Nelson's primary question: "Why aren't books more like websites? Or even magazines, for that matter? Or hell, like comic books?"
And the answer is: plenty of books are. There are editions of the Bible that mimic young women's magazines, and illustrated "coffee-table" books have many of the visual features of websites and magazines (or vice versa). And, as you know Bob, comic-book narratives have become more and more common on bookstore shelves over the past decade.
Nelson doesn't define what kind of "books" he's talking about. Possibly he means popular non-fiction on business topics, the kind that Meerman-Scott writes -- he is writing to Meerman-Scott, after all. But it's unclear whether he sees this as a template for all kinds of books -- fiction? car-repair manuals? serious biographies? -- or just a neat idea he's playing with.
(I have to admit, though, that it's nice for once to see someone with a master plan to change what books are like forever who isn't utterly focused on big mainstream fiction.)
Diving into more of the nitty-gritty, Nelson is a bit fuzzy on the economics of the modern comics world; he writes that:
Moreover, comics are typically sold in an affordable, cheap-to-produce format, and are only bound and sold as graphic novels after a series has had its run, and then only if it sold well enough to warrant the cost of creating a book.Yes and no. Floppies aren't all that cheap to produce (even compared to squarebound books), and the floppy-to-trade model is not nearly as stable and dependable as he assumes. Perhaps he's actually writing about the Japanese market of the early '90s?
And, for his big finish:
So what if a book read more like a website? What if it looked more like those Choose Your Own Adventure books, with links to other chapters, pages, and even other resources in the marginalia? What if there were paid advertising on the page, but not traditional ads but rather something more akin to Google AdWords, where the placement is determined online in a bidding process coupled with consumer-driven inputs? What if on the printed page, instead of single photos or illustrations with captions, books adapted the concept of the embedded YouTube video, and used a storyboard format--i.e., a comics format--to depict a scene, when sequential visuals are required?"Well, the first thing it would be is much more expensive to produce, per page -- like a magazine or a newspaper -- because text wouldn't flow as easily into a standard template, and massively more design and layout time would be required. That's good news for art directors everywhere, I suppose. Perhaps the advertising would offset those added costs, perhaps not.
But, again, plenty of books have magazine-like features now -- look at any travel book, or the fine line of "For Dummies" volumes from the company I work for. Those kind of features, in those kind of books, will probably increase -- in quantity and usefulness -- in electronic formats...but I get the idea that Nelson is talking about "books" strictly as ink on paper.
I doubt the book world will widely incorporate all of the ideas Nelson throws out -- external advertising in books, I believe, is still widely excluded by contract -- and I suspect he's not aware of how much of this is already done. But it's certainly one vision of the future of the book.