It’s a real shame that O’Reilly have now closed their store and are now only making their books available to people who subscribe to their Safari service or buy worse versions from Amazon.

Over the past four-ish years I’ve spent roughly $250 on O’Reilly books, and they’ve been a great way to learn new technical topics. Learning Web Design by Jennifer Robbins made something I’d previously found intimidating into a straightforward and enjoyable endeavour. Earlier this year I spent some time learning SQL with the Head First SQL book by Lynn Beighley and really enjoyed it. At the moment I’m reading Mark Lutz’s Learning Python — starting from the basics and working through what is quite a thick book (1,600 pages!) to improve my Python skills and make sure I’ve got the fundamentals nailed down.

They’re all great. I love the PDF versions as they’re incredibly well-typeset and fit perfectly on an iPad screen. It’s been nice to learn in the garden, at the kitchen table, in bed — all much more comfortable than sitting at my desk. And they’ve been updated repeatedly since I bought them to fix typos and other errors — the Learning Python errata page lists nearly 170 entries and the book has been updated 15 times since the publication of the third edition in June 2013, most recently this April.

The thing is, I’ve bought these books at various times over the past few years and generally only dipped into them to start and then come back later. Working through one will generally take me several weeks or even months. This is perhaps my third crack at Learning Python — not because it’s bad (it’s great!) but because I already knew enough Python to be dangerous and getting through the earlier sections took time and patience that I’ve not had until now.

This is not something that the Safari subscription allows for — particularly when as an individual and a hobbyist programmer I cannot begin to justify the $400 a year price. It’s another world to buying a $40 ebook so you can learn a particular topic or skill.

And what of reference books and cookbooks? I own both the Python Pocket Reference and the Python Cookbook — PDFs that I can dip into at any time and together would’ve been just $52 at full price.

You can still buy paper and Kindle versions of O’Reilly books through Amazon, but the PDFs are gone. Buying weighty print books on programming topics is not something I want to do — although JavaScript: The Definitive Guide, Sixth Edition and AppleScript 1-2-3 serve well lifting my iMac up 4″. And the Kindle versions share the typesetting problems of O’Reilly’s ePub versions (now also unavailable to purchase) and introduce Amazon’s DRM restrictions.

The tagline on the O’Reilly homepage is “Safari is how you learn.” It makes me feel a bit crap, frankly, as I can’t afford a Safari subscription (nor could I justify it if I could) and I don’t want to buy an inferior product from a third party.

Sadly that means I won’t be able to learn from O’Reilly books in the future.