I recently wrote a short Gilbane Spotlight article for the EMC XML community site about the state of Iowa going paperless (article can be found here) in regards to its Administrative Code publication. It got me to thinking, “When is a book no longer a book?”

Originally the admin code was produced as a 10,000 page loose-leaf publication service containing all the regulations of the state. For the last 10 years it has also appeared on the Web as PDFs of pages, and more recently, independent data chunks in HTML. And now they have discontinued the commercial printing of the loose-leaf version and only rely on the electronic versions to inform the public. They still produce PDF pages that resemble the printed volumes that are intended for local printing of select sections by public users of the information. But the electronic HTML version is being enhanced to improve reusability of the content, present it in alternative forms and integrated with related materials, etc. Think mashups and improved search capabilities. The content is managed in an XML-based Single Source Publishing system that produces all output forms.

I have migrated many, many printed publications to XML SSP platforms. Most follow the same evolutionary path regarding how the information is delivered to consumers. First they are printed. Then a second electronic copy is produced simultaneously with the print using separate production processes. Then the data is organized in a single database and reformatted to allow editing that can produce both print and electronic. Eventually the data gets enhanced and possibly broken into chunks to better enable reusing the content, but the print is still a viable output format. Later, the print is discontinued as the subscription list falls and the print product is no longer feasible. Or the electronic version is so much better, that people stop buying the print version.
So back to the original question, is it no longer a book? Is it when you stop printing pages? Or when you stop producing the content in page-oriented PDFs? Or does it have to do with how you manage and store the information?

Other changes take place in how the information is edited, formatted, and stored that might influence the answer to the question. For instance, if the content is still managed as a series of flat files, like chapters, and assembled for print, it seems to me that it is still a book, especially if it still contains content that is very book oriented, like tables of contents and other front matter, indexes, and even page numbers. Eventually, the content may be reorganized as logical chunks stored in a database, extracted for one or more output formats and organized appropriately for each delivery version, as in SSP systems. Print artifacts like TOCs may be completely generated and not stored as persistent objects, or they can be created and managed as build lists or maps (like with DITA). As long as one version is still book-like, IMHO it is still a book.

I would posit that once the printed versions are discontinued, and all electronic versions no longer contain print-specific artifacts, then maybe this is no longer a book, but simply content.