to manage such a system.

Dear sensible readers, I very quickly organised a "printer friendly" button for each article and blog entry. I haven't worked on the CSS yet (any volunteers?), but given the circumstances, I have put it online immediately. Dear sensible readers, consider this a compensatory gift to you, from me and from all the people who worked so hard on this amazing project.

Take care, and thank you for your support,



daniel goldsmith's picture

AS I expected from this man - honest, straightforward and precisely what I thought.

Thanks for trying to keep the PDF available, and thanks as always for the great articles and thought provoking reads. The printer-friendly stuff is well handled, although I'd prefer a non-serif font :)

Wishing you and the team all the bst in this new phase of your venture.


Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Hi all,
The position you've made is unfortunate, but quite understandable.

Everything has a cost somewhere down the line, whether it be time or money.

I really liked the pdfs, but understand your reasoning. Outgoings always need keeping in check and those that create greater problems need resolving.

Thank you for the explanation and keep up the very good work.


Pedro Rosario's picture

Now that the whole thing is explained, now I understand the problem of not providing more PDFs. However, you should have said this sooner. If you explained this from the very beginning, most of these comments would have been avoided. Thank you for the "Printer Friendly Version", I wanted something like that too.

pvdg's picture
Submitted by pvdg on

Thank you for the complete explanation. If it had been given previously, some of the 'anger' might have been avoided.

Thank you also for the printer-friendly version. I haven't tried it yet on paper (my printer refuses to work), but I will soon. It is not ideal and not the same as PDF, but it will address some of the issues raised in the previous discussion.

BTW, I am more than willing to pay 1 dollar, or 1 euro, or even a little more for the pdf version, in case it gets published (I would also be willing to subscribe to a paper edition - I haven't done it before through because I would have been paying more for the shipping than the magazine itself!).

Most important is that FSM goes on being published.

Paulo Gomes

Mauro Bieg's picture

I understand your problem now.

Instead of charging 1 buck per PDF you could also make PDFs availlable on a subscription base. Maybe 50$ per year?
To find out how much people are willing to pay for PDFs a poll might help out.

Tony Mobily's picture


Please accept my apologies for not providing a much clearer explanation earlier.
Hopefully, enough people will read this explanatory entry about the PDF issue. As I said, seeing the (small) number of PDF downloads, we didn't think taking the PDFs out of the equation would create such a stir. I obviously underestimated how much those people wanted the PDF...

And, me being me, I am already investigating how to generate PDFs on the spot from the articles, and how to publish them in a collection (for each issue). It might not be as flashy, but it will get the job done!

Please send me an alternative CSS if you have CSS experience - I will add your changes, and we can together make the "printer-friendly" version look better.



Kurt Pfeifle's picture will not be flashy, but it will be able to put a collection of articles with working hyperlinks and an auto-generated ToC into one PDF file. It is very easy to handle, but yet fairly sophisticated and poperful. You can tell it what the title page should look like, you can set up a background pic or graphic for the pages, you can determine font sizes, headers and footers, and you can make offline/from-paper/printout readers happy...

2. pdf-o-matic based on htmldoc (online testing of basic HTML-->PDF conversion -- the real htmldoc can do much more)

gweeper64's picture
Submitted by gweeper64 on

Ok, thanks for the explanation.

I think what most people care about is a method of reading the mag offline and for archiving purposes on their own.

Question: I see you are using Drupal... I can't believe there isn't already something prepackaged for web to PDF conversion of articles for Drupal?

404's picture
Submitted by 404 on uses the subscription module
pay to get pdf files.

Jonathan Roberts's picture

As long as all the great content keeps getting put out I don't mind how I get it! I think the printer friendly button is a great compramise...

Keep up the good work...


Moparx's picture
Submitted by Moparx on

I couldn't have said it better.
As long as the great articles keep coming, it doesn't matter what form they take.

