I read a lot of books. A lot. I think my wife probably wishes sometimes that I’d take up cigarettes or drinking… it’d probably be a cheaper vice. My split is fairly even between fiction and non-fiction, but I also separately classify computer/technology books in their own category. I do this because I probably read as many computer books in one month as I do any other type of book combined — mainly for work (I’m a technology writer, so it helps to stay current) and also to learn new skills. And when I got my iPad? I knew I was in trouble after installing Nook, Kindle, and Google Books readers in addition to the Apple iBooks app.
But the good news is that I’ve actually managed to lower my spending on computer books in the last six months. And it’s all due in part to Safari Books and its service called Safari Library. If you’re already a subscriber, feel free to jump to the next GeekDad article, but if you’re not familiar with it, point a web browser to safaribooks.com and check it out.
Here’s how it works — you pay a monthly or yearly fee, and you get access to over 13,000 technology books from all the top publishers: O’Reilly, Apress, No Starch, PeachPit Press, Adobe Press, John Wiley & Sons, and others. You can read the books with your web browser, bookmark pages, make notes, watch videos, and much more. For example, you get access to a feature called Rough Cuts which lets you view books that aren’t even completed yet. They’re in draft form and often filled with spelling errors and missing figures, but even with these issues you can still get a good overview of new technologies, software updates, and sneak peeks at devices and programming languages and other not-yet-released content.
I cannot tell you how much this service has saved me over the last half year. The quarterly subscription fee is $42.99/month (with almost a 10% discount if you buy a yearly subscription), but if you consider that most programming language books run anywhere from $40 to $60 these days, you can easily see how valuable this subscription based service really is to the technology community. What’s more, if you’re a subscriber and you find a book you absolutely must have on your shelf (instead of access to a digital version), you’ll get up to a 35% discount on print copies of books you order. There’s even a cheaper service called 10-Slot Bookshelf that runs $22.99/month and allows you to check out up to 10 books at a time (Safari Library has no limit). With either service, each month you also get tokens that can be used to download PDF versions of books if you’d rather print out sections (or an entire manuscript).
Before I continue, some full disclosure here: Because I write books for many of these publishers, I get a complimentary subscription, but I’d still pay $42.99 per month because I could easily spend double or triple that in a month on computer books. Last month, I read six different titles with Safari Library, bringing the cost of each book down to $7.00. And the best part is that I don’t have these books cluttering up my already loaded bookshelves! Also, I was not asked to write this review by any publisher or by Safari Books. I just think it’s one of the best services I use on a regular basis, and I want to spread the word and make certain that GeekDad readers know it’s out there.
Up to about a month ago, I was reading these books on my laptop with the Firefox browser. I did occasionally read a book with my iPad, but it was such a hassle. The print was tiny, the buttons to move back and forth between pages on the iPad browser app were sluggish, there was no button to expand the page to fill the entire screen, and frequently I would tap one tiny button and hit another that either closed the book and opened another page or some other annoyance.
But since then, a new free app has appeared for the iPad called Safari to Go, and it has removed all the annoyances! After opening the app, you login with your Safari Book credentials and you’re presented with a search tool and thumbnail images of the most popular titles and newest titles available. You select a book by simply tapping on its image and then… get to readin’!
While the Safari to Go app does require a Wi-Fi or 3G/4G data connection to read the books, it does allow you to download to the iPad one book at a time in your Offline Bookbag. I’ve gotten in the habit of always having a book loaded in there — I’ve currently got App Inventor from O’Reilly loaded and I’m learning how to program simple Android apps. The app also has a great folder system allowing you to create folders to organize the books that you’re reading and maybe haven’t yet finished.
Each page of a book is displayed full screen, and a single tap on the Table of Contents button will pull up a scrollable list of all chapters and sub-headings that you can jump to with a single tap. Additional buttons allow you to change the font size, bookmark a page, search for keywords, and favorite a book. (As of right now, the ability to add in-book comments and notes of your own is not enabled, but I understand that it’s a feature in the works.)
Safari Books is a great service, especially if you’re the kind of person who reads a lot of computer books for personal use or for work. It would be great if this service could be expanded to include fiction and non-fiction (non-computer) books for a single monthly subscription fee, but I’m not holding my breath. But for now, I’ll be more than happy to continue to use the service to learn new skills and read topics that interest me. Not every book that I check out is a hit, but that’s what makes this service even more valuable to me — I haven’t purchased a book that will wind up on my bookshelf, unread and gathering dust.
Safari Books also offers subscription services for small and large businesses, allowing employees to access the same library of books. If you work for a company that spends even a small amount each year on technology books, it might be worthwhile to try to convince a higher-up to purchase a company subscription and give employees access to this growing library. Never hurts to ask, right?
One last bit of info — to celebrate the Safari to Go app release, Safari Books is giving away five iPad 2s per day from June 20th to June 24th. To register for the contest you’ll need to sign up for the 10-day free trial (or 1000 page views — about 3 books worth of Safari Books — there is no commitment and you’ll automatically get a 30% discount on the monthly fee). Good luck!