On striking a DIY balance
Most of my life is an exercise in striking a balance. A balance between sleep and all-nighters, caffeine and alcohol, introspection and party-time, creativity and 'turning the crank' of necessary activity. My latest serious endeavor, that of becoming writer of How-To books, opens another: Open Source vs. Intellectual Property.
I am a true believer in (and user of) open source technology. Thanks to Marlin, Printrun, Slic3r and the .stl format, I was able to start and run a 3D printer company for a few years. I use OpenOffice for my documents and spreadsheets, and create vector art with Inkscape. I am in the process of having my mind blown by the likes of Blender and Open SCAD.
I have contributed small donations to all of these, and have made an effort to share useful portions of my own intellectual work for free. My favorite open-source works include a friction-based 3D printer extruder, a 3D printable stepper motor, and the gearing specifications for an awesome 3D printable epicyclic gear box.
That said, I'm serious about what I do. Serious about converting it from a hobby to a career. Part of that conversion requires that I develop an income stream based on the works of my hands and mind.
Question: Is a career as a technology developer incompatible with the open source movement??!
Answer: Obviously not! The open source movement was started by technology developers of the highest order.
The question remains, how does one profitably produce material if one is to simply to give the plans away?
Give it away, Get donations
A classic solution struck by producers of open source software is to publish the material widely, and to accept donations. The more enterprising subscribers to this approach have added schwag such as T-shirts, hats and mugs branded with the free technology.
Give away the plans, Sell the actual thing
In the case of open-source hardware, one solution that has stuck in recent times is to publish the plans for free, but to produce and sell the product for profit. Think Arduino: there are over a hundred makers of the Arduino UNO type microprocessor, but Arduino Proper still does excellent business. They reap the benefits of being the publicly known originator, and so they get the cred, the comments, and to some extent the market. Their boards are also of generally higher quality than the knock-offs.
Give away the Tech Assets, Sell the helpful manual
Over the past three years, I have been slowly developing what I feel to be a legitimate third approach. Most of my projects include some hardware, some software, and a fair bit of assembly and configuration to make them work. After several love-hate affairs with crowdfunding and the prospect of totally open-sourcing a finished book project, I decided that I need to get paid. This desire, however, threatened to alienate the maker-community at large - my people - the ones who are actually interested-in and capable-of enjoying my books...
Three DIY books later, the answer seems to be evolving toward this solution: Share the technology and sell the easy manual. In other wores, don't patent the DIY technology - Give away. Release it into the creative commons somehow. I am a fan of the Attribution-ShareAlike license setup. Once that's done, go ahead and copyright and sell the helpful manual that goes with the technology. Essentially, this means releasing the 3D printable models and electrical schematics into the open source. It may also mean sharing a bill of parts, links to videos showing the tricky steps, and free source code through Github.
If you're like me, you like to take an idea and run with it. I don't need a map. I don't need instructions! Give me a screwdriver and some tin snips! That is until I start running out of time... Sometimes, I really DO appreciate some clear instructions to just get it done. If I really like the project, I am willing to pay $25-35 bucks to save fifty hours or more from disappearing down R&D rabbit hole!
Having the meat of the technology out there lets others discover and evaluate it for themselves. It also puts it into the world of creative doers who will make use of it, discuss it, and incorporate it into their own works. Having others interested in your project is a good thing! Once there is interest, others will recognize the value in purchasing a manual that helps them make time-efficient use of the open source technology.
Let's Make This Happen!
The books I write take the form of 'Let's Make This Happen!' and are written with a ton of pictures and an explicit step-by-step approach. Has this approach paid off? Yes. It is beginning to pay off. I've spent way more time making the machines and writing the manuals than I've made back, were I going for a 'tech industry wage.' The payment, however, comes in as a royalty model. The work is a sunk cost, and I don't have to do anything anymore for any of my books - except fix the bugs and answer e-mails from makers, which I love doing, by the way!
Oh, and check out my online bookstore: https://www.ideapropulsionsystems.com/books/