Monday, April 13, 2009

A Physical Book vs A PDF Book - SoFoBoMo

Gordon McGregor has been writing some blog entries about the differences between physical books and PDF books. In one entry he wrote:

I'm thinking about a different tack. One where the PDF is the actually desirable end goal, not just a compromise required to prove to the rest of the online world that the SoFoBoMo challenge was completed. Not a second class citizen, but a better option altogether.

In another entry, he wrote:

So how could you lay out a digital book in different ways to a physical book? What's different about a digital book than a physical book and how could you take advantage of that to present your images?

I'm sure the difference in our ages has something to do with my view that a physical book is better than a digital book. I grew up with a great reverence for books that I could touch and that I could own. Last year when I read Douglas Holleley's book, Digital Book, Design and Publishing that feeling was reinforced. He asks the question, "What happens when computers change the way they store data and it (PDF book) becomes irretrievable?" It is going to take a lot of diligence to keep "backing up" to new technologies every 10 years of so. Holleley goes on to write, "A book printed on good quality paper may last virtually indefinitely. It is not dependent on any technology. One only has to take it from the shelf, open it, and read." As a serious darkroom worker, making images, or books, that are archival is a part of my DNA.

Another thing that makes me prefer a physical book is that PDF books feel like sound bites to me. I seldom remember images or books that I've looked at on the monitor. Oh if I've see the same image again on the monitor I'll remember that I have seen it before but it doesn't seem to kind of sit on the edge of recall. I seldom linger over an image on the monitor. A string of images making a PDF book, especially in programs like Issuu, seem more like a filmstrip to me.

Gordon McGregor talks about pushing the limits of a PDF book. I don't think that most photographers have even begun to explore how far they can push a physical book much less a PDF book. Most of us think in terms of one photograph to a page, often when we want to stress the "art" of the book a two page spread will be made up of a blank page facing the image page.

If you want to read about outside the box thinking, whether about a PDF or physical book, read Keith A. Smith's book The New Structure of the Visual Book. Smith challenges his reader's concepts about the structure and sequencing of a book.

Smith writes, "Revolutionary ideas must be realized when starting to work in a new medium. The basic problem in making books is approaching it as if it were many single pictures, and it is not. This error comes from working in one medium, and carrying over principles to a new process, rather than discovering what is unique about the new medium." So while I am an old fogey who prefers a physical book, I'm still looking forward to seeing what Gordon, and all the other participants, do with their PDF books.


auttava said...

Just will like to share, a simple conversion of PDF to FlipBook, will be an answer to giving reader a much better reading experience.

Feel free to give a try at

Billie said...

Auttava, Thanks for another way to publish a PDF. I'll look it over.

Paul said...

Billie: Thanks for the writeup. I have ordered Keith Smith's book: The New Structure of the Visual Book. I should have it by Tuesday.

Billie said...

Paul, I think you will really like this book. It is another one of my books that I have dog-earred and highlighted. I have the 3rd edition and the newer one has added another 200 pages. I really need to get the newer one as well.

I really isn't a book about how to make a book but it sure makes you think about making a book.

Let me know what you think about it.