Right under the noses of those looking at how people use mobile data lurk biblophiles. They are reading living books. Dan York suggested this idea during a segment on For Immediate Release and he's writing about it on his Disruptive Conversations blog. He muses about a book being "more than just a fixed collection of text at a given point of time" and offers a treatment for a narrative that "evolves and changes over time". I like his thinking in this regard because it means our early 21st century concept of a book has changed.
The change is nearly mainstream too because Irish broadcasters, not known for their confidence with embracing new technology, now sprinkle words like "Kindle" and "iPad" into their radio minutes. These talking heads often buy and chat about e-ink they've read. While that's nice, Dan York points out an O'Reilly innovation that goes one step further.
The story evolves from the natural gestation of second editions and third editions--the bane of the university student who is pushed to use the textbook prescribed on a course syllabus. Dan York points to easy revision as a system process, something I've done with desktop authoring programs. On my desktop, programs like Sigil, Calibre, and Jutoh let me manage my lecture notes as pages of electronic compilations. By next semester, I'll be able to point students to a collection of notes and essays related to the main topics I deliver in the classroom. Because it's easy to keep myself oriented about the current version of notes, I can merely update my electronic edition and post a link to the same. But if my epub is in the Amazon system and I want to reissue the product, I need to get a separate ISBN number and resubmit. Not so with O'Reilly.
O'Reilly works with a Subversion Repository. That means all Dan York has to do when he wants to change his book is to send an email to his production editor with bullet points of changes. If the editor likes the changes, he triggers a process that creates the appropriate ebook files and puts them up on O'Reilly's distribution site. Amazon is linked into that process.
The best way to see how this happens is to buy Dan York's book directly from O'Reilly. That way you will get an email saying that you can download the updated version.
Or you can subscribe to Dan York's blog where he writes and tweets about his book. Anyone who buys the new version will have the most up-to-date text.
I like how ebooks have already changed the way authors and readers relate to one another. Second and third editions normally evolve based on reader feedback. Authors can get moments of inspiration in the shower and change the way they present themselves in their written work. This can happen faster with the electronic versions of the printed text. This relationship extends well outside of shower stalls. Today's e-books are often accompanied by more social networking than ever before. Along with this social networking comes relationships between authors and readers that never existed before.
These relationships are vibrant and meaningful. To me, they mean the 21st century book is truly alive because more 21st century books are ebooks and they connect elegantly to their human readers.
Dan York -- "The Exquisite Beauty of an Ebook as a Living, Breathing Document" on his Disruptive Conversations blog, February 23, 2012.