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W&L's Lambert Publishes Computer Science Textbook as an E-book

Kenneth A. Lambert, professor of computer science at Washington and Lee University, is an experienced author who has published 23 computer science textbooks over the last 16 years in four different programming languages. The books have been sold around the world by a major publisher.

But when it came to writing his latest textbook, “Easy GUI Programming in Python,” he decided to publish it as an e-book.

Lambert cited several reasons for this decision but said he was particularly attracted to the ability to use full color. Only one of Lambert’s previous textbooks used full color, and that was because it was a best-selling high school edition. His other textbooks, at the college level, were limited to two colors—black and one other color—which meant using grey scale or black and white images.  “Color is very important with program code because you’ve got different elements in a program that you can highlight using color coding,” he explained.

A further reason for publishing an e-book was the cost to the reader. Lambert noted that the first book he published in 1996 cost $46 and that his most recent introductory text with the same publisher cost between $80 and $90, even though it is thinner and a paperback. On the other hand, his new e-book will cost the reader only $5.99.

While the ability to control fully the content of the book was a definite advantage, Lambert acknowledged that one negative aspect was that he had to do his own proofreading.

After Lambert developed sample computer programs, wrote the text and refined it, he spent time learning the ropes of e-publishing, which is a little different for each publisher.

“I started with a Microsoft Word document which had everything I wanted to include in the book, imported it into Apple’s Pages program and saved it as an e-pub document,” he said. “Then I put it on my iPad to make sure it looked okay and uploaded it to the vendors. It was very simple.”

Lambert is publishing the e-book with three online publishers: Barnes and Noble for the Nook, Amazon for the Kindle and Apple iBooks for the iPad.

Another drawback to e-publishing, the lack of marketing, didn’t deter Lambert. His book is aimed at high school students, college students and professionals who want to learn how to program graphical interfaces and have a basic knowledge of Python programming. He reaches these groups by word of mouth, conferences, his website and Python programming user groups.

Lambert suggested that e-publishing may not be suitable for academics who need a process that includes peer review. “I’ve been peer-reviewed for many years,” he said, “so I feel I can experiment with this and I like not having to deal with a reviewer who might disagree with me on something. The only review this book had was by my colleagues and I trust their judgment. So I wouldn’t recommend it to an inexperienced author. You also need to have worked with a publisher first and know the various publishing processes—development, editing, proofing and marketing,” he said.

Lambert received his B.A. in philosophy from Bucknell University, his M.S. in computer science from Wright State University and his Ph.D. in philosophy from Rutgers University.