I like the idea of writing an academic book.

  • It currently looks better on a CV when applying for jobs, grants, promotions, etc. than a blog post, or a website.
  • Libraries and people archive the work
  • Most of the best academic content currently seems to end up in books and journal articles, rather than on websites.
  • People have an attractive physical copy to engage with if they want.

However, I don't like the constraints imposed by a book. In particular, readership is limited to those who buy/borrow the book or have access to a library.


In some cases, I'd prefer to write something like an "open access book".

  • If readers want the physical copy, they can purchase the book. Ideally some of this revenue would go to the author, but I'm not too fussed if the publisher just uses this money to fund promotion, editorial assistance, production, etc.
  • However, access to a PDF of the book is free online.
  • The book gets an ISBN, archiving, availability on Amazon, etc. and all the academic recognition associated with publishing an academic book.


  • So, are there any options for doing this, and what might be best option?
  • Are there any case studies of others who have done this?
  • Have you considered making your book an ebook? This does not have all the advantages you list, but it does (sort of) have the first. You can publish these (more or less) by yourself which means you won't have to forgo copyright. This way you can still publish the text for free as well. May 24, 2012 at 7:57
  • 2
    I imagine self-publishing would provide less benefit to your reputation in contexts like job applications, promotions, and grant applications. May 24, 2012 at 12:57
  • see also this list of open access publishers: openscience.com/… Feb 26, 2013 at 22:53
  • 5
    These days someone will make your book freely available online whether you want them to or not. So it's going to happen anyway.
    – Mark Joshi
    May 8, 2017 at 2:21
  • I know a case that works just like you describe it. Hardcopy for people to buy, online version freely available. Maybe you can contact the authors directly: deeplearningbook.org
    – asquared
    May 8, 2017 at 10:25

7 Answers 7


Cambridge University Press allows authors to freely distribute electronic copies of the books that it publishes, at least in mathematics and computer science. (Of course this has to be explicitly negotiated into the publishing contract.) Two good examples are Allen Hatcher's Algebraic Topology and Steve LaValle's Planning Algorithms.

You could also just release the book on the web, let people create their own physical copies through a book-printing service like Lulu or Blurb, and rely on the quality of the text to bolster your reputation instead of a traditional publisher's imprimatur. See, for example, Pat Morin's excellent Open Data Structures. However, I don't recommend this route unless (a) you write an amazingly good book, and (b) you already have tenure.

  • 3
    Another good example of Cambridge University Press book is Algorithmic Game Theory, by Nisan, Roughgarden,Tardos and Vazirani. I don't know how much it generalizes to other books, but the PDF for this book is not printable.
    – user102
    May 21, 2012 at 13:06
  • 2
    Both Hatcher's and LaValle's PDFs are printable.
    – JeffE
    May 21, 2012 at 17:39
  • 6
    @CharlesMorisset: There ain't such thing as "not printable" PDF. Hint: pdftk is your friend. May 22, 2012 at 7:12
  • 9
    @mindcorrosive: it's not because you can do something that you should do it. The publishing deal obviously involved that any printed copy should be ordered, and not printed from the PDF. We can debate on whether digital information should be protected or not, but that means we should change the policy, not break it ;)
    – user102
    May 22, 2012 at 8:24
  • 5
    @CharlesMorisset: I hear ya. But with content restrictions as they are these days, I'm more than happy to flip off content producers and obtain an alternative version of the content I already paid for. Example: obtaining an electronic version of a dead-tree book I own. I'd still pay for content that I don't have in alternative formats though. At any rate, this discussion is not for here, so let's leave it as it is :) May 22, 2012 at 8:31


I just remembered that Professor Rob Hyndman had spoken about his upcoming textbook Forecasting: Principles and Practice

The entire book is avail­able online and free-of-charge. Of course, we won’t make much money doing this, but text­books never make much money any­way — the pub­lish­ers make all the money. We’d rather cre­ate some­thing that is widely used and use­ful, than have large pub­lish­ers profit from our efforts.

Even­tu­ally a print ver­sion of the book will be avail­able to pur­chase on Ama­zon, but not until a few more chap­ters are written.

The publisher is called "OTexts". It says on their website.

OTexts represents a new approach to university textbooks. All our books will always be completely and freely available online. Why spend hundreds of dollars on printed books which are soon out-of-date when you can have continually updated online books for nothing!

At time of posting Rob's book appears to be the first text book to be published with this publisher.

It says at time of posting under the "For Authors" section

Print royalties are shared 50-50 between the author and OTexts.


On the face of it, this sounds perfect for an author keen to maximise academic impact.


  • This is a very new company.
  • I'm not sure what the implications would be for grants, promotions, jobs relative to publishing with an established academic publisher.

For instance, you can try with INTECH.

From the website:

InTech is a pioneer and world's largest multidisciplinary open access publisher of books covering the fields of Science, Technology and Medicine. Since 2004, InTech has collaborated with more than 60 000 authors and published 1720 books and 13 journals with the aim of providing free online access to high-quality research and helping leading academics to make their work visible and accessible to diverse new audiences around the world.


One possibility is to self-publish. DH Fremlin published his extremely well-respected treatises on Measure Theory with Lulu.com. The books (in fact, the TeX source files) are available on his website for free; all the while his books are well-enough received that many university mathematics libraries have purchased physical copies of the books.


You may wish to investigate http://re-press.org/ in Australia. They are an academic press that is, I believe, affiliated with an Australian University. They appear to do exactly what you describe -- make the PDF freely available and simultaneously offer a print version. We will be offering PDFs of our books through Google Play, but haven't yet found a way to subsidize this; at this stage of our development, we still have to charge, both for print versions and for PDFs.

  • There's epress.com (appears to publish an online biology journal) and epress.com.au (appears to be a printing company) ; Do you have a link to the publisher? May 22, 2012 at 7:09
  • Sorry, my bad. I relied on an imperfect memory. The url is re-press.org. A site worth visiting, but it appears they publish philosophy only.
    – user910
    May 23, 2012 at 0:20

Another open-access friendly publisher is Athabasca University Press. They're currently in the process of publishing my textbook that @JeffE mentioned.


They've been pleasant to work with and, in particular, were fine accepting a non-exclusive license to publish the work. This still allows, for example, a student society to print, bind, and sell their own copies if they can do it for less than what the publisher is charging.


Spartacus-IDH is a French science publisher. If I correctly understand the site, all books are freely viewable and some are freely downloadable as PDF. The catalogue is meager so far, but I see no reason why it shouldn't grow.

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