Content Versus Container, Part 3



Who Cares About the Container? I’m Going Digital!

Untitled-1Okay, so we now know the difference between formless content and definite content. You may be saying to yourself (again, aloud on a subway full of passengers), “So there are a few books out there that won’t conform to the times… most everything we read is formless content anyway, right? I say let’s go Fahrenheit 451 on literature and burn everything except the art books, the ones with the diagrams, and all those crazy, self-aware titles. We’ll keep a few necessary titles in paper format, and we won’t have so many heavy boxes when it comes time to move houses.”

The woman reading the Danielewski book pipes up once more. “Except that eReaders and tablets hurt my eyes, and the batteries die, and author’s can’t sign a digital copy of their book, and all my publisher friends will be out of a job.”

True. But, Craig Mod has a plan: Let’s stop publishing the disposable, formless content books that waste trees. Let’s focus our efforts on making beautiful, durable books that embrace “the book” (that is, pBook) as a container. The eReaders and tablets are getting better at reducing the strain on our eyes and extending battery life; they can have the dregs of the pile — the countless disposable novels you read and then leave on the curb for someone else to take. Let the publishers focus on higher quality products that consumers will pay more for, knowing their product will last.

Is that the best solution, Craig? Will the general public go for it? I’m a bit of a bibliophile, so perhaps I shouldn’t comment. Publishers Weekly reports that sales of e-ink devices (the non-tablet eReaders) are on the decline, so maybe people are clinging to their paperbacks more than we predicted. Maybe they love the feel of the embossed cover, or the smell of the pages as they leaf through its contents. Maybe they want to crack the spine or spill coffee on the dust jacket, just to claim the book as their own — a well-worn piece of art that is a symbol of the wonderful journey the reader and the author took together.

Of course, the statistic may be attributed to the lowering costs of tablets (PW reports that in a year tablets as powerful as today’s iPads will cost around $70). So, pBook sales are declining, and eReader sales are declining. Maybe everyone is reading on tablets now, or (and, it is more likely the case) people are simply reading less. We’re distracted by games on our tablets and computers, we’re too busy in this fast-paced world to stop and pick up a book, and we’ve got no patience any longer, because the movie version only takes two hours to tell the same story. I’m even willing to wager that 90% of the people who began reading this article stopped reading before ever reaching the “Content Versus Container” section, some four paragraphs in.

eReaders may be getting better at what they do, but one thing remains clear: eBooks will never replace pBooks, because eBooks present the content differently than pBooks. The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien, can be viewed as a novel, graphic novel, eBook, live-action movie, animated movie, and has been put on as a musical, and with each of these renditions the experience is different. One cannot know the intricate details in which Tolkien describes The Shire simply by looking at a painting of The Shire, nor might one experience the same emotions from reading the novel after watching the movie. These modes of story telling and depiction are vastly different; eBooks, while they do emulate the book as best they can, do not convey the same experience as pBooks.

More un-eReadable Books:


Content Versus Container, Part 2


Content Versus Container

In my Publishing and Technology class at Humber College one of my teachers, Allen Zuk (insert phenomenal website URL here) made a valid point regarding the nature of eBooks. He said, to paraphrase, “eBooks aren’t books; they are apps. They behave much like fonts do,” and he had a point. eBooks, like font files, are little programs that behave similar to containers filled with different forms of content. The book’s text is in there along with other content (like metadata: information regarding the author, publisher, ISBN, and the like), and an image file to display the book cover. eReaders merely run the app—the book cover is displayed, and the book’s contents are shown in simulated pages. In this vein, eBooks are nothing like pBooks; they are an alternate form of media, like television or paintings. Akin to audiobooks, the content is there, yet the conveyance of that content is entirely different. Craig Mod, in his article, Books in the age of the iPad,explains the differences between the “content” and the “container holding the content”, and discusses the ramifications digital publishing has on the printed book. He first distinguishes between two forms of content: that which has no defined form (deemed “formless content”), and the kind of content that relies on a rigid form or style (“definite content”). Note the distinction below:

Formless Content:

Click the link below and it will open a new browser tab/window containing a large body of text. Resize the window, varying in width and length, and watch how the text reformats. When you are done, close the tab/window.

Formless Content

Notice how the text was rearranged to fit within the window. Pretty standard for today’s online reader, right? It almost doesn’t matter how wide or narrow the paragraphs are; you can still read the content and get the gist of what is being said. In this regard, pages (and page length) no longer matter. A 300-page book can be narrowed to show only a few lines per page and extend to over a thousand pages!

Extended length:

MOBY DICK - Screenshot 2014-05-19 14.17.08

Extended Width:

MOBY DICK - Screenshot 2014-05-19 14.16.53

The paragraphs may look different, but the content is the same. You get the same message whether it is read from a long paragraph or a deep paragraph. Thus, the container (be it a pBook, iPad, Kobo reader, or Samsung Galaxy phone) is irrelevant; the message won’t change.

