“Books” in the age of the IPad

books on an infinite plane on the ipad platform

Craig Mod makes an interesting case for celebrating the (supposed) demise of “disposable books” — he elaborates at some length a simple distinction between books where the content and form are integral and those where they are independent — and welcoming the IPad as a reading platform. Here’s a sample:

We’re losing the dregs of the publishing world: disposable books. The book printed without consideration of form or sustainability or longevity. The book produced to be consumed once and then tossed. The book you bin when you’re moving and you need to clean out the closet.

These are the first books to go. And I say it again, good riddance.

Once we dump this weight we can prune our increasingly obsolete network of distribution. As physicality disappears, so too does the need to fly dead trees around the world.

You already know the potential gains: edgier, riskier books in digital form, born from a lower barrier-to-entry to publish. New modes of storytelling. Less environmental impact. A rise in importance of editors. And, yes — paradoxically — a marked increase in the quality of things that do get printed.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everything in that last paragraph were true! Unfortunately, part of this is fiction writing. Check out the NYT bestseller list and see if you can observe “a marked increase in the quality of things that do get printed.”

To me the most interesting part of Mod’s argument is his vision for booklike content that disposes of the metaphor of the page, as shown in the image above (the image is Mod’s). In this vision the content metaphor is not the bound book but the East Asian handscroll, on which stories were rolled out continuously from one end to the other rather than proceeding page by page.

The book is a perfected technology, but why should the electronic platform inherit the binding metaphor?


Link: Books in the Age of the IPad


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  1. Well, it’s something to see. I was recently on a flight out of San Francisco and, as I walked the aisle, I spotted several people reading books on Kindles and iPads. As for me, I own a Kindle but don’t use it because it’s too much bother to download things and anyway I much prefer an actual book in my hands. That said, I’m planning to read War & Peace this year and yikes, that book is heavy. It’s interesting to think about what constitutes a “throw away” book. For me, my paperback copy of War & Peace is a throw-away, but that’s not– certainly not– a comment on the value I put on the content itself. (I am anticipating a glorious read.) But I don’t think my keeping my crappy paperback copy is going to affect the probabilities of the book’s surviving… So here I would separate the physical book from the “story” itself.

  2. I’ll have to see how reading a book on the iPad is before I buy one obviously. I can’t imagine it to be very easy on the eyes, and I wont want to take my iPad to some of the places I read books (like the beach).

  3. The problem with the “latest and hottest” electronic gadget is that it is so transitory. I remember when the CD’s of various art collections came out – the Barnes Collection and the National Gallery come to mind. It never occurred to me that I wouldn’t be able to read them forever, the way I do books. Well, maybe forever is too long but ten years and several system upgrades later and I can’t access the CD’s. So, I feel that it’s just not worth the extra money for an electronic gizmo that will probably be out of date in a few years. Books have been with us, more or less in their current form 500 years (give or take a few years on either side of that). This is one time where I’m not fooling around with the tried and true.

  4. It’s still going to need some form of section demarcation though, just so as it is easier on the eye.

  5. The real beauty of ereaders is that you can buy books from stores outside your country with just a click of the mouse.

    I’m in the Uk – and buying from the US is normally prohibitive due to shipping costs. Buying electronic books is easy though. Not sure ebooksellers have cottoned on to how this could expand their potential customer base.