The Printed 600-page First Edition
In May 2015, Microsoft ran the first Ignite conference in Chicago and the Office 365 for IT Pros team launched the first edition of “Office 365 for Exchange Professionals,” a book dedicated to helping people master the darker corners of Microsoft’s cloud office service. We were very new at this self-publishing game and still harked back to the halcyon days of printed books in some of the way we approached production. Evidence of our eagerness to get hard copy versions of the book when we accepted Microsoft’s offer to print and distribute 500 copies at the conference.
Flushed with enthusiasm, we duly submitted a manuscript to Microsoft in early April 2015. The text had to be poured into Adobe InDesign, a high-end desktop publishing tool for a skilled professional to format the chapters and all the images and code examples we included into an attractive and readable format. Office 365 didn’t change at quite the pace that it does now or maybe we paid less attention to stuff that happened outside Exchange Online. Even so, we pestered Microsoft with changes and updates until we we told to stop because the book had to be printed.
The result was a book that looked good (Figure 1), even if the binding was a little fragile, and the recipients of the 500 copies distributed at the Exchange booth appreciated what they got (or so we think).
The ePublishing Decision
The experience of preparing the hard copy book for Microsoft Ignite 2015 convinced us to look at using InDesign to create printed copies on an ongoing basis. That effort lasted a month or so before we concluded that it was just too difficult to keep a big book updated with so many changes. Instead, we decided to put our efforts into some formatting changes in the Word template we used (and still use today) to make the PDF output look better, and to research what needed to be done to make electronic publishing really work.
Much of the work went into generating clean content for the EPUB files and for Amazon Kindle. We use the Calibre eBook software to generate the EPUB and MOBI files. After fiddling with various settings, we’re pretty happy with what gets generated, with the exception of some PowerShell formatting that is never quite as good as the PDF output.
People ask for hard copy books and we have considered printing services like BookBaby and Amazon over the years to figure out if it’s possible to generate good-looking printed books. Our conclusion is that it’s just not feasible because:
- At 1,200 pages, Office 365 for IT Pros is too large for online printing services.
- Although we keep images to a minimum, we have quite a few. Most online printing services are good at dealing with text but are less capable (or much more expensive) when graphics are involved. The cost also increases as the number of graphics grows.
- Printing services like books that don’t change very much. A look at The Office 365 for IT Pros change log for the monthly updates tells you what our problem is.
- Even if we could generate a printed copy, it would be very expensive at the relatively low volumes we would want. Remember, we have a new book every month. In the November 2019 update, we changed sixteen of twenty-four chapters. It would take a lot of effort and cost to port the changes over to a printed edition.
Some People Do Print
Even if we don’t generate hard copies, some people like printed output and we know of several who print the book every month. Some take the PDF to a commercial printing bureau while others use the printers available in their company. Binding the book is a challenge, so the usual approach is to put the pages into a punch-hole binder. Whatever works for you!
At this point we’re highly unlikely to consider creating a hard copy form of Office 365 for IT Pros. We think that the current model works well. The output is tweaked all the time to improve what our subscribers see and that’s where our focus will remain. We hope that you like the result.