I was disappointed to read the conclusion drawn by this recent New York Times article. The writer, Dirk Johnson, makes it sound like margin notes have no future in the ebook world. I couldn't disagree more.
In a blog post I wrote late last year I talked about how content mark-up and sharing are features that need to be improved upon in today's ereader apps. You can take notes with most apps but note sharing is only now starting to become a reality. That concept led me to something more interesting though.
If you click on the image in the top left corner of this post you'll see a slide I presented in a TOC webcast called "My eContent Wish List." The slide shows a marked-up ebook page and a picture of Bill Gates. I referred to the feature as the "VIP notes edition." The concept is that famous people read books too, and sometimes they probably even make some margin notes in them. So why not let them do the same thing in an ebook?
Here's the kicker: Rather than there just being one copy of that famous person's notes, why not offer them for sale to anyone else who buys the ebook? I'd pay more to see Bill Gates' notes on some of the books I've read. The idea is for thought leaders, celebrities, etc., to make handwritten notes in ebooks they read and sell them as an add-on. Like most rich/famous people, Bill doesn't need the money, so he could donate it to his Foundation if he chooses to. There would be two versions of the ebook available: One without notes at the current (lower) price and one with the VIP notes at a slightly higher price. Maybe you even have more than one thought leader with notes on the same book. For example, the next time I buy a sports ebook, I might say, "I'll take Scorecasting with notes from Steve Rushin and Dan Patrick." (Actually, I'd pay a lot more for any sports ebook with notes from Steve Rushin!)
It's too bad Dirk Johnson limited his thinking to how margin notes work in the print world. I think the concept has even more potential in the ebook world. We just need to get people to start thinking more about ebook possibilities and less about print limitations.