Typography and the Kindle platform
May 30, 2011 11:52 PM   Subscribe

Typography is about reading – and so are ebooks [via]
posted by Blazecock Pileon (65 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
I've been involved with publishing (primarily books) since the 1980s. My biggest gripe with e-books isn't that it isn't "the same" as paper — it's that certain basic standards of good text composition and typography aren't being replicated in e-book readers even though with a little more work and care they could be. There needs to be improvements in both the software and how these books are encoded.

Selling unproofed OCR'd scans of older books is another issue. Why pay something when the publisher can't even adhere to minimal standards of quality?
posted by D.C. at 12:22 AM on May 31, 2011 [7 favorites]


There needs to be improvements in both the software and how these books are encoded.

The price of ebooks is a concern of mine, especially as so little technical care is given to transcription. But the platforms are young, and perhaps these are just growing pains.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:35 AM on May 31, 2011


Is it just me or is the font on that blog a bit unclear?
posted by vidur at 12:36 AM on May 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


Is it just me or is the font on that blog a bit unclear?

Yes, as with so many typography websites, it looks like absolute crap in my browser.
posted by mattn at 12:46 AM on May 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


The font looks bad in Opera 11.10, but pretty good in Chrome and Internet Explorer.
posted by Kevin Street at 1:04 AM on May 31, 2011


Okay, that's weird. Now it looks good in Opera as well.
posted by Kevin Street at 1:20 AM on May 31, 2011


All of the major ipad ebook reading apps suck.

Ibooks seems to hypenate everything, even with full justification turned off. There is no way to change the leading or paragraph spacing, which in most ebooks is too small, and of the six font options only two are usable (Palatino and Georgia); for some reason Hoefler Text, which is the best default ipad font for reading long text, is not available. Ibooks is unusable in landscape with an ill thought out "two page" design. Its folksy "page turning" animation quickly becomes annoying and its "collections" feature is dreadful at handling large numbers of books and there is no white on black mode.

Stanza offers huge customisation of the typography, but it has a clunky user interface, has awful notetaking, highlighting and copy/paste support . Not to mention that it requires the use of a microscope to hit links or footnotes within a document, and it refuses to show you page numbers and wont expand images when clicked on.

The kindle app only supports DRM encumbered proprietary books, and has similar leading and paragraph spacing issues. Its reading experience is generally good though

Kobo has good typography,it offers a decent font - baskerville - and has superb leading and paragraph spacing as long as the cryptic "kobo styling" slider is on. But its user interface is clunky (no, I do not want an achievement sticker for opening this book) and the app crashes too often. It also only reads books "by the chapter" and breaks where the table of contents is malformed.

To me its ludicrous that none of these apps offer close to the experience of instapaper, which easily outclasses them all in terms of typography.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 1:36 AM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Shouldn't this FPP read "Whater you do

The post is about typography and readability. Yours seems to be about putting your foot down your throat while misspelling the word 'whatever'.

Yours,

A Mac-owning, iPhone-buying, Ubuntu netbook-using Kindle reader.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:07 AM on May 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


o wer all uzed to thigss typed by thums noaw
posted by a humble nudibranch at 2:08 AM on May 31, 2011


an teh kittehz
posted by a humble nudibranch at 2:09 AM on May 31, 2011


(wonders how Kindle would look with aliased Comic Sans)
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:09 AM on May 31, 2011


(wonders how Kindle would look with aliased Comic Sans)

just AWFUL
posted by a humble nudibranch at 2:12 AM on May 31, 2011


On the one hand, part of this is a "careful what you wish for" story. The world clamored for publishers to release their vast back catalogs as e-books, since it would be so easy! Just, like, e-bookify it! But it turns out that without someone proofing and re-laying out carefully, you get, well, Google Books.

On the other hand, publishers charging full price or near full price for e-books that clearly involved so little non-automates work don't inspire a whole lot of sympathy either. If they'd priced realiatically to begin with, they'd be in a much stronger position to just say "Look, I'm sorry, but this is what a $2 long-tail sausage-machine e-book looks like. Welcome to Utopia."
posted by No-sword at 2:26 AM on May 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


Whoops, typos. How ironic! The criticizer of unproofedness become the unproofed!
posted by No-sword at 2:29 AM on May 31, 2011


Ibooks seems to hypenate everything, even with full justification turned off. There is no way to change the leading or paragraph spacing, which in most ebooks is too small, and of the six font options only two are usable (Palatino and Georgia); for some reason Hoefler Text, which is the best default ipad font for reading long text, is not available. Ibooks is unusable in landscape with an ill thought out "two page" design. Its folksy "page turning" animation quickly becomes annoying and its "collections" feature is dreadful at handling large numbers of books and there is no white on black mode.

