What is Required: Hybrid Books

It’s time for another product suggestion. Last year I threw out the need for caption printing on the back of photographs. It’s an obvious thing to do but only a few vendors partly support backside caption printing. Eventually, the masses will notice this glaring deficiency, grab their pitchforks, and demand backside captions. We’re not a very smart species but we can learn; especially if we’re motivated by fear. Today’s suggestion is little more esoteric and lacks the “aha-ness” of backside captions.

The world needs a way to combine the virtues of Books and eBooks.

If you read at all I don’t need to convince you that books are nearly perfect. The near perfection of the printed book was brilliantly highlighted in Isaac Asimov’s famous 1973 essay The Ancient and the Ultimate. Asimov’s essay is not readily available on-line and that’s too damn bad because he completely nailed it. The Ancient and the Ultimate should be required reading in English classes worldwide; it’s that good!

Plain old printed books are nearly perfect but nearly perfect is not perfect! eBooks do three things better than printed books.

  1. Duplication: It’s easy to copy eBooks.1
  2. Portability: You can carry entire eBook libraries around on your phone.
  3. Multimedia: eBooks can easily embed sound recordings and video.

Printed books reign supreme when it comes to:

  1. Durability: There are printed books that are hundreds of years old that are still human-readable. Binary formats and media are infuriatingly unstable. I’ve complained about this in the past and I will continue bitching until the long-term binary storage problem is solved.
  2. Privacy and Security: eBook readers, cell phones, tablets, and laptops can be hacked. Plain old printed books do not spy on you or mutate while you’re reading them. They also don’t bombard you with hard to ignore advertisements.
  3. Aesthetics and Beauty: Great printed books are extremely valuable works of art. It’s going to be a long time before eBooks command such respect.

Given that eBooks have a few virtues that printed books do not the obvious question is, “Can we combine the two and form a more perfect book?” Of course, the answer is yes but, like I warned you with backside captions, don’t hold your breath!

A proper Hybrid Book, or hyBook, will look, smell, and taste like a printed book. It will have all the glorious heft of a thick well-bound tome but embedded within it’s covers will be a machine readable version of the book. Ideally, the embedded digital version would be something like an RFID capable of storing a few gigabytes of data for at least two centuries without bit rot.2 To maintain a high level of privacy and security the digital version must be completely off-line, passive, battery-free, immutable, and hashed with the hash prominently printed on a number of pages of the printed version. Such a hyBook would combine the virtues of the printed and digital worlds.

hyBooks, like their conventional printed cousins, would be durable and human-readable over long periods. This sharply contrasts with eBooks. eBooks, with their lamentable DRM policies, geographic restrictions, user monitoring, oligopolistic pricing, and built in obsolescence are essentially self-burning books. You cannot depend on eBook longevity because you don’t control them; they can be conveniently memory-holed without warning. With hyBooks you are in control.

Finally, hyBooks mitigate the most important limitation of printed works: duplication difficulty. As we move into an increasing DRM’ed and censored future with every aggrieved party screaming for limitations on free speech it will become more important to preserve, duplicate, and distribute offensive, blasphemous, pornographic, and opprobrious wrongthink! With well-distributed and hidden hyBooks functioning as highly redundant off-line backups it will be extremely difficult for authorities to suppress ideas. Whenever some twad3 forces the content of a hyBook off-line it will pop up again somewhere else. To memory-holing censors everywhere hyBooks will be like floating turds; one flush will never suffice. Is there any better recommendation than that?


  1. This only applies to non-DRM’ed eBooks. DRM‘ed eBooks are broken. They should be avoided at all costs and their publishers should be tarred and feathered and stuffed head first into septic tanks.
  2. Currently, (March 2017), there is no cost-effective durable and passive technology that can store a digital image of a book within its covers for two centuries.
  3. Twit asshole and dolt: pejorative invention is one of my many specialties.