Changing the way we read

Posted: July 1, 2014 in cultural commentary, reading
Tags: , , , , , ,

In among all the palaver about how e-reading is changing book distribution, we often forget that it’s also changing the other part of the business and art of books – the reading experience

Comixology, Device 6 and navigating books

I recently raved about the unusual reading experience of the story/game DEVICE 6. One of the joys of that experience was the way in which the reader navigated the text. Sometimes you had a choice of two ways to read, scrolling in different directions. Text layouts reflected the story environment. Visual puzzles and audio elements were interspersed through the surreal short story. All this was possible because of the different formats that e-reading allows.

Believe it or not, this logo represents a sophisticated leap forward in comics reading. More importantly, it let me read the new Gillen & McKelvie comic, which is awesome.

Believe it or not, this logo represents a sophisticated leap forward in comics reading.

But this is also being used in more low-key and more widely read formats. I recently acquired a Kindle Fire and the Comixology app, letting me indulge in my neglected comics habit.* Comixology changes the comic reading experience. You can view one page at a time, enjoying the art of the layout as in a print comic, though without the intrusive adverts. But you can also view the comic one panel at a time. This means that elements later in the page come as more of a surprise, but that you miss out on the tricks of layout that truly great comic writers and artists use. The pacing and tension of the reading experience is subtly changed, and as creators adapt to this new format so will the medium.

Joanna Penn and intertextuality

Look at me, pulling out the ten dollar words. But intertextuality – the relationship between texts – is transforming and being transformed by e-reading as books start to adopt the tricks of the internet.

I recently read Joanna Penn’s Author 2.0 Blueprint, which is essentially a beginner’s guide to self-publishing.** Joanna includes a lot of links in her book, letting you read more on particular topics without slowing down the main points. It’s a smart approach, one we see all the time on websites but could not do in paper books. With e-readers we can.

And this is changing the way that we validate knowledge through references. It used to be that a factual book would provide a footnote referencing the source of information, but now you can provide direct links to that source if it is web-based, for readers to go and check the information themselves. How long before this is used to connect between books as well, giving readers a more inter-connected reading experience and marketers a way to sell you even more books? Could this be the future of academic journals?***

Mo Options Mo Awesome

The Notorious BIG provided a powerful metaphor for the dangers that come with a growth in our wealth of creative options.**** But the flip side of this is that these options let us do ever more interesting and creative things. They let us connect ideas together in new ways, experience stories in new formats. That’s great. The old forms aren’t dying – they’ll still be there if we want them. But new forms are rising up to join and in many cases surpass them.

What are your thoughts on this? Are you enjoying the experience of e-reading? Have you seen it used in interesting ways? Share your experiences below.



* Turns out that freelance work from home does have a downside – not working within walking distance of a comic shop.

** Joanna actually covers the full range of publishing options, but the emphasis is on the tools, techniques and challenges of self-publishing. I’ll be returning to this another day I’m sure.

*** It should be, but for smart people academics can be very slow to change.

**** Or maybe he just wanted to show off. So hard to tell with champagne-swilling jewellery-covered superstars.

  1. I saw something a while back — I think it was a TED talk — about ebooks with embedded gifs, tooltips, hyperlinks… Things that make the text more interactive, animated and expansive. If I could figure out how to do that for my own self-published stuff, I totally would. Translation tooltips for my fantasy languages? Animated chapter headings or such? But I have not the skills.

    • I think you’ve identified what will be the biggest limiting factor for now. Like you, and I’m sure like many other authors, I don’t have the skills to even identify what’s possible, let alone apply it to my work. Greater collaboration will probably be needed to make the most of the opportunities this represents.

  2. Jon Taylor says:

    I’m a good example of how e-reading can help you expand your audience. I never really got the comics habit until I got an iPad and happened across the comixology app while browsing. Now I am pondering how to ration myself as they are so darned moreish and I can instantly get that next issue with the tap of a fingertip without ever having to get up from wherever I have parked myself! I can stop anytime I like. I swear.

    I haven’t used the ‘guided view’ frame by frame feature much. Part of me rebels at being forced to look at the page in a pre-defined order. It feels a little like they’re cheating, rather than letting the layout of the artwork draw the eye in a natural flow through the story. On the other hand, maybe I just need to try it a little more to get used to it.

    • It’s worth remembering, comic writers already use page layouts and order to make you look at the story in a pre-defined order. What comes at the end and beginning of each page is often a very careful choice to keep you engaged, to make sure the you turn to the next page rather than put the book down. True, guided view shifts the balance of the artist/audience relationship a little, but it’s hardly a radical change.

      But that’s mostly just me as devil’s advocate. I don’t tend to use guided view either.

      Oh, and if you’re now getting into comics via Comixology then you really should read Chew. Possibly the best, and certainly one of the weirdest comics out there right now.

  3. malwen says:

    I have started reading an e-book on Linked Data produced by KMI at the OU. It makes good use of the e-format, e.g. including videos of short talks, links to websites.

    • Interesting. Non-fiction seems a particular good area to use this, and one where the disruption to the flow of reading that comes from an unfamiliar format would be less of a problem.

  4. I would think comics would greatly benefit from device reading. Especially the iPad’s retinal display. those pictures must look great–what nuance you can see that the print version quality could lose.

    • I’m sure you’re right Jacqui. This could make as big a difference as improvements in print quality did in the ’80s and ’90s, allowing much crisper images and more subtle colours.

  5. […] like Device 6, sometimes it’s just drawing your gaze through a comic slightly differently like Comixology can do. The comic Moth City by Tim Gibson does something in […]

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