The iPad and the False Distinction Between Consumption and Creation

Image of a colorful Japanese manhole cover on an iPadListening yesterday to Leo Laporte’s podcast, This Week in Tech, I was reminded how technology is constantly befuddling those who believe in a clear distinction between content consumption and creation.

Midway through the show (at about 1:09), discussion turned to how Adobe will soon be releasing Photoshop for the iPad, and how Microsoft is expected to do the same for its Office suite. As Laporte and guest Dan Patterson noted, it’s remarkable how this small device that was once pigeonholed as “just a content consumption device” has opened up new creative outlets.

But this achievement is not unique to the iPad or even to other mobile computing devices. Think, for instance, of how turntables, which might seem pure consumption devices, become creative tools in the hands of hip hop DJs.

The important thing here is that technology is not changing the nature of content consumption, but revealing it. The technology simply reminds us that the act of “consuming” content—a bad metaphor really—can in fact be creative.

Thus, it’s unwise for anyone engaged in content creation—whether a journalist, creative writer, or artist—to think of their audience as mere consumers. They are not passive vessels waiting to be filled up with the creator’s content. Rather, they are active collaborators, interpreting, responding to, and mashing up that content—just, in fact, as the creator is doing.

Are there differences between what you do as a content consumer and what you do as a creator? Of course. But these activities are the two ends of a continuum, and there is no clear dividing line between them.

As audience, we have not just the freedom but the responsibility to creatively respond to content. And as creators, we do not absolutely own or control our content—we’re simply leasing it, and owe a debt both to those who contributed to it in the past as well as those who will do so in the future. If we understand this, we will be better consumers and creators of content alike.

(The image of a Japanese manhole cover on an iPad above, courtesy of Tokyo Japan Times, refers to a phenomenon known as drainspotting, or collecting and sharing pictures of colorful manhole covers, popularized by artist/content consumer Remo Camerota.)

My Love for Magazines Lies Bleeding

MUD day 17:

There are days, perhaps when my inner curmudgeon breaks through my usual resistance, when I’m convinced that magazines, as a useful format, are truly dead. Yes, it may just be me or my desperation for a topic in this month of mandatory daily blogging. Ask me tomorrow and I may feel more hopeful. But what has me worried is my oddly sour reaction to this Folio article on magazine design. A few years ago I would have been vitally interested. Now it just seems irrelevant.

It’s not just the paper version of magazines I’m pessimistic about, but the very concept. There are some who feel that tablets will be the salvation of magazines. I’m not so sure. One of the negatives in Linda Holmes’s review of the new Kindle Fire today is that its 7-inch screen is too small for magazines. Full magazine pages, she says, don’t work well: “You can zoom, but when you [turn] to to the next page, you pop back out to seeing the full page, and to read anything, you have to zoom again.”

But having just last night downloaded with some interest the December issue of The Atlantic to my iPad, more than a third larger than the Fire, I’m not so sure size is the real problem. Paper pages just don’t translate well to the screen—the turns are slow, images build too slowly, the fonts are too big or too small. You need to enlarge and shrink too often, or tap too many times to get to the better “reading view.” The articles might have been pretty good—but I don’t know. I was too distracted to actually do any concentrated reading.

To me, books seem like an eternal format. They work as well for me on a tablet as on a page. But the format to which I dedicated most of my professional career has a poor prognosis in any medium. I fear I will soon be attending a funeral for my old friend, the magazine.

Publishers and the iPad: No Future in Control

Control. Magazine publishers love it. Especially B2B publishers (why do you think they call it “controlled circulation”?).

Or at least they love it until someone else has it. Then it’s evil.

To a cynical eye like mine, this seems to be the back story to the ongoing tussle between periodical publishers and Apple over the management of magazine app subscriptions. The publishers want to control the subscription process and have full access to subscriber data; Apple wants to keep that control to itself, skim off 30% of the subscription price, and give publishers limited access to the data. As aptly summarized by Peter Kafka, “Magazine publishers used to salivate over the iPad. Now they’re a lot more reserved. ”

What was it that got publishers drooling in the first place? The opportunity to reassert control.

Let’s face it, most publishers have never really embraced the Web. Its openness is a direct challenge to their traditional models of operation. It makes it too hard to control who gets their product, how much they can charge for it, and who they have to compete against. The iPad seemed to offer them a chance to grab back a big chunk of the control the Web was taking away from them. It gave publishers, as Cory Doctorow put it, “a daddy figure who’ll promise them that their audience will go back to paying for their stuff.”

Of course, daddy figures have a downside: if you want complete control, you probably shouldn’t do business with them.

So should publishers turn their back on the iPad? Or should they simply accept Apple’s conditions? Not necessarily. The iPad and other tablets are really distinct new forms of media that offer users a new way of experiencing content, and to the extent that Apple is putting up hurdles to that experience, publishers are right to fight back.

But the future of publishing is openness, not walled gardens; sharing, not limiting. If their main motive for battling Apple is simply to increase their control, publishers may ultimately find they have no future at all.

Apple’s iPad May Help Save Publishing, But Not This Way

iPad from Apple Inc.Of all the publishing-industry reactions to the debut of Apple’s iPad so far, the strangest may be a suggestion that the iPad and other e-readers will allow magazines to give up the Web. In a brief blog post on Folio: today, Donald Seckler proposes that as e-readers soar in popularity, they will offer an attractive alternative to the Web. Rather than give away content free on your Web site, he says, offer it only on e-readers. And of course, charge a bundle for it. Print-publishing saved, case closed.

Seckler’s post appears to arise from a traditionalist print-publisher view of the Internet as a refuge for thieves and brigands, who “easily grab and reuse your content.” So the obvious solution is to “take away the free content” on the Web and make sure that “there is only one place for people to turn for your brand’s expert content.”

Seckler doesn’t share his views without trepidation. “I know that sounds a little crazy,” he says. “OK, a lot crazy.”

No, Donald, not crazy. Just dumb. A lot dumb.

At the risk of belaboring the obvious, let’s quickly review a few key precepts of the new-media reality:

Continue reading