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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Mix and Match

Is Embedding Hyperlinks Into Print Books a Step Forward, Or Backward?

John W. Glenn, my intrepid and wide-reading packaging partner (we create books together) sent me this link,

This is an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education about a professor who writes books meant to be read in print, but with hyperlinks that work if you photograph them with your cell phone. So the idea is you are reading along in a library or at home, you come to the link, you take a quick photo, you are now able to get to the website that enhances what you find on the page. In one way, I like this. It recognizes that we do like and use print books — there is no reason (as one of comments below the piece argues) to see print itself as an archaic technology. Even its limitation is a positive to me — because print needs to have a settled version, it cannot be updated constantly, it allows for, and reward, craft. The extra time you spend creating text to endure in print can be reflected in how the text reads. As Blaise Pascal (at least according to Wikipedia)  famously said, it would have been shorter if I had more time. If you can update constantly in effect you have infinite time. Print is good. But so too is the access, the multimedia possibilities, of the web. So I like the concept behind the embedded link.

And yet. The use of the camera seems clunky — not to mention that not all kids, in a K-12 enviornment, will have one or even be allowed to use it if they have it. And I am not entirely clear what the large gain is in having embedded code + camera as opposed to simply writing in a url — thus asking the reader to carry to book over to a nearby screen. Yes that requires a couple of steps — the reader has to be motivated enough, the URL easy enough to copy. And as you all know, some publishers create central sites for a book or a subject, so you can just go there while you have the print book in your lap, and then explore. My five you old went through a Leapfrog phase a few months ago — they sell books and a device that will read either the full story or individual words back to you as you go, so he can read, or be read to, at his choice. Well I could easily see a Leapnetbook-wand — as you read the print book, you pass your wand over any interesting urls, which stores them with some handy identifier. Then when you are at a screen, you take off a part of the wand that is a flash drive and it gives you a list of the sites, in order, with information about each one and you click through.

Then again there is the experiment John and I (and National Geographic) are trying in Napa — giving the school district a site license to several books. They will have the print books, and then a PDF of the books on every screen. That is yet another effort to mix and match — to keep the quality that comes from the constraints of print but allow the access that comes from digital delivery. What do you think? What blend would work for you, and why?