Hi, I'm Apple. About me in a sentence? Boy, I never know what to say for these things. Okay. Um, we design things for the masses. That is, the bulk of users who have no idea what leading is and who have a handful of books as opposed to nine thousand. So nice to meet you.
posted by oxford blue at 2:38 AM on May 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't think iBooks has perfect layout, by any means, but it's a bit unfair to just show the landscape view of iBooks (which is notoriously crap and wasteful of space) when the portrait view is much nicer.

In addition, the ePUB format should share some of the blame here - I believe that it has real difficulties handling some of the layout issues he mentions, and iBooks hews very closely to that spec (for good and for ill).
posted by adrianhon at 2:54 AM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


mattn: "Yes, as with so many typography websites, it looks like absolute crap in my browser."

Yeah, seems like a poorly-chosen font for the web since it looks like horrible bitty crap under Cleartype. Looks okay under gdipp (and presumably on a Mac) but still a bit fussy. It looks great on my ipod, but then most fonts that aren't actually awful do because of the incredible pixel density.

I bet it looks really nice if you print the page, though.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 2:57 AM on May 31, 2011


Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory: "The kindle app only supports DRM encumbered proprietary books, and has similar leading and paragraph spacing issues. Its reading experience is generally good though"

I wish you got more control over font size, though. I mean, lovely rendering and all but I would like to get more than seven words on a line, please.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 3:08 AM on May 31, 2011


Ibooks seems to hypenate everything, even with full justification turned off.

I don't know what version of iBooks you're using, but in mine, the option to turn off hyphenation is right next to the one to turn off justification.

But seriously? The optimum hyphenation algorithm was written over 30 years ago. It's a solved problem. Not including it with the Kindle is negligent. Reading a Kindle in German, with lots of reallylongwords, must be terrible.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 3:46 AM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yours seems to be about putting your foot down your throat while misspelling the word 'whatever'.
Comment was posted from my winphone. And yes, the irony of misspelling "whatever" is not lost on me.

Yours,
A Mac-owning, iPhone+Android+Winphone-buying, Windows using, Ubuntu netbook-using Kindle reader.
posted by seanyboy at 3:48 AM on May 31, 2011


What I don't understand is that Knuth & Plass has been available for thirty years, but most every program still uses the awful, simplistic, greedy algorithm. Other than TeX and Indesign, does anything else implement it?

Computers these days are fast enough to apply it in realtime, so there isn't any reason that modern WYSIWYG word processors to do slightly better typesetting. Even javascript can do it! Javascript can even format TeX math (in multiple ways), so why doesn't everything?
posted by autopilot at 3:50 AM on May 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


I frequently download text files for books I already own (mostly old sci-fi) - if somebody wants to type it in for free, stuffed if I'm going to pay twice for a book I already bought (secondhand - sorry, Mr Asimov, I know you needed that money for typewriter ribbons). The text is frequently glitchy, with the occasional typo, mystery word, abrupt para break, and yes, damned hyphens, but it's still very readable.

Thing is, the stuff I get from Amazon is sometimes the same. I love my Kindle, but if you're going to charge me $10 for a book, please do whatever QA is needed to make sure I get a better product than I do from some random stranger on IRC, or I'll just go there for everything.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:22 AM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I silenced the keening voice of my inner paper-book traditionalist (even though I still believe that he's correct in his assertion that given a choice, the paper's better) when Barnes & Noble did one of their mass refurb releases at $79. For me, it's about Gutenberg, with my Nook being my library of classics, while I read modern books as books. Being a non-profit sort of organization, the typography, pagination, or other readability metrics at Gutenberg can a little scattershot, with some books being just lovely to read, as thoughtfully formatted as books are when people care about the details, and some that are jump-

-y, with odd disconnects, weird OCR artifawts, and




peculiar page breaks.

