Hard copies of Burn Rate, a new nonfiction book about the rise and fall of an Internet start-up, are missing an index. Instead, in what may be a first, the book's index is only available on its Web site.
Book indexes have long been the crutch of overworked college students and other quick readers in search of specific bits of information.
But in this case, Burn Rate author Michael Wolff decided to use the Internet to prevent users from getting that quick hit.
"I didn't want people to just look themselves up in the bookstore," Wolff said today. "The book is a book to read, not a research book, and it only really works if you read it straight through."
Marion Maneker, Wolff's editor at Simon & Schuster, agreed.
"We didn't want people picking up the book just to find out if they were in it," Maneker said. "We wanted them to read the whole book and not just take one thing out of context."
Maneker acknowledged that many people consider an index indispensable, and so the online index was a compromise.
Maneker said it was the first time a publisher had taken an index out of a book and put it on the Web.
"That was one of the reasons we did it," he said. "This is an experiment and hopefully an expansion of what a book can be."
While Maneker stopped short of predicting a trend in online book indexes, he did say to expect more ancillary materials, such as footnotes, to appear online.
Wolff originally had even bigger online plans for his book, and discussed serializing it with BarnesandNoble.com. But Wolff's publisher vetoed the suggestion, fearing the online version would cut into unit sales.
Moving the index from the book to the Web has not prevented people from using it.
"Everyone is calling me," Wolff said. "There's been a rash of phone calls, with people who have looked at the index saying, 'How come I'm not in the book?'"
Those aren't the only phone calls Wolff has been getting, however.
"The people who are in the book are calling me to say they're furious that they're in it," Wolff said.