by Joseph T. Sinclair
Amazon brought us the Kindle with a page format for reading books that’s similar to print. Then Apple brought us the tablet with a better page format for reading books that’s even more similar to print. It seems that tablets are the ultimate ebook reading device as they can mimic books quite well. In the meanwhile, more people have been reading on phones rather than tablets.
It is also becoming evident that it’s more burdensome and more expensive to maintain two devices than one. In addition, there’s a good percentage of phone/tablet users worldwide who cannot afford two devices and use only phones. Therefore, it takes no special logic to assume that the future of reading (of ebooks) is on phones.
Publishers work hard to conform their print topography to tablets. That has not been particularly difficult. It has, however, proven difficult to do so for phones due to a phone’s small screen. With phones holding the preponderant market share of the device market, however, the time is come for publishers to quit adapting their print topography to tablets and reinvent a new topography for phones.
Kindle Typography The original Kindle typography for Amazon’s liquid ink ebook readers is severely incompetent and is not the answer, is not the new typography needed. It isn’t even a good answer for the ebook readers.
All reading is done in a column. Books provide a wide column to read, which is efficiently packaged into a book and efficiently read. Nonetheless, even in the print world, the book format has not gone unchallenged. Newspapers long ago migrated to a new type of column, the thin column. There were a lot of reasons for doing so not the least of which is the fact that people can read thin columns more efficiently than wide columns. Nine to twelve words wide is the optimal column for reading.
And guess what? A phone is essentially a thin-column reader. What’s OK for newspapers seems to be OK for a huge percentage of the reading public. It’s time for ebook publishers to shed their print book formats and adapt to their ebooks for the thin-column reading public.
If you think in terms of print, this seems to be a huge setback that’s going to bewilder publishers. But when you consider that the digital age has supported all sorts of innovations in text presentation, the new publishing reality (thin columns) presents not a setback but great opportunities and new challenges to book publishers. Those who respond to the challenges and innovate will be more successful than those tenaciously clutch the old formats.
If anything, the digital revolution has enhanced topography. First, we got desktop publishing. Second, we got word processing and publishing software with greatly enhanced topography. Third, we finally got reading devices that enabled easy reading on a screen rather than on a printed page. Finally, today after a long evolution, we have the capability to embed diverse media in a page of digital text. We’ve actually had such capability for a long time, but today it is very easy and inexpensive to do so, and anyone can do it. Thus, the opportunities for enhanced typography are greater than ever.
Rather than ape the past practices of printing in the new digital world, publishers need to focus on innovation. Innovation means bringing new topography to the thin column on phones where most people will do their reading. In other words, tablets which were thought to be a final step in digital publishing may be an interim step. People may not feel a need to own and maintain two devices.
I must say I am a dedicated amateur typographer. I even wrote a book on Web topography (Typography on the Web, AP Professional, 1999). No one appreciates elegant topography more than I do. And no one agonizes more than I do to notice that much of the topography in the digital world is inelegant and sometimes unreadable. Then too, the thought of compressing topography into a thin column is sadly torturesome.
Yet digital text in a thin column read on phones is the future of publishing. There will be many things we cannot do as well as print, but many more that we can do better than print. After all, text is just communication. It’s the communication of information, of a story, of data, or of entertainment. And there is no universal law that dictates that text must be presented in the form of a printed book. It will be presented in the format that people find it the most convenient and efficient to use. Apparently that’s on the small screen of the smart phone.
When you think about it, it makes sense. People can read newspaper columns quickly and efficiently and have done so for almost two centuries. Thus, the transition from the wide book to the narrow ebook is a natural one for readers. Unfortunately it currently seems to be anything but natural for book publishers.
In another post I examine the idea of “phablets” (phone-tablets) with a size somewhere between a standard phone and a mini tablet. Whether such a size will catch on to be part of the permanent smart phone landscape remains to be seen. Even if it comes to so dominate the market that today’s standard-size phones disappear, a phone-tablet still has a small enough screen to demand a new typography.
The author of this article, Joseph T. Sinclair, is the author of twenty How To books published by national publishers.
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©2015 Joseph T. Sinclair. All rights reserved.