Originally posted on January 19, 2010.
I may have the best collection of Beatles books for sale on Amazon. How? I recently read The Beatles, The Biography by Bob Spitz and in the back of the book were eight pages of bibliographic references. As I looked through these it occurred to me that all the work 'behind the book' is essentially hidden to the reader; more importantly this 'extra' content represents un-monetized revenue to the publisher. As more non-fiction titles are available on the web and as publishers attempt to build direct relationships with readers it would seem obvious that adding the 'raw' content that went into the creation of the work - all of which represents real, tangible material and research - could be made available to the consumer as a package of content. Let the consumer decide if they want to read only the finished book or delve into the primary research material.
At BookExpo last year, a publisher from a major house lamented a friend who had spent 10 years writing some social history book and dammed if they didn't have a right to sell the book for $35. It struck me the reader doesn't really care it took ten years of the authors life; it's always about value proposition, and because consumers are barraged with free content the $35 often doesn't appear reasonable. On the other hand, if the reader had access to a 'reference' collection of material that was effectively curated by the author and expansive beyond the traditional book suddenly the value proposition of that social history begins to justify a price differential between the basic book (at $9.95 for sake of argument) and a companion web based reference collection at $35.
Getting back to The Beatles and my bookstore. I took all the citations and added them to my Amazon bookstore and there they reside as a dedicated Beatles bookstore. (I haven't sold much). This really isn't close to representing the true potential value that a web based reference collection of The Beatles could represent, yet Spitz did the work: He took the notes, watched the videos, interviewed the people, read the books, etc. etc. This material is index-able, with a little bit of foresight the writing/editing process could support more efficient collection of the bibliographic material and collectively the material could be monetized. As a 'reference collection' the book then becomes a living thing, because as new material about the Beatles is written or material is written about The Beatles, The Biography by reviewers and readers, all additional material can be added to the 'reference collection' thus keeping the book relevant. Accordingly, developing additional (web) content around a book in this manner starts to challenge the idea of front and back list.
If the publisher doesn't want to invest the time and effort in developing their content in this manner then I am sure third parties would be interested in licensing the rights to take the authors primary material, marry it with the finished product and create a web reference collection as I described. Last year I read a biography of Sir Charles Wren, the architect of post-Great Fire London. I know London fairly well, but I had a devil of a time locating and visualizing all the buildings discussed in the book: Just think of all the city plans, architectural diagrams and 3d models that this book could support. An end product maybe not for everyone but enough that the 'premium' $35 price looks viable.