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Books by the chapter?
one man's quest

By Mark Notess / June 2008

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The other day I sat in on a friend's dissertation defense. During the defense, someone mentioned that a recent book, Made to Stick, gave evidence that people are convinced by stories, not by data. The idea stuck with me, so here is my story: A quest to track down the book and read what it says about the power of story—but without paying for the privilege.

Why don't I want to buy this book? Because if I bought it, I would thumb through it, read a bit here and there, and then stick it on my shelf—or more likely on a pile on my office floor until … some future event I cannot foresee. I read fiction cover-to-cover (the power of story!), but your average business book usually divulges 90 percent of its value after a 10 percent reading effort. I can stand at an airport bookrack and get an executive MBA refresher course between flights.

I start by going to my normal place-of-all-books, Amazon, or Kindle-zon as it has become. Lately every time I visit Amazon, I am tirelessly taunted with the Kindle. Ignoring the cool sounding, uncool-looking device I can't afford, a simple search, "made to stick," finds the book post-haste.

If not to buy, why am I here on Amazon? In fact, to the publisher's likely chagrin, I want to apply my 10 percent reading effort using the "Search Inside" feature, that wonderful mechanism that lets me read enough of something without paying a penny. But Made to Stick is going to stick it to me. Alas, I can't search inside this one. Farewell Amazon.

Up next, Google Books where I am also sometimes permitted a free peep inside. Unsurprisingly, there is "no preview available" for this recent tome. Dropping back to Google proper, I locate the book's website, hoping at least to find a table of contents and a sample chapter. I find the latter but not the former. The only excerpt is, predictably, chapter one, which, after I CTRL-f around for awhile, tells me that chapter six is about stories—that's the part I want to see. I'm making progress.

Back to Google, I note lower down in the results that the publisher, Random House, also has a website for this book, and the page title ends with the words, "Buy Chapters"! I click. Here I find I can buy individual chapters for $2.99. I'm intrigued. Are they PDFs? The fine print tells me they are Adobe Digital Editions (ADEs), that I have to download the software before purchasing the chapter, and that this only works if I'm in the USA, which I am. I don't know what an ADE is. Can I print it? Annotate it? Copy and paste from it? Can I put it on both of my laptops? Will it evaporate after I read it, or after Adobe loses interest in ADEs, whichever happens first? If my hard-drive crashes, can I download the chapter again? I forgot to mention I'm the suspicious type.

At this point, I'm on the fence: download or go to sleep and get the book from the library? Mark 2.0 decides to download, for the instant gratification. Well, not quite instant. The software download on the publisher's page fails repeatedly, so I go to Adobe's site. From here, the download works. I click through the 8-page, 3,500 word license agreement, which probably requires my first-born child. Once installed, ADE wants me to login to my Adobe account. I have none. I create one. Now it loves me and wants to sell me things.

I go back to the publisher's site to buy the chapter. It wants my Random House login. I have none. I create one. I complete the purchase entering the normal mix of necessities and archaisms (such as a mailing address). Eventually it emails me a link to my download, as well as a link to a free introduction and table of contents and the promise of a free tote bag if I fill out a survey.

I click on my chapter link, download it, and can now read it in my ADE reader. If my laptop supported an external monitor larger than 1024x768, I could read an entire widely-spaced page on my display. As it doesn't, I have to enlarge the page and scroll. I can highlight text, but if I try a CTRL-C, it tells me that the publisher has restricted copying. Can I print? Yes. I can bookmark but not annotate. Can I copy the chapter to my other laptop? Yes—my Adobe ID can read this on up to six other devices.

As traditional media and delivery channels are supplemented or replaced by newer ones, educators need to examine the new ones to discover what they are good for, whether they are sufficiently easy to use, and what usage rights are granted. I finally have my chapter, with something less than instant gratification. I will browse it, after which it will submerge in a pile of papers, seldom to be seen again, but where it will probably last longer than the file on my hard drive. My investigation of buying books by the chapter leaves me reluctant to recommend students buy materials this way—I'd likely end up having to provide technical support if I did. But the channel and packaging will mature, perhaps standardize, and then become more common. The story will change in a few years.


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