I think I need to take back my previous criticism of Jonathan Franzen. The more I read about e-books the more serious I take the problem of permanence, which is the basis of his critique. Here, for example, is Nick Carr:
Because it lacks the necessity and the fixity of a print run, e-publishing once again can become an ongoing process rather than an event, which is likely to change the perceptions of writers and their collaborators. And when you change your perception of what you’re creating, you will also change how you create it. I think it’s fair to say that these kinds of shifts are subtle and play out over a long time, but in some ways the erosion of the sense of a written work’s completeness and self-containment may ultimately change literature as much as the underlying technological changes.
Last week, I snuck in one last paragraph into the book I wrote that’s coming out in September. While I thought that this new stuff really helped, I had to double-pinky-swear to my publisher that I wouldn’t do it again as they need to get a whole series of technical steps done in order to make their pre-publication deadlines. While some might be celebrating the ability to tinker with their work forever, I’m delighted to be done with it (except for the copy editing). I want to move on to the next project, not constantly rethink my old one forever. I’ve reached the end of the line.
What happens though if that line disappears entirely? Think of the possible abuses by publishers against authors that could come from constantly tinkering with books after they’ve been published. They could contractually obligate you to revise everything every couple of years. Isn’t that one of the most important reasons why everyone hates textbooks? If they mess with just a few of your words, would you even notice?
Your most devoted readers will. How do you teach a book that’s constantly changing? Aren’t Star Wars geeks everywhere viciously abusing George Lucas these days for messing with his movies thirty years after he released them? Why should it be any different with books?