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“A reference book is essentially a user interface to information.”

I first heard of tech publisher and general pioneer Tim O’Reilly when someone pointed out that putting fruit and non-finance-like items on our cover was similar to O'Reilly's habit of putting animals on their coding books. When I read his line “a reference book is essentially a user interface to information” from 1995 ( it spoke to the web designer in me. It helped me imagine how that explaining stuff through text well is as much a user interface issue as about writing. Some things are best read from start to finish, perhaps on a train or curled up on the sofa, and they might need wide margins so you can write notes. Others demand that you can dip in and out of them quickly, finding what you want at the quickest speed. They are dipped in-and-out-of, searched, bookmarked, with important passages added to notebooks, emailed to collaborators or shared with friends.

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Background: Where it all began

You could say the Film Finance Handbook started as a 20-page free pamphlet, made by Chris Chandler for the BFI. As a teenager  in 1999, I turned it into a 40-odd page free funding section of a new website, Netribution (the name was a reference to net distribution of films - our original, over-eager, business plan). A year later this had become an unrecognisable 150 page guide mostly updated by a volunteer (Stephen Salter). A few years after that, after turning down an offer from Focal Press with an advance to self-publish it with another website (Shooting People), I took the content offline.

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