Of online books

Uncertain Principles is having a little discussion of books and web publishing. Nothing really new; books have certain advantages because of the nonzero cost of creating them while web documents have different advantages due to their effectively zero cost to create. The comments bring up an interesting issue, why can’t you create a web site that mimics a book?

But your first argument that the book lays out the argument completely, coherently, contemporaneously, chiseled and channeled (great alliteration, huh?) isn’t a very good one. There’s no reason whatsoever why a web site – even a blog – couldn’t present this same thing.

You could write your book and when it’s done, post all of the chapters on your blog at once. How is this any different from writing a book and publishing it all at once?

You could have honed your arguments as you wrote just as with a trad. book. You could have consulted others as you wrote. You could have received editing advice as you wrote. It’s the same process right up until you either post the completed work online or you send it to be published. I see no difference.

Once published in either format, it’s the same book. It’s just as long online as it is published. It has just as many words, sentences, paragraphs and chapters. It has the same footnotes/end notes (except that they’re simply easier for the reader to track online than on a printed page). It can have an index and a glossary (although you sci-bloggers seem lamentably loathe to create such things!).

The problem is really one of expectations and technology. The web is currently a place of shorter pieces. It is a place of multi-tasking and short attention spans. The whole paradigm of the web fights against someone sitting down to digest a serious 200+ page manuscript. Even the best edited, well maintained and well thought out web book would tend to be swallowed up in the rapid pace of online discussion only to be dropped as a newer thing came along. Without the barrier to entry, and thus authority, built into the physical book there is little way or reason for a web book to stand against the noise.

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One Response to “Of online books”

  1. The futures so bright I’ve got to wear … « The Slow Loris Online Says:

    […] but I certainly don’t oppose it. Yet some outside discussion has brought up the fact that this is a fairly pessimistic view. I have to agree that it […]

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