Of course, with those books, I'm getting a giant library of amazing literature for free, all housed in a little magical book with the words "DON'T PANIC" written in large, friendly letters on the cover (I made my own "screensaver" for mine, in homage to a key moment in my literary history and the fact that I am actually carrying around a sort of electronic book that holds enough information to have underpinned entire empires), so I can only complain so much. If I bought a book and found it formatted like the publisher just didn't care, on the other hand, I think I'd spend some time at the typewriter, tapping out a sharply worded missive and asking for my money back.

I've also sidestepped the world of copyright a time or two, "stealing" epub renditions of books I already own (and the ghost of Sonny Bono can fuck up copyright all he likes, but if I bought a book brand new, it's mine, and I'm going to enjoy it in whatever format I damn well please), and more than a few of those have had crazy oddities like having every "th" replaced by " " and every "the" missing the space between it and the following word, and I've managed to acclimate myself well enough, even though I mutter "dash it all" in every dozen or so instances. There's really a culture of not giving a shit about the details at work in the world these days, and it's exasperating, but sometimes you have to sigh, purse your lips almost imperceptibly, allow your eyes roll ever so slightly upward in the manner of a Wodehouse character, and either let it go, or have go at a letter.

As for me, well, I'm a crank, so I usually choose the latter and write a letter.

If they're going to charge what they're charging for ebooks, claiming that "no, printing is not a major cost of publishing--the value lies in the editing, marketing" etcetera and so forth, I demand decent service for my the honor of my custom.
posted by sonascope at 4:44 AM on May 31, 2011 [11 favorites]


This is timely, as I finally got a kindle within the last week. (kindle2 from woot)

It's true that the typeface is uninspired and not beautifully kerned, and it's true that (particularly in $0.00 Gutenberg books) there are occasionally serious falts in the text itself.

On the other hand, after tweaking the margin to waste 10% less of the displayable area, I find that for reading novels it is so very just fine—a device which is quickly forgotten as a vehicle for the text.
(I may later try some of the font hacks, but none of the examples I've seen look particularly better in the screenshots—rather, they seem to be for the benefit of people with non-european character set needs)

On the other hand, the sorts of things I want to read on my kindle are not plays with numbered lines or texts with extensive footnotes, two of the problems highlighted in this article.

While it's easy to make peace with the device, making peace with the price of ebooks is tougher. I may turn out to be too stingy to get the most out of my reader…
posted by jepler at 5:09 AM on May 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Forget typography, eBooks aren't even device independant. I'll start buying them when they're a portable as mp3s, and I can read a kindle book on a nook, or vice versa.
posted by blue_beetle at 5:15 AM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Make that "for the honor of my custom" in that line. Talk about proofreading...no second chances to correct things on mefi, dang it all.
posted by sonascope at 5:34 AM on May 31, 2011


Reading a book on a phone isn't meant to be an analogous experience to reading a paper book laid out carefully by hand. I can't, for instance, read a paper book at night with a redshifted screen and huge fonts to compensate for my bad vision. I can easily do this with an electronic book, even if it means having only a few words per page. I opt for this functionality in cases where I want to consume the content of the book, the meaning conveyed by the words, not their arrangement on paper. I wouldn't want to consume an Edward Tufte book via the same means since it just wouldn't work.

So, ultimately, I think the problem here is the continued desire to push electronic documents as book equivalents. eBooks is really a terrible name for just this reason. Paper books are good at very specific things, and electronic text at other very specific things.

The existence of this typographical rant is a direct result of this confusion.
posted by odinsdream at 5:43 AM on May 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


If I bought a book and found it formatted like the publisher just didn't care, on the other hand, I think I'd spend some time at the typewriter, tapping out a sharply worded missive and asking for my money back.

Even given my previous comment, I'll note that I actually have done this, although without successfully getting a refund.

In my case it was a copy of China Mieville's The City and The City, from Sony's Reader Library store. There were some proper nouns used throughout, repeatedly, that all suffered from a glyph error. Instead of having a properly-accented character they were expanded to some ridiculous ~)@ symbol each time.

This kind of thing is just lazy.
posted by odinsdream at 5:48 AM on May 31, 2011


I've made some attempts to use my iPod Touch and later my work-provided iPhone as a reader, but aside from the screen being like a microscope slide (a situation slightly improved by the higher resolution screen on the iPhone), the problem isn't the size, the user interface, or any of those physical issues, per se—it's that jittery, unearthly diode glow that radiates from the screens themselves. If I sit on my train going to or from work, staring at the screen on my little portable telephone machine, when we pull into my station and I look up, the whole world's gone a sort of muzzy pink and my eyes won't refocus, so I disembark in what appears to be a Van Gogh painting of a train station scene, with birds flying in perfectly matched pairs overhead and all the street signs written in สวัสดี. After a while, my composure comes back, but I find I need less and less hallucinogenic mushrooms in my diet when I try to read at length on a glowy eyeball death machine.

