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Friday Report: August 28, 2020

We had a busy week!

For one thing, I finally, finally finished writing the first version of Take Control of Big Sur. Josh Centers has also finished writing the first version of Take Control of iOS 14 and iPadOS 14, and both books have been mostly edited. We’ll be wrapping up the final edits and production over the weekend, and releasing them on Monday. As in past years, we’re releasing version 1.0 of each book while the operating systems are still in public beta testing; we’ll revise the books to version 1.1 when the full releases of the operating systems ship, in order to cover any changes that occur between now and then.

Yesterday, we released two Zoom-related books by Glenn Fleishman: a new, free book called Take Control of Zoom Essentials and a gigantic version 1.1 update to the comprehensive Take Control of Zoom. We know a lot of people are using Zoom for work and school, and we hope you find these books helpful.

What with all that writing, editing, and publishing, my Take Control to-do list has not shrunk this week; it remains at 95 items.

I have two other topics on my mind this week: free books and email.

About Free Books

A few of our books are free. Some of these are free to you because a corporate sponsor has paid for them; this is the case, for example, with Take Control of DEVONthink 3 and Take Control of PDFpen. Others, including the just-released Take Control of Zoom Essentials and Take Control of Working from Home Temporarily, are really free, in that neither we as a company nor the author (Glenn Fleishman, in both of the aforementioned cases) get any money for that book.

I’d like to clear up a couple of things about those “really free” books, OK?

First, we don’t give away books purely as an altruistic community service. I know, shocking, right? But we are all trying to pay our mortgages and put food on the table. We publish books to make a living. We don’t donate weeks of our time just to be nice. I mean, yes, we do like to do nice things for people. But we also use free books partly as a way to draw new people to our site who have never heard of us, and partly to advertise our paid books to new and existing customers alike.

If you come to our site to pick up a free book, maybe you’ll notice another title that interests you but isn’t free, and buy it. Or maybe you’ll opt in to our mailing list (see below) and buy one of our other books later. Or maybe you’ll read the free book, see mentions of some of our paid books inside, and follow the link to buy one. That sort of thing.

We hope that a fair percentage of people who download our free books also become customers. If they do, that would encourage us to make more free books! No one is obligated to buy anything from us, of course. But remember, we still have to eat. If you like the free stuff and you want to see more of it, actually buying something occasionally will make that more likely!

Second, inevitably when we release a free book, we get people writing to ask if they can send the book around to their friends, coworkers, club members, or whoever. I’m very sorry, but no, you can’t do that. You are welcome (and encouraged!) to share the link to the book’s page on our site far and wide, so anyone can order it from us directly. But you can’t redistribute it yourself.

When we say free, we mean “free as in beer”—that is, no payment required. This is not at all the same thing as “freely distributable without restrictions.” The author still holds the copyright and we, the publisher, hold the distribution rights. When someone orders a free book from us directly, they know they’re getting the original, unaltered, and most up-to-date version. They can opt to receive email from us when the book is updated so they get any future corrections or revisions. They can re-download the book from their library, in any format, whenever they like. And, naturally, they can see other books they might want to purchase while they’re here. We want all these things to happen, and we can’t guarantee that any of them will happen if someone gets a book from another source.

Thanks for understanding.

Some Comments About Email

From time to time (including, ahem, yesterday), I get irate messages from customers who are incensed and offended that we send them email, and who demand that we never contact them again. (I always wonder whether they expect a response to that message. Hmmmm.)

Of course, if you ask us not to send you email, we won’t! It’s really that simple. In fact, it’s simpler still: you can change your contact preference yourself, either by clicking the Unsubscribe link at the bottom of any marketing message we send you or by logging in to your account details page. Two clicks and you’re done. You don’t have to bother writing to us at all, and you don’t have to get upset.

But wait! What seems to trip up and enrage people is that we don’t have an option that’s explicitly labeled “Expunge all knowledge of my address from your system” or “Actively prevent your site from ever sending email to me under any circumstances whatsoever.” Instead, we have three options. Here’s what they say:

  • Occasionally: Send me email about free and discounted upgrades to my ebooks, new titles, and special offers. (We won’t bombard you with spam. We tend to send out marketing messages about 2–4 times per month, and you can unsubscribe or change your email preferences easily at any time.)

  • Rarely: Send me email only about free updates to titles that I already own, but not announcements of new titles, discounted upgrades to books I own, sales, or other special offers.

