Amazon: Typography Rules!
Amazon has done us all a favor and added hyphenation and a new font (Bookerly), and has refined its support for drop caps. Professional typesetting standards are now supported! We can provide high-quality ebooks to our readers, knowing that a drop cap will align nicely with the baseline we spec and word-spacing will be distributed without making us think we’ve fallen into the Grand Canyon in some lines.
OK, this might be an overstatement. Amazon did announce this week (link below) that for iOS and Fire tablets (only these platforms; more devices and apps coming sometime later this year), a whole suite of reader-facing enhancements is being implemented.
Back in the Fall I heard some talk that Amazon was serious about improving the Kindle’s reading experience. It would have been hard to make it worse — especially for those using early Kindles — for folks accustomed to well typeset pages. Amazon doesn’t seem to have any plans to go to EPUB3, and will instead stick with KF8/Mobi, so this is an indication that they’re determined to improve their product. If we can’t get one standard for all ebooks, at last let’s push for the different environments to deliver quality books.
- will words hyphenate after the first 2 letters of a word? In my typesetting work, I never hyphenate after 2 letters. Never.
- Will it allow ladders (2 or more hyphens in a row)?
- Will it hyphenate compound words (self-destruct-ing)?
- will it hyphenate capitalized words or names?
- Will Amazon Guidelines be updated to provide some how-tos in using these features?
People urge me to not apply print standards to ebooks. Drop caps are so old-fashioned, so don’t use them; the power of font and size choice, and the resulting reflow, trumps elegant typography; etc. I don’t buy it. Partly because I’m old; partly because standards evolved for a reason. We don’t have to slavishly adhere to them, but we shouldn’t just toss them because they developed around yesterday’s technology.
No good word comes without caveats in ebook-making, so here’s the big one for this rollout: Amazon is applying these changes to its back catalog itself, without help from the ebook developers who made the files. That means a few things:
- You’ve got no control over how your books will be ‘adjusted.’ You might want to check in on them occasionally to see what’s happened to them. I suppose if you don’t like what they’ve done you could make adjustments and re-upload your file.
- We don’t know how long it’ll take to get to every Kindle book.
- There are no best practices, or recommendations, for preparing new books for these enhancements.
So here’s what I’m asking: keep an eye on your already-uploaded books, and on those you’re sending to Amazon from now on. And keep your copy of the Kindle Publishing Guidelines updated. What do you see? Let us know. I’d love to hear some feedback.
Amazon’s announcement: http://amzn.to/1KobVgN
This writeup in Fast Company explains the features nicely: http://www.fastcodesign.com/3046678/the-kindle-finally-gets-typography-that-doesnt-suck?fb_ref=Default