The e-ink, on the other hand, just reads like a book, albeit a crappy mass-market paperback on grey, coarse paper.
posted by sonascope at 5:59 AM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


To quell arcane complaints about kerning and other typographical issues, the next Kindle update will contain an improvement that will make 10 point Courier New the only available typeface. Also, all lines will now end in a hyphen. Jeff Bezos: "We're really excited about this opportunity to leverage the synergy of the New Courier font with this change. Now the Kindle will be fair for everyone!"
posted by double block and bleed at 6:27 AM on May 31, 2011


Note: I have a Kindle and I'm pretty happy with it
posted by double block and bleed at 6:28 AM on May 31, 2011


Okay, people. Do you want:

Custom-designed typography that a human has looked over to fix the vast majority of issues (line breaks, rivers, etc.)

OR

Dynamic text that the reader can make larger, smaller, more or less leading, etc.

Because you can't have both. E-books have chosen the latter. This is supposed to be a feature, not a bug. But you do lose something. In some books you lose more than in others. Interior book design was never a glamorous art, now it's pretty much buggy whip city. Sorry. (Full disclosure: I am a former interior book designer/typesetter/proofreader.)
posted by rikschell at 6:59 AM on May 31, 2011 [13 favorites]


One problem I have with my new kindle is that every book looks the same. There is something to be said for getting used to the visual style of a book, and on the kindle, that aspect is completely gone. You are either reading it in Generic Style A or Generic Style B.

I anticipate that when publishers take ebook formatting more seriously than they do now, and aim to put out a product which is just as complete as a paper book, we'll see a mechanism for supporting a huge range of fonts, instead of some preloaded set.
posted by milestogo at 7:04 AM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


iBooks is unusable. The kerning is shite, the leading is shite, the font choices are shite, the vast gaping margins are shite, the page turn animation is shite, and the "bookshelf" interface is shite. It's a huge pile of shite and I'm disgusted by it. It's not just bad, it's offensively bad, which given that Apple claims to care about human factors engineering, is almost stunning by omission. But then Apple also released iTunes: a wretched, foetid, worm-riddled and bloated corpse of Jabba-the-Hutt-esque pile of not serendipitously or accidentally unusable but actually intentionally and maliciously unusable shit that people only use because they must; because there's no alternative application for managing our "non-computer computer" devices which, what the fuck Apple?

Stanza is at least barely tolerable for reading due to its customizability if not actually good kerning or hyphenation, although the entire rest of the app would get a barely passing mark in an undergraduate level UI course and honestly whoever designed that shopping interface should be slapped.

[rough, wearied sigh]
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:08 AM on May 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


Selling unproofed OCR'd scans of older books is another issue. Why pay something when the publisher can't even adhere to minimal standards of quality?

This is the subject of frequent gripes at TeleRead - my one-stop shop for e-book news.

As a non-power user, my only gripe with Stanza is that it chokes on ~50+ MB PDFs - requiring that I keep Goodreader on my iPad as sort of an "oversized" shelf.

(And a reminder to any e-reading folk that if you're not already using calibre, you should be.)
posted by Trurl at 7:12 AM on May 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


I do not need custom designed typography in my ebooks. I know that line breaks will be weird, page breaks imperfect, rivers will show up occasionally. This is indeed the cost I pay for having 70 zillion books with me at all times.

I do want enough basic typography that paragraph and chapter breaks will be correct, that quotation marks and dashes and other symbols will show up as themselves, that there will be a space at the end of each word, that the books won't have more spelling mistakes or OCR screwups than the physical books. (At least at the current price points of new ebooks.)

The Stanza app looks like a miracle of design and usability compared with the OverDrive app.
posted by jeather at 7:12 AM on May 31, 2011


I'm holding onto my print. Yes, dead trees. I am not hip. I am a dinosaur.

I'm also a dinosaur patiently waiting for the early adopters to carve out comfy niches to which I will adaptively radiate.

