Saturday, February 16, 2008

eBooks that hard code flush-right margins

A note I sent to the fine folks at

Might you have a word with your vendors about the fact that it's wrong to force full justification of text in ebooks? The last two secure Mobipocket ebooks I've bought from you have flush-right margins regardless of what setting is chosen in Mobipocket reader. On narrow screens, to me, right-justified text looks awful, and is very hard to read (because of the often huge gaps between words).

The books in question:


The Next Fifty Years

I forgave the former book (Nonzero by Robert Wright), because it was released six years ago, but the latter -- The Next Fifty Years, edited by John Brockman -- just came out as an ebook. Both were published by Random House.

Yes, I know some people like full justification; that's not the point. If they like it, they can turn it on in Mobipocket; if they don't, they should be able to turn it off, but these books force it on regardless, and that's contrary to the spirit of what the ebook reading experience should be: text formatted the way the individual reader likes it.

(Oh, and I would have bought these titles in eReader format, but they weren't offered in it.)

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site



At February 16, 2008 6:26 PM , Blogger John Joseph said...

It's frustrating--I think a lot of publishers just don't understand ebooks very well yet. For instance, Tor has started giving away a free ebook a week to people who sign up for their newsletter, but the ebooks they're sending are just the typeset mss. converted into a PDF (and only offered as a PDF). I don't know about your handheld device, but I can't read PDFs on my Pocket PC; well, I *can*, but it's torture.

At February 16, 2008 6:33 PM , Blogger RobertJSawyer said...

I noticed the same thing with the Tor free ebooks, John Joseph, and wrote to my friend Patrick Nielsen Hayden, who is the director of SF/F publishing for Tor. He understands the problem with just releasing PDFs, and says it will be addressed. So -- yay!

But in general, you're right: I think most publishers don't have a clue about ebooks, or what readers want/expect from them.

At February 16, 2008 10:55 PM , Anonymous Rick Pali said...

Some people like full justifications? For goodness sakes, why? Few things are more distracting than varying interword spacing.

At February 18, 2008 12:08 AM , Blogger redlion said...

Not sure what reader you're using, Robert, but my Internet Tablet and my old Zaurus both use fbreader ... and it doesn't let this happen that I've noticed.


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