Linux: The choice of a GNU generation.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I always hated the PDFs, because I think usability is much better for HTML pages than PDFs (fast loading time in general, incremental loading, easier text/image copying, etc.).

The only advantage of PDF is, that it looks better, when printed, but there is also a printer-friendly version, which does at least something similar.

Of course choice is always good, so an optional PDF was fine for me, but I can understand your reasons why you don't do it anymore.

Anders Jackson's picture

Sorry, but I don't agre with you about this.

Yes, HTML is good for online reading, but sucks when you don't have Internet connections, or try to read it in bead, while commuting(sp?) or doing stuff on a "chair" which we will not talk about here ;)
So that is the main reason to have PDF (or some other simular format making a total printout of Magazine easy).

So better looking is not the only thing that PDF:s are better then HTML, becouse that could easy be argued agains...
PDF's MAIN advantage is that you can so easily get a print out of ALL relevant messages (and it gives a Magazine feeling, with a dead line). So a not so good looking PDF-version of Magazine (with ads) is much, much better than no easy way of geting whole magazine in one sweep. Just try to have 10 minutes full speed access to webb and then read the Magazine. Then you have same experiance as many who need that.

And yes, different choises reading the Magazine is only good.

Nick D's picture
Submitted by Nick D on

So was the end of the PDF the end of the packaged issue of FSM? I'm not going to rant and rave about it being gone, although it was the method I used to get my fix; it's your magazine and no one should think they can tell you what you have to do or else.

Personally, I would love to see another packaged version of the magazine so that I can just grab it, throw it on the PDA, and go (320x240 resolution, hint hint :P ), is this something that might be coming later? Even if it were just a continuous webpage of the whole magazine it might provide for a faster copy/paste.

I'm just brainstorming a bit, throwing out a few ideas and perhaps picking your brain. Regardless of where things go from here, thanks for the magazine and all the hard work involved.

Nick D

Nick D's picture
Submitted by Nick D on

Shortly before heading out of town for the weekend I made a feeble attempt to pack it up for the road myself. I loaded each "printable format" version in my web browser, then went to Save Page As. If you save it with everything attached it is not only smaller (although the printable format doesn't have the ads, so that might be part of the size savings), it also formats to the width of the browser which works better on my Axim.

So thanks for doing away with the PDF and bringing in the printable format!

Nick D

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I have to agree with Pedro Rosario. I appreciate your comments and explanation, and as a business major I fully understand the need to keep FSM afloat. And Pedro is correct again. If your financial comments had been mentioned first much of the community anger could have been avoided. If the choice is PDF or no FSM then PDF MUST loose out. Personally, if any of my comments were painful to you, I do apologize.

Your commitment to finding a way to have a 'pdf type' file is commendable. It shows a commitment to your readers and I really do appreciate it.

admin's picture
Submitted by admin on


We will still release issues. We discussed it a lot here, and we decided that it makes sense on many different levels to organise (and therefore release) "issues" (that is, sets of articles) all at once.



nicko68's picture
Submitted by nicko68 on

Well, that is different than publishing an article declaring PDF a dead format, and oh by the way we're not going to be publishing in PDF format any more.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I did not want my post to seem like a give me a PDF or I am out of here. That was not my intent at all and I apologize if that is what it seemed. I am one of the anon-cowards.

Now that all has been explained I understand. I am still saddened by the loss. As to payment, why not a subscription fee. For the high quality of this magazine and others that in recent months have announced closure, I would be willing to pay a fee per year to download.

This magazine and the Tux magazine have been a great help and asset to myself and I am sure others. There is a wealth of free useable software out there, that I was not aware of until I started to read your magazine.

I will continue to check back to see the progress. In the meantime I have a lot of Printer Friendly buttons to press so I have some reading tonight.

