Reference and Accessibility

As you get older (its more than 30 years since I started out as a greenhorn philosophy editor) you begin to notice that its sometimes quite hard to read the typeface of the books you want to read. Especially when the books are paperback reprints of books that were originally published in a larger hardback format (eg wonderful book on Leonardo). Since the cost of reformatting a major book are trivial, I used to complain about those mean-spirited publishers of great books who did not make any effort to ease the legibility of their republished books for over 50s.

No longer. Publishers are absolutely right not to reformat their popular paperbacks but to leave them exactly as they were in their originally published format, exactly as they were when they were first reviewed. This conclusion was inspired by the kerfuffle surrounding the issue of ‘how many ISBNs should a book have?’. See Brantley’s posting and reactions summarised on Publishing Frontier. The most extraordinary thing about these discussions is that it appears that many publishers believe that a digital format which does not allow or facilitate consistent citation is an acceptable format for their books to appear in. If the original typography, layout, design and pagination of a book is lost (and all these ‘reflowable’ formats for ebooks fail in this regard) then it is much harder, perhaps impossible, to devise a consistent way of citing it and referring to it.

When harping on in this respect on the importance of citations and consistent reference schema, within a book and between books, I sometime feel that I may be veering in the direction of millenarianist fanaticism (“prepare for the universal digital library by rendering all pages into consistent web resources, for the digital universe of cloud computing is nigh”). Peter Brantley may even have accused me of such a “born again” approach.

But before dismissing this preference for reliable references, properly evinced by publishers who stick with their original typesetting when they produce a trade paperback in shrunken dimensions, remember that ‘Cloud computing’ also needs consistent schema for access (so urls matter) and for searching (so proprietary file formats don’t help). ISBNs only belong to formats which can be properly cited and searched. Give SKUs to formats which dont literate in the cloud computer. They arent real books so they dont need an ISBN!

The problem of re-sizing pages for the over 50’s is going to be solved by our browsers with resolution independent scaleable graphics.

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