E-reading application showdown, part 2: Typography

Early-twentieth-century photo of two women boxing

Cross-posted at Digital Book World. Part 1 is also on both this site and DBW.

When I first decided to try reading an e-book on my iPod Touch, I assumed—since I’ve been designing and typesetting book interiors for more than a decade and have strong opinions about what makes text readable and appealing—that poor typography would be my biggest complaint about the e-reading applications I tried. In the event, it turns out that as with print books, I’m much more tolerant of ugly, poorly set text than I expected. Just as I’m capable of losing myself in the pages of a cramped, blurry mass-market paperback if the story is one I want to read, so, too, can I block out consciousness of the less-than-ideal typography of an e-book viewed on a small screen. In fact, though I haven’t tried to empirically test this theory, I believe I might read novels faster on my iPod than I used to do on paper. Or maybe I comprehend better, or remember more of what I read.

Still, I’d rather have the option of making the text look good, and if an e-book’s appearance seriously offends me, I’m batty enough to crack it open and change it. I now actually get paid to do this, which sometimes feels like I’ve hit upon the best scam ever. (Other times, not so much. See below under anchovies.)

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E-reading application showdown, part 1: Annotations

Fencers

About two weeks ago, in a fit of pique, I posted some gripes about my current e-reading application of choice, which is Kobo for the iPhone/iPod Touch. I was pressed for time, so I didn’t provide any context, such as why Kobo’s is my favorite e-reading app, which apps I’ve chosen it over, and whether the things I find awesome and annoying about it are unique to Kobo or are universal across the e-reading–on–iOS world right now.

Here, finally, is the first in a series of posts providing that context. Specifically, I’ll be walking through five of the e-reading applications I’ve used on the iPod Touch, explaining what I see as the pros, cons, and OMFG-what-were-they-thinkings of each.

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Because I am mean and like to rain on parades…

A parade in the rain

All day I’ve been seeing tweets from @kobo and friends about their having the No. 1 e-reading app in the iTunes store—e.g.,

Breaking News: Kobo #1 Rated eReading App on iTunes App Store http://t.co/pApB8j5
@KoboJason
Jason Gamblen | Kobo

I’m so happy for them.

No, really.

For several months now, Kobo’s iOS app has been, mainly because of the stats and the activity tracker, my e-reading application of choice. That said, it’s my app of choice in spite of several intense annoyances, so I’d like to take this opportunity to point out a couple of things that drive me up the fucking wall about it. From the support ticket I just submitted:

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What happens when an e-book gets corrected?

"No Parking" sign with the "n" inserted belatedly

So, here’s the partial answer to a question I’ve been wondering about:

Subject: Kindle Title [title] (ASIN:[ASIN]) has an available update

Greetings from Amazon.com.

We’re writing about your past Kindle purchase of [title] by [author]. The version you received contained some errors that have been corrected.

An updated version of [title] (ASIN:[ASIN]) is now available. It’s important to note that when we send you the updated version, you will no longer be able to view any highlights, bookmarks, and notes made in your current version and your furthest reading location will be lost.

If you wish to receive the updated version, please reply to this email with the word “Yes” in the first line of your response. Within 2 hours of receiving the e-mail any device that has the title currently downloaded will be updated automatically if the wireless is on.

You can find more information about Kindle related topics at our Kindle support site below.
http://www.amazon.com/kindlesupport

We apologize for any inconvenience caused and thank you for your business with Amazon.

Sincerely,
Customer Service Department
Amazon.com
http://www.amazon.com

It’s a book I’ve already read, so I went to kindle.amazon.com to see if I had made any annotations. Turns out it’s one I’ve got multiple copies of (it was a freebie in all the major e-book stores for a while), so my markup’s on some other version. (If I’ve actually read an e-book, there is always markup; this is one of the biggest changes e-books have made to my reading habits.) I wrote back and said, “Yes.”

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Cracking the coding code

Woman in 1940s garb standing in front of a huge machine with lots of rotors

Got an e-mail from a fellow book designer this morning asking, “Do you have a blog post about marking up a MS for the designer/typesetter?” Um, I couldn’t remember; had to search my own blog to find out. I found I’d written two posts in which such issues come into play—

  • May I take your order? (September 30, 2006)—in which I show the sample pages I prepared to instruct a typesetter on a moderately complicated book design
  • How stylish are you? (January 19, 2008)—in which I listed and explained the most common style names I use when marking up or laying out a bookish document

But both of these posts are written from the designer’s desk, whereas my friend was, he later explained, looking for information that might help a fledgling editor (in this case, an editorial intern) understand how to mark up a manuscript. To which I said, “Um, hello, the Chicago Manual?” I know there’s some discussion of markup right there in the front, but I realized I hadn’t consulted that section in the 15th edition in years, and I hadn’t yet checked it in the 16th edition at all. So I looked! And found that there is now a sizable chunk of appendix devoted to markup, with an eye toward producing multiple output formats—print, HTML, e-books, and more. That appendix is heavy going, though, and more theoretical than practical. How might a designer or production editor explain, in, say, under twenty minutes, how a clever intern should mark up a manuscript?

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