Reading books online

Reading books online

"I don't get to read books very often anymore." [ A Shifted Reading List]

Uh oh. That's a scary thing to hear from a librarian. :-) There is, of course, an emerging middle ground between print books and blogspace: online books. When O'Reilly created Safari [disclosure: I was heavily involved in the project, and am still peripherally connected to it], we imagined a bimodal pattern of use, whereby people would read print books in their leisure time, to enlarge their worldview, and use online reference libraries for tactical research.

While I think that's generally true, my own use of Safari is somewhat contrary. Here are some of the books I've recently read online.

Java and XML, 2nd ed.

COM and .NET Component Services

. NET Framework Essentials, 2nd ed.

Programming Web Services with SOAP

I was very grateful to the authors and editors of all these books, each of which did just what a good book should: enlarge my worldview on a topic. Granted, these are programming books, so it was especially useful to go through them online, cutting/pasting/testing code fragments as I went. But I am rethinking, to some degree, the assumption that people "won't read books online." I find that I do, and it helps me to stay current. Note that .NET Framework Essentials, 2nd ed., just came out last month.

It's tempting, from the perspective of blogspace, to undervalue books and magazine articles. But the slower, more reflective process they embody, and their more ambitious aims, still matter -- arguably more than ever. Amidst an often bewildering flux, we need anchors and touchstones.

There is no doubt in my mind that the process of writing books will change for the better as the publishing world increasingly reckons with, and adapts to, what is happening here. I hope to be involved, somehow, in making that happen.

What has already changed is the means of access to (some) books. When you find out about a book that's in Safari, you don't have to wait for Amazon to ship it, you can read it right now. I hope there's a business model here that will help authors, editors, and publishers continue to be able to do what they do.

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