Publishers' puzzlement about the combination

Most publishers I approached had no idea what I was talking about when I proposed a combination hypertext and book. I worried about intellectual property issues and they worried about cost retrieval, but most significantly I found it difficult to explain the joint project to them.

Publishers tended to interpret the proposal in terms of two inadequate models that they were already familiar with.

The first model was a book accompanied by a web site that functions as an advertisement. (For instance the University of Chicago Press puts single chapters of some books on the web as a way of enticing readers to buy the whole book.) This subordinates the hypertext, whereas I was proposing two co-equal presentations.

The second model was a textbook that has supplementary materials available on a CD inserted in the book, or on a password-protected website. A music or art textbook might have examples provided on a CD; a logic or math textbook might have exercises and testing materials. This makes the hypertext a secondary adjunct.

One publisher did understand the potential for a work that existed in two equally weighted versions, one in print, one electronic. The University Press of Virginia has established a separate Electronic Imprint, and was willing to consider the joint project. In the end, though, their book arm found the manuscript too theoretical for their series, while their electronic arm is concentrating on scholarly databases and compendia rather than expository/narrative texts.

I was not surprised that publishers found the idea of a twin book/hypertext puzzling. Current web practice supports the subordination of one of the pair. This is another example of the pressure of one medium upon another.

An additional hurdle for this particular project, and for scholarly hypertext in general, was publishers' worry about how to find peer reviewers for such a text. The review panel Virginia assembled for the hypertext included one person who was familiar with hypertext methods of presentation and two experts on the subject matter. It was encouraging for the future of hypertext reading that the most helpful commentary on the form of the presentation came from one of the subject matter experts who had never dealt with a long hypertext before.