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On a Murphy’s Laws calendar I once had, I found Weinberg’s Second Law, which goes “If builders built buildings the way programmers write programs, then the first woodpecker that came along would destroy civilization.”

What about if programmers made e-books?

The Toronto Review of Books has an interview with Chris Stevens, the co-creator of the Alice in Wonderland iPad app that has gotten a lot of positive attention. The discussion of the development of the app out of a public domain title is interesting in its own right, but in part of this interview, Stevens speaks out about what he sees as a succession of “lacklustre iPad titles” coming from apathetic publishers.

What’s happening at the moment is that most publishers are handing their major titles over to app developers who are ruining these titles with rushed, unprofessional layout and design. There is this weird situation where programmers are suddenly being given free reign to design books. We watch as publishers like Random House outsource the design of cherished titles to programmers who—despite their excellence at programming—are not designers. The complete lack of care and attention paid to the production of digital books is genuinely mystifying.

Of course, he’s by and large talking about e-book apps, rather than the standard words-on-screen e-reader formats that people consume on their Kindles or Nooks (or Kindle or Nook iPad apps), but there have also been people who complain that slavish attempts to reproduce a print book on a screen rather than adapting it to make use of all the potential of the new medium are themselves a disservice to the material.

Still, words-on-screen e-books will probably be with us for a good long time, and it’s hard to see what a programmer could do to mess those up.

(Found via Slashdot.)

 
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