Could you make Chemguide available as a book?

I've had several people telling me that if Chemguide was available as a book, they would buy it and so would everybody else, and I would make a lot of money! The sad truth is that nobody would buy it and no publisher would even consider it in its present form.

When people use a website like Chemguide, they probably don't look at more than a page or two at a visit. They only look at what immediately concerns them, and aren't really aware of all the other pages that they can't see.

That's a big advantage! If you could see the whole of Chemguide at once, it would be seriously scary. At the time of writing (May 2007), Chemguide has almost 400 web pages of information (not counting all the menus). Even if you used a small font, that would translate to maybe 1500 - 2000 pages in a book. That's a big, big book.

Imagine the effect on your confidence of being given a book that thick at the start of a chemistry course. The fact is, of course, that you aren't going to need to know everything on Chemguide for any course for 16 - 18 year olds (my target audience). The site tries to cover most of the content of about 12 different syllabuses at the moment, and every year I seem to pick up another syllabus which I had previously overlooked.

The reason that Chemguide works is that on the web I have the space to describe and explain things slowly and carefully - I can use as much space as I need. You can't do that in a book. The bigger the book, the more expensive it is to produce (and the more it has to be sold for). A book version of Chemguide would be far less friendly than the web version because of the need to keep its size down.

The other thing that a book loses compared with a web version is the ability to jump around easily from page to page to follow up bits you don't understand - and then use the Back button or the History file to get back quickly to where you started. This can be done with a book using the index and bits of paper stuck in everywhere to mark your place - but it is a lot more tedious.

Information on a website can also be updated and corrected very easily. Fortunately, it doesn't happen very often, but people do occasionally point out mistakes to me, or tell me that something isn't as easy to understand as it could be. The problem can be corrected on the website usually within about a quarter of an hour of receiving an e-mail. With a book, changes can sometimes take a long time to put right, because they have to wait at least until the next time the book is reprinted.

And finally . . . having already been through the publishing system with my existing books, I don't want to go back there if I can possibly avoid it! It can be seriously stressful because ultimately the author doesn't have any real control of the process. Writing for the web, the author is in total control. Everything looks and sounds exactly the way I want it to. I like that!

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© Jim Clark 2007