There’s a lot to like about the Hacks series that O’Reilly publishes. These are affordable computer books (usually $25-$30) that are filled with tips you can use right away, and tend to focus on a single topic. For example, we recently purchased Ajax Hacks, and it’s really nice.

The problem is that at least two thirds of the book is effectively useless to me! I already know the basics, and wouldn’t want to learn them from a “Hacks” book anyway. I mainly wanted the book for the Prototype, Scriptaculous, and Ruby on Rails coverage, but I had to spend the $30 anyway. This is wasteful cost, takes a lot of space and of course, it’s a big waste of paper.

As Apple’s iTunes Music Store has revolutionized the music industry, tilting purchases towards 99 cent tracks, rather than full albums, it seems that the computer book publishing industry needs to consider moving in this direction also. If I could just purchase the hacks singly, I would have just spent $10 or $15 on the ones I wanted, and perhaps printed them and filed them away in a notebook – or just put them on my Mac and do a Spotlight search whenever I needed the info. There are some moves in this direction, both in PDFs from O’Reilly and Fridays by the Pragmatic Programmers, but they miss the mark. I don’t want 50 or 100 pages, I want single hacks – a couple pages for 99 cents.

Here’s hoping the technical book publishing industry follows Apple’s good example.

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