Re-releasing books online

Kevin Kelly has been releasing contents of his book written a decade ago on his website as a series of blog postings.

The book itself has always been available online as free, so he is not offering it ( = paid content) free on the web for the first time. The difference between the past online offerings (PDF, website…) and this case is that as a blog, he is encouraging readers to participate in making it better.

There are many places in New Rules that I know could be updated with more current examples: I’ll leave those to you, the collective readers, to do — as I say in the book, no one is as smart as everyone.

Kevin Kelly is expecting more of an update rather than error corrections, as he says that the original book, written 10 years ago (a lifetime in the age of Internet), is “as pertinent today as a decade ago.” I am wondering, what if an author, especially non-fiction writer, posts his earlier works on the web and let everybody scrutinize their contents? Did his message stood the test of time? Or if the author has changed his mind, found better ideas, admitted his mistakes, he can post them too alongside his readers.

Most authors won’t touch that subject (that’s why some of them keep churning out the book version of the X-men films), but I am thinking maybe that is the only way to let a book live its life for more than a couple of years. Sadly, nowadays whenever I buy any book dealing with current affairs, the first thing I do is to check the last publication date.

  • 2009: Certified fresh. Might be sour.
  • 2008: Ripe.
  • 2007: Getting dry, but sometimes that’s not a bad taste either.
  • 2006: Need to check the smell before trying it out. (Won’t buy it unless the Search Inside! option is not available in Amazon)
  • 2005 and before: Certified rotten.

I think I am not going to change my habit, like, forever. We have electronic readers and online subscriptions: why not go one more step and allow live-update publications with user inputs? It’s not just about data corrections. One of my favorite books of the past decade is What Should I Do With My Life? by Po Bronson. It is a fantastic collection of stories from people who were trying to find a path when they were lost without direction in their lives. The first thing I thought when I finished reading the book, and what I still do, is “I want to read more.” If an “update” service becomes standard, my wishes might be met more easily from help both by the author and the readers who themselves have stories to tell.*

* There is a famous author who is already trying the “update” approach, although still based on printed publication: it is Thomas L. Friedman with his recent two books.