Apress, Java, a Bunch of New Books and What's to Come

by Jessica Sant

How it all began, and how it doubled over night...

Apress started in 1998 during a phone call between Dan Appleman, author of several top-selling Visual Basic books, and Gary Cornell, co-author of the Core Java books. They were talking about authoring books when one of them suggested "we should just publish our own books". They did just that and Apress, the "Author's Press", was born.

In the spring of 2003, Wrox Press declared bankruptcy. John Wiley & Sons purchased the Wrox Press brand, Wrox.com and many of its best-selling titles. At the same time, Apress more than doubled the number of books they owned by purchasing the remaining 91% of the Wrox titles.

Sorting through all those books...

As Java Editor, it's Craig Berry's job to develop the Java series of books at Apress. He came to the company via Wrox Press. Integrating a catalog as large as the one purchased from Wrox was quite a considerable project. Craig explained that "with the exception of three or four titles, Apress acquired the rights to Wrox's entire Java catalog, so what I've been doing recently is finishing off some of the works-in-progress we had at Wrox. I've also been evaluating which of the Wrox catalog should be reprinted under an Apress cover, which should be revised or updated, and which we should just allow to die gracefully."

Craig said he didn't find there was much overlap between Apress' preexisting Java books and those that had been acquired from Wrox. "The Wrox titles had far more significant subject matter coverage, whereas Apress' titles tended to be more esoteric. There are a couple of titles I need to work around but for the most part I've got a reasonably clean slate to create a new strategy.

"That new strategy includes establishing a strong foundation of titles that gives Apress good, solid coverage of the core areas of Java and then to branch out from there, while still making sure that we don't miss out on any obvious growth areas... The Java book market is quite a tough one; there are a couple of very big players in the form of O'Reilly and Pearson. Plus, Java is quite a mature, stable market now; it's not really volatile like .NET. What I'm looking to do is to carve out a distinctive niche for Apress because so far I think many of their titles have been under most people's radar. I want to take the concept of the 'Expert's voice' (Apress' byline) and help Apress to become recognized as a prestige publisher."

He then explained that the biggest problem with publishing Java books based on a new specification is "trying to figure out when a spec will actually be finalized... Sun is rather vague on release dates... Normally you can't really start writing based on a new spec until it's available for public review and is reasonably stable. So it really comes down to trying to find people who are on the experimental edge and are interested in playing with the latest technologies and then pushing them to try and get something written reasonably quickly."

What makes Apress, Apress?

That strategy and Apress' high standard of selecting expert authors is one of the things that makes them unique. Hollie Fischer, Product Manager at Apress explained, "We publish books for IT professionals, programmers, and developers that have been written by expert IT professionals, programmers, and developers. The Apress editors who are acquiring Apress books are in fact programmers themselves... so, they know what readers want and need. We ask readers what they want and need and, we listen. Apress is a really personable company, too - if a reader or author wants to stop by our office to see what we're all about, or if they just want to have a chat with us at a tradeshow or user group meeting, no problem. Our books are of very high quality - you won't find a lot of fluff in an Apress book."

Wanna write for Apress?

Craig talked about how best to go about getting noticed: "Well, to a certain extent I'm always keeping one eye open on the lookout for potential authors when I'm trawling the web, etc., but if someone wants to take a more active role in becoming an author, then their best bet is to approach us with an idea for a book. If you were to just say 'Hello, I'm interested in writing' that's not really going to get you noticed because we obviously already have lots of writers in our 'family'. What I'd be looking for is an original idea that has a certain degree of market potential."

Coming soon to an Internet near you...

Hollie gave me a little preview of what's to come at Apress, so I thought it only right to pass it along.

The new Apress Forums were opened on August 1st as a place where readers can talk shop and maybe even talk to some of their favorite authors (sounds a bit like they're trying to copy the JavaRanch's Bunkhouse Porch... but we wish them the best of luck *wink*). They will be having weekly contests and gift awards in the form of American Express gift cards.

eBooks and ePublishing is a more and more popular method for publishers to reduce the cost to the reader, or to enhance the reader's experience with a nice searchable electronic copy to go along with their printed book. "Sooner than later, no definite date yet, Apress will be making books available for download. The program will be on a subscription basis, which will include the email address of the subscriber in the actual document, customized for the subscriber. That way, if Apress comes across any illegal copies, we will be able to track the documents back to the original user and the subscriber will lose their privileges. Apress is really open to allowing people to post sample chapters of our books or using our books in tutorials and presentations, so we don't see a lot of problems with copyright infringements.... Currently, Apress books are available for readers with disabilities and any Apress book that is six months old or more is available to Books 24x7 members." If you'd like more information about the program you can contact Apress through their website, Apress.com.

And Finally...

Hollie and Craig are interested in feedback and comments about their titles, feel free to contact them at hollie_fischer@apress.com or craig_berry@apress.com.