In “The Scholarly Kitchen“, Joseph Esposito writes: “I suspect that the multiple narratives of Pears’s fiction will someday find an analogue in expository writing that enables intersections of one theme or thread with another, which would provide, as it were, a new form of discovery.”
Perhaps that “analogue” is already here for the scholarly article in Elsevier’s “Article of the Future” and Wiley’s “Anywhere Article“. In scholarly expository writing, the intersections are often those of “conversations” among articles, for which the Digital Object Identifier (DOI) has performed and continues to perform an innovatory spark. Consider the activity and ten aims of the Linked Content Coalition.
All of this has been a long time coming. The DOI has its roots in the Handle System, whose roots weave back beyond the Web to the Internet Protocol (IP) itself. Esposito notes Iain Pears’s print antecedents in the experimental ’60s fiction of John Barth and the creator of Scheherazade, and he could have added the 1987 digital precursor Afternoon, A Story by Michael Joyce.
A long time coming, and to the kids in the backseat reading Pears’s Arcadia on their iPads, “No, we’re not there yet … keep reading!”
If the pen can be mightier than the sword, can a bookmark be mightier than Amazon? Bow Software Ltd in the UK thinks so. Using NFC technology, Charlotte Quickenden’s firm has committed “digital metonymy”: a bookmark that delivers the book.
A PhysiDigi Bookmark is a physical form which acts as a digital trigger to download an ebook. A PhysiDigi Bookmark has value, the value of the ebook that it opens for you to read. Therefore if you want to buy it, you purchase the ebook just as you would any other book by exchanging money with the vendor be that bookshop, venue or exhibition. The ebook is then yours. You own it, this is not an ebook lease controlled by DRM. If it’s a good ebook you can lend it, or, if it was a present you can wrap it and gift it. This physical digital thing is tactile, it has visual appeal, and through the act of acquiring it you will naturally have a closer connection to it than a box that you tapped ‘install’. Charlotte Quickenden, MD, Bow Software Ltd., via Bookshops of the Future: Where Physical and Digital Co-exist.
NFC (Near Field Communication) is the wireless transmission of data from a hardware device to another physical object within 10 centimeters of the device. Both must have embedded NFC chips and antennas. Quickenden hopes that her bookmarks with embedded NFC chips and antennas will level the playing field for bookstores, which for some publishers have fallen to less than 10% as a source of sales. Listen to Quickenden describe the PhysiDigi bookmark and watch it in action.
Berggren says he never believed that single-purpose devices like the original Kindle would become widespread, a prediction that seems to be playing out. But he did believe that multi-purpose tablets like the iPad would become most people’s primary e-reading devices, not phones. According to Readmill’s data, however, phones are not only the most popular e-reading device, they’re the best at keeping readers engaged, too.
“It is not only that they are spending more time reading the books because the screen is smaller. Even taking into account screen size, smartphone users read more often, they finish more books in general, they start more books, they share more quotes, and they write more comments,” says Berggren. “This paints a very clear picture that the people that are most engaged with their books are the people who read on their phones.”
Publishing and editorial folk who wish to educate themselves in the changing craft of the book should track this ongoing discussion on the merits of browsers versus apps/devices –even if at times it becomes finely technical.
Books On Books logged several articles on this last year when Jason Pontin declared MIT Technology Review’s colors (decidedly HTML5). Here is another worth a quick read: 5 Myths About Mobile Web Performance | Blog | Sencha. A quick read? Yes, publishers and editors need not be HTML jockeys or Java connoisseurs, but they need to have a business-like grasp of what they are choosing to ride or drink.
Understanding why to publish an ebook through an app or in a browser-friendly format — or both — and what the implications are for crafting finds its rough print analogs in selecting the primary channel and form of publication (trade or academic, hardback or paperback) as well as the structure of the work (design, layout and organization) and working out the financial case for deciding whether to publish and how.
When it comes to acquiring skills and professional training in book publishing, from the early days of the printing press onwards, learning by doing has been book publishing’s order of the day. Consider the following interview exchange between Mac Slocum (Tools of Change) and Theodore Gray (The Elements):
MS: What skills — or people with those skills — must be incorporated into the editorial process to produce something like the iPad/iPhone editions?
TG: Specifically in the case of “The Elements,” the skills required were writing, commercial-style stills photography, Objective-C programming, and a whole, whole lot of Mathematica programming to create the design and layout tool and image processing software we used to create all the media assets that went into the ebook.
Other ebooks might well require different skills. My next one, for example, is going to include a lot more video, so we’re gearing up to produce high-grade stereo 3D video. That’s one of the challenges in producing interesting ebooks: You need a wider range of skills than to produce a conventional print book.
Starting out in book publishing late in the last century, a novice would have consulted Marshall Lee’s Bookmaking and the Chicago Manual of Styleto learn the basics of design, editorial and production. If it were Trade publishing that beckoned, a familiarity with A. Scott Berg’s biography of Maxwell Perkins (“Editor of Genius”) would have been likely.
