Two Great New O'Reilly Titles
Content Nation, by John Blossom

Is the Web Affecting How We Read Books?

Books2 It's time for a link to one of those controversial posts...a post that you'll either totally disagree with or you might find very enlightening.  I'm talking about this one from David Meerman Scott entitled "Does a new literacy call for a new book model?"  I read it and found myself wondering about the possibilities it could lead to.

I'm a bit skeptical that some of the elements from Zak Nelson's mock-up, which is included in that post, are viable.  Nevertheless, if you take only one thing away from reading David's summary, remember this: We (publishers/authors) need to do a much better job of writing content for more than just the print medium.  Too many books are being converted to e-content (for Kindles, iPhone apps, etc.) without even the simplest embedded links for cross-references and external references/resources.  How stupid is that?


David Meerman Scott

Hi Joe, Did you notice that I didn't really say my own opinion on Zak's ideas? It's sort of fun to remain "neutral" and see what people say. David

Mchael Miller

Good thinking, but not particularly new. All you have to do is look at Wiley's Teach Yourself Visually series or Que's Easy books to look at alternative book presentations -- or to any number of digital photography books, for that matter. Heck, I remember turning Chuck Stewart onto Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics book a decade or more ago, during one of the many redesigns of the Easy series. It's not so much that new media is influencing the design of old media, but rather that different types of people learn in different ways. Thus there's no "one size fits all" type of book design, at least in how-to and reference books. (Maybe so in fiction; a traditional linear presentation works best for most fiction works.) There are lots of ways to present information visually; we should never let ourselves be boxed into a single set design.

Zak Nelson

Hi Joe! Thanks for your input — believe it or not, you're someone in the biz whose work I admire and who this was aimed at. O'Reilly has really done some amazing things in this regard. My model isn't meant to be applied literally: I recognize that taken as is, this layout isn't quite a viable template. But I'm right there with you. Michael Miller too: I appreciate the Scott McCloud reference, and I don't want to shoehorn all books into a cookie cutter (although if you look at Arcadia, they've done quite well).

I think in the future O'Reilly would do well in genres and markets such as lifestyle, cookbooks, how-to, humor, even fiction. Right now others don't make the leap because they don't see how the model could apply to them; O'Reilly is seen only as a computer book publisher by many, and Wiley as a textbook, business, or how-to publisher. Other publishers could borrow aspects of the model as needed, simply to make their books more readable.

My thesis is that literacy has changed in the last fifteen years or so. That our brains have been rewired (I'll have to check with my brother, the neurobiologist Sacha Nelson, for some direction in this area, I'll admit this is just my educated guess) to read and process text and images differently. We still read and respond to plain old text on paper, but our eyes dart for links, our need for text as information-vehicle has changed, and our awareness of the social networks behind ideas has broadened (books bring people together as much as websites!), and so those underlying social connections are exposed.

I do agree that too many books are being poured online by publishers who are just blindly throwing darts without understanding the medium. I just think that, in addition to looking to electronic media as the primary vehicle for information, books can borrow back intelligently from their offspring. Cheers!


I commented on under that article--Here's what I had to say about it!

"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!"

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