Thursday, February 18, 2010

Why the aesthetics of ebooks suck

A perfect example of why ebook readers are so crappy at formatting these days: the people who make them don't even have a rudimentary familiarity with typography. As I observed in my review of the Barnes & Noble nook, the algorithms used to justify text there are atrocious, making for awful-looking pages.

The Foxit eSlick does a better job at justification, because at least it breaks words and compound phrases that have embedded hard hyphens in them at the embedded hyphens (instead of wrapping the all the text to the next line).

But on both devices, there should be an option to turn justification off, because on narrow lines and at large type sizes, many people find it hard to read.

But typographic niceties apparently aren't even discussed by ebook makers. Here's an exchange I had with Foxit tech support today:
RJS: Previously, eReader books on the eSlick had right-justification turned off. Firmware 2.0.1 changes that to right justification on -- with no way to turn it off. This is not a trivial change; it should have been noted in the change log -- but wasn't.

I much prefer right justification to be off; a ragged right margin, with even spacing between the words, is easier for me to read than lines that have different sized spaces between words (and often ridiculously large spaces, especially at larger font sizes).

Please put in an option to turn right justification off (as is found in eReader implementations on many other platforms).
Foxit Tech Support: Do you mean the enlarged page margins on both side?

2.0.1 firmware does not turn right justification on, it only leaves 10 pixel margins on both side.
RJS: No, I do not mean that. I mean that for eReader books, prior to version 2.0.1, the text was flush left, ragged right; now it is justified (flush left and right). Please see this explanation in Wikipedia.

Please provide an option to select "flush left" or "unjustified" text, instead of forcing justified text; that is, please provide an option to provide a ragged right margin.

This has nothing whatsoever to do with the number of pixels that are not used at the left and right side of the screen; that's a completely different issue.
Robert J. Sawyer online: