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February 02, 2009

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Kevin Grossman

I'm an old-school book reader, not a comic book reader. It's bad enough that we don't deep-dive focus when reading any longer - jet skiing instead. But now we need to have ads and visuals and sidebars to encourage the jet skiing?

I'm just not sure about this one. The sheer volume of data we're required to process is falling away from our critical thinking capabilities like tears.

DaivRawks

With new reading devices like Amazon's Kindle, armed with WiFi, this vision may not be very far away.

It's reasonable that parts of the book would be loaded from RSS feeds from a central repository to maintain maximum currency and relevance.

A VERY interesting view of what the world might be like.

Thanks!

- Daiv http://Twitter.com/DaivRawks

Kat Meyer

Hi David and Zak:
I think a lot of developers and book publishers are on the right track and SOME books are becoming more like the web. Two years ago at the inaugural O'Reilly Tools of Change conference, attendees were treated to a glimpse of what kinds of projects might be possible when Manolis Kelaidis presented his blueBook project (more on that here: http://booktwo.org/notebook/the-bluebook/ and here: Manolis Kelaidis "bLink: Completing the Connection Between the Analog and Digital Worlds" http://conferences.oreillynet.com/cs/toc/view/e_sess/14393).
Lots of us will be back at the third annual TOC conference next week in New York to further examine the dizzying possibilities of mixing books up with the web (and beyond). http://www.toccon.com/toc2009
Lots of exciting things happening, and lots of excited people making them happen.

somecallmejim

I'm torn. My first thought is to scream "apostasy!" and run to protect my bookshelves teeming with traditional literature.

The problem arises when I get to my bookshelves and realize that there's a fine layer of dust on nearly everything there. Sure, I have a few books I go to regularly, but it is true, much of my reading has moved online, either to my PC or my Palm smartphone. (I regret to admit that I am not cool enough for an iPhone yet.)

That being said, on those times when I do settle down with a bound mass of pressed wood pulp, I find that I do so in order to escape from the confines of 2009. I want to immerse myself in the content of the book and get lost. And if there's one thing I've discovered from reading online,it would be that it's very challenging to get lost when you have a navigation bar and site map available on every page.

Maybe some books would indeed be improved by this approach. Maybe our goal as Americans should be to ensure that every last one of the 310 million of us aught to be as ADD as a social media addict trapped somewhere between YouTube and Twitter. Or maybe we should drop the navigation bar and back away slowly from that bookshelf.

Tom Nocera

One more significant. yet until now, not very widely known fact concerning the future of books and publishing limited to the old "dead tree media." There now exist books in digital format which are simply too voluminous to publish on paper. Google Books is now working to put online what will be the world's largest ebook, published by Millisecond Publishing Company, Inc. and written by Bruce H. Harrison. His book covers a segment of the deep family histories that have been uncovered and connected over the last 13 years by the Family Forest Project. Look for an announcement soon from Google Books and the Family Forest concerning the first time online release of the world's largest ebook. http://www.familyforest.com

Mark

I've been thinking a lot about how more mainstream people will figure out and embrace all the new technology and tools. I think people will continue to gravitate to books and the books will need to evolve and be even friendlier. So I think you're on exactly the right track.

The 'dummies' series seems to be humming right along with their sidebars and icons.

The google chrome comic did a very good job explaining what's different about their browser.

The folks at xplane have been using pictures to explain complex ideas for 10 years now.


David, the path I sense you're going down is to make your argument as well as you possibly can in your books, but accept that there is more information that can help your reader. Great! Make it as easy as possible for your reader to completely immerse herself in your idea.

Beth Robinson

It depends. Who's the audience for the book? Are they really familiar with the background concepts? Does the meaning depend also on the style of the narrative? Is the book intended to be timeless or timely?

Pretty much any book could be enhanced by having "special features" available online and with end of chapter or book appendices pointing to them. But Zak is suggesting a far more integrated approach. I think it would be great for certain topics, such as health or current history, but not as useful when deep thinking or a longer attention span is called for, whether in business or in fiction.

Creating books that look like what Zak is imagining would probably replace only a portion of the current books being published but it could expand the entire market for bound stacks of paper by adding customers who are not currently attracted to that format. Eventually it might have an interesting value proposition war with electronic readers but how soon that would arrive would likely depend on price barriers.

David Meerman Scott

Wow. Terrific comments here. Thanks all, for your thoughtful contributions to the discussion. Lots of interesting stuff here and food for thought for what both authors and publishers should be thinking about.

Quaker120

Interesting idea, but I cringed at the "ad goes here" box.

These days people seem to assume that every available surface on Earth is just waiting for an advert to be stuck on it. That kinda depresses me.

John

It depresses me that the book envisioned here are ideal for an audience that is unable to concentrate on prose and unwilling to follow a series of thoughts that goes on longer than a paragraph or two.

The new literacy sounds a lot like the old illiteracy to me.

Steven Woods

I'm a huge fan of any media type evolving, and books are no exception. I do think, however, that there is a place for the format - in the sense of "200 pages to deeply explore a concept" - that we don't want to lose.

Whether it is digital, paper, or other doesn't matter, but there is value to the deeper explorations. I don't know that many online styles are suited to that length of exploration at the moment (200 page blog post, anyone?).

The next 5 years will be very interesting.

Paul Merrill

Tom have all books fit into the website-design model is a bit like saying all music should be rock.

There is room for classical - even to those who are not fans. (Ever seen a movie?)

Mark Amtower

David - great discussion. Books are morphing, and yet staying the same. Many ebooks have live links. These can take you to video, audio, etc. Traditional publishers, like newspapers, need to make some changes or they, too, will become a footnote in some media professor's ebook.

But the big thing (we have discussed this a couple times now) is to presetned the information the way the audience wants it - and here there is no uniformity.

I may not like my books the way Zak likes his, and vice versa. If you have a book, in all likelihood you can make an ebook. If you don't want to record it yourself, hire a professional voice, then you have an audio book.

There are lots of things you can do with words.

Jeff

Zak is clearly thinking along the right lines, but the focus on making a book more like a Web site is misleading.

Books (print or digital) serve the purpose of examining an issue in a limited range of a certain number of pages. There always will be a purpose for that. Don't get bogged down in a future of the book debate.

The emphasis should be not on books at all but on how to transition content-rich Web sites in a way that supports a new way of "reading" that incorporates text/images/video/audio. That also requires a new way of writing. I've always thought that documentary films rather than books provided a better approach for understanding where this discussion should head.

Publishers must figure out how to monetize content without getting stuck within the book (or even e-book) paradigm.

And, yep, monetizing a web site is still the hard part. We know how to monetize books, which is why the conversation too often drifts back to the future of books. But the real discussion is in the future of Web sites.

DaveMurr

I feel the content dictates the presentation. And you can not forget about the audience.

I'm not a purist when it comes to the written word - but I just finished reading Hunter Thompson's The Rum Diaries. The thought of that book reading like a blog or website is quite terrifying. It probably wouldn't work.

Jeffrey

I think there is a place for this type of book model and believe that to reach a more in touch generation that has grown up on multi-media this may be a great method. I also think that some material is much more interesting if presented in this format, like the book Adventures of Johnny Bunko presented career guidance.

But I am not so sure that I am keen on having ads placed in a book that I am going to purchase.

I am an avid reader of traditional books and find them my personal preference for pleasure reading; however, I also read blogs and website regularly and would welcome this as a potential format.

Robert Meekings

Fascinating and exciting, but not new. Galileo tightly integrated graphics with his text and Newton was able to accomplish something similar. Both made the written page much more information-rich and still managed to communicate complex ideas.

Edward Tufte's website has much more on this, for example the page http://www.edwardtufte.com/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg?msg_id=0000hB&topic_id=1 has lots of related ideas.
His (Tufte's) books are works of art (and craft) in themselves and well worth a look!

Julie Roads

I love the idea for non-fiction...just don't touch my beloved novels!!!

