Why are we still writing books for profit?

Robert Merton, a well-known sociologist, established a set of norms that characterised the scientific community. One of these norms was communalism — communal ownership and willing sacrifice of intellectual property for the betterment of the field and humanity.

This is a good principle to follow. It furthers humanity’s progress via a method of sharing based on equal say and equal access. It is, at the very least, a respectable and ethically sound principle to aim for.

The open source movement follows this very principle. We, in the web development community, are not strangers to the strengths of open source.

The programming book publication machine, another thing well accepted and prevalent in this community, runs in opposition to the tenets of open source that we should be striving for. Why do we allow this?

In an ideal world — and there is no good argument for heading in any other direction than ideal — knowledge should not have a single barrier to access, including money. Why should we be so accepting of passively discriminating against those without the means to know what we know?

Yes, we live in a world of dollars and euros, but has that stopped the open source movement from gaining popularity and wide acceptance? No. And since when was it acceptable to forgo progress for the sake of an unfair and unequal status quo?

We should continue, in the same fashion as we have with FOSS, by making the idea of paid-for knowledge abhorrant. The best place to start is in what we do day-to-day.

There are always excuses and some of them are reasonable. There are people who make a living selling knowledge. For such people it would be a fight between principle and survival/comfort. We know which one wins. For many of us though we have the luxury of abiding by the principle in the vast majority of what we do.

We should continue to pursue free and equal access to all knowledge.

So, before you write your next book and put it behind a pay-wall, consider the principles you wish to live by.

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