Dimitri Rotov had a very interesting post/rant on his blog today. He mentioned that I, along with several others, have been encouraging him to write a book about McClellan for some time now. I really think that Dimitri is the logical choice to write the definitive study of Mac’s life, and I can only reiterate the hope that he will do so.
I may write a book. I’m thinking about it. But I don’t feel obliged to do so.
Can this blog be a book substitute? I think it can. It requires a leap of faith, perhaps, over the bound book culture. It requires a dispensation: “He’s not being lazy or unfocused.”
Can pathbreaking research be published on the web? I think it must be. The least we can have from copyrighted work is summary and conclusions.
Given the painful transition out of print technology, the decline in the Civil War publishing model, and the accessibility of web publishing to everyman, it seems to me we can all fail better, much better, on the Internet.
Can that be my credo?
I thought I would kick in my two cents’ worth on this interesting issue. Let me begin by stating that I have a very real and very powerful bias/preference for real, honest-to-goodness books. I like the feel, sight, and smell of a book. I love the look of a full bookcase, brimming with volumes. Having said that, I am also a bit of a techno-nerd, and am married to a propeller head. So, I get the idea of making information generally available on the Internet.
Here’s my problem with Dimitri’s concept. I am, and remain, very concerned with protecting the integrity of copyright. The Internet makes it ridiculously easy to steal copyrighted material (it is, of course simple enough to xerox or scan a book, but you can’t copy/paste a book). My thoughts on this topic have been explored in depth on this blog with respect to Google’s massive copyright infringement scheme, and I won’t beat that poor dead horse here again. Having said that, the concern is legitimate and valid. How would you at least make an effort to protect the integrity of your intellectual property, Dimitri?
The other issue that I wanted to address is the question of how does one make any money from something that is entirely published on a blog? Let’s be clear about this: I am a realist. I don’t expect to get rich writing books on the Civil War. It’s not going to happen, and I understand that. At the same time, I spend a lot of money doing the research for my books, between buying books, paying researchers, traveling to battlefields, and paying cartographers. While I don’t expect to get rich, I would at least like to break even on these projects. Getting paid at least provides the basic funding for the next book project, so that I’m not having to dig deeply out of pocket each time that I commence another project (and I usually have several different research projects going on at any given time, all in different stages of the process). In other words, the royalties for the prior books provide the funding for future books. It is, frankly, about the only way that I can justify the expenditures to Susan. If she had her way, we’d be making John Grisham money from my writing, unrealistic as that might be. Heck, I’d settle for David McCullough or Doris Kearns Goodwin money.
From my perspective, the only way that I could get behind the idea of “publishing” a book on a blog would be if there was some way to guarantee a flow of revenue coming from it. Writing a couple of hundred years ago, Dr. Ben Johnson wrote, and quite correctly: “No man but a blockhead ever wrote but for money.” I wholeheartedly agree with Dr. Johnson’s observation, and I may be a lof of things, but I am not a blockhead, if this is the operative definition of blockhead.
Perhaps the ITunes model of paying for individual songs before downloading them might be a solution to this problem, but it would require some fairly sophisticated e-commerce capability on the web site. I won’t speak for Dimitri, but I can unquestionably say that I don’t have the technical skills to do so, meaning that Susan would have to do it. There’s also the question of how you would price the downloads, etc. I’m really not sure how Dimitri intends to address this issue, if at all, but for me, this one would be a real deal-breaker.
So, the upshot of it is that while I think that Dimitri’s got an extremely interesting idea here, I think that it requires some serious thought and serious planning in order for it to work. I wish him well with it, and I will be watching carefully to see how he tackles these issues.
And to reiterate what I’ve said before: write the damned book, Dimitri. Mac deserves as much.Scridb filter