In this game of Info Survivor, print wins

June 18, 2012

One of the joys of blogging is sometimes you just get to rant. Here's one case, at least, where a very good book has lost a bit of its value because its publisher was too quick to jump on the online bandwagon.

I just got around to reading Margaret Atwood's 2003 apocalyptic novel Oryx and Crake. Okay, I'm a Philistine for not having read it when it came out. Whether in the interests of brevity or trendiness, Atwood's afterword credits only some of her sources and some of her in-text quotes. A more detailed list, we are assured, is available on the book's Web site,

Just one hitch. Nine years after the book's publication, that Web site no longer exists. In future years, Atwood scholars interested in probing the deep sources of this dystopian novel about bio-engineering run amuck -- or the sources of the home refrigerator magnet quotes that signpost a main character's descent into madness, many taken from actual fridge magnets available on the commercial market -- will be out of luck. Of course, Margaret Atwood is a sufficiently well regarded author that in the future, there may well be scholars seeking this material. They won't find it.

Obviously, if the publisher had approved adding a few more pages to a book whose commercial success was well-nigh assured, and had used them to print Ms. Atwood's sources verbatim, there would be no problem. Anyone with a copy of the book would have access to that list of sources if he or she wished to review them.

Moral of the story: Be cautious when yoking print materials to online reference sources. Especially where books are concerned, those online sources are terribly likely to move, or morph, or fade away long before the physical book reaches the end of its life. Score one for the Luddites, I suppose.