More Mod on the Digital Book

Embracing the Digital Book by Craig Mod.

A Reading Heatmap: Key passages illuminated by layering all readers’ highlights for the same text.

LAST MONTH, he wowed us with Books in the Age of the iPad, a call to make digital books as beautiful as printed ones. This month, Craig Mod is back with Embracing the Digital Book, an article (or blog post if you must) that begins as a critique of iBooks and Kindle and moves on to discuss the e-reader of our dreams, complete with reasoned social features:

I’m excited about digital books for a number of reasons. Their proclivity towards multimedia is not one of them. I’m excited about digital books for their meta potential. The illumination of, in the words of Richard Nash, that commonality between two people who have read the same book.

We need to step back for a moment and stop acting purely on style. There is no style store. Retire those half-realized metaphors while they’re still young.

Instead, let’s focus on the fundamentals. Improve e-reader typography and page balance. Integrate well considered networked (social) features. Respect the rights of the reader and then — only then — will we be in a position to further explore our new canvas.

Embracing the digital book — Craig Mod


Should Publishers Attend SXSW?

In Should Publishers Attend SXSW?, Lorraine Shanley of Publishing Trends answers her own question this way:

Yes, because sxsw offers a chance to see options for the future—amazing gaming, interactive software, inventive marketing, creative content development and deployment. But as Will Schwalbe … said, “If publishers come to sxsw to create their own sessions track, they’ll learn nothing. If they come to attend panels on subjects about which they know nothing, they’ll learn an enormous amount.”

The PDF version of the April issue includes additional SXSW coverage (with nice things said about our panel and A Book Apart), data on how different generations find books, search engine conversion strategies, and more.

Download PDF.

Content wants to be paid for

Content wants to be free like communism works, like sex is just for fun, like a few days of snow disprove global warming. That the web’s existence makes all content free is a Brooklyn Bridge most of us have bought, but it just ain’t true, as Erin Kissane makes clear in Content is Expensive at Incisive.nu.

Go there, read it, and understand why (just like newspaper reporting and books) web content costs money and must be paid for or subsidized. Either that or it must serve some secondary benefit that brings in the bucks: for instance, a free web design blog might lead to paying web design gigs for its author, or so they say.

Then read Part Two: Paying For It, where Kissane considers each of these methods of subsidizing content “and how they relate to our work as content and editorial strategists.”

(Of course there will always be web content that is purely a labor of love. That is why we love the web. And it’s kind of sad, quite frankly, that you almost can’t write “Shit My Dad Says” or create a LOLcats page purely out of love any more; that even stuff tossed off as a laugh ends up being “monetized.” By the way, whoever came up with that word should be deathetized by beatingization. But I digress.)

A List Apart: Just the Stats

Continuing with our “data, and what we can learn from it” theme, here are A List Apart‘s four most popular individual pages this week (excluding the home page, with 178,270 page views). Pay particular attention to the publication dates:

Article Page Views This Week
Flash and Standards: The Cold War of the Web by Daniel Mall, MARCH 9, 2010 41,035
Drop-Down Menus, Horizontal Style by Nick Rigby, JUNE 29, 2004 40,683
CSS Design: Taming Lists by Mark Newhouse, SEPTEMBER 27, 2002 37,867
[Articles Index Page] 34,630

What do these stats tell us?

For one thing, they tell us that for every reader who viewed A List Apart as a topical periodical publication—that is, for each person who read one of its latest articles—there were two readers who used the magazine as a source of evergreen web design and development content.

Put another way, for every person who uses A List Apart like a magazine or blog, there are two who use it as an encyclopedia of best practices in coding and design.

We’re looking at only seven days worth of statistics, here, but the pattern is consistent from week to week. What it tells the editors is that we’re not in the quick-hit eyeballs and ad sales business (but we knew that), we’re in the professional education business. It reminds us, if we needed reminding, that the mission stated on our Contribute page is still true:

We want to change the way our readers work, whether that means introducing a revolutionary CSS technique with dozens of potential applications, challenging the design community to ditch bad practices, or refuting common wisdom about, say, screen readers.

