You Must Read: Craig Mod’s “Books in the Age of the iPad”

Photo of iPad user

(Korosirego/Flickr/CC-A-SA)

Everyone wants to know where the media is headed. But no one really has a clue.  But it’s clear it’s going to have something to do with digital technologies.  It’s hard to ignore the impending train, especially with Friday’s announcement of the iPad release date as April 3.

There’s so much jabbering about iPads, Kindles, and their lesser-known ilk out there, I appreciate anyone who can pull together some thoughtful observations and, if not necessrily say anything dramatically new, at least give good insight.

Which is why you must read Craig Mod’s post “Books in the Age of the iPad.” His post was picked up by the New York Times’ blog “Bits,” which had some nice things to say about it.

I’ll add a few of my own.  He writes well, takes great photographs of books I’ve never seen before, and has an intimidatingly gorgeous layout for his site — so much so that I peeked into the page source to see what CMS he was using.  No hints of any in his meta tags.  I think he’s actually writing his own HTML.  Wow.  I used to do that years ago.  Maybe if I had kept up with it, I could make pretty things online, too.

But what’s most valuable in his post is the simple division he makes between books where content and design work together to create meaning, and books where they don’t.  He calls the former Definite Content, and the latter Formless Content.  Definite Content, sez Mod, needs a print book to work.  Formless Content ought to go to digital devices such as the iPad.

The broad division is a bit simplistic, and because he’s primarily dealing with static texts (i.e. books), it doesn’t really deal with questions about journalism as such.  It’s harder to make such a clean division there;  as any backpack journalist these days knows, content goes into multiple containers, and is adjusted somewhat for each.  And while “formless content” (i.e. text) may have long formed the backbone of print media, any news organization that isn’t embracing visual journalism is either dead or on life support.  Even the New York Times uses charticles every now and then.  A lot of these things will work in digital format.  But not every type of visual journalism can flow nicely into existing digital containers.  This may change, but the iPad can’t replicate the reading experience on even something as relatively small as an 11×14 tab.

But his simple division leads to some refreshingly clear insight into an often chaotic topic, making it well worth the read.

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