Thank You for the great magazine

bobconstans's picture

Personally, I am of 2 minds regarding this decision.
My first reaction was annoyance - I, until this point in time anyway, have always downloaded the magazine for later perusal and, particularly, reference. The reasons for this were a) I don't like reading a lot of articles at one time on my screen because of eye-strain b) I prefer to read articles at a later time from going thru my emails c) I can take my time and leave and return easily d) I can save articles to be read and referenced on a more timely occasion e) I can read the articles when I am in the mood especially if the articles are (as FSM's so, unfortunately, frequently are) ... um, less than compelling e) I can include them in my informal personal reference library of sorts.
All that having been said, I DO have other e-zines that are strictly that and have no Print-format component. They do tend to avoid referencing themselves as a Magazine per se, but since they are usually built upon a wiki-model they are easy to refer to.
If FSM is to continue Print-less, I hope it will continue its evolution towards a more web-only paradigm - particularly as far as content presentation is concerned. Hopefully I have been clear while not unnecessarily wordy, and constructively helpful, though brief.
Best of Luck in your new direction.

pedgds's picture
Submitted by pedgds on

You gave us a pdf version. It was not one time episode, but you did it fifteen times. So you shouldn't be angry when we want something what was part of our reality. Every number of the FSM was in pdf format. I know that new way of publishing is in a new web style. But should everything be done this way? Now it looks worse, is more difficult to read and it is a kind of a revolution for me. Revolution which has happened when I was sleeping, because you even didn't try to talk with your readers about help, about funds for pdf-making etc.

You could did it in a better style. FSM in pdf was one of the best, original magazines on the net. Now it is one of a million. Maybe the pdf did that FSM has so many readers. You should think about it (excuse me for my english, I'm trying hard, but I know about mistakes).

Anders Jackson's picture

As many have written before. This is quite different than to say PDF is dead, so we wont deliver our magazine in that format any more.
And as one who like to read articles of computer. I don't mind non-perfect PDF publications without even 16 page set up. Use whatever you want, as it is usally read electronicly, and not printed out as a folded magazine.
And if it wasn't clear before (and it wasn't, sorry),
keep up the work and don't hide real reasons from us like this ;-)

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

You shouldn't take the attacks personally, for they weren't personal. For some reason you tried to hide the real reason you are dropping PDFs-- money, not the silly "PDF is dead" explanation. The strong reactions were because of the strange explanation. If you had been direct and forthcoming before, I bet most of the responses would have been about fund raising, not complaining.

Anyway, I only read a few issues, including the first, but I thought the layout and design were AWESOME, as well as the excellent content. Lulu charges A LOT for printing, if I recall correctly from investigating last year, and I hope they're not the most reasonably priced printer out there. Anyway, I wish you had brought this issue up maybe six months ago, or back when there were alternatives to dropping PDF. I, and many others, would have made donations to keep things afloat before it was too late. In the future, please don't be ashamed to ask for help when you are doing such a service for the community.

P.S. Have you decided what is to become of the LaTeX macros? Maybe you could license or sell these?

maccampus's picture
Submitted by maccampus on

I posted a reply to the PDF is dead article in the current issue of the Magazine, the reply is "PDF is still alive" , i really hope you agree that post.

I also saw the posts you mentioned bashing the fact pdf's are gone & threatening to abandon their subscription. I do disagree with them though i understand their point.

In my post there i mentioned other comercial magazine's using PDF versions of their issue's. What i forgot to talk about, which might be a magazine you should check as they are free aswell & have a solution i mentioned in my post aswell, is ATPM - , "About this particular Macintosh", which offers 3 kind of downloads of their issue's. These are 2 pdf versions, one to print & one for reading as a pdf using a pdf viewer like Acrobat or Preview (in Mac Os X), the third however is the one that you can offer insrtead of PDF.