Brad Shorr

Personally, I find attempts to mimic web page design in books annoying in the extreme. Online, I can get the immediate gratification of clicking on a link or back and forth among several pages. Offline, these text elements are distracting. I don't think we want to give up our ability to sustain a train of thought. We're already seeing the affect of our diminished capacity in this area in the political sphere, where the call to arms on passing a near trillion dollar spending bill is, "We don't have time to think about it. We have to act now." Are we conditioning ourselves not to think?

Phil Myers

The book industry is the moral equivalent of a technology company stuck in a mainframe computing paradigm. Batch, slow, rigid and new stuff comes out incrementally on yearly release cycles. The whole world has moved to become more real-time and online. Why not the content we're publishing in books? It could be so much richer an experience and stay fresh longer as new content is introduced. Zak is definately on to something.

Penina

Thanks for putting thought into this!

I would add that the web became what it is partly because this is what books have always *wanted* to be. I've been designing publications for that long, and jumped onto the web because of this very promise.

Now that we have ideas like Kindle, the Book will have another way to evolve. I don't think there's any point in trying to control it. The old monks have all died, and anyone can be a scribe.

Our children will write books we never dreamed of. Let's just make sure they also have leaves to touch, fresh air to breathe and long afternoons by a creek or a beach. This is the stuff of a rich, deeply-diving, freely thinking world.

Rosemary Ambale

As a reader of books, I don't like the idea of having videos instead of pics/photos on a printed page particularly non fiction categories. I think some things should be left to the reader's imagination.
As a writer of fiction, I am loving this idea.

Sabine K McNeill

Books and screens, whether TV, computer or phone, 'impress' our thinking and our imagination. Their format, too!

Hence the educational / informational responsibility seems to lie in the combination of the designer and the content provider.

Hopefully we lengthen attention spans for deep diving, and widen association gaps for free thinking, methinks...

Jodi Kaplan

I think there is room for this for certain types of books (like how-to decorate your house, or a manual). You could write out the instructions in words, and then show someone doing it.

However for extended reading (such as a novel or a biography), I think it's a mistake. It discourages paying attention for extended periods of time and makes it harder to absorb what you're reading.

Rob

This is an interesting thought exercise, but imprinting the Web paradigm this deeply on printed books is a non-starter.

Web interfaces evolved the way they did because of the capabilities of the medium, not necessarily because it's the way most people want to read. Take away those capabilities--hyperlinks, video, audio, etc.--but leave the elements and you get a pretty distracting, fragmented, and hard to read mess.

That said, if you have a print-on-demand model and allow the user to choose the style they prefer, e.g., "low graphics and no external references/links/ads" to "show me everything," then perhaps you have a plan. Interestingly, a reader could choose to have contextual ads included in their book in exchange for a lower price.

Now, take that same paradigm to the Kindle and it works better. Links, video, slideshows, etc. become more functional, but the Web-style content and UI should still should be adapted for the limitations and usage of the device.

Interesting conversation and ideas here. Really enjoyed it.

Zak Nelson

Thanks to everyone who commented: you’ve all really given me a lot to think about.

This is only a model — an exaggerated one at that — based on an idea, and this “new” book is not meant to replace the “old” book.

My idea is that literacy has changed in a relatively short amount of time with the advent of the internet. If more book publishers understood how this new literacy works—how people read and interact with text and images—they would be more inclined to adopt some principles of web design. If they are responsive to the changing needs of readers, they just might see more people spending money on books.

I agree with many of you: if we make all books look like websites and stuffed them full of advertisements, that would probably diminish our souls in an irretrievable way.

I am suggesting, in essence, an evidence-based approach to book design that borrows intelligently from its offspring.

Does a novel need a NavBar? Probably not.

Would advertisements get in the way of the story? Maybe—although you probably don’t think twice about product placements in TV shows.

But would a new edition of Don Quixote benefit from Doré’s illustrations, along with footnotes providing a link to a website where you can learn more about Doré’s process and understanding of Cervantes’ masterpiece? Well, maybe.