*laps up the puddle of gore left behind by the bleeding edge*
posted by adipocere at 7:26 AM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Google Books app for iphone/ipod touch gives you access to all the books they scanned from all those libraries (well, the ones that are out of copyright). You can opt to read the OCR, which is quite impressive in one sense but still bad enough that it impedes reading. Or they give you the option of just reading the scanned pages themselves. It depends a bit on the book but I find that pretty often this is completely readable (albeit on the new high res screen, might be worse on other screens). I read plenty of flowing text type books in Stanza on the ipod, and obviously there are advantages to that, but there is something fun about looking at actual book pages on an ereader, especially since generally these are old editions of the books with old fashioned typography.
posted by yarrow at 7:28 AM on May 31, 2011


Because you can't have both. E-books have chosen the latter. [...]

That is the wrong way of looking at it. We can definitely have nice layout even with many different fonts / font-sizes.

I'm a software developer that has implemented the TeX paragraph layout for multicolumn texts with runaround for images and register for baselines. Everything runs automatically and generates really nice output. The word breaking even includes priorities for where a word can be broken as the German and Scandinavian languages have a lot of combined words: e.g. "book reader" is spelled as "bookreader", and it is much nicer to break it as "book- reader" rather than "bookre- ader".

Contrary to what many people think, using the TeX method doesn't make it much slower. Drawing the text on the screen takes much, much more time than the layout process.

The state of text layout in e-book readers is simply due to incompetence, ignorance and laziness.
posted by flif at 7:49 AM on May 31, 2011 [9 favorites]


flif: "I'm a software developer that has implemented the TeX paragraph layout for multicolumn texts with runaround for images and register for baselines. Everything runs automatically and generates really nice output."

If you were to write an ebook app for IOS and Android I would... well, I'd buy it for app store prices. So like £1.19 or thereabouts. But it's possible there may be a lot of me!
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 7:53 AM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


To me, this feels like a "guy with cancer and a broken leg" situation: sure, typography in ebooks sucks, but let's treat the more immediate problems first...you know, stuff like making a logical, universal, and cross-platform implemented system for dealing with footnotes and endnotes. Or, as others have pointed out, forcing publishers to do a bit more than hitting Scan and then uploading the result to the Kindle store. Or imposing jail time on people who use PDFs for plain-text books.

Let's get the "broken leg" concerns out of the way, then we can tackle leading and kerning problems.
posted by Ian A.T. at 8:15 AM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Has anyone checked out the McSweeeneys app for the iPad? They sell their books within the app, and I've heard that there's some specific attention to (an unadjustable) typeface.
posted by rockstar at 8:26 AM on May 31, 2011


That is the wrong way of looking at it. We can definitely have nice layout even with many different fonts / font-sizes.

Maybe you can have nice layout, but you can't have a person looking at the page. I believe there is still a big difference between how a computer can be trained to lay out text and how a human can. Books (at their best) are designed on purpose. Design adds value. So does customizabillity. But they each add value at the cost of each other. Good design conveys information beyond what the text itself can convey. Customizability adds versatility (large print for older readers, night vision, etc). But you don't get both. For people who are ever more used to reading the web, it's sometimes hard to remember that book design is an actual thing, and I don't want to bemoan its passing too much, but I don't think we should pretend we can have it all with no losses.
posted by rikschell at 8:35 AM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Even given my previous comment, I'll note that I actually have done this, although without successfully getting a refund.

In my case it was a copy of China Mieville's The City and The City, from Sony's Reader Library store. There were some proper nouns used throughout, repeatedly, that all suffered from a glyph error. Instead of having a properly-accented character they were expanded to some ridiculous ~)@ symbol each time.


I have successfully gotten a refund from the Amazon Kindle store for similar issues (obvious OCR artifacts in a non-free book). It was this edition of F. Marion Crawford's Wandering Ghosts, an obscure three buck title. Pretty gobsmacking that the same kind of issues would show up in an exponentially more commercial title like The City and The City, and that Sony wouldn't give you a refund.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 8:40 AM on May 31, 2011


Most pages of a paperback only have zero to three hyphenated lines. It shouldn't really be a huge issue on eBooks if they do it wrong.
posted by smackfu at 9:17 AM on May 31, 2011


Maybe not for English, but as I stated above, hyphenation really is a huge issue for other languages, especially German.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 9:25 AM on May 31, 2011


Forget typography, eBooks aren't even device independant. I'll start buying them when they're a portable as mp3s, and I can read a kindle book on a nook, or vice versa.