It's offering the issue as a downloadable pdf version which is packed as a diskimage (DMG), as their target public is Mac users who can open these kind of images, but any sort of archive (zip, gz, tar, ...) could be used (most preferred would be zipped as the zip archive format can easely be used on most OS'es)

I really would appriciate a move in that direction & hope it will please a lot of the other subscribers aswell well. If you are not persuaded i suggest holding a poll to see if there is a need for this

jjbonvin's picture
Submitted by jjbonvin on

OK. It's clear. It's honest. I got it. Copy and paste will do. As long as you go on. Do please. jjb

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I find I file PDF's away for "Ron", but if the article links are there I am more likely to read them now. Ideally you would do both, but practically speaking I think you have made the right move.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Get your FSM mail, start Open Office : Now swiftly read the articles you like,
copy and paste the ones you like to study deeper into Open Office , when finished
Export the whole lot to PDF! There you go, your own selection of great articles from the Free Software
Magazine. Yes open source gives you more power to be creative!

There you go!

Hope to have been of some service!

Daniel Escasa's picture

What I would do is print the Web page directly to PDF. Of course, I do that from my own PC. Not likely to work for those who have to read FSM from an Internet cafe or a locked-down office PC.

Daniel O. Escasa
IT consultant and writer for hire
contributor, Free Software Magazine (
personal blog at

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I appreciate the honest and swift explanation provided... indeed it does seem to be a death trap going by the explanation. I live all the way over here in India and I am not very keen to do online transactions which may not be completely secure. However, if such a setup were to be arranged for, then I would be more than happy to be one of the first to subscribe. It is a wonderful magazine and the content is very useful and pertinent. I just hope people appreciate the effort that you have put in to ensure that the FSM continues to serve its purpose.

I must confess that when I logged on today to download my favorite magazine to take a printout and read in complete offline enjoyment, I was shocked to see the "online-only" tag and would have been deeply flustered if I had not taken the time to read this. I do hope I can help/contribute in more ways than one. I will surely get more proactive and make contact when I am in a position to help in a positive way, this good magazine.


Timmy Jose.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Is it not possible for those of us who have some idea about design and layout, but not either no time or no ability for coding, to put our skills towards formatting FSM into a PDF magazine?

If the text and images for an article were made available after publication for download (?TAR), then those interested could but together a PDF - simple, complex, showy, consistent style, inconsistent style - who cares? You can still have your PDF!

Might even be worth a competition if ads musdt be included.

Any thoughts????

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

OK. It's clear. It's honest. I got it. Copy and paste will do. As long as you go on. Do please. jjb

Totally agree Tony... I really love pdf... but if it is not possible we will have to accept what you can give us... as long as you go on... we are already missing Tux... please don't make us miss FreeMagazine too...

And about people who hit you on that "thick skin" ... please don't pay any attention to them. Your job is appreciated for this huge community

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

You say that you will no longer provide a PDF version of FSM, but the reasons you give for that decision have nothing to do with PDF. The reasons you give support a decision not to provide a 4-up or 16-up layout with a "cover", etc. What does that have to do with the digital format of the magazine?

Answer: nothing. You can easily generate PDFs of the content you currently produce. Whether you want to do so, or whether you should, is not my call. But you can, easily.


bergs's picture
Submitted by bergs on

I now understand why you are getting rid of the PDF files.

But why get rid of all the old Issues PDF files?

Peter Anderson 0's picture

First off, thanks for this FREE resource that clearly takes up a great deal of your time and effort. I really don't care much if the PDF version goes; reading the magazine on-line is not a 'life threatening experience' (although you might not think so by some of the early responses). At the end of the day you read the PDF via your screen or you read the HTML via your screen - what's the difference?. If you want hard copy of a particular article (and I would contend that most readers only want hard copy of one or two articles not the whole issue) then its much better (and cheaper) to print from your new "Printer friendly version" than from a PDF. If I want to keep a particular article I either copy the HTML page or use a PDF printer to make my own PDF version.

In an earlier response I said that the only issue I see with the HTML format is that you keep an easy to access archive. I've already deleted all my old PDF version hoping that you will maintain an archive.

Thanks again for the good work.


There are 10 types of people in the world - those who understand binary and those who don't.

