Monday, November 21, 2011

Go with the reflow: The reflow POV

Writers (including poets) are entering the age (finally, it has arrived) of people reading from electronic devices instead of from printed matter. It was talked about for decades, but now both e-ink readers and LCD tablets are becoming affordable and actually more practical than the print alternative.

But unlike books and magazines (to pick two physical formats that have been a part of our civilization for a while now), mobile electronic devices vary in the dimensions of what is being displayed. Now readers (consumers) buy a book and expects to be able to read "that book" on their 3" screen iPod Touch, iPhone, or Android phone; their 6" e-ink reader; their 7" NOOK Tablet or Kindle Fire; their 9" iPad or Android tablet. Hence reflow, the reformatting of content for each of these devices in a way that is pleasing to the reader. That is what EPUB is all about, being based on HTML and CSS standards.

With that as a given, it gives writers a point-of-view (a "reflow POV") that is fundamentally different from the print age POV. Now writers are thinking that their products will be seen on any of the devices mentioned above, and they have to write (code, actually) with that in mind. The old way was to write using a tool targeted for producing a format for printed matter (such as Word or PDF), and then hope that some conversion program will make satisfactory formats (such as EPUB) for e-devices. But this approach can lead to unsatisfactory results. Poets, for example, may want their longer lines in their poem to reflow by indenting when the reader changes font or orientation on the device.

In this new reflow POV, writers are now writing in the more abstract and relative mode that EPUB provides, and new tools for making great-looking EPUB content, with that as the primary focus, are certainly on the way. They are not bound anymore to the physical dimensions and type of the printed pages of a particular book.

It's a reflow world.