Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Kindle thing....

Scott McCloud weighed in recently with his thoughts on the supposed print killer of Amazon's Kindle. There's an article on it over on the FPI blog.

Basically Scott's argument goes:

“Cinema is wider than it is tall. TV is wider than it is tall. Theater is wider than it is tall. Laptop and desktop monitors are wider than they are tall. In fact, with the advent of widescreen TVs, there’s little difference in the shapes. They’re all around 3×5 or 4×5 range. Wider than tall. All of them.
And print? Well, print is taller than it is wide right? The printed page is the exception to the rule, isn’t it?
Wrong. The default shape of print is not taller than wide. It’s wider than tall just like all the rest, because the default shape of print is two pages side-by-side. And the reason is the same reason as the shape of TV and cinema and theater and surfing and all the rest: because we have two eyes next to each other, not one on top of the other.

I don’t even have a Kindle yet, so this isn’t meant as a specific critique of the device. And I’m sure its engineers had solid practical reasons to design the device the way they did. You can even turn it sideways when needed. It just reminded me when I went to Amazon this morning and saw images of the latest, how design principles in the wild can always be adjusted on the fly, but as soon as they’re embedded in hardware, they tend to stick around. For decades in some cases.

So if I could humbly suggest a new cardinal rule of designing anything meant to be read (including webcomics): Step #1, look in a mirror.”

But I think he's wrong. Print is most definitely, at least for me, a portrait medium. In fact, his final comment of "look in a mirror" doesn't even work because most mirrors tend to be portrait as well - or at least a lot of the ones I look in.

Print is portrait to me. Every time I open a book, comic or magazine I may initially view it as a 2 page spread, but when I'm reading both eyes are focused on just one page - portrait.

But it's worth reading Scott's views and worth even more to think about it yourself. Will electronic readers eventually supplant print? I think they will - but only up to a point. I read a lot more articles online and onscreen now - simply because they're there. And I can certainly see something like the Kindle (or whatever Apple inevitably comes out with) becoming the way newspapers and magazine articles are read in the future. They're temporary, transitory things - read once and then dispose of.

But books and comics are different. Sort of. I can't ever see electronic readers replacing the actual physical pleasure of reading long form works such as books and graphic novels. They're just to fixed in the psyche as a form. The often used analogy with music or film doesn't wash - these media have been switching formats regularly since the first methods of recording sound or moving images. But the printed page, bound between covers has been such a fixed point in civilisation that I really can't see a sudden shift to a slab of electronic screen. Sure, there might be uses - the holiday book bag replaced by a lightweight reader perhaps. But near complete replacement the way that mp3s and similar are replacing records, tapes and cds - can't see it.

However, comics are a different matter. I've been a champion of the comic form since I first read one. And I've long been a champion of the collection, the graphic novel as the perfect form for the medium. I see comics as mere previews to something bigger. They, at least to me, are throw away, temporary things, just like newspapers. If I'm interested in a comic I'll read an online preview or buy the first issue. If it's worth it, I'll wait for the collection. So I can see an electronic reader, if it reproduces the look of the comic page well enough, replacing that aspect of my comic reading.

How about you?

1 comment:

  1. I agree. More and more, I see online and e-books (including things like the iPod Touch) as an opportunity to give lots of people a taste. If they like it, they'll still buy the graphic novel in print form.

    Of course, that relies on being able to convince a publisher to release your graphic novel... Everything up to that point the creators can now do for themselves.