But then, sometimes all you want is a juicy read, uncluttered and free of any distractions. In that case, there are plenty of publishers happy and willing to provide exactly that, new literacy be damned.

I am suggesting that the folks who edit, design, and market trade books — that is, everything you would find in a bookstore — could learn a thing or two from web designers about what it means to be user friendly.

I am suggesting is that the internet has created an instance of cultural lag that has affected our literacy: the way in which we read and respond to text and images.

Commerce is usually pretty quick to catch up: the companies that help to pioneer this great shift are naturally at the forefront, reaping the rewards (current economic crisis notwithstanding). But what about the old technology? Books are a technology that was itself new once. But the publishers aren’t the vanguard anymore. And they’ve suffered. Good people have lost business and jobs because of this shift.

Is the shift permanent? Who knows? Are books irrelevant? God no! Just look at all your responses! Like most, however, my way of interacting with information has substantially changed.

Commenter Jim said it best. I still love to sit in that armchair, when I can, with that dusty old book. But nowadays I go online for more frequently to retrieve information and communicate with others. Do I enjoy it? Eh. Enjoyment is not a term that really springs to mind. I prefer a book.

I don’t think we need to back away from the bookshelf, Jim. I think we need to make books smarter and more responsive. I don’t think every book needs a NavBar and site map, though some would surely benefit.

I do think that publishers need to understand not just what works about websites, but why it works, and then take from that what they will: individual presses making decisions as always about their books, but being informed by this new literacy.

What I propose is an idea, not a categorical imperative. Take from it what you will; the idea is:

(1) to acknowledge that literacy encompasses different forms of understanding and processing information;

(2) to recognize that the internet created a great upheaval in a short amount of time, not unlike a giant meteorite staring down the dinosaurs;

(3) remember that some dinosaurs survived to the present day—see the alligator, the cockroach, the armadillo—and that so too will books survive in myriad forms; and

(4) that we need to (and will!) adapt culturally to the new technology, in part by studying this new literacy and understanding it from different perspectives, including the neurological, behavioral, social, and of course, economic.

-Zak Nelson [email protected]

Erika

I am all for growth and evolving, and i do like this idea. Only, i do not want to have to look at adds as i read a book, which i am reading to gain knowledge not to be sold something.

Zak Nelson

Thanks to everyone who commented: you’ve all really given me a lot to think about.

This is only a model—an exaggerated one at that—based on an idea, and this “new” book is not meant to replace the “old” book. My idea is that literacy has changed in a relatively short amount of time with the advent of the internet. If more book publishers understood how this new literacy works—how people read and interact with text and images—they would be more inclined to adopt some principles of web design. If they are responsive to the changing needs of readers, they just might see more people spending money on books.

I agree with many of you: if we make all books look like websites and stuffed them full of advertisements, that would probably diminish our souls in an irretrievable way. I am suggesting, in essence, an evidence-based approach to book design that borrows intelligently from its offspring.

Does a novel need a NavBar? Probably not.
Would advertisements get in the way of the story? Maybe—although you probably don’t think twice about product placements in TV shows.

But would a new edition of Don Quixote benefit from Doré’s illustrations, along with footnotes providing a link to a website where you can learn more about Doré’s process and understanding of Cervantes’ masterpiece? Well, maybe.

But then, sometimes all you want is a juicy read, uncluttered and free of any distractions. In that case, there are plenty of publishers happy and willing to provide exactly that, new literacy be damned.

I am suggesting that the folks who edit, design, and market trade books—that is, everything you would find in a bookstore—could learn a thing or two from web designers about what it means to be user friendly.

I am suggesting is that the internet has created an instance of cultural lag that has affected our literacy: the way in which we read and respond to text and images.

Commerce is usually pretty quick to catch up: the companies that help to pioneer this great shift are naturally at the forefront, reaping the rewards (current economic crisis notwithstanding). But what about the old technology? Books are a technology that was itself new once. But the publishers aren’t the vanguard anymore. And they’ve suffered. Good people have lost business and jobs because of this shift.

