Are you analog or digital?

I left a fairly lengthy response on Tony Bates blog post about an issue he has been experiencing.

Tony used our instance of Pressbooks as the platform for his latest book, Teaching in a Digital Age. Tony noticed that the PDF version of the book had a problem with how the images were rendered. They were not in the correct flow of the text when the conversion from web to PDF happened in Pressbooks.

Pressbooks does the conversion from web to PDF better than most, but this is an issue we have been dealing with as part of our project. Images that are placed in the correct flow of a book in Pressbooks often get moved and pushed around in the PDF version of the book.

I understand the annoyance, but it illustrates beautifully the dichotomy of the borderlands we currently live in, straddling the digital and the analog worlds of publishing.

Here is my response.

Nate hits it on the head – these are the complexities involved in digital publishing as we straddle the world of print with the world of the web (and other digital formats). Digital publishing formats are fluid, and print formats are rigid. By choosing to use a publishing platform that values digital over print (and Pressbooks is designed to favour web over print), you are making a choice to value flexible over rigid.

However, as you have discovered, the two don’t play well. While Pressbooks and the PDF engine does an admirable job of creating an acceptable print ready document, you are still going to end up with having to compromise the layout of the rigid print for the flexible digital.

This is actually the biggest conceptual hurdle that most people moving from print based publishing to digital publishing have to contend with. It is often very disconcerting for those who have designed for the rigid formats of print to make the transition to the fluid world of digital. And they are often disappointed because they have to give up their pixel (or point in the print world) control and surrender to the fluid layouts of digital that put the user, not the publisher, in control of the appearance of the content.

The dilemma I have, as someone who is developing tools that attempt to straddle both worlds, is how can I satisfy the expectations of those who are accustomed and expecting rigid print, while still satisfy those who understand and expect the fluid digital. It is a heck of a challenge and someone is going to end up unhappy in the end, as you are seeing. Your book website looks great and works well. Your PDF (which I consider print, not digital as it enforces a rigid layout vs the digital flexible) is expecting rigid and cannot accommodate the digital flexible flow.

This is at the heart of why I find PDF so frustrating to work with. It appears to be digital, but is really analog hiding in a digital sheep’s clothing.

In the end, the decision is the author as to which compromise they are willing to make. Are they a digital publisher first making an analog version available out of convenience to those who still live in the analog world, in which case the PDF output would be acceptable. Or are they an analog publisher who wants to create rigid layouts (ie PDF and print) first with the web/ePub and digital publishing as the afterthought.


Clint Lalonde

Just a guy writing some stuff, mostly for me these days on this particular blog. For my EdTech/OpenEd stuff, check out


6 thoughts on “Are you analog or digital?

  1. __I had commented to Tony earlier, “_ [your Book] Teaching in a Digital Age might be cited as “a high quality benchmark” _ ” I thought this Title was a good choice to show/present that BCcampus is producing exemplar educational resources. Now I’m thinking differently, and looking to see which BCcampus textbooks might be described as exemplars or meet Standard Textbook Quality.

    Don Gorges says:
    April 21, 2015 at 7:09 am

    __Thanks Tony, I opened my pdf copy to see what you mean _ you’re asking “is it good enough?” _ I’d say Yes, ’cause I’d like to agree with your wife and friend __ but Teaching in a Digital Age might be cited as “a high quality benchmark” and it’s great you’re asking everyone for their perspectives. I’m not a Teacher in your audience, my perspective focuses on creative communications with Open Design and the ways Visual Communications is used to enhance the Teacher’s & Student’s experience, a perspective that places the highest value on a Student’s time using the materials.
    Meeting Standard Textbook Quality is as fundamental as well drawn technical artwork that is 100% accurate.
    I’d advise getting useful feedback by organizing a peer review via BCcampus review process-rubric for the online HTML version with a scrolling single page layout and I’d suggest that you arrange for a print book format pdf that is designed specifically in 2 page Readers’ Spreads. Arrange Hewlett Funding for design via Open Cohort Wiley-Bliss connections. Good luck Tony.

  2. __Thanks, Clint, for your perspective on the value of a printed book. The pdf of Teaching in a Digital Age was not designed in a form suited to a printed & bound textbook, where the reader views content in double page spreads. BCcampus has collated the set of single web pages and converted them into a printable pdf file – in the end, the printed content is not in 2 page spreads one typically finds / expects in book. I agree this Pressbook pdf is of little value to the reader.

  3. Thank you for writing this post. I completely agree that this has been one of the struggles on the project analog vs. digital. Excellent response. Hope this conversation continues.

  4. I like this and of course,the answer is I am DIGITAL – that is our future and there will be no print in it except as a relic of a different age like Vinyl records. Get over it – it’s gone baby gone.

    1. Kinda related (and triggered by your vinyl comment), there was a great piece on Spark this weekend talking about the technology of everday things. At 7:09, the discussion turns to “why do these everyday things continue to have life?” The guest responds with 2 examples: candles and vinyl and talks about how the imperfections that led to improvements (in candles, the dimness of light led to the development of light bulbs to fix the dimness and in vinyl records the crackle and pop led to the development of digital to fix the problem) and how we now celebrate those imperfections as the charm. ie) we like dim candles at dinner b/c that is romantic and the crackles and pop in vinyl records give them warmth. It was an interesting take on how technology starts as innovative to fix a problem, then mundane, then a new technology comes along to fix the imperfections and we then become romantic about the older technologies and the imperfections of the older technologies becomes their nostalgic charm. Here’s the clip

Comments are closed.