As we go about soliciting and reviewing potential ALA content, we must keep uppermost in our minds how people use our site, because its value lies in the hardiness of our best articles. Web professionals trust us to have the information they need to do their jobs better and deliver the best possible experience to their clients’ customers (and thus the best value to their clients). These stats reinforce what we already know, and help us stay true to our core purpose and values.

This emphasis on the evergreen over the topical also helps us as we strategize means of deepening our relationship with the web design community and add or change features to do so.

I’m barely scratching the surface of what the data tells us, but the little I have teased out so far is already very useful—and that’s the point. The more you look, the more you can learn. What’s in your logs?


Crowdsourcing Dickens

As an experiment in new new media thinking, I recently crowdsourced a new new literature version of Charles Dickens’s musty old old old lit chestnut, Great Expectations—the familiar tale of Pip, Ms Havisham, the convict Magwitch, et al.

Creative excellence and spin-worthy results required a pool of 10,000 people who had never read Great Expectations. Fortunately, I had access to 10,000 recent American college graduates, so that was no problem.

To add a dab of pseudoscience and appeal obliquely to the copyleft crowd, I remixed the new work’s leading literary themes with the top 20 Google search queries, using an algorithm I found in the mens room at Penn Station.

The result was a work of pure modern genius, coming soon to an iPad near you. (Profits from the sale will be used to support Smashing Magazine’s footer and sidebar elements.)

Gone was the fusty old title. Gone were the cobwebbed wedding cake and other dare I say emo images. It was goodbye to outdated characters like Joe the blacksmith and the beautiful Estella, farewell to the love story and the whole careful parallel between that thing and that other thing.

Gone too was the tired old indictment of the Victorian class system, and by implication of all economic and social systems that separate man from his brothers in Christ, yada yada. As more than one of my young test subjects volunteered in a follow-up survey, “Heard it.”

In place of these obsolete narrative elements, the students and the prioritized Google searches created, or dare I say curated, a tale as fresh as today’s algorithmically generated headlines.

The results are summarized in the table below.

Old Great Expectations New Great Expectations
On Christmas Eve, Pip, an orphan being raised by his sister, encounters the convict Magwitch on the marshes. n/a
The convict compels Pip to steal food from his sister’s table, and a file from her husband the blacksmith’s shop. Pip thereby shares the convict’s guilt and sin—but his kindness warms the convict’s heart. Guy on girl
Pip’s sister, Mrs. Joe, abuses him. Her husband loves Pip but is unable to protect him or offer him a future beyond blacksmithing. Girl on girl (multiple entries)
Pip meets Miss Havisham, an old woman abandoned on her wedding day, who sits in her decrepit house, wearing a yellowing wedding gown, her only companion the beautiful and mysterious girl Estella. Pip falls in love with Estella, but Miss Havisham has trained the girl to break men’s hearts. Guy on guy
Pip visits Miss Havisham until his apprenticeship with Joe the blacksmith begins. Pip hates being a blacksmith and worries that Estella will see him as common. Two girls, one guy
Mrs Joe suffers a heart attack that leaves her mute. A kind girl named Biddy comes to take care of Mrs Joe. After Mrs Joe’s death, Biddy and Joe will marry. Meanwhile, Pip comes into an unexpected inheritance and moves to London, where he studies with a tutor and lives with his friend Herbert. Dragons
Pip believes Miss Havisham is his benefactor and that she intends him to marry Estella, whom he still adores. Day by day, Estella grows more cruel. Pip never tells her of his love for her. Wizards
One stormy night, Pip discovers that his benefactor is not Miss Havisham but the convict Magwitch. The news crushes Pip, but he dutifully allows Magwitch to live with him—worrying, all the while, because Magwitch is a wanted man who will be hanged if discovered. Explosions
Miss Havisham repents having wasted her life and perverted Estella. She is caught in a fire. Pip heroically saves her but she later dies from her burns. Soon afterwards, Pip and Herbert try to help Magwitch escape, but Magwitch’s old enemy Compeyson—who happens to be the man who abandoned Miss Havisham at the altar—betrays Magwitch to the authorities. Magwitch and Compeyson struggle. Compeyson dies and Magwitch is taken to prison. Gunfights
Pip now realizes that Magwitch is a decent man and tries to make Magwitch’s last years happy ones. He also discovers that Magwitch is Estella’s father. Magwitch dies in prison shortly before he was to be executed. Pip tells the dying Magwitch of his love for Estella. Fistfights
Pip becomes ill and is nursed back to health by Joe, whom Pip recognizes as a good man in spite of his lack of education and “class.” Pip goes into business overseas with Herbert. Eventually he returns to England and visits Joe, who has married Biddy. They have a child named Pip. As the book ends, the middle-aged Pip makes one last visit to Miss Havisham’s house, where he discovers an older and wiser Estella. There is the implication that Pip and Estella may finally be together. Anal

