Opening a discussion on Digital V Print

To introduce myself briefly, I am a 22 year old Masters of Computer Graphic Design candidate in Whanganui, New Zealand. I am looking to start bit of a dialogue here: digital publication compared to print publication, with respect to the retention, enjoyment and legibility of the information we publish. I have included some questions to begin the discussion below. I would greatly appreciate your participation in this discussion, and hopefully it is something that we can all grow and learn from.

Do you prefer reading a printed book or a digital book? Why?
How has the process of reading been transformed by technology?
How much of an influence can the medium of presentation (ie. book, magazine, ipad, laptop, web browser) have on the interpretation of the content?
How important do you consider tactility to us as participants in a publication?
As publishing becomes more internet-based, how can we ensure the longevity of our information?
Do ebooks provide the same kind of snapshot of history that an encyclopaedia would, or is history "edited out" as the ebook is updated?
Do you see an issue with the requirement of an electronic device and internet connection to access ebooks?
How heavily do we rely on secondary technologies to access stored information?

Joshua Langman's picture

1. Printed book. The only exception is enormous works of reference that should be searchable. Printed books are easy to use, don't crash, don't run out of battery; you can write in them, hand them down, discover them in used-book shops; the design possibilities of print are limitless — dozens of colors, different types of paper, no size restrictions, die cuts, embossing, binding methods … It took printed books 500 years to evolve to the point they're at now. Maybe in another five hundred years digital books will work as well as print.
4. Very important. It grounds the book in the world. It makes it last. It clarifies what it means to own a book. I don't consider digital books to be "published" in the same way printed books are.
5. Keep printing.
6. Very interesting point — very Orwell. Yes, I suppose, the intangibility of electronic data is inherently opposed to archiving.

In case my stance on e-books isn't clear just yet, I'm embarking on a project called Perks of Print (www.perksofprint.com), which I will write up here when I have something to show for it, which involves the physical destruction of e-readers by means of the same techniques that makes printed books beautiful.

hrant's picture

Do you prefer reading a printed book or a digital book? Why?

I prefer digital books in e-Ink* as long as the content doesn't depend on being large or colorful - which however does tend to exclude most of the books I would personally want to read.

* I don't believe emissive screens are good for getting truly comfortable.

Why digital: because it's elegant on a number of levels. There are many ways in which physical books are quite clunky.

How has the process of reading been transformed by technology?

In terms of the mechanics of reading, not much at all (sadly).

In terms of the psychology of reading, it's been adversely affected by the ease of accessing audio and video material instead.

How much of an influence can the medium of presentation (ie. book, magazine, ipad, laptop, web browser) have on the interpretation of the content?

It has a very big influence, especially when it's a novelty.

How important do you consider tactility to us as participants in a publication?

Not very. Once you get immersed in a text you forget what your hands are doing.

Also, a book is an idea - it doesn't have to exist physically to make its mark.

As publishing becomes more internet-based, how can we ensure the longevity of our information?

The Internet promotes longevity; but it doesn't promote focus.

Do ebooks provide the same kind of snapshot of history that an encyclopaedia would, or is history "edited out" as the ebook is updated?

History gets edited in any medium; and any "snapshot" is misleading.

Do you see an issue with the requirement of an electronic device and internet connection to access ebooks?

A live Internet connection should not be required to read a book.

But I'm not sure I understand all of your question.

How heavily do we rely on secondary technologies to access stored information?

I don't think I understand the question.

the physical destruction of e-readers by means of the same techniques that makes printed books beautiful.

Huh?

BTW printed books are only beautiful because we've been told they're beautiful. What's really beautiful is the idea and action of communicating.

hhp

Té Rowan's picture

Do you prefer reading a printed book or a digital book? Why?

Preference varies.

How has the process of reading been transformed by technology?

It's made it easier for the blind to read or be read to, and for the vision-impaired to continue reading.

How much of an influence can the medium of presentation (ie. book, magazine, ipad, laptop, web browser) have on the interpretation of the content?