Use Calibre, like Trurl recommended. It converts formats -- I moved all the .mobi books I had previously bought for the Kindle app on my iPod over to my .epub-using Kobo with little trouble.
posted by rewil at 10:00 AM on May 31, 2011


@rikschell, I acknowledge that book design in fiction can have some aesthetic merit, but deep down I firmly believe the real value of fiction is in the text, and little if any value is added by typographic choices beyond readability. There certainly is some fiction that depends on typographical and design trickery, but not very much. I've seen plenty of paper books whose deliberate design choices were poor, with negative effects on readability.

That is why novels or other books made of straight text work best on devices like the Kindle, and fancy books with lots of illustrations and weird (but perhaps necessary) typographical tricks and margins and stuff are best enjoyed on paper, or perhaps on iPad. You won't find me asking the publisher to put my favorite Maxfield Parrish book on the Kindle, and I'm pleased to see "American (The Book)" isn't available in the Kindle store, since much of what makes it enjoyable would be impossible to reproduce in that format.
posted by lhauser at 10:15 AM on May 31, 2011


rikschell: Because you can't have both.

We can't? When I learnt basic HTML more than 10 years ago, I could insert a soft hyphen: if the reader increased the font size on his screen the word was hyphenated as needed, a new line break was made and you got a smoother, nicer right hand margin. Decrease the font size and the hyphen disappears and the text flows back. Don't tell me this can't be done today.

Ebook readers probably have enough computer power to run friggin InDesign - or will soon have. They should be able to render type just as well.
posted by Termite at 10:20 AM on May 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Sigh.

Okay, you're right about 99% of fiction. A well-trained machine can handle most widows, orphans, breaks, etc.

But there's a significant amount of work designers do on nonfiction books that can't be boiled down to an algorithm. Every book is different. Different heads, notes, sidebars, typefaces. Information can be conveyed well or poorly based on design, and there is no way to dynamically resize everything optimally when the user needs a bigger type size. Some web pages do a better job than others, but you cannot get the advantages of human design (and a well-trained human eyeball going over every page) AND get the advantages of dynamic sizing/reflowing, etc. At least not in a medium-to-complex work. There's a hell of a lot more going on than hyphenation. Designers USE InDesign to design a book. InDesign does not design the book all by itself.
posted by rikschell at 10:36 AM on May 31, 2011


rikschell: "There's a hell of a lot more going on than hyphenation. Designers USE InDesign to design a book."

I know that, I've used it myself. :o)

I used this comparison to show how little we (are told to) expect from an ebook reader.
posted by Termite at 10:44 AM on May 31, 2011


My favourite ebook typos are from a copy of The Fall of Hyperion I acquired.* "Comlog" is variously rendered, usually as cornlog and once as corndog, and poor old Father Dure suffered the indignity repeatedly of being referred to as Father Durf, which has lead to him acquiring a particular stature and personality in my mind's eye.

* you can't officially get it as an ebook for some reason, despite the other books in the series being available. I bought a second-hand paperback but I have gimpy wrists so I succumbed to the lure of the rapidshares.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 11:18 AM on May 31, 2011


I don't doubt publishers are using dynamic text as an excuse to skimp on proofreaders/designers. But it remains true that you have to start with different design assumptions and expectations with dynamic type than with a printed book. Until computers make some huge AI-type leaps, Edward Tufte-style information design will remain a specialized task that only humans can do well.
posted by rikschell at 11:19 AM on May 31, 2011


I read a LOT on the iPad. Calibre is good, but it seems to add .5 margin to all body paragraphs. This makes it bearable to read in portrait on the iPad but the two page spread ends up being a word per line. I've taken to going into the css in the ePubs and removing the margins. I'm mentioning this because most people don't seem to realize that it IS just html and css and you can edit the books to your hearts content. (Sigl is what I use)
posted by Brainy at 11:35 AM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I bought the Nook version of Princess bride, and was appalled by the lack of typographic distinction between Goldman's voice and Morgenstern's. So I wrote a review saying so. Only a few months later, my iPad nook app (and my wife's Nook) automatically downloaded a new version, and the black and white version had Goldman's voice in italics, and the color version had it in red, which is how it was presented in the first editions of the book. I felt vindicated, and was impressed with B&N's responsiveness. I agree that in general, the typography of ebooks isn't as good as it should be. It's a hard problem, but an important one.
posted by dylanjames at 12:09 PM on May 31, 2011


you can't officially get it as an ebook for some reason, despite the other books in the series being available. I bought a second-hand paperback but I have gimpy wrists so I succumbed to the lure of the rapidshares.

