(Mod)ified Texts

An Interivew with Craig Mod

Craig Mod is a thinker, speaker and writer on the future of publishing. As a publisher and developer, currently with Flipboard, he is also directly shaping how we will experience publishing.


Japan has one of the richest traditions of literature and the printed (or calligraphied) word. Even today, despite Japan’s affinity for gadgets, the print industry seems more resilient than other countries. Where do you see Japan’s print industry heading? And where do you see innovation in publishing here?

Japan! It’s true. Japan does paper beautifully. It’s the reason I’ve tried to have all the books I’ve designed and produced over the last decade printed there. You pay a premium for it, but the output is usually heads and tails above most other printers with whom I’ve dealt.

Japan really understands materials and their effect on experience. Tanizaki’s in Praise of Shadows, for example, is an entire book turning light into a material.

I’m curious to see what manga artists will be able to do with tablet reading as the medium matures. A lot of the balance, nuance and typographic weightlessness of Japanese design is dependent on a high-resolution canvas. The current spate of iPad/Android tablets simply don’t have the screens to support nuance. I think that with retina display iPads we will see more “Aha!” moments of print designers getting excited about digital publishing. Screens will never rival the tactility of paper, but with the right resolution, something magic happens as the pixels disappear.

Where are things headed? I frankly don’t know. I do know that the printing districts in the back streets of Kagurazaka, Edogawabashi, Hongo— all of Bunkyô-ku, really— are slimming. Printers tell me there’s less work. Walking around them, there’s a palpable sense of slowing down.

That said, you still find these amazing artisinal print shops. I have a Japanese designer friend who runs a small outfit in the quiet back streets of Asakusa. I get my black and white digital photography printed at a little anonymous shop near a small river running back behind Ginza.

So, while there will be an inevitable slimming, I don’t see small, boutique outfits like these ever disappearing.

You’re a big proponent of the power of technology to shape publishing. Some people think technology is changing publishing in very negative ways. What are some of the positive things that technology provides to publishers and readers alike?

Digital removes the cost of physical production, the cost of distribution, and the jockeying for premium placement in physical stores. These systems were necessary for physical items, but are ultimately extremely inefficient and costly (and wasteful).

If you consider the fundamental role of a publisher as a connector between readers and writers, then nearly everything about digital publishing improves the efficiency of creating that connection. Readers are already closer to authors.

For years, Murakami Haruki ran a very intimate website (in the late 90s, early naughts, I believe) between himself and his readers. As did William Gibson. Ultimately, these efforts proved to be unsustainable in the face of continuing to write novels. But, the point is, readers and authors are actually much closer now, thanks to blogs, Twitter (Paulo Cohelo, for example is a prolific tweeter), etc.

Can technology improve literacy?

Absolutely. The cornerstone of literacy is access to reading materials. John Wood’s A Room to Read is a beautiful non-profit that builds libraries in developing nations. But, what’s tough about building libraries in a village on a mountain? Getting books there. Books are trees. So you’re dragging trees up a mountain. On a donkey. And trees cost a lot of money to ship.

The Kindle was $399 in November 2007. $359 in February 2009. $299 in July 2009. $259 in October 2009 and then dropped to $139 in August 2010. It’s now even cheaper (subsidized partly by ads). How long until eInk Kindles drop to the price of a hardcover?

You can read on a Kindle easily for a week without recharging the battery. And recharging is a quick process. How small and cheap is a solar charging device fit for a Kindle? Kindles are also rough. You can throw ‘em around. Bang ‘em up. They don’t break. You can read them in the sun. How many Kindles do you need for a village? How much would that cost? For the cost of sending a library worth of physical books to a village, to how many villages can you send a dozen Kindles loaded with a library worth of books and a solar charger?

With print-on-demand and various digital publishing platforms (like Nook, Google Books, Kindle), anyone can publish a book. Are literary agents a dying breed? And publishing houses?

I hope not. Anyone can publish a book, but to do it well you need to have a good editor. You need guidance. You need an audience. Not every author will be able to assemble those things on her own. Nor will every author want to deal with the mechanics of producing ebooks.

If, as you say, the future of publishing is in technology, then the most technologically advanced cities and countries would seem to have de facto control of the shape of publishing. How will poorer countries and individuals be able to participate in the future of publishing?

As I mentioned earlier, as the cost of new publishing technologies drops to zero, my hope is that poorer countries will see a trickle down of these new technologies more quickly.

Bill Clinton wrote his memoirs by hand. How cool (or crazy) is that? And with Japanese authors, the physical manuscript is often displayed as an authentic artifact, almost fetishized, quite separately from the book that later goes into print (or digital). What are your thoughts on the act of physically writing and the sanctity of the manuscript?

The way we think is influenced by the medium atop which we are thinking. Try writing with a typewriter. You’ll find your thoughts wrapping up as you get closer to the edges of the paper. Your words change to fit the paper. Writing in cursive evokes phrases different than in block characters.

I’m sure folks complained about the loss of authenticity in artifact with the advent of the typewriter. A typewritten page is infinitely less personal than one handwritten. And now, we look at the typewriter with glint of romanticism in the context of the hyper sterility of computers.

With any medium, though, if you look hard enough you can always find something to fetishize. Current document revision technology allows us to capture the history of a text. It’s possible to scrub back through time— to literally watch an author make additions and deletions and modifications, to surface, as it were, the very intimate core of their writing process.

With digital text, we may lose that romantic sense of tangible artifact; we may lose the humanity of hand-made marks on paper; but it’s arguable that there is something greater— more romantic, if terrifying— in voyeuring on these peripheries of what comes with digital.




メディアの更なる発達によってタブレット型端末で漫画が読まれることが普通になったとき漫画家たちはどんな新しい表現が出来るようになるでしょうか? 日本人のデザインの優れたバランス感覚や細かいニュアンスが伝わるかどうかはタブレットの画質次第といえるでしょう。しかし最近流行のiPadやアンドロイドなどのタブレットでは細かいニュアンスまでは伝わりません。 iPhoneが採用しているような超高画質RetinaディスプレイをiPadも採用すればデジタル出版を行うプリントデザイナーも細かいニュアンスが伝えられるようになるのではないでしょうか。コンピューターの画面は紙の持つ繊細な触知性を持ち得ませんが、新しい技術をうまく応用すればかなり近いところまで改善できると思います。








それは間違いありません。読み書き能力は読み物を入手しやすい環境が整っているか否かに掛かっています。マイクロソフトの幹部社員だったジョン・ウッドにより設立された非営利団体「ルーム・トゥ・リード」は開発途上国の恵まれない子供たちに対して本を寄贈したり図書館を建設したりしていますが、開発途上国の山間部の小さな村に図書館を造ろうとするとき何が一番問題になると思いますか? それは現地にたくさんの図書を運搬するためのコストです。それは材木を山の上に運び上げるのと同じくらい大変な仕事です。車も入って行けないような山間部にはロバに乗せて運ぶのですが、これには大きなコストが掛かっています。




ひとつの村に何個のキンドルが必要だと思いますか?コストはどのくらいになると思いますか? 実際、ひとつの村に図書館を建設してそれなりの蔵書を揃えるほどの予算があれば1ダースのキンドルをたくさんの村に配布することができるのです。





クリントン元大統領が自らの回顧録を手書きで残したことについてどう思われますか? 日本では人気作家の手書きの原稿が価値を持つものとして公開されたり、後に発刊される著作とは別個に崇められたりすることがありますが、手書きで執筆することや手書き原稿の価値についてどう思われますか?