Tuesday, January 24, 2012

I want to share with you something that I wrote in an email back in 12/2004:

Imagine your favorite book.  The sort of book that you always like to
have a copy of, because there's always something in there worth
revisiting.  Maybe it's the Bible, maybe Shakespeare, maybe the Tao of
Physics.  Or, maybe it just happens to be the text book for a course
you're currently taking.

Now imagine you have a thought on that book.  Maybe it's an idea you
want to scribble down so you don't forget.  Maybe it's a question.
Maybe you just want to talk to somebody about the book, but none of
your friends are into it.  How do  you find a community of people who
are interested in it?

What if that book was really an e-book, and that e-book had a wireless
internet connection?  And, whenever you had such a thought or a
question, with a simple tap of the keys you could connect immediately
to a community of people exactly like you.  I like the notion of a
"deep" book, it feels very alice in wonderland to me.  Because you're
leaving the original intact, and that's key.  You're telling somebody
"Look, we're not gonna get in the way of your enjoyment with this
book.  But when you want us, just look a little deeper."  The book
itself is merely a reader onto the larger, centralized service that
tracks all the comments, questions, and so on.

Right now, the idea would have to take the form of a PC-based reader.
It's really the only technology that can handle it.  But hey, that
could easily mean laptops.  What about PDAs?  Pretty soon.  Need a
better UI.  And before you know it, ebooks really will take off.

How does this fit our model?  Imagine the kind of content that can be
plugged in to that sort of interface.  Who says it has to be a
straight blog/message board?  Maybe you work up a quiz on a certain
subject, and you link it directly into the book.  And charge people
for it.  Not everyone will take it, of course, but some will.  Or
maybe you're the author of another book on the subject.  Maybe you're
teaching a class that uses this text, and you want to leave a message
for your students.    The book itself not only becomes a walking
course on itself, it becomes an infinite number of courses on itself.
By grabbing a "deep" view of Shakespeare you open up the door to
everything you could possibly learn about the subject, all depending
on how you choose to navigate through it.  On your terms and your time
line.  Want to pay for some stuff?  Ok.  But there'll be free stuff as
well.  You pick.

The question, as always, is revenue.  Who pays?  Will readers pay to
be a part of this service?  Probably not 100%.  But they might pay for
certain premium services.  Imagine if J.K. Rowling offered sneak peeks
into her books to premium subscribers?  And what about content
authors?  Do they expect to be paid, or will they pay us to be a part
of the service?  The latter is not so very far fetched.  Because
basically what you're talking about is a built in community support
forum.  All an author needs to do is enable his book to work with this
system and presto, a community might/can/will spring up, and he's
done.    He can even make some money back by offering premium
services, as above.

We've finally reached the point where this is possible.  Check out Subtext for iPad. I hate when this happens.