Robert J. Sawyer

Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer

Smart quotations marks, em dashes, and e-books

by Rob - January 20th, 2009.
Filed under: ebooks.

Over at the fascinating blog, David Rothman asks:

Many and perhaps most e-books use straight, typewriter-style quotes rather than smart quotes—the directional kind. At least one major e-book company wants publishers to avoid smart quotes, at least when offering certain formats, to reduce the technical challenges.

But would you be more likely to recommend a book to a friend if it came with smart quotes, real dashes and other trimmings?

My reply:

They’re important — and publishers are being short-sighted in ignoring them. When I try to get people to share my enthusiasm for ebook reading, many reject the experience at a glance. They can’t articulate WHY they like printed books better; they just know that they DO. But surely one of the reasons they DO is the care with which material is presented on the printed page.

The irony is that small-screen ebook readers often default to (or indeed have no choice but) full justification, which looks awful on narrow line lengths, as if THAT was the heart and soul of good typography, and then give us typewriter quotes and hyphens for em dashes — two if we’re lucky, one if we’re not.

The utter sloppiness with which most books are converted to ebooks is shameful. Yes, yes, yes, stuff like making each footnote into a hyperlink might be labor intensive, but getting the quotation marks right shouldn’t be; they were presumably right in the original typesetting files. The slapdash efforts put forth by even some of the biggest commercial publishers in producing ebooks are shameful.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

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