The box of notecards for the fourth edition of English Teacher's Companion has as many notes about the design, form, and function of the book itself as it does notes for actual content of the book. By the time this next (actually it will be an entirely new version, not just a revision) book comes, out teachers, professors, and other readers will expect me to provide options.
They will have lived long enough in a world of Starbucks, iTunes, and endless choices that they will reject my book the way they might reject a video cassette today if I don't offer them a menu of options. They will have lived in a world that has taught them (and me!) to expect choice. Something like 95% of all Mini Coopers are custom orders; even when buying a car we expect to be able to customize it.
As a writer, this makes for interesting challenges in terms of how readers like you want the pages laid out, what formats you want, what features you value in a text. Here is what I think readers will expect from all my future books:
- Available in multiple formats and media: downloadable, searchable pdf of the whole book; as online edition with hotlinks and ongoing updates. See my digital textbook The Weekly Reader.
- Available as an entire book in the traditional format, on old-school paper; but also in individual chapters, downloadable as you would download individual songs from an album you like but don't (say it ain't so!) want in its entireity. Thus will you expect to buy the chapters you want to read or assign to a class, with the option to return and get the rest of the book at a later date.
- Available for download not just to a computer but also to a Kindle (which you don't have now but will by then because they will probably cost under 100 dollars); and even possibly to download to an iPhone, something we are already seeing. My colleague Morgan just downloaded Crime and Punishment to her iPhone for .99; it took thirty seconds to download the whole 600 page book.
- Accompanied by a social network that allows you to develop the relationship with me that begins when you buy the book. This will take place through sites like this blog or the English Companion Ning, but not so much my website, which is too static for our Web 2.0 ways of working and living.
I'm excited by these changes, but also a little nervous. They represent interesting challenges and changes as we all evolve as readers, consumers, and teachers. My dad worked in the printing business for thirty-seven years: the world of books as it is and increasingly will be would seem like science fiction to him.
What are your thoughts? What will you hope to find in the next generation of professional books? What did I forget here? Whatever it is, I'm eager to hear your thoughts for my books are, in the end, all about helping you and continuing the conversation between us and with ourselves about this complex work we do.