Is the shift permanent? Who knows? Are books irrelevant? God no! Just look at all your responses! Like most, however, my way of interacting with information has substantially changed.

Commenter Jim said it best. I still love to sit in that armchair, when I can, with that dusty old book. But nowadays I go online for more frequently to retrieve information and communicate with others. Do I enjoy it? Eh. Enjoyment is not a term that really springs to mind. I prefer a book.

I don’t think we need to back away from the bookshelf, Jim. I think we need to make books smarter and more responsive. I don’t think every book needs a NavBar and site map, though some would surely benefit.

I do think that publishers need to understand not just what works about websites, but why it works, and then take from that what they will: individual presses making decisions as always about their books, but being informed by this new literacy.

What I propose is an idea, not a categorical imperative. Take from it what you will; the idea is:
(1) to acknowledge that literacy encompasses different forms of understanding and processing information;
(2) to recognize that the internet created a great upheaval in a short amount of time, not unlike a giant meteorite staring down the dinosaurs;
(3) remember that some dinosaurs survived to the present day—see the alligator, the cockroach, the armadillo—and that so too will books survive in myriad forms; and
(4) that we need to (and will!) adapt culturally to the new technology, in part by studying this new literacy and understanding it from different perspectives, including the neurological, behavioral, social, and of course, economic.

Eric Pursh

Perhaps for some non-fiction books, especially handbooks, a hard copy sans ads plus an electronic version (on cd, maybe just a PDF?) with the same text but including the ads?

I don't like the advertisement idea much either, but anyone who has tried to publish on their own understands the benefit of that model.

I'm not saying that I support it necessarily, I'm just saying that it may have a place.

Thanks all who commented! I enjoy seeing different sides of this discussion.

Penny

Books are already long and heavy. If you put adds and other info on each page, it will make the book too big to read cuz it will be heavier! I read a lot in the tub and in the car. I'm not going to put a brick into my purse!

Jeff VanderMeer

This is one of the dumbest ideas I can think of in recent memory. If you apply this idea to something like a novel, it ceases to be a novel. You can certain create a version of a book that's more like a website, but might I suggest instead that those of you who can no longer apply an attention span longer than five minutes try to understand that this is *your* deficiency and not a deficiency on the part of those of us who can concentrate for more than five minutes on any particular thing.

And some kinds of information cannot be cracked open like a peapod and offered up as little nuggets of nutrition.

The thing people don't realize about the younger generation, either, is that they're not automatically the ones with the short attention spans. Many of them are currently in the process of rebelling against this atomization of the soul.

Stephanie Diamond

Wow, thanks for the new vision. All new ideas to enhance reading and learning should be welcomed and evaluated. That's how every great advance has developed.

David, thanks for the thought-provoking conversation.

James

Zak needs to get out and look at some books. Books have been using cartoons and comics for decades to make points clearer where the audience can't cope with densely concentrated information (such as management manuals). Books such as the Idiots' guides are high on graphics.
The horizontal NAVBAR is simply not as flexible as the vertical table of contents that books have had for centuries, and the Links section, not as flexible as the index that good reference books have, and books often have 'see also' links in the text as "(see p.nnn)" or "see XXXX" where the book is organized alphabetically.
Books are efficient at dealing with vastly more information than in most websites.
"Why aren't books more like websites?" - because books embody hundreds of years of development; websites less than 20 - they'll catch up eventually.

Sarah

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

Sarah

http://www.lyricsdigs.com


Miriam

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

Miriam

http://www.craigslistdecoded.info

Rachel Lee

Speaking of new book layouts, you might be interested in a new project over at if:book: a "digital" illuminated book (based on the work of William Blake).

http://futureofthebook.org.uk/blake/book.html

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Creating books that look like what Zak is imagining would probably replace only a portion of the current books being published but it could expand the entire market for bound stacks of paper by adding customers who are not currently attracted to that format. Eventually it might have an interesting value proposition war with electronic readers but how soon that would arrive would likely depend on price barriers.

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