The mangled state of electronic books
This is something that’s been puzzling me for some time now. Why are eBook reader programs so crude and amateur-looking? Why are there no decent, workable tools for producing ePub books? Why are so many ePub conversions utterly unreadable? Why is ePub itself such an awful and primitive standard? Why does nobody seem to care?
We’re told that the future of publishing is the electronic realm, yet ePub feels like a throwback to Web sites circa 1995. PDF files are fine, but aren’t very navigable or usable on a lot of cheaper readers. The whole thing is a really sad pathetic mess.
It’s quite weird to me. I mean, web pages and browsers have been around for ages. It’s not like some sort of bizarre intractable problem.
Maybe if you’re just producing a novel, which involves a blob of text that you can dump into anything and reshape to fit any screen, that’s fine. But anything that requires anything more complex is a whole other story. Why are reader applications choosing random fonts, linespacing, margins, line widths? Why can’t they simply load in a designer’s preferences, with the option of the reader to override them if they prefer?
It’s partly a matter of aesthetics, but it’s also a matter of sheer readability. A lot of book conversions I’ve seen are bordering on illegible. Why should one reader have no lines after each paragraph and another three? Why should one render a block of text correctly and another overlay it over the next paragraph?
This is all really uncool.
All I’m asking is book reader programs that do the following:
- Open the file, display text in sequence, and display graphics. Really. (Stanza)
- Respect a designer’s choices of fonts, margins and indents (in percentages reflecting how windows/screens can change size), and so on. (Everybody)
- Permit the use of embedded fonts. (iBooks)
- Permit a reader to override these choices if they really want to. All that’s needed is a preferences box that says “Always override…”
- Have a basic and consistent understanding of linespacing and spaces after paragraphs. (Calibre, Nook)
- Have the basic ability to do simple image placement, including floating images next to a block of text. (Apparently everybody)
- Respect simple margin settings, and don’t default to text jammed up against the edges of a screen. (Adobe Digital Editions)
- Allow smooth scrolling down the screen, rather than trying to fake this silly page-flip model. Especially when text is rammed in to fit these fake page dimensions. (Everybody)
- Never ever alter the aspect ratio of an image to squeeze it into a page. (Nook)
- Know what a table is and how to use it as a formatting tool if necessary (by hiding the frames). (Nook, Adobe Digital Editions)
- Are written native for the device, and aren’t some sluggish Java cross-platform thing with a mysterious user interface. (Calibre)
- The ability to embed different images reflecting whether a device is held portrait or landscape.
- And if Adobe inDesign’s export to ePUB function actually produced workable pages, rather than pages with randomly sized images and text positioned all over, that’d be a huge bonus.
In short, why can’t we have book readers that implement solutions that web browser makers introduced years ago?