Publishers + Electrons
Lifting a book out of the print medium and dropping it into an electronic format I call “publishing electronically.” That is a reductionist view of a print product in the new Web economy.
But no longer trapped in static linear pages, electronic information on the Web can now take on a life of its own. Concepts and ideas can be liberated from the context of the page and juxtaposed in novel ways. When new content-management rules can retrieve a book’s content not only alphabetically in an index but dynamically along all axes of content organization (by time, place, category, hierarchy), the book morphs into a powerful interactive experience in the hands of the user. I call this “electronic publishing,” a virtual and dynamic reengineering of the book, a new access methodology to be exploited at its fullest in an electronic medium. It affords publishers to become information providers.
It is a well-understood reality that once a book is out of the hands of its author, it takes on a life of its own. The same applies to content creation in the electronic world. Retrieval creates new and unexpected experiences that cannot be controlled editorially. Learning, exploration and discovery take on a whole new dimension with an end-user’s query as publications unfold and come alive. It is a hard lesson for publishers to learn.
What role will publishers play then? As facilitators or reuse and remix? As platform owners? As curators? And what of the authors? Do they not have moral rights to and in their work and should they not have control over said derivative works? And more importantly, where’s the business model in all of this?
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