People still want to interpret it to the worse.

As publishing becomes more internet-based, how can we ensure the longevity of our information?

1. Back-up. 2. Back-up. 3. Back-up.

Do ebooks provide the same kind of snapshot of history that an encyclopaedia would, or is history "edited out" as the ebook is updated?

You still gotta buy the 2013 Webster's to get the new stuff, right?

Do you see an issue with the requirement of an electronic device and internet connection to access ebooks?

To get them? No. To read them once I have got them? Check your six for an incoming Dragu Slave.

How heavily do we rely on secondary technologies to access stored information?

What are secondary technologies?

Karl Stange's picture

Do you prefer reading a printed book or a digital book? Why?

It depends on the content and the context. Generally, for larger technical books as a matter of convenience, tagging/bookmarking and ease of transport I would prefer digital. For highly visual content, something like, Cosmic Communist Constructions Photographed by Frédéric Chaubin, while I am open to the possibility, I do not see how a digital device could (currently) do justice to the content. That said, personally I also enjoy the weight of a book like that, not in terms of the perceived or actual value of the object, rather it is nice to be seated at a desk or in a good armchair and have the absolute presence of the object, preferably with a glass of French Malbec.

How has the process of reading been transformed by technology?

Depends on content, context, device and environment. The question is not specific enough either, which technology and in what context? The Penguincubator was/is technology but I assume that is not what you mean...?

How much of an influence can the medium of presentation (ie. book, magazine, ipad, laptop, web browser) have on the interpretation of the content?

This depends on the bias of the content creators, distributors and readers.

Do you see an issue with the requirement of an electronic device and internet connection to access ebooks?

No more or less than I view the requirement of a television, computer or other display interface to view visual content as an issue. They are a means to an end and if I am not interested in the end result then I will not bother with the means to get there.

How heavily do we rely on secondary technologies to access stored information?

What is a primary technology?

JamesM's picture

> Do you prefer reading a printed book or a digital book?

I love printed books, but if the book is primarily text I prefer an ebook simply because it is much more convenient.

> As publishing becomes more internet-based, how can we
> ensure the longevity of our information?

Well most printed books don't last forever either. The vast majority of printed books are not best-sellers and are soon forgotten and difficult to find. Even books that are carefully saved can wear out eventually. I used to work at a public library and we regularly discarded books from damage due to water, mold, insects, or accident, or they just wore out. Digital storage actually makes it easier to keep copies of large numbers of books. A big challenge though is when books are kept electronically on media such as CDs, etc as technology changes quickly and storage methods that were popular in the past become obsolete.

Joshua Langman's picture

> More convenient.

Really? It might weigh less, but you need a device to read it on, which has to be charged and have batteries, or be plugged in; you need suitable lighting conditions to see the (backlit) screen; your device is much more likely to be stolen, or to crash, or otherwise suddenly stop working; you need an internet connection or some similar method of getting books …

Digital media are not archival quality. A printed text can survive without its binding, but a digital text cannot survive without a device on which to store it. Even the entirety of the internet is not simply "out there" but stored on servers around the world. The internet is only as good as the machines that hold it. If the power to the servers is cut, there goes your webpage.

Of course the internet, for all intents and purposes, is stable and not going anywhere. But the point is that anything digital is dependent on a device — other than the human eye — that can decode it. What does an e-book look like when you're not reading it? For that matter, what does it look like on a different device?

From the perspective of a book designer, e-books are terrible! And this is not coming, by the way, from someone who's been in the industry for decades and can't stand change — this is coming from a college student who is really just starting out and frightened by the speed with which designers and publishers are going digital. To look at this purely from a design/typography perspective, it is nearly impossible to make an attractive, effectively designed e-book. And even if you can, it will look completely different on one reader than on another.

Does no one miss the freedom to choose a paper, a font, a size, margins, leading, colors — in other words, to design? Try to make a foldout for an e-book. Try to make an e-book with a deckle edge. [This is what I was referring to above, and these are indeed things that I will be attempting in the coming months.] Hyperlinks are nice, but are they nice enough to warrant abandoning decent typography?