But as with the acquisition of print publishing skills through learning by commissioning, designing, editing, printing, marketing and selling, the acquisition of the skills required for ebook publishing could use a hand up from appropriate resources. People like Joshua Tallent, Joel Friedlander, Liz Castro, Craig Mod, Matthew Diener are those resources — either by example or authoring — and novices today would do well to start bookmarking their output.
For notes on the availability of formal training and career conditions in publishing, see Thad McIlroy’s The Future of Publishing.
No good history of the book in the late 20th and early 21st century will overlook this part of the book’s value chain. In covering the earlier eras, the outstanding historians — Chartier, Davenport, Eisenstein, Johns, Lefèbvre and Martin, McMurtrie, Pettegree, Pollard, and Suarez — touch on distribution and retail to varying degrees. When it comes to our era though, the effect on the book itself of the distribution/retail roles played by Barnes & Noble, Borders, Amazon, Apple, Google, OverDrive and a host of other smaller key players such as Project Gutenberg will loom larger. (So will that of self-publishing if we consider BookStats‘ report that self-published ebooks represented 30% of ebook sales in 2012. What the effect will be, though, is harder to say.)
Around since 1986, OverDrive has its roots in the production end of the industry, providing publishers with conversion and formatting services from diskettes to CDs to ebooks. Its owner, Steve Potash, set the foundations of its contribution to distribution and retail in 1999-2000 with his participation in the Open eBook Forum, now the International Digital Publishing Forum, and his creation of Overdrive’s Content Reserve. As of this writing, Content Reserve contains over a million ebooks; it is the “overdriver” behind the firm’s library distribution service and the OverDrive Retail Kiosk.
If the OverDrive Retail Kiosk becomes a key to unlocking the way back for book retail in the “real world,” it will by its own definition contribute to the evolution from the printed book to the ebook. Anyplace — in the mall, the main street or high street, the coffee shop, canteen or library — can become an outlet for the purchase of ebooks, which will feed back into the supply and value chains.
No doubt, historians will note that OverDrive required no physical ereader of its own, no Kindle, no iPad, etc., to reach this point in the evolutionary path but rather, it was its dual focus on finding an effective way to rationalize the delivery of multiple formats while pursuing a standard (EPUB) and on meeting the distribution needs of libraries then retail that put OverDrive in its current position. That position is symbiotic with both “closed garden” ereaders and apps as well as books-in-browser solutions.
Just as the Gutenberg press would not have taken off without the regular supply of a more relatively standardized form of paper, the digital book has had to await — is still awaiting — a more standardized format and mechanism of delivery. In reinventing themselves and these parts of the book industry’s DNA, OverDrive and others contribute to the evolution of the book.
The Fine Press Book Association’s inaugural Student Type Design Competition sprang from the hope that by building bridges between printers and young type designers we might end up creating new material resources for the fine press community.
What might be remarkable — or book-markable — is whether the surge in objectifying the book through sumptuous illumination, miniaturization or the creation of book art occurs at definitive moments of shifting media. One-off illuminated manuscripts preceded the invention of moveable type, but was there a definable surge of them in the decades either side of 1450?
The Audubon double elephant folio books appeared in 1820 about the time of Frederick Koenig‘s invention of the steam-driven letterpress.
Are William Morris’s fine editions from Kelmscott Press in 1890 a datum in a surge of book objectification either side of Mergenthaler‘s invention of linotype in 1884?
Last week, the New York Times ran an article about Neale Albert‘s collection of miniature books. Is this popular interest in unreadable books and the surge in altered and sculpted books an anxious reflection of another shift in media?
Ferris Jabr’s article “The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens” in Scientific American (April 11, 2013) revisits the themes raised in Maryanne Wolf’s Proust and the Squid mentioned in the previous posting. Jabr highlights much insightful writing on the neuroscience of reading, on which more in a bit. He begins, however, with a “haptic” anecdote that will resonate with parents and grandparents of children who are learning to read now or have learned in the last 3-5 years.
In a viral YouTube video from October 2011 a one-year-old girl sweeps her fingers across an iPad’s touchscreen, shuffling groups of icons. In the following scenes she appears to pinch, swipe and prod the pages of paper magazines as though they too were screens. When nothing happens, she pushes against her leg, confirming that her finger works just fine—or so a title card would have us believe.
Earlier the same year, I was lying in bed with an iPad reading Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov. As the story drew me in and admittedly as the hour grew late, I found myself repeatedly reaching into the upper right-hand corner of the screen with my left forefinger and thumb to pick up and “turn the page.” I had not developed the habit of “sweeping” or “tapping” to move through the book. These real-life mirror images of the haptic habits of a young soon-to-be reading brain and an old reading brain bring Wolf’s speculations alive.
