by Christopher Butler on in culture

Is it preferable to read long format content on a screen or on the printed page? This is a question that I think we’re going to be wrestling with as a culture for some time to come. In the meantime our tendency is probably to do much of our day-to-day reading online (I’ve seen plenty of posts lately declaring all kinds of ridiculous things to the tune of “I don’t read books anymore, therefore books must be dead”), though I know there are still plenty of people holding out for actual books. I read quite a bit, both online and in books. In fact, I often bookmark articles that I know I’d be more likely to read if they were in print than I am with them on a screen. This is particularly true of longer content (much of it written by my favorite publications like The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and WIRED). So, after reading a post by Emmet Connolly, I began collecting those longer articles and creating printed anthologies of them on Lulu.com. The one pictured above is my third, which I just printed last week. This time, I kept a bookmarks folder of articles that I felt represented the most important ideas I’d encountered in 2009- so I called it “A Year of Ideas.”

Until I get seduced by the perfect reading device, I’m pretty convinced that there is untapped power and potential in print-on-demand (for example, check out the Espresso Book Machine. Russell Davies, the person who, believe it or not, first exposed me to the idea of print-on-demand, says it perfectly:

My favourite example is this: Things I Word Rather Read On Paper. Is it combines what the web does well; publishing, gathering, discovering and curating content (via instapaper) with what print does well; being readable, durable and portable.

As I read that, I realized I should probably put together a post that outlines my process of gathering, discovering and curating content- it’s a fairly complicated one when you take into account all the various channels for finding, experiencing and sharing information. But, it is one way of being a human synthesizer- a necessary discipline for people in our industry. For now, though, I wanted to again share the printed side of it- particularly because I’m in awe of how good of a job Lulu.com does. I submitted my files and had my book within several days; the quality of the book itself is very, very good.

The image below shows an interior spread of my “A Year of Ideas” book, which includes an image by Lauris Paulus and an article titled The Street as Platform by Dan Hill. (Lauris and Dan, don’t worry, I’m not selling this book. It’s just for me.)

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Here are the other two books I’ve created using Lulu.com. The book on the left was the first one I created last March. The book on the right is the second one I created shortly after in April:

  • Jim Hendrickson

    As 2009 draws to a close I’m about to put together my second Lulu book for Skyscrapers. Since I’m the newsletter editor as well as webmaster, I’ve been collecting the source material all year, so the easy part is nearly complete. The most time-consuming portion is organizing it and laying it out in InDesign to create the final PDF for the book. The most difficult part is deciding what NOT to include, since we have such a vast amount of material from the past year.

    For me, though, its not that I prefer to read this material in print as opposed to on the web, even though a book is probably the best way to organize a year’s worth of material. I enjoy the creation of a book because I think the traditional medium is the best way to preserve a historical snapshot of Skyscrapers that will be as easily accessed next year as it will in 30 or more years.

  • https://www.newfangled.com/chris_butler_blog Christopher Butler


    I agree with you- especially if you’re doing this kind of thing each year. It’s nice to be able to grab one contained volume off the shelf in order to browse a year’s worth of activity- like a yearbook- rather than executing a web search. There’s definitely something more personal in a physical book.

    Are your books hardcover? I’ve never done a hardcover book on Lulu.com.


  • http://blog.thoughtwax.com Emmet Connolly

    Chris, it’s very cool to see how far you have taken this simple idea. I’m now rather ashamed of the pathetic layout of the cover and interior of my first book. Since I was unsure if the idea would even work, I literally pasted everything into a plain text document and uploaded that. I’ve certainly collected enough reading for another book by now, so I’ll have to spend a bit more time on layout for this one.

    Your books look great. Legal grey area notwithstanding, if you’re interested in doing a “book swap” of some sort, send me an email.

  • https://www.newfangled.com/chris_butler_blog Christopher Butler


    Ashamed? Pathetic? I won’t hear of it. Look, you’re the one who inspired me to make these; it probably wouldn’t have occurred to me had I not seen your Things I Would Rather Read on Paper example first. In any case, the basic type and solid color you chose looks better than my first attempt.

    As for the legal gray area, I’ve wondered about that, too. I’m operating on several assumptions: (1) I’m not creating these books for resale. All content in them was offered free online, so that and the fact that I am not the creator of that work would make it wrong for me to sell it. (2) I’ve kept these books in ‘private’ mode on Lulu.com, which should prevent anyone else but me from purchasing a copy. (3) As far as I can tell, what we’ve done with these books is akin to printing webpages on a printer, only we’re paying someone else to do the work. All that said, I don’t know for certain what legal issues are germane to this scenario. When I uploaded my first version, I wondered if Lulu.com editors screen content and block books from being created that would leave them entangled in copyright issues (I assume they would be liable for printing the books). I haven’t seen or heard anything like that from Lulu, so for the time being, I assume this kind of use of their service is ok. I’d certainly cease and desist if I heard otherwise. With this latest book I’ve put together, I printed several additional copies to give as gifts to some friends and family- again, I assume this doesn’t violate any copyright issues. We’ll have to see…

    I was excited and honored to receive your comment; thanks for getting in touch,



By Christopher Butler

Chris Butler is the COO of Newfangled. He writes and speaks often on design and the web. You can follow him @chrbutler. More by Christopher Butler