Problems of a Closed Universe
In our highly technological world, perhaps we are forever condemned to repeat of the VHS/Betamax format wars. The current iteration of this silliness is the competing digital publication formats. More than a technological inconvenience, it can be a barrier that simply disregards a significant portion of the population. Here is a prime example.
LensWork alumnus photographer James Whitlow Delano has recently published a new e-book of his work in the tsunami-struck regions of northern Japan. I love Delano's work and his photographic eye, so I was excited to receive his e-mail announcing this new publication. Titled Black Tsunami, it held promise to be a photographic project I knew I would purchase without hesitation. But then the technological barrier popped up and completely frustrated my efforts. To quote the iTunes store, "Books must be read on an iOS device." You've got to be kidding me.
I applauded Delano's strategy to publish this as an e-book; I was highly disappointed to learn that it is only published as an iBook and therefore only available for the iPad, only available through iTunes, and thereby only available to people who are plugged in to that closed universe. Well, I should be more honest about this: I wasn't only "highly disappointed," I was pissed — not at Delano, but at Apple and the publisher. Although I own an iPad, I only use it for testing purposes as we prepare each iPad edition of LensWork Extended. For my personal use, I prefer my Android-based tablets or smartphone.
As far as I'm aware, this is the first instance in which I have been completely blocked from purchasing an e-publication because it was solely compatible with a single device and format. Kindle books are compatible with any device (via Kindle eReader software); PDF publications are similarly compatible with any device (hence our use of PDF format epublishing); even standard ePub format e-books are device agnostic. But if one chooses to publish via iTunes and the iBooks format, all pretense of universal availability evaporates.
Maybe I'm being overly sensitive, but the arrogance of publishing a book that is only available to a single device/format seems to me to go against the entire concept of publishing. What if Random House or Knopf decided to publish a book with special inks that were only visible if you used a specific kind of light bulb in your reading lamp? Can you imagine Sting releasing a new batch of music that required you use a specific headphone to decode the signal? What if your favorite website announced it would only be accessible if you used a unique browser and that it's content would be inaccessible with Safari or Firefox?
It's too bad, really — especially for Delano. I would have enjoyed seeing his new ebook, but will by necessity need to be patient in the hopes that his publisher eventually realizes that there are those among us who have chosen to live outside the Apple ecosystem. If I blame anyone for this absurdity, it is Apple. In their zeal to control their ecosystem with an iron fist, they've hurt innocent and talented photographers like James Whitlow Delano and all of us consumers who resist their exclusionary philosophy.