Numerous studies cited by Jabr suggest different areas of the brain at work in screen reading vs print reading and connect that to poorer retention and comprehension in screen reading than print reading. But one of the more recent ones (“Metacognitive regulation of text learning: On screen versus on paper,” by Ackerman and Goldsmith) shows that where readers
studied expository texts of 1000–1200 words in one of the two media and for each text […] provided metacognitive prediction-of-performance judgments with respect to a subsequent multiple-choice test[,] [u]nder fixed study time (Experiment 1), test performance did not differ between the two media, but when study time was self-regulated (Experiment 2) worse performance was observed on screen than on paper. The results suggest that the primary differences between the two study media are not cognitive but rather metacognitive—less accurate prediction of performance and more erratic study-time regulation on screen than on paper.
S0 the reading brain may not be rewiring itself, but print and screen do demand different strategies of reading and study. Might the “haptic habits” of physically turning the page or recalling three dimensionally the place in the book and on the page where a sentence occurs (or pinching, swiping and prodding) be clues to how we learn to learn what we read? What we may be seeing in the one-year old are the beginnings of the metacognitive cues that will raise the performance of tomorrow’s screen reading brains, and in Ackerman’s and Goldsmith’s subjects, the familiarity of today’s reading brains with the metacognitive cues so key to studying from print that the students print out the relevant ebook chapter.
As Jabr concludes, “When it comes to intensively reading long pieces of plain text, paper and ink may still have the advantage. But text is not the only way to read.”
Which harks back to the conclusion of the previous post and Jerome Bruner’s apt observation of Vygotsky’s fondness for Bacon’s epigram, “Nec manus, nisi intellectus, sibi permissus, multum valent” (Neither hand nor intellect left each to itself is worth much)” (247). Perhaps neither print nor digital left each to itself is sufficient.
If we are to say that artists’ books count in contemporary art practice, we have to connect those circuits up with the wider critical discussion. Books have made this difficult, because in themselves, as objects, they harbour an insular perfection of their own. They have a persuasive individual completeness that only a wider context can begin to describe and elucidate. This security is part of their appeal, of course. But it also trips us up as we try to write about them, as the temptation is to treat every book as a world in itself, separate from any other and from the world outside. Walter Benjamin, writing of the early books of his childhood, confides, ‘whereas now content, theme and subject-matter are extraneous to the book, earlier they were solely and entirely in it’.
We should move towards a perception of practice, tactics and desires extraneous to the insufficiently-permeable identity of ‘artists books’. Like Benjamin, we should allow our perception of what is inside books to be informed by that which is outside them. The critical commonwealth that artists’ books belong to is none other than that of contemporary art practice. This realisation reframes the question of how to discover the relevance of artists’ books. It has nothing to do with their definition, or categorisation, and everything to do with what they say and what they make possible. They’re art.
The digital revolution is one of those extraneities that Eason and other book artists must have in mind. As is evident from the link, his Clock Watching is a pdf flipbook and seems to be viewable only on his website — a book in a browser. Any critique of the work would take into account the artist’s accommodation for non-Flash browsers and his choices of the application’s functionalities (automated page-turning, click to turn, click and drag to turn, thumb-nail presentation, print not allowed, download not allowed, etc.). On the iPad, the ability to zoom in to appreciate the chalk-drawn figures over the tinted collage of landscape foreground and background surpasses that of the cursor-bound MacBook Pro (circa 2009), but the work is dated 2006, and one would have hoped for greater visual control to pore over the tinted rocks and roots in the twilight scenes. But attention to technical extraneities are not the only ones Benjamin or Eason expect of the artist and viewer.
The work poses its question of measured time in words and then in images that suggest the vegetal, cultural and mortal passage of time. The strangely tinted foliage is moving through its seasons. The chalked characters are from different times and suggest Ovid’s Metamorphoses and the influence of other literary and artistic forebearers. But does Clock Watching succeed in bringing what is outside the clock and outside its medium — book, book-in-browser, book art — within itself? Time, as they say, …
In addition to making his own bookworks and inviting us onto the grounds of the critical commonwealth, Andrew Eason has posted a tunnel book: The Thames Tunnel. Be sure to hover over the holes in the cover and click on the dropdown “Look through.”
Here is the collection citation should you happen to be near the Brunel Collection in Bristol and wish to make an appointment to see the work:
Repository University of Bristol Library Special Collections
Level Collection Ref No DM327
TitleIllustrated booklet advertising the Thames Tunnel
Date 1827 Extent 1 item Description ‘Sketches and Memoranda of the works for the Tunnel under the Thames from Rotherhithe to Wapping [London]: published and sold at the Tunnel Works, Rotherhithe, and by Harvey and Darton, 55 Gracechurch Street, 1827’.
26 p.,  leaves of plates (4 folded). Copy available in the Eyles Collection, TA820.L6 SKE.