Being editor-in-chief of a network of sites related to technology means that you constantly have to keep up with the latest in technology. Did CSS just get a new upgrade? What is the most current version of PHP? What got changed in the most recent version?
There are so many languages and technologies out there, it would literally take a mountain of books to keep up. And since I live in a modest home with a wife that constantly eyes my ever-growing army of bookcases, I have to be selective about the books I buy.
Add to that a busy freelance life that revolves around research and a natural love of books, and the problem can quickly get out of hand.
I was first introduced to Safari Books Online when I began this job three years ago as a lowly writer. Having to write upwards of fifteen tutorials a week on a variety of languages, it was a great relief to have a virtual library at the tip of my fingers. Let’s face it — I don’t know a single writer or programmer that doesn’t need a handy reference book now and then. Writing 60 articles a month, you can imagine the mountain of books I would need at my desk to help keep everything straight.
If it weren’t for Safari Online, I would have literally been buried.
So What Is Safari Books Online?
In simple terms, Safari Books Online is a book repository whereby the good folks at O’Reilly Media, Inc. and Pearson Education have created a virtual library of books that you can peruse (and purchase) from the comfort of your couch, for a small monthly fee. Think Netflix or Gamefly, only for books.
The service offers books from a variety of publishers, including O’Reilly, Prentice Hall, Addison-Wesley, Peachpit Press, Sams Que, John Wiley & Sons, and Apress Publishing (to name a few).
There are four major categories, which are then broken down into sub-categories. The first is the Technology Collection, where you can find books that cater to programmers, focusing on languages, operating systems, network administration, and certification guides.
The second category is Business Collection, geared towards business managers, trainers, and IT managers. It covers topics like marketing, financing, management, and career enhancement.
Next up is the Creative Professional Collection, which is all about graphic design and web development. It also features hobbyist books for photographers and videophiles.
Personal Enrichment is the last category, which rounds out the library’s coverage by discussing devices like the iPad and other mobile devices, and offering books on basic computing.
Overall, the four categories feature some 10,000 books and videos, with around 80 titles being added every month.
There are two basic pricing options for the individual user, which I will detail below. For the record, I was provided an unlimited, 30-day trial to the site for the purpose of writing this review.
The Ten-Slot Bookshelf
The first level is the ten-slot bookshelf, which is where your average user will probably end up.
In addition to having access to the full content of 10 books per month, you also get 5 free download tokens, which roll over each month.
Content tokens are a great feature of the site. Basically, one token (typically) equates to being able to download a chapter of a book in pdf format, which is great for those times that you really only need one part of a given book (I find myself in this situation all the time). If you need the entire book, never fear; you can get most books for around 10-15 tokens.
In addition, if you decide you want a print copy of a particular book, you can get a 35% discount on it with the plan.
Monthly subscription rates for the ten-slot are $22.95, with a discounted yearly rate of $252.99.
For the power user, Safari Library is the way to go, and is my personal favorite. My role at Developer Shed (and as a freelancer) dictates that I know a lot about a lot of technology. With Safari Library, I don’t have to spend a ton of money each month purchasing books that I may only use once or twice. In fact, for the price of one book a month, I can have unlimited access to the entire Safari library.
The Library is also the only option that gives you access to the video training section, for those visual learners out there, and also the rough cuts section, which for me is key to staying ahead of the game.
Rough Cuts are basically digital copies of books that have yet to be published. So instead of waiting for the book to his the shelves, you can grab a copy of it as it is written.
You get the other features that the 10-slot bookshelf offers thrown in as well, including the mobile access, download tokens, book discounts, and short cuts (basically articles).
As you would expect, the price is a little higher, but as I said, if you purchase one tech book a month, it is worth it. You’ll pay $42.99 per month, or $472.89 per year.
Perhaps the strongest feature is the ability to search text. In Bookshelf mode, you can search the text of any one book, very handy when you are in a pinch for time. Instead of checking out the index or scanning page after page of a paper book, you can just type in your word or phrase and get directed to the appropriate section.
Where this really becomes powerful is in Library mode, because then you can search every title in the collection.
Another cool feature is the ability to bookmark sections. If you need to go back and forth to a given section or just mark it for later use, this comes in real handy.
I was pretty impressed with Safari’s collection of books and the easy learning curve. I really love the text searching capabilities and bookmarking feature and found that I was able to increase my productivity level while using the service. Of course, I use dual monitors, so that is a huge help if you are a writer or programmer. Have your reference material on one screen, your text editor on the other!
I wasn’t able to try out the service on my phone or on a device like the iPad or Kindle, though other reviewers have said the service is good.
Overall, I would say it is well worth the monthly fee, even if you are a casual reader. And don’t forget, if you are a freelancer, you can always write off the subscription when you do your taxes.
Most users will probably want to opt for the ten book option. I think that offers the best value for the average reader, and more than pays for itself without putting a huge recurring dent in your pocket.
I would suggest anyone interested in the service take it for a test drive. You can sign up for a trial and get 10 days free + 30% off a Safari Library Subscription at: http://safaribooksonline.com/d/learning/devshed?cid=201201-my-devshedreview-lwol-links