Monday, December 7, 2015

How Did Hefferon's Linear Algebra Make It To Amazon?

If you go to and search for "hefferon linear algebra" you'll find that Jim Hefferon's open source text, "Linear Algebra", is listed there.  I asked Jim a few questions about how he managed this trick and here's what I learned:

OM: How did you get it to appear on amazon?

JH: I started with a PDF document that had reached a stable state.  I was often asked for paper copies and I did not want to handle returns, etc., myself.  Using print-on-demand just made sense.

To get the book on the site I worked with Lon Mitchell at Orthogonal Publishing. He knows a great many things, including about things like binding margins, leaving space on the back cover for the ISBN number, and lots of others that I don't want to have to work out for myself by trial and error.

If someone reading this is looking for a partnership of this kind, I recommend it.  Lon suggests that authors make the book available online first and then with some experience they can email him at

OM: Who handles the orders?  In other words, when an order comes in, who receives it and fulfills the order?

JH: It all happens in cyberspace.  Of course there is a printing device somewhere that physically produces the book and it gets put in an envelope and shipped, but that is all handled by companies that do it very efficiently.  Not by me, which is my main interest.

OM: How does the pricing work?  Do you make a profit?

JH: We worked out a theoretical break-even price and then rounded up to the nearest $5 increment, to end at $20.  There is a small profit, which is nice.

I included more details in an article for TUGboat, the journal of the TeX Users Group.  See


  1. Another option to get your book on is to use You upload your pdf, design (or create) a cover, and set your price. I set the price for my 300 page open source discrete book at $12 which give me a small royalty with each purchase (I chose the price by rounding up from the minimum that would allow the book to also be available to libraries and independent booksellers -- without this option I could have sold it for a few dollars less).

    The book is paperback and gray-scale, but I'm very happy with the quality. The amazon listing (automatic) is nice too:

  2. Another possibility is This is what Bob Rogers and I used to publish our real analysis text in hard copy. The details are similar to those described by Jim and Oscar: You upload a pdf and use the online interface to create a cover, buy an ISBN, set a price and publish the book. The interface is reasonably intuitive (which only means that I was able to figure it out :-)).

    Our book is also available on Amazon. Like Jim's and Oscar's, and for essentially the same reasons, we make a small profit on each book. However profit was never our motivation so when I found that Amazon was abusing its status as a retail giant to overcharge I deliberately set up the discount price on so that it is cheapest ($19.95) if you buy directly from Lulu:

    Our book is free from SUNY Open Textbooks: