Saturday, November 8, 2008

Bookp versus Bookc

Consider these two statements:
  • I wrote a book.
  • The book I wrote is on my shelf.
Book does not mean the same things here, and increasingly I feel that this ambiguity causes problems. Technological changes are causing the meanings to drift further apart, so I think it's important to clarify the two meanings that book can have.

I'll call the meanings bookp and bookc. A bookp is a physical object. It consists of pages of paper with ink on them. The pages are bound together and held between two covers. Bookps are what bookstores and libraries are filled with.

A bookc is not a physical object. The c stands for content, and if we assume that the content of a book is a simple stream of text (which is essentially true for most novels), bookc is that stream of text. The text might get printed on pages that are bound together, thus yielding a bookp, but the text might also get spoken aloud and recorded as an audiobook. It might get distributed over a set of web pages, thus forming a web site. The content of a book is independent of its packaging, and in fact packaging is what the p in bookp stands for. A bookp is simply one of many different ways of packaging a bookc.

Authors don't generally write bookps, although I suppose those who self-publish and keep boxes of books in their garage do. Rather, authors write bookcs. The semantics of the statements above, then, can be depicted this way:
  • I wrote a bookc.
  • The bookp I wrote is on my shelf.
With this distinction in mind, consider Doug McCune's statement that he doesn't read books or Joel Spolsky's thesis that programmers seem to have stopped reading books (both of which I found out about thanks to Jeff Atwood's blog.) I think these statements refer to bookps, not bookcs, and that opens the door to the possibility that people who claim to not read books or people who appear to not read books actually do read them, they just don't read them in bookp form.

Like Mulder, I want to believe, because I happen to like writing books (i.e., bookcs). Other entries in this blog make clear that I think a lot about bookps, but that's simple pragmatics. The publishing industry is changing, but it's currently set up to produce, market, distribute, and sell books in printed form. Remaining mindful of authoring constraints arising from printing considerations is no different from remaining mindful of software constraints arising from Windows considerations (assuming, in both cases, you want to maximize the number of platforms on which you can deliver what you produce).

Authors who leave all the layout decisions to their publishers (i.e., most of them) worry only about bookc considerations. Authors such as me who can't keep themselves from delving into layout matters have to keep bookp issues in mind, but it doesn't change the fact that, fundamentally, writing a book means writing a bookc.

1 comment:

thAAAnos said...

Let me argue a bit about the "single stream of text". This way of creating/communicating knowledge/art is enforced by the physical requirements of paper. A tradition so strong that it still strikes me that even authors that write only in electronic format are still bound by it.
For example *page brakes*, what is their use exactly in an ebook? bu that's just layout.
Now consider the "single stream of text", we have hypertext we can read text not as a single stream but as a graph, going in cycles, drilling in, skipping etc. That's not just layout that's structure ready and ripe for new linguistic trick's (see "flashback").
And still authors write and think in single stream of text.
To conclude, if a content is bound by the traditions/restrictions of paper books, whatever medium you may employ it's still a book_p.
So even when you think that think in terms of book_c you are still thinking in terms of book_p. In other words I believe the 2 terms to be identical.