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How E-Books Might Change More Than Just A Business Model

April 29, 2010

How simple links might change everything

In a blog post, it’s a simple task to turn some text into a link. It’s not much different in an e-book; the coding and the process, yes, but the idea, not really. But links and blog posts have always gone together pretty well. Books, on the other hand, well, they’re entering new territory.

The books they are a changin'

How will links change the way we write and read books?

Links are intrusive in printed books. They’re either in the margins or in the text, but either way they’re asking you to put down the book, find a computer type in a link. You can’t copy and paste the URL or just click on it. But that doesn’t mean links haven’t been used in printed material — especially textbooks, reference works and bibliographies/citations.

So when you have a website that’s related to a book you’re writing, what do you do? You probably won’t want to create a related links section, say, at the end of a chapter, which is sort of one way that blogs provide links. To be as unintrusive as possible, e-books probably want to imitate other internet writing and just link certain text, but this means creating possibly different versions of a book for the e-book and the printed book.

Linking changes things

As I’ve said before, linking to things makes explaining some things redundant. When you’re writing an e-book, you should take this into consideration. Instead of including a whole chapter or section on what Wikipedia is in, say, a book about interesting websites, you could link to their about page. This leaves more room for analysis, and for original information.

But since the same can’t be done in a printed book (links are irritating in printed matter, much of the time), it’s important to consider how to treat e-books in the future. Questions like “how much should a printed copy and an online copy be different?” and “how will the popularity of linking in books help sell more books” as well as “can/should we advertise in e-books?” come to mind.

Advertising in e-books

If people start advertising in an e-book, it opens the door to selling premium e-books (ad-less) and also selling ads in e-books. I still won’t be buying e-books, regardless of ads, for a while, because they’re inconvenient for me (I usually read books in places where I don’t have my computer/readers are expensive). But I suspect people might not be entirely adverse to ads in e-books, especially publishers; extra revenue is hard to come by in publishing, and capitalism usually beats out squeamishness.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Sarah permalink
    April 30, 2010 4:15 am

    While the idea of linking in an e-book and a blog post may be the same, it shouldn’t be. A blog would not exist without the internet, but such is not the case for a book. Currently, most e-books are also published in trade paperbacks or are written with that intent: PDFs and the like. And what about links? Links to advertising and to further commentary could be of major use in the works you describe: textbooks and ref. works. But then what about fiction, poetry, or even something like a history or biography? I’m wary of “related links.” Say, for example, that there’s a biography of William Randolph Hearst that was just released. What’s to stop the company putting it out on ebook from linking to WRH’s Wikipedia page on the very cover? I don’t want to hear what Wikipedia or Google has to say about him, I want to hear what the author has to say.

    Links in a work of fiction did work really well for me once, when I was reading Chaucer’s Book of the Duchess online. Mercifully, my version linked to translations of the Middle English. But I have to think that direct translations are finite in number.

    If the advertising in a book about a publishing tycoon must direct me to subscription details for the Washington Post, then so be it. But even a biography has a slant; linking to Wikipedia closes off interpretation. And I’m not sure if I agree with your comment that “you could link to [Wikipedia’s] about page. This leaves more room for analysis, and for original information.” I think it’s much more valuable to have an author’s slant on what, say, Wikipedia is, even in an explanation. What I think about Wikipedia may not be what it thinks about itself, know what I’m sayin’? And Wikipedia is a rabbit hole; I’ve gone there to look something up and before long I’ve gone from Jim Morrison to Acacia trees. Besides, if you just link to it then you’re forcing me to go and read and interpret myself before I may even understand the point you’re trying to get across. That’s just lazy journalism!

    Also, the links we see in scholarly articles or books–footnotes, let’s say–direct us back to the original sources as best they can, so that we can see where the author got their information and follow up. Let’s be honest–unless you’re writing something on it yourself or it’s your field, you won’t follow up. But the readers have that option to, and authors are accountable. No one is accountable on Wikipedia.

    You’re certainly right that things are a changin’.

    • April 30, 2010 6:43 am

      A few responses to your comment:

      Regarding Chaucer, situations like that are limited because for new books copyright prevents simply linking to a direct translation that’s free on the internet. With Chaucer, it’s great. But with a new book by, say, a French author, it’s just not legally possible.

      Regarding the Wikipedia about page, I think you’re probably right that it’s interesting to hear an author’s slant in a definition. But in this case it might also be important to see how an entity defines itself. You can then discuss how reality is different from the image a company promotes itself as having. For example, if I wanted to argue that Wikipedia was a hotbed for tyrannical editors and wikigraffiti, the Wikipedia article probably wouldn’t agree with me, but would give me useful information nonetheless.

      And I also agree that links simply are not as useful in fiction and reference works. Although one thing that might be useful in these, especially as a study tool, is a dictionary or notes link. Think of reading a book like Ulysses, where the notes are incredibly important, especially for first-time readers. If instead of having to flip to the notes, find the right page, etc. you could just click on a link? And the same goes for defining words. This also extends the possibility to link to related essays, etc. that a professor wants a student to read; all of these things, I believe, can make studying a book like Ulysses easier. But I still dislike the book.

  2. Sarah permalink
    April 30, 2010 7:32 am

    Your comment about annotations is so true, Andrew. I once read the annotated Lolita and having notes was so, so helpful. I’d be wary of reading authors with a penchant for word play (like Nabokov, Joyce and Woolf) without them. I would love to have a link from the footnote there to the note, as I actually do check those! That’s a good, common-sense use of ebook technology. I hope someone’s already doing that, actually. I only hope that ebook editors of the future will take as much time and be as precise as the editors of literary works. But, of course, they’re paid. That’s something a source such as Wikipedia can’t claim yet. No one can (or should) be expected to put up all their knowledge for free. Except bloggers. Hah.

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