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    Location: Aberystwyth, Wales, United Kingdom

    I am the owner and managing director of Information Automation Limited (IAL), a company that specialises in research, consultancy and training for the information profession. We are particularly interested in all forms of electronic information resources (e-journals, e-books, etc) and I teach a course in electronic publishing at the Department of Information Studies in Aberystwyth. Drilling down still further(!), my interests centre on the quality and evaluation of electronic information, and in the thinking that underpins activities in library and information science.


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    Thursday, August 09, 2007

    Newsflash: Tail wags Dog - shorten e-books for success

    A strange comment in the middle of the strangely entitled What if cats were the only ones watching Seinfeld reruns? on TeleRead suggests that:
    ...editors had better sharpen their real and virtual pencils and help writers be succinct in books—well, at least in utilitarian and popular writings, as opposed to literary works. Good use of hyperlinks could help consumers go directly to facts of most interest.
    At least literary works are spared - I had a momentary vision of War and Peace in txting form! The comment comes on the back of a report from MediaDailyNews that "digital media can more efficiently convey information" and that consumers spend 3 or 4 times as long engaging with cable or broadcast television than with consumer-generated video such as YouTube. The link - supplied by TeleRead's David Rothman is that:
    the signal-to-noise ratio of a YouTube mashup [is not] the same as that of one of a well-done PBS documentary.
    But surely - surely - he isn't suggesting that in order to make e-books successful we will have to breed a new generation of down-sized, scaled-down, format-ready, simplified books? With real content (information, facts, knowledge...) largely replaced by hyperlinks? I would be the first to agree the worth of adding value to e-books by linking, but not at the expense of their own, original intellectual content. (I have, of course, also praised the social e-book, written and edited collaboratively - but that is another beast completely, and my comments here are not aimed at that model!)

    And how would publishers cope with this new hybrid e-book? I cannot see an editorial process expanding - from reviewing and correcting the text, to that plus checking the validity and authority and quality of all the links. So the traditional role of publishing houses - in which they 'badge' the quality of the book vanishes. And reviewing - how many reviewers...? No, this would be the end of scholarly book reviews as we know them!

    The danger with relying on hyperlinks to 'complete' a book lies in their untried and untested success: as I have said before: no user studies. Perhaps the UCL SuperBook and e-Book Observatory projects can provide some information here - otherwise it's baby and bathwater time: throwing out scholarly worthiness with real content, and replacing it with a few possibly out-of-date links.

    I hope that the TeleRead posting wasn't suggesting that e-books - as they are now - cannot succeed. In partial response, and as a sort of addendum to the last post here, let me point you to an article in today's New York Times: An Entire Bookshelf, in Your Hands (full reference in Writings about e-book publishing, 2007 - under Wayner), which also reviews a number of e-book readers.

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