NB: This starts out as a long story about publishing medical books, but I intend it as a way to illustrate the pace and degree of change in the media for the blog’s usual readers at the end. --DH
This spring I married a physician who has written or edited a fairly large number of medical books. Her background is both in clinical practice and research, she has an appointment as full professor at an area medical school, and she has way, way more letters behind her name than do I. Her most successful book is a sort of how-to manual for procedures in her area of specialty, the most recent edition of which came out in 2007.
So a few weeks ago, we were discussing a call she received from her publisher asking her if she wanted to do a 5th edition of the book. The last edition had a companion DVD that contained videos illustrating seven of the 53 procedures in the book. The videos are good, including some basic animations, but require a physician to go to a computer, find software that will play the odd format (with some trial and error, one of which crashed my PC, I discovered that RealPlayer could handle it), and hope that the procedure you need to do is one of the 13% in described in the book (the book does have helpful drawings and photos). You shouldn’t have to call the IT department before trying to bone up on intubations.
As a new iPad owner, I’d been very impressed with how tablet apps are creating a whole new category of book – or is it a whole new category of video – or is it some new medium we haven’t yet named? I’d heard great things about two such apps, so I downloaded them and they blew me away. One is Alice for the iPad by Atomic Antelope, a presentation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. The other is Theodore Gray’s, The Elements: A Visual Exploration by Element Collection, Inc., a mesmerizing way (I kid you not) to visualize and learn about the periodic table of elements.
I showed these to my wife and her co-editor, and they got it instantly. In The Elements, not only do you get text and video but computations are also included in the app. The ability of a “book” to include text, audio, video, animation, and computation totally blows away the traditional atom-based professional book (imagine being able to enter patient parameters and instantly determine medication dosage). And the tablet format frees you from having to retreat to your office (perhaps at a different location), boot up a DVD through problematic software, and find the right video in multiple indexes. You can do all this in the hallway or even the OR if you want.
That led the three of us to have a conference call with the publisher, a leading company for this type of book. To give them the benefit of the doubt, they hadn’t viewed the same iPad apps that we had, and perhaps we weren’t the most articulate advocates, but it was clear that they were in the business of making books of paper and perhaps they could add some additional procedures to the DVD that’s bound into the book. If there was recognition that the whole conception of a professional book has changed, it wasn’t evident on the call.
Enough of the book publishing story. I don’t want to be too hard on them because those of us in other traditional forms of media are too often not much better at re-envisioning our products. But we must do that and, indeed, there is very good creative work being done toward that end. Let’s do more. --Dennis