I'll stop ranting for a second, because I do want to hear some other opinions. So, anyone who does prefer e-books, I would be very interested in hearing more about why.

Also — thank you, Bradley, for starting this thread. This is a topic that's been on my mind and it's great to see other people's responses as well.

hrant's picture

anything digital is dependent on a device

And which part of our lives isn't?

this is coming from a college student who is really just starting out

You might very well be wise beyond your years. Or you might still be under the influence of digitophobe old geezer teachers.

Freedom? Digital gives you much more. Which is what's scary.

hhp

Joshua Langman's picture

> Which part of our lives isn't?

I'm going to go out on a limb and assert that the majority of the things I do in my life do not depend on digital devices.

Karl Stange's picture

I'm going to go out on a limb and assert that the majority of the things I do in my life do not depend on digital devices.

Unless you are living very much off the grid I daresay that an EMP or HEMP would rob you of that opinion pretty quickly. It is not only the digital devices that you personally use in your day to day life but those that regulate other things you might take for granted, such as water and fossil fuels.

JamesM's picture

>> It's convenient

> It [e-reader] might weigh less, but you need a device to read it on,
> which has to be charged and have batteries...[numerous other objections]

I have an e-reader (iPad). I keep it charged. I have an internet connection. I take reasonable precautions to keep it from being stolen. (And printed books can get stolen too; it's happened to me.) If the iPad breaks I'll get it fixed or buy a new one.

I'm not saying that e-readers are better in every respect than printed books, especially for books that contain special features like fold-outs, etc. I'm just saying that for me, reading books is convenient on it. Your mileage may vary.

Chris Dean's picture

@bl.tipper: Is this part of your course-work/thesis, or just personal interest?

johnmn's picture

well! thanks for nice share! I just want to leave a comment to say that..I have been here for awhile. ..

apetickler's picture

I'd like to chime in because, unlike most people, I generally prefer reading on an electronic device.

When I was growing up, the beauty of Internet access was mostly that I suddenly had access to a great deal of specialized information that I would never be able to find at the library. I would stay up long into the night reading 9pt, pre-ClearType text on a blurry CRT. The technological state of electronic reading today closely resembles a what I dreamed of back then.

Everyone says they prefer the physical artifact of a real book, and I usually remind them that that's what we used to say about CDs, although books at their best are more charming than CDs. Still, I find the typical book annoying. For all we talk about well-composed pages and the feel of the paper and that lovely smell, most books offer the distractions of thoughtless layouts, bad gluing, cheap paper, and covers coming slowly unlaminated at the edges.

When comparing the same content in print and on my tablet, I often marvel at how much crisper images can be on the IPS screen than in four-color offset.

The biggest problem with the new flesh is content distribution. I still take some offense at being asked to pay the same amount for an e-book as for the real thing when the e-book is so much cheaper to distribute, probably even more carelessly laid out, and encumbered by some DRM that is likely to cause unforeseen difficulties accessing it at some point in the future. If e-books were half the price, I would likely buy three times as many. And I weep when I think of all the knowledge that is likely to be needlessly lost as orphaned works.

Still, the future looks bright. At some point, we'll start focusing on the possibilities offered by beautiful electronic book designs in open, interoperable formats. I hope.

JamesM's picture

> the e-book is so much cheaper to distribute

A little cheaper, but I believe the cost of printing and bulk shipping averages less than 15% of a book's retail cost.

> And I weep when I think of all the knowledge that is likely to be needlessly lost

Changing technology is certainly a concern, but on the other hand most printed books are eventually discarded, especially ones by authors who aren't famous (which is the vast majority of books).

I used to work at a public library and we regularly discarded books that were worn out, moldy, contained outdated info, or just not in demand anymore. Libraries generally do this quietly because folks in the community react negatively if they see books in a library dumpster.

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