I’ve been a guest on Jim Blasingame’s Small Business Advocate show for more than a decade. I enjoy the banter, but a big reason I keep going back is that Jim is one of my friends who kickstarts my thinking. On a recent show, he did it with a question.
What’s the future of the book when information is on the web?
Jim writes business books. His most recent is The Age of the Customer. He points out that a person can get almost all the information that’s in the book by going to the book’s web site. If that’s true, he asks, what’s the purpose of a book?
The web does three things well.
The web is great for an unstructured experience. You can follow the links that your brain finds interesting. That’s hard to do with a book, even an e-book.
The web is an ocean of information and comment. There’s more on the web than you could ever stuff into even a big book.
The web can be updated easily. It’s tough for a book reader to keep their book current.
The book has to do something different.
If books are going to thrive in the age of the web, they have to deliver a different experience. Books can do that in two ways.
The book can provide structure.
Books can provide a structured experience. Books deliver a linear experience. You can write your book to lead a reader on a learning journey. You can tell a story straight through from beginning to end.
The book can provide insight when it’s most valuable.
You’re the author. You know your subject or your story well. So you can add interpretation and insight when it’s likely to have the most impact.
The book probably won’t be at the center anymore.
For the first two decades of the commercial web, web sites have supported books. That’s starting to change. I imagine the best books and web sites supporting each other. Each does some things better than the other. Together they deliver more value than either can alone.