Cinematic Reading

When the iPad launched, one of the first apps I downloaded was the Marvel Comics App made by ComiXology. The iPad app is nothing particularly special; most of the comics are read in a traditional manner, almost as though reading them in PDF format. (They do some nice tricks for multi-page spreads, however.) Most e-book reading is like this: you tap or swipe left and right to turn the pages (plus or minus the annoying page turn transition).

But what I accidentally discovered this weekend was how ComiXology treated comics on the iPhone, with its much smaller screen. And it’s really impressive. (The ComiXology iPhone App works the same way.) Skip ahead to ~1:04 to see how it works.

I urge you, if you haven’t already and even if you don’t read comic books, to download it and play with the app yourself. It’s like watching a movie, except…not. It’s reading as well. You can pause and reflect, go backwards and forwards and zoom in. You can control the camera.

Basically, what you have here is what I call cinematic reading. The “camera” moves from item to item like a camera would, or like your eye would if you were scanning the page, then stopping to read different items: text to partial image to fuller image to whole page, in a variety of configurations. You can, of course, manually override it via double tap or pinching/spreading. But it offers a solution that could be applied to other combinations of text and image: that is, reading that isn’t books or mostly text articles. Namely: magazines.

We found out while doing the Bonnier Mag+ Project that people read magazines differently than books, mainly because the content itself is so different. There aren’t just long articles and big pictures (although there are certainly those), but a variety of shorter articles and a lively mix of images and text. Your eye darts around in a way that it doesn’t with books or text articles. Cinematic reading reflects this kind of jumping around.

How cinematic reading works alongside longer text and with hyperlinked text (the mind flashes to JUMP CUT TO:) and with magazines that’s don’t necessarily have a linear narrative like comics, remains to be worked out, but ComiXology have come up with a fascinating, beautiful solution, one that offers a new way of reading digitally, and also a new way of thinking about digital content. It’s not about “pages” any more: cinematic reading shows us that individual elements within a “frame” (page area) can be the focus of attention, as can the overall frame itself, or the whole page. It’s up to the content creators. They can use the tools of film (close-ups, zoom ins, pans, etc.) as a way of enhancing reading. It uses what digital paper can do that analog paper cannot, and without turning reading into pure video, or into god-awful hypertext choose-your-own-adventure.

Of course, this will also mean extra work on the part of content creators: creating an extra layer of metadata on top of the content: page size, frames, movement within frames, around pages, and between pages. But the result, I think, will be worth it.

I can’t wait to see who uses this next.

Update: Looks like some of the new comics on the Marvel app make use of cinematic reading as well.