Just over a couple of weeks ago I was in the thick of writing reams of PHP code for my group website & design project. I was searching the interweb looking for PHP security guides (I know php.net has a ton of stuff there, but I was after something specific) and stumbled across a website for an O’Reilly book, Essential PHP Security.
As it happens the two chapters I needed were downloadable (as PDF’s), but after finishing those I wanted to read more of it. I thought surely there would be an e-book version of it? I tried the “Buy Now” option and ended up on Amazon America where I have no intention of buying off. So I went to the O’Reilly website and after much messing about I ended up at the Safari Bookshelf.
It works like a library where you can have so many books a month depending on your subscription level. A 14 day trial was available so I signed up on that. I picked the book I was after… and found out I could read all of it online but needed “download tokens” to get the individual chapters as PDF’s. On the trial you get 1 as a gift but you can’t buy any more. Bugger!
Anyway I found the service very useful. I was able to search all of their books, but in order to properly read them I needed to add them to my “bookshelf”. You can look at a book beforehand but you can only see the first few lines of a chapter. You get so many slots on your bookshelf and depending on the size of a book, it may take up more than 1 slot. Also worth noting is that its not just O’Reilly books you have access to, but books from other publishers such as Addison Wesley, Microsoft Press, Sams and Que to name a few.
My 14 day trial finished last weekend and I err… well I was in two minds about signing up. My mind was made up for me though because I didn’t cancel it, so I’m subscribed monthly at $20 (ex VAT) which allows me 10 bookshelf slots, 5 download tokens and 30 to 35% off the print version of any book. Since I’m doing some Citrix work at the moment, I’ve decided to keep subscribed, since there’s a ton of useful stuff.
But I do have a few gripes. I don’t like the font used for the books content, petty I know, but its Times New Roman which is just an unreadable, horrible, mess of a font. You can increase the size of it but its not good enough. Its just not nice to look at (but with a bit of Web Developer Extension and Greasemonkey tweaking I’m sure I can sort that out :D).
Second to that is how many download tokens its costs to download a book chapter. The logic for it doesn’t add up. I currently have a Citrix book on my bookshelf which takes up 2 slots. The book has well over 20 chapters and it seems each chapter costs 3 download tokens!? With the subscription level I have I get 5 tokens automatically, but to download the book I would need 60+ tokens. A pack of 5 tokens costs $10 which means to buy enough to download the book would cost $120. The book retails for $55! And since I’m now subscribed, I can get a 35% discount so its only $35ish. Ouch. Apparently thats a worst case though…
Finally, whatever method is used to check you’re logged in (cookies me thinks) can be a bit flaky. There have been a few occasions where I’ve closed Firefox, brought it back up and it thinks I’m logged in but doesn’t know who I am! Logging in again fixes that.
All said and done though, I think its a very useful service. I think the pricing could do with lowering but one way to think of it, is like this: If you’re happy to just read online then $20 for 10 books for a month is a bit cheaper than buying them all!
Note 1: I should mention that the majority of the Essential PHP Security book is also available as an Apache Conference paper. Of course I didn’t find that out until afterwards!