On the Same Page

I have just finished reading Clive Thomspson’s WIRED artcile on the Future of Reading. The notion of unleashing the book online to prod readers into interacting with text sounds like fun and I like the idea of focusing on the reader. I look forward to all the variations and trials that publishers put forward in the coming months, but there is one aspect of books that I hope they maintain in all their experimentation…

and that is that they allow readers to share the same text. And I mean the exact same text. If I enjoy a book about presidential history, I already know which of my friends would enjoy it too and that I’d lend it to. He will get around to reading it some time in the next few months and give it back (he better anyway, but that’s another post) and then we’ll talk about it.

But what if the book I shared was in some new online account or form? When we dialed in to read it, months after I had, he would be greeted by the author’s text (which I read) plus scores of readers’ notes, photos, corrections, flame wars, (gasp, spam?), new additions, cross references, etc. In essence he would have a totally different experience than I had. I can’t imagine trying to talk about the book then. I may have missed out on so much new stuff, that I can no longer contribute to the conversation or there may be so much noise now that he’ll hate the book.

So, publishers, when designing and dreaming all of the new ways to “unlock readers”, please be sure to incoporate a way for everyone to have the same experience. Whether it’s “turn off all comments” or “view book as it existed on this specific date”, it doesn’t matter. I’m not fretting over anything as heady as shared cultural experiences and the glue that binds humanity together… I just want to make sure I’m on the same page, as my friends, when we buy and discuss your books.

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