  • (Almost) Never: Send me only transactional messages—things like receipts for purchases, order fulfillments, and responses to customer service inquiries. Do not send me announcements of free or discounted updates to books I own, new titles, sales, or other offers. (You’ll still be able to log in to your account.)

So, let me explain these a bit further.

“Occasionally” represents the greatest possible frequency of email messages from us. Historically, on average, we have tended to send about three of these per month; sometimes more, sometimes less. (Fair warning: they’re going to be more frequent in the next two or three months, as we have a lot of new and updated books on the way.) Unlike some companies that email you every day or two, we email you only when we have something important to say. We don’t do hard sells or long newsletters; we just tell you about the new thing and sign off. If and only if you select this option will you receive anything from us that might be construed as a marketing message.

Of course, we really hope you’ll agree to let us send you a few emails like this per month, because honestly, these messages result in about 90% of our sales. We would go out of business almost immediately if we couldn’t inform our customers of new and updated products by email.

“Rarely” is actually too strong a word for the second option. It means what it says: if that’s your choice, the only time we’ll email you is if there’s a free update to a book you already own. If there’s a paid, new edition, we won’t tell you. You’ll have to figure it out on your own. Why? Because that would be a marketing message.

Now, some of our books do have multiple free updates even over a period of a few months, and thus, multiple emails to people in this category. Other books have literally never been updated, even after several years. Whether or how often we update a book depends on how quickly the subject matter changes, how brisk sales are, the author’s availability, and other factors. In any case: these truly are rare emails.

Now we come to “(Almost) Never.” This is what upsets people, but only because they either don’t read the rest of the description, or they don’t believe it. We can’t offer a “literally never” option, because it would be illegal and unethical. If you buy something from us, we must send you a receipt by email, and we must also send you links to download the thing you purchased! If you need to reset your password, we must do that by email. If you ask us a customer support question by email, we must respond by email.

All these things are in a category known as “transactional” email—they’re messages that are part of a transaction. With this option selected, if you never initiate a transaction, you’ll never hear from us. (Well, I mean, we’d be obligated to inform you of a security breach that affected your account or other legally mandated messages, but that’s it.) You would never, ever, ever get a marketing message from us or even an announcement of a free update to a book you own.

OK? We have these three choices because we’re trying to be kind and helpful, not because we’re trying to trick you or twist your arm or spam you. You get to choose what you want, and we’ll honor that choice.

This leads to two other questions, however:

  • How do I get ON your mailing list? Our site currently has no way anyone can sign up for our mailing list without placing an order. Think about that: You literally can’t get on our list at all without ordering something from us. That way we know, for certain, that you have at least a minimal interest in our products. When you place your first order (even if it’s for a free book), you have to choose one of the three contact options I described above. No option is preselected! You have to explicitly decide whether it’s “all,” “some,” or “none” before your order can be processed (and, of course, you can change your mind at any time). Perhaps at some point in the future we’ll offer a way to sign up to get email from us without an order, but for now, think of this as an extra check to make sure you don’t get unwanted email.

  • What if I want to delete my account altogether? That can happen too! I can delete your account in a couple of clicks; all you have to do is ask. All records of your name and email address will disappear from our server forever. However, if we delete your account, understand that you will no longer be able to re-download books you’ve purchased from your library; your account will be gone, and with it, your library. In addition, deleting your account doesn’t put your address on a “do not mail” list; if you ever order something from us again, you’ll be back in our database.

Please believe me when I say that I am deeply, passionately opposed to spam. I use multiple spam filters myself; I unsubscribe from anything I signed up for that starts to bug me; and I write nasty letters to companies that sign me up for a mailing list without my permission. I get it. I don’t want to read unsolicited commercial messages. But I do want to get email from people and companies and causes I’ve deliberately expressed an interest in! That isn’t spam. And neither are the marketing messages we send. We send you mail only if you have given us permission to do so! But, in turn, we ask you to take responsibility for your contact choice. Don’t get upset with us for sending you email that you agreed to, and don’t mark it as spam (which makes it harder for us to deliver messages to other customers). If you don’t want to hear from us, just change your contact setting and that will be that. No unhappiness need occur.

Coming Soon

As I mentioned, books on Big Sur and iOS 14/iPadOS 14 will ship next week. Next in line is a new book about podcasting; that might also be out next week, depending on how a few last minute-details fall together (and if not, then the week after). Following that, we have dozens of other new and updated books in the queue, and several of them will certainly ship before the end of September.

As for me, the next book of my own that I’ll be updating is Take Control of Backing Up Your Mac. It’s going to be a big job. Wish me luck!