Wednesday, August 27, 2008

You saw the website. Now read the book!

Someone sent me a link the other day to a definition on Urban Dictionary. While enjoying that, I noticed a link for their latest book. It's not surprising that a major site should have an associated book or two. What's surprising is that it's not surprising.

I've argued before that text as a medium is not going to die out any time soon and that the web is a major factor in that. But it's a bit more puzzling why print doesn't die out. Books from web sites are a particular curiosity, and one for an online reference even more so. Think about it: The online version is searchable, hyperlinked and up to date. The print version is none of the three.

A dictionary is meant to be searched, is generally more fun and useful to browse by chasing cross-references, and had best be up to date (it'll often be new words you'll want to know the meaning of, at least when it comes to slang). Why bother with print? I can see why a publisher would bother: they know how to get paid for print. But why bother to buy a book?

Copy protection isn't an issue for a free online dictionary. It's got to be the form factor. It's still hard to take the online version with you wherever you go. Sure, you can carry a laptop with you, and there are hot spots and cell modems, but a book is generally smaller and more reliable. And it's not that hard to search, particularly if the entries are alphabetized.

Kindle was supposed to change all that, but as far as I can tell the infrastructure and selection aren't quite there yet to make Kindle take off.

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