Pagination and the web

In a recent essay, "Real pages are all about flow", Aaron Miller makes a good case for rethinking one of book publishing's core metaphors:

Pagination is the process of fitting an author’s work into predefined, separate areas to be bound together. It’s the process of artificially creating pages. Why artificially? Because it exists only as a solution to the problems of putting ink on paper and shipping it around to stores, not as a real concept that authors think about. Real pages, it seems, would better fit what authors really meant for them.

Although Miller doesn't specifically invoke Hugh McGuire, the "pagination" argument is consistent with "Why the book and the internet will merge", an essay that McGuire contributed to Book: A Futurist's Manifesto. In that piece, McGuire argued:

Ebooks are, in fact, a lot more like websites than like print books. Or rather: they are almost exactly like websites. Ebooks are built in HTML, which is the programming language (or mark-up language, if you prefer) used to make websites. There really isn’t that much difference between the stuff we use to build, say, an article about Britney Spears in the Huffington Post, and an EPUB of Don Quixote.

For his part, Miller approaches the possibilities from the point of view of an author:

I’m not suggesting that pages will disappear from our experience. But pagination, as an artifact of centuries of non-scrollable books, will become glaringly anachronistic. Again, the distinction between pagination and pages is that pagination breaks up content in ways the industry demands, while pages break up content in exactly the way the author intends. As pagination gradually disappears from the overall experience of reading books, pages will be valued even more. And each one will be expected to contain exactly what the author wanted there: nothing more, and nothing less.

Hopefully, I'm making the case here that McGuire and Miller, approaching the topic from different points of view, reach similar conclusions.

Both McGuire and Miller published their work on platforms that allowed commenting. "Why the book and the internet will merge" was first published on the PressBooks platform that McGuire helped develop, while Miller posted "Real pages are all about flow" on Medium.

Reaching back to something I wrote as long ago as last Friday: these platforms are examples of efforts to create a "more peer-like, less hierarchical, relationship between the reader and writer". Just park your view about pages at the door.

A bit of disclosure: With Travis Alber, Aaron Miller contributed a chapter to Book: A Futurist's Manifesto, a title I co-edited with Hugh McGuire. I am a persistent fan of PressBooks and the capabilities it brings to publishers of all sizes and most shapes. Neither Miller nor McGuire had any involvement in the creation or knowledge of the content of this post before it was published.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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