Robert J. Sawyer

Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer

I love eReader, but …

by Rob - September 17th, 2008.
Filed under: Uncategorized.

… they’re driving me nuts on my Palm by insisting that the text for introductions/forewords/prefaces be displayed in small type, despite the user having selected a large typeface.

As I observe below, this might perhaps be a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

I first raised this issue on July 10, 2008, in the Fictionwise Yahoo! Groups forum (because Fictionwise owns eReader):

Just downloaded the 100% Micropay rebate eReader-format edition of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth.

In general, I’d say that this is an example of what an ebook should be: it’s the Simon & Schuster “Enhanced Classics” edition with endnotes — and all of the endnote calls are hyperlinks, making it easy to jump to them then back to the text.

But — and it’s a big but — the entire introduction is hard-coded to be in small type; that whole section does not obey the font selection the user makes (at least, not on Palm OS devices, although I note it doesn’t have this problem on the Windows version of eReader). On a 320×480 Palm screen, that amounts to (give or take) fifty or so pages in this book that the user is forced to look at in tiny type. (And I’m talking *tiny* — smaller than the type used for dictionary definition displays.)

This has become a common layout convention in lots of eReader-formatted books of late: putting the entire introduction / preface / foreword in tiny type, hardcoded so the user can’t change it. (Another example, from among many: the book Moral Minds by Marc D. Hauser, from HarperCollins; it’s not publisher-specific, but it is format-specific.)

This is almost as bad as lots of Mobipocket books forcing justification on, regardless of what setting the user chooses.

Can you please raise this issue with your suppliers? And, if it is in fact that you guys are providing the templates they use (since you own the eReader format), can you change your template, please? This is driving me nuts!

All best wishes!

No one from Fictionwise/eReader replied. I raised the issue again on July 15, 2008:

Another example of an eReader formatted book that has the entire introduction/preface — in this case, 39 screens’ worth on my Palm — hard coded to display in tiny type on Palm OS devices:

The Emotion Machine by Marvin Minsky (Simon & Schuster).

Ugh! Can we please get this fixed? Thanks!

Again, no reply. I raised it a third time on July 30, 2008:

And yet another book with the entire introduction / preface hardcoded in eReader format (on Palm OS devices, at least) to be in tiny type:

Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes


And, to make matters worse, this book uses a giant embedded graphic at section breaks (a giant picture of what should be a little typographic ornament, a picture of a leaf). This one takes a long time to render, brings up the large-picture warning message, and is present at every section change (but you must look at the graphic, ’cause the book also contains cartoons that are indistinguishable from these until they’re rendered).

Anyway, it would be nice if someone from Fictionwise acknowledged the complaint about eReader formatted books on Palms having the introductions/prefaces/forewords hardcoded to be in small type. This is irritating, unnecessary, and contrary to the general principles of good ebook design. How ’bout it, guys? Anybody looking into this?


Here’s what I posted today (September 17, 2008):

I first raised this issue over two months ago:

Fictionwise Yahoo! Groups posting

Fictionwise hasn’t acknowledged this issue, so I’m going to raise it again. Here’s yet another book in which the eReader-format version when used with the Palm version of eReader software specifically prevents the user from increasing the font size for significant parts of the book (namely, the introduction, which runs 70 screens on my 480×320-pixel Clie):

101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived: How Characters of Fiction, Myth, Legends, Television, and Movies Have Shaped Our Society, Changed Our Behavior, and Set the Course of History by Dan Karlan and Allan Lazar, and published by HarperCollins.

This is happening with books from various publishers, so I presume it’s an issue related to template and/or standards imposed by Fictionwise, the owner of the eReader format.

I begin to wonder if this is in fact a contravention of the Americans with Disabilities Act, in as much as deliberate steps are being taken at the programming/formatting level to interfere with the abilities of vision-impaired people to use a native function of their technology (font-sizing with ebook-reading software) to ameliorate their disabilities.

Certainly, it’s at least somewhat reminiscent of the issues in the recent case National Federation of the Blind v. Target, brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act (and settled in the National Federation of the Blind’s favor):

NFB v. Target

It would be courteous if someone at Fictionwise at least acknowledged this issue, and offered an explanation for why it is necessary to force small text in introductions, or an assurance that it will stop doing so in future.

I really, really, really prefer eReader software to Mobipocket (and much prefer eReader’s DRM scheme to Mobipocket’s), but this really is bugging me.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

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