Balbir Thomas's picture

Then see how much you are willing to pay for online access (at those wages) to "read online". And then try downloading these web pages for offline browsing using say wget. It may not be "life threatening" but it will certainly be "world view changing".

Eugen Neuber's picture

Thank you for your great magazine!

I liked your PDFs very much, because I can take them with me even to places without internet access. So I'd like to request a thing in the middle between PDFs suitable for a publisher and no PDFs: Maybe you can use some transformation (XML/XSL?) to convert HTML to a PDF (with a number of pages non multiple of 16)? (Why do you want to keep this rule of multiples of 16 pages if you publish online only?)

htmldoc was already mentioned, maybe thats the direction?

If you disagree, please tell me how to take an HTML issue with me (please don't say 'wwwoffle')...


admin's picture
Submitted by admin on

It seems a lot of people want/need to know what's going on behind the scenes with FSM so...

If transparency is what you want...

maccampus's picture
Submitted by maccampus on

Hi again,

well i was early here to talk about the missing PDF version , and as i understood the problem , i gave you solutions.

Now 2 or more weeks later, i see no solution implented yett. So i guesh you ain't considering a solution, atleast not for the current issue. Can it be that hard to make a zipped version of a print ready version of the html version of the magazine ??? Aren't your readers worth the small effort asked here ???

Okay i know some comments offered here was very negative & those subscribers don't really deserve such an effort BUT was my comments negative , didn't i bring you an easy solution & a few examples of it & was i the only positive comment ? I think not, please i plead again for an offline version.

Please don't see this as a treath or as a negative comment but i really think an online only edition would make me less intrested in the magazine & would probably only do the effort of creating an offline html myself if the article is Mac related & skipp the other article's even though the *nix open source articles are usefull for me aswell but in that case i'dd probably get my information on those apps through other channels as your channel obviously isn't the easiest way anymore to get it.

I hope you bring os some sort of offline version soon , thx

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I was here because of the huge quality of the PDF magazine. It was very useful read the FSM in my laptop/pda everywhere. I'm sure that was also an important reason of other readers. Now, I think, I'm not going to read too much at the FSM homepage, or maybe anything. That's not like

"I want a PDF version, and I want it right now. If not, I will never be back to this site ever again"

as Tony has pointed. It's only that one of the things that were important for me has disapered. If the pdf reappears, or an easy way to get all the content in a pdf comes (maybe trought css), I surely come back.

Anyway, tank you very much for your huge effort and your awesome magazine. It was very interesting for me. I would make a donation, but I didn't know your problems. Sorry and thanks again.

yunus's picture
Submitted by yunus on

I prefer pdf files to save local copy of whole issue of web magazines.

I read writings form web site if possible, but save the pdf file for future reading purpose.

If you decided to stop pdf version, how can I download and save a local copy? I think printer-friendly version does not corresponds to this matter.

I will wait and see the solution of this problem at your side.

The reason I described above is the main reason of willing pdf version of files I think.


yunus's picture
Submitted by yunus on

I want to suggest a cheep solution. A tool can be set to convert articles to pdf on the fly, with reasonable quality. The people who want pdf files, can use it.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

If the problem was the work load in producing pdfs there were plenty of other alternatives to consider. Providing PLAIN html, archives of whole issues for instance or for that matter asking for community help . On the other hand making such a change without consulting your reader community or seeking their help reeks of less than honest motives. It is pretty clear what this is all about. It is about CONTROL. It is about getting more people to frequently access your web site which will attract more popups and other commercial crap. What was the point in creating a new magazine when linuxgazette (.net) was around for much longer and could use your help. No, that was not good enough. You had to show them how to make a real magzine in a jazzy
PDF. And now you REALLY showed them. Ah yes there is new theory in town "Paper is dead". Do you have any data for this ? Or is this your "know it all" opinion. Don't you think it is hipocracy trying to create a "free software mazagine" and then going against the very grain of the "free software model" of depending on the community and giving them the democratic CONTROL on such significant decisions.