Two of digital culture's most talked-about contributions—the efficient dispersal of information and pervasive consumerism—are linked together in a couple of new publishing-related initiatives.
LiveReads, the startup run by former literary agents Neal Bascomb and Scott Waxman, has unveiled what it calls "one-part e-commerce engine, one-part book" for the electronic edition of The 7 Steps to Good Health by bestselling wellness author Gary Null. By embedding links to products in the text of the book, readers can make purchases from the author's own line of health products without leaving the title itself. The books are available in downloadable (Adobe or MS Reader) and CD-ROM editions.
While Null is successful enough to have his own line of offerings, LiveReads sees relationships for less prominent authors as well. "The range of possibilities for something like this is endless," Bascomb said. "This can work for a business book, a health book or a motivation book. If it's a guide on how to dress better, the publisher could have a relationship with the Gap." Like hypertext, which uses the fungibility of the Web to widen literary possibilities, Bascomb hopes his new kind of e-book will increase sales of related products. He acknowledged church-state concerns but said that the discerning reader will be able to distinguish. Besides, he added, books from branded, entrepreneurial authors like Null are more suited to the sale of products than, say, a literary novel.
DOI, or Digital Object Identifier (www.doi.org), is an ambitious project that could open similar commercial doors. A tagging system warmly embraced by acronym-lovers, DOI has been most often compared to the UPC code—a persistent identifier that catalogues content and tracks its movement. It streamlines and automates the process by which information is stored on the Web and thus eliminates errors that result from dead links, to name one virtue.
While the DOI will affect the storage of many kinds of data in large and sometimes hazy ways, the implications for publishing are more specific: selling more books. A DOI link will look like any other, but when users click on it, a list of options will pop up, such as an excerpting site, the publishers' home page or a list of e-retail outlets. (The exact choices will be left to the publisher and the content provider.) Users can then click over to any of these pages. In a presentation at BEA, David Sidman, CEO of Content Directions, a company that helps publishers get on board with DOI, showed an example of a page on businessweek.com. When the magazine runs a review of a title, he said, it won't have to make a single choice as to where to send readers but can provide as many title-related links as it wants.
"We want to create a world of interconnected information instead of interconnected fragile Web links," Sidman told PW. "And we want to bring people a click away from buying the book." Indeed, DOI will make users' very movement between review site, publisher catalogue and retail site much more fluid. In the process, it could transform every book-related site into a conduit for bookselling, much the way Null turns the book itself into a conduit for the sale of other products. For years, e-publishing observers have clamored for a different kind of e-book. Now, for better or ill, they might have it.