¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 “The Internet hates walled gardens,” Kathleen Fitzpatrick writes in the “Texts” chapter of Planned Obsolescence, and this reality highlights some of the failures of digital publishing to acknowledge and facilitate the communal readings of texts (117). Certain file formats—namely, PDF, EPUB, and Kindle—often encourage the reproduction of the look and feel of the print book while the economics surrounding these file formats often isolate readers in ways that the economics of the print book did, and do, not.
Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0
With the PDF, the encouragement to reproduce the look and feel of the print book seems clear enough: this format fixes text into place, as typesetters do, freezing it for printing and portability and not much else. In “Texts,” Fitzpatrick writes that “these documents are, until printed, like paper under glass: mostly unmarkable, resisting interaction with an active reader or with other such documents in the network” (93). It comes as no surprise, then, that, before delivering the finalized version of a book to a printer, typesetters export that book to PDF (from software such as InDesign or Quark). With EPUB and Kindle files, however, the encouragement to reproduce the look and feel of the print book operates in a more subtle fashion. In fact, both formats rely on HTML, CSS, and some basic metadata (mostly captured in the Dublin Core standard)—all core web technologies. Yet, EPUB and Kindle documents remain discrete entities, unconnected to larger networks of text; they become “websites in boxes” as I once heard a conference speaker call them. Furthermore, these digital documents are often rendered via skeuomorphic software. Consider, for example, the way in which you can “flip” through pages in iBooks—an older version of that software actually featured a “flipping” sound effect. Even something as necessary and useful as the EPUB 3 Structural Semantic Vocabulary encourages publishers to partition and code their files using
epub:type values such as
pagebreak (IDPF). As Fitzpatrick argues, “we remain tied to thinking about electronic texts in terms of print-based, or, more specifically, codex-based, models” (94).
¶ 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 How, though, can we avoid the walled gardens of these file formats and create texts that neither mimic the look and feel of print books or operate in problematic economic systems? For Fitzpatrick, acknowledging the communal nature of texts might be a good start: “developers of textual technologies would do well to think about ways to situate those texts within a community, and to promote communal discussion and debate within those texts’ frames” (107). A platform like CommentPress does this, she argues, by encouraging “the social interconnections of authors and readers” and, ultimately, implying that publishing remains an ongoing process conducted across time and texts (119–120). Meanwhile, a more recent project like EPUB Zero, which explores reading the EPUB format in browsers and freeing it from dependency on reading software, might encourage us both to rethink the nature of digital texts while acknowledging that all texts operate within networks and should, therefore, be portable and shareable among readers (Cramer).1 Ultimately, Fitzpatrick’s ability to address some of the shortcomings of digital publishing and gesture, through an understanding of textual scholarship, towards a more open, interconnected environment seems like the most compelling part of this chapter.
¶ 6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Cramer, Dave. “EPUB Zero.” GitHub, 30 November 2015, https://github.com/dauwhe/epub-zero/blob/gh-pages/readme.md.