Definite Content:

Contrasting with formless content, definite content not only acknowledges the boundaries (that is, it sees the page, according to Mod), but it also embraces these boundaries. Think picture books, or self-aware bits of fiction. The Book With No Name, published by Michael O’Mara Books Ltd and written by an anonymous author comes with the tagline, “Anyone who reads The Book With No Name is murdered. The only way you’ll find out why is to read it yourself…” The text knows it’s a text within a book. Reading a digital version of the tale would detract from the plotline, for it relies on the physical book as its container. Similarly, in Clive Barker’s Mister B. Gone the central character is a demon that is said to be trapped in the very same book you are holding. The character’s first narrative words are, “Burn this book. Go on. Quickly, while there’s still time […] just stop reading and burn the book.”

“But,” you say aloud, to the dismay of the other subway passengers, “I’m not holding a book. This is an eReader.”

The woman beside you on the train is nose-deep in Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves, a multi-perspective, narration within a narration type story that heavily relies on the content’s form and positioning on the page. Here are samples of this book; you’ll see what I mean when I say it cannot be read on an eReader:

HoL 1HoL 2HoL 3

One might even argue that House of Leaves cannot be read on an iPad either. Even if the novel was converted to a PDF or an iBook file, certain effects are completely lost. In the example above, text is presented within a blue box. That in and of itself is reproducible in PDF, but in the pBook the other side of the page has that same box, only the text is written backwards. The text has “bled” through the page in that boxed out area, and only when the reader physically flips the page will she notice the effect.

The Book With No Name, Mister B. Gone, and House of Leaves are great examples of what Craig Mod deems “definite content”; they are books that rely on being books. You get the gist, but more examples of books that are not so easily represented in digital format can be found in an article in The Airship called, 7 Books You Shouldn’t Read as eBooks. In this article, Alex Trivilino reviews some key books that simply couldn’t (or at least shouldn’t) be digitally converted, and after browsing through this quick list of container-reliant literature you’ll likely agree that there are just some things that can’t “go digital”.







Content Versus Container, Part 1


451312_61165613Jane Reader reaches for the last of her precious hardcover novels as she tiptoes through the hallway, trying her best to keep the firemen from hearing her footsteps on the creaky floor. When she reaches the foyer, she tugs on a curtain-pulley and a wall behind her swings open. Through the secret path, she descends the winding staircase leading to her hidden trove of books. Placing this last novel on a shelf—a shelf containing hundreds of other stories, reference papers, and articles—she sits quietly, waiting for the firemen to abandon their search for hard-copy books.

In this Fahrenheit 451esque world, where the firemen have abolished almost all of the physical, paper books, the eBook has taken over completely. The digital age has absorbed everything; no one reads hard-copy books anymore. Jane is the last of an otherwise extinct breed of human.

“Will eBooks eventually replace paper books?” —Stop asking; books aren’t going anywhere. It’s been nearly a decade since eReaders entered the market, and there hasn’t been a complete eradication in the production of the physical, paper-made books (pBooks). True, pBook sales are in decline (Canadian’s Business reports only a 9.5% drop in unit sales compared to a previous year, using information they gathered from Booknet Canada), and more and more people are leaning toward eReaders and tablets for their literary fixes, but printed books sit on too high a pedestal in the minds of many readers for them to give up their coveted paperbacks entirely.

But, regardless of what people think or feel on matters of hostile digital takeovers, it may not even be possible to replace all pBooks with eBooks. In this brief article we will look at some of the issues regarding the longevity of pBooks, taking thoughts and perspectives of other publishers, writers, and bloggers into consideration.







Hey you… reader! Stop staring at me like that!

That’s right, YOU… the one looking at the screen. Don’t think I didn’t notice your half asleep gaze and your zombie-like expression when you first stumbled upon me.  You may not know it, but I have eyes; I can look right back at you.  Don’t believe me?  Here, I’ll show you my eyes:


Since you’re here I may as well tell you you’re not going to get much out of this blog.  Seriously, you can stop reading; I have nothing to offer you.  Really?  You’re going to keep going, then?  Alright, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.  There really isn’t anything useful or entertaining in this blog.  To prove a point I’m  going to utter a bit of nonsense; I’m sure you’ll be gone by the time I’m finished.  See ya!

Molasses is the kind of word or anagram my Uncle Kiwi-Sock would use whenever he went to the lavatory wearing only a wax-paper dress and and ice-cream cone for a harness.  Suffice it not to say, my libido went from tobacco-brown to 50 in under 84 seconds, but that’s a whole other game of balls that I don’t particularly care to get into or out of right now.  As for Sheila, I can’t say it went any worse.  Her perpetual expletive made her sound (and feel) like a luddite, for all intents and proposes…

… seriously?  You’re STILL reading?!  Well… kudos to you.  I suppose blogs aren’t dead after all.  While I’ve got you, would you sign my petition to reintroduce the interrobang into mainstream text?  I truly believe it isn’t a superlative symbol.  Thanks.