You can actually get it from B&N for the Nook -- not sure if Calibre can handle NookBook format, though, as I've never investigated.

I don't recall "Father Durf", but sadly, it does include a hell of a lot of obvious OCR artifacts (corndog may have been in there). The same is true of the rest of the Hyperion Cantos from B&N -- there are a huge number of typos that I feel like even a single read-through would have found, and if I wasn't already familiar with the text I think I would have been baffled by a number of them.

I've had some really great experiences with eBooks (particularly new books), but $8 for an OCR copy that has apparently never even been read once is pretty off-putting, and makes me concerned about the possibility of getting older books in electronic formats.
posted by tocts at 12:33 PM on May 31, 2011


This is perhaps the best treatise I've come across on e-book typography, 'Web Standards for E-Books' by Joe Clark. And it's darn pretty looking, too.
posted by artof.mulata at 1:25 PM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


tocts: "$8 for an OCR copy that has apparently never even been read once is pretty off-putting, and makes me concerned about the possibility of getting older books in electronic formats."

Especially when said shoddy copy is actually more expensive than the new paperback, and a whole six dollars more than the second-hand price listed on that same page.

Suggestion for lazy-arse/cheap publishers who can't/won't actually provide a quality product: take advantage of the online nature of e-readers, and push out updated copies when typos or layout issues are fixed. Give readers $1/50p/whatever back on the price they paid for the book whenever they spot a typo. Boom: you get a quality product pretty quickly, and the customers who did your quality control for you don't end up paying for the privilege.

okay so I can think of at least two huge problems with that system already, but I'm sure a clever company like Amazon could sort it.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 2:31 PM on May 31, 2011


I'm actually obsessive enough that I will mark errors (formatting or spelling and sometimes grammar) on my Kindle as I read. When I finish the book, I then use Calibre to switch it to a format where I can correct the error, then convert it back into an ebook. It's only an extra step when the book is DRM'd.

I also like to change the CSS and Calibre settings for ebooks when I convert them so hyphens and dashes and elipses and quotes and scene breaks and paragraphs and chapter headings and all that stuff looks how I prefer and the table of contents is exactly what I want.

It's sort of fun for me, honestly, although I agree there's issues with all the ereaders and how they format things and I don't expect most people are willing to do all the little fiddly things I do. If someone paid me to just read and fix ebooks all day I would be in heaven, though.
posted by Nattie at 3:42 PM on May 31, 2011


@Nattie: As much as I've tried, I have not yet been successful bypassing my Kindle DRM to make these kinds of corrections on books I own. I wish I knew what I'm wrong!
posted by lhauser at 4:14 PM on May 31, 2011


Er... doing wrong. Yeesh.
posted by lhauser at 4:15 PM on May 31, 2011


When I finish an eBook it's dead to me. To people feel differently? Some people seem to have the same attachment over ebooks as physical books which is interesting.
posted by oxford blue at 5:40 PM on May 31, 2011


The new version of EPUB that was just announced has many features that will help solve many of the typography problems, including embedded fonts and fixed layouts. These features might take a while to be implemented by readers, but they will bring new design considerations to ebooks.

As for the Kindle, the new changes in EPUB will pose a challenge to their format based on the 11 year old mobipocket format. I think the Kindle will be upgraded soon to support EPUB files, especially since it is becoming the mp3 of the publishing world.
posted by metl_lord at 6:33 AM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I like Aldiko OK, but it doesn't do PDFs well. Yeah, will be VERY cool to see a better ePub.

You are either reading it in Generic Style A or Generic Style B.

I'm reading Year of the Flood on ePub right now and it has its own style, particularly the chapter/year markers.

Paper books are good at very specific things, and electronic text at other very specific things.

I think there's a compromise here, i.e. a way to format electronic "books" better.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:43 AM on June 1, 2011


It's not like back-catalog paperbacks are faultless in this regard either. I have bought new printings of books from the 60s and 70s that look like they are printed from poorly done scans. The typeface loses all subtlety and the page ends up heavy looking and hard to read. Not to mention the random ink blots and occasional crooked pages because they weren't even using a great quality master.
posted by smackfu at 9:01 AM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


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