Future of Online News

Many website designers run their own niche blog, and if the content is unique enough, a designer might be able to sell subscriptions to it. The content has to be very high quality, though, and few design blogs meet that standard.

A List Apart is one that does, and it could potentially turn a profit selling subscriptions. But the subscription route is a risky move because it alienates many users and shrinks ad revenue substantially.

Jeffrey Zeldman, publisher, founder and executive creative director of A List Apart, gives two reasons why A List Apart does not put its content behind a paywall:

  • It’s against our belief in free online content.
  • It wouldn’t work unless our competitors also put their content behind a paywall. We appeal to a discerning base of web designers, but if we went behind a paywall, it would be as if we had stopped publishing. Our readers would turn elsewhere.”

More at What Is the Future of Online News? | Webdesigner Depot.

Zeldman on Publishing

Zeldman photo and article in Austin Chronicle SXSW coverage.

P Is for Publishing. And publishing, as you’ve heard, is dying. … But “the printed word will be around long after many of our digital creations are gone,” Zeldman says, “either because books don’t require monthly hosting and blogs and websites do … or because the languages and platforms for which a particular digital creation was published will become obsolete.”

…[Jason,] Mandy and I are about to launch a printed book series, called A Book Apart, which derives much of its thinking and some of its formatting from what we’ve learned about PDFs in the past 10 years,” says Zeldman. The Mandy he mentions is Mandy Brown, creative director of Etsy and former creative director at W.W. Norton & Co.; she’s also one of the people speaking on the New Publishing and Web Content panel that Zeldman’s organizing for this year’s Interactive Fest, along with Happy Cog’s Erin Kissane, Harper’s Magazine editor (and Harper’s website creator) Paul Ford, and Lisa Holton, founder of new-media company Fourth Story Media.

…Everyone on the panel is committed to the digital future,” Zeldman says. “But we are also all committed to the book.” And how will their—how will our—relationships to books change, and how will those relationships remain the same, as the digitization of printed matter proceeds faster than most chain saws can spin? “How,” asks Zeldman, “can we be truthful and wise as editors, publishers, writers, journalists, and marketers straddling this scary yet exhilarating new divide?

Print & Paper Über Alles: A more perfect publishing today, Wayne Alan Brenner, Austin Chronicle (SXSW cover story), March 5, 2010

Related


Photo courtesy John Morrison.

Digital books: the medium changes the message

Content with form can change meaning when reformatted.

Content with form—Definite Content—is almost totally the opposite of Formless Content. Most texts composed with images, charts, graphs or poetry fall under this umbrella. It may be reflowable, but depending on how it’s reflowed, inherent meaning and quality of the text may shift.”

—Craigmod, Books in the Age of the iPad