Ben here. I’m the Publisher of Microsoft Press. I usually keep away from blog posts and other sharp objects, but I’ve got a question for all of you.
I have the privilege to work with a great team of talented, hardworking, and foresighted people, here at Microsoft and at O’Reilly. We do our best to keep up-to-date with two rapidly evolving industries: technology and publishing. Where they come together is often where we interact with you, our authors and readers. Many of you read eBooks; many of you probably own an eReader or tablet, or more than one.
Some of us were sitting around recently (no, not over lunch, and martinis were not involved) and began to explore, yet again, the most-discussed topic in publishing: The Future of the Book. Now, as you might expect, we have no shortage of ideas about such an important topic.
But honestly, when I look back at how many of our successful book series began, I know that they came from an author with a vision. An individual said “This is what I want to write. These are the readers I want to inform.” We helped bring those ideas to readers: Step by Step, Pocket Consultants, Internals – all of these started with a single book and with an author’s desire.
So, authors, in this online, digital, eBook world, what would you include in a new “book”? How would it be different from ink-on-paper? How can we help you refine and sell that vision?
Readers, how would you like technical information presented? How would you feel if some titles were only available on certain devices? For example, if full-color, audio, or video were integrated into the format, the older generations of eReaders would not be able to display the new works. (For the sake of argument, assume that the voices will be soothing and the images useful: we want new, better ideas, not most of today’s “enhanced eBooks”.)
Let us know. You can post a response to this blog or email me at email@example.com
I like having the content available in multiple formats. I read some books in ePub format on my iPad because technical diagrams show up better there. Other books it's not as important so I can read those on my Kindle. As long as the content is the same it shouldn't matter. My hope for newer versions, with embedded multimedia, would be that the main content could still be accessed via older devices and the extras available on a subscriber page somewhere.
Being owner of a few different devices including Kindle DX, Windows 8 tablet (BUILD), iPad 2, Mac OS laptop, Windows Vista Media Center, Windows 7 laptop, the most important feature for me is the content portability and synchronization, i.e. being able to open content on different devices at the last page I was on the previous device.
I also found out that for some types of content, the Kindle DX is quite limiting, so content should be structured in a layered way with more feature available to devices that are capable of showing them.
I'm a networking person -- the primary "awesome" bits would be live tools in the books -- e.g., the section on "ping" should actually be able to "ping"; the network capacity chapters should let me type in my data. Lastly, an interactive dictionary (I wrote a vista 'gadget' that, as you typed in a networking term, would find the different APIs we ship and show them to you along with a brief explanation)
Same question has come up several times lately. For example, I was approached about writing a book for SQL Azure. Sounds like fun, but the average book I've worked on takes 4-6 months to get out the door. Over that time, you guys have had two releases to Azure, so some amount of what went into the book is now incomplete or just wrong. Clearly, you can't write a book about this topic. Or, at least you can't write one using the old paradigms. Something has to change. You can't simply speed up the process. Most people writing books are doing it in their "spare" time. Plus, you still need to have a good review process so that what goes out is accurate, meaningful and helpful. So the new "book" needs to somehow work like software where you replace parts and add parts on a schedule. Not possible with the dead tree books, so future publishing, by it's nature needs to be online. But, you're going to hit another issue, burnout. One person is only going to be able to maintain a book by themselves for so long. At some point others will have to take over parts or all of a book. Now what happens to the IP? Not to mention, what the heck would the process for something like that look like.
In short, I think you've got some fun and entertaining problems in front of you. Err.. Us.