In between the poles?

An interesting engineer’s understanding of writing from MIT’er Philip Greenspun. He divides publishing into a couple of poles and argues that the other stuff doesn’t get a look in:

The pre-1990 commercial publishing world supported two lengths of manuscript:

  1. the five-page magazine article, serving as filler among the ads
  2. the book, with a minimum of 200 pages

Suppose that an idea merited 20 pages, no more and no less? A handful of long-copy magazines, such as the old New Yorker would print 20-page essays, but an author who wished his or her work to be distributed would generally be forced to cut it down to a meaningless 5-page magazine piece or add 180 pages of filler until it reached the minimum size to fit into the book distribution system. 

Lots of room for discussion about how expressing an idea might deserve more words, and how arguing for the idea might also rate a few paragraphs or pages, but I think there’s some substance to his idea that objects constrain publishing possibilities and try to force them into habitual formats. That’s something that digital does much better…

(via Daring Fireball)

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