Flash has been one of my favorite tools for over a decade so I was concerned when Adobe announced it will no longer continue to develop its Flash Player plug-in for mobile browsers. Flash developers are up in arms. Adobe’s stock price has fallen. ZDNet says Flash is dead. But while the Wall Street journal calls the move a posthumous victory for Steve Jobs, Adobe has been clear and positive about their direction. Adobe’s abandonment of the mobile Flash Player actually leverages them onto Apple’s mobile platform. New eBook formats like ePub3 and KF8 suggest a new world of possibilities for publishers and book designers. Flash and other innovative tools will play an important role in defining the future of content creation. Flash is alive and well.
Here is the first of a series of occasional posts that explore the contributions of great typographers and typography books to the book designer’s art. Designers, writers and publishers will benefit from Beatrice Warde’s eloquent perspectives on the craft of typography, the power of type and the importance of the printed word.
“The Crystal Goblet” was an essay included in Beatrice Warde’s book of the same name—The Crystal Goblet: 16 Essays on Typography.
Beatrice Warde – Excerpt from a Lecture to the British Typographers’ Guild
Imagine that you have before you a flagon of wine. You may choose your own favorite vintage for this imaginary demonstration, so that it be a deep shimmering crimson in color. You have two goblets before you. One is of solid gold, wrought in the most exquisite patterns. The other is of crystal-clear glass, thin as a bubble, and as transparent. Pour and drink; and according to your choice of goblet, I shall know whether or not you are a connoisseur of wine. For if you have no feelings about wine one way or the other, you will want the sensation of drinking the stuff out of a vessel that may have cost thousands of pounds; but if you are a member of that vanishing tribe, the amateurs of fine vintages, you will choose the crystal, because everything about it is calculated to reveal rather than to hide the beautiful thing which it was meant to contain. Continue reading →
Part 2 of Fundamentals of Book Design explores optical margins, paragraph formatting and spaces.
The self-publishing revolution is (aside from the Internet) the greatest thing ever to happen to freedom of speech and expression, but self-published books are widely stigmatized as poorly produced. Why? Because they almost universally are. Moreover, the declining standards of mainstream publishers do not justify the mediocrity of self-publishers. In fact, self-publishers will find a competitive advantage in applying basic book design principles to produce books that are comfortable to read and pleasing to the eye.
After all those hours writing and editing, why not produce a book that conveys your good taste, attention to detail and care? Here are some simple but powerful book design tips to help your book achieve excellence. Continue reading →
Things are about to get interesting for readers, designers and the eBook publishing business as new formats bring enhanced formatting and interactivity to eBooks. Amazon has just announced a new KF8 (Kindle Format 8) format. The KF8 format replaces Amazon’s .mobi format and adds over 150 new formatting capabilities, including fixed layouts, nested tables, callouts, sidebars and Scalable Vector Graphics. New specs for the ePub format (used by Apple, Google and many others) were recently finalized but barely mentioned by the publishing media.
The idea that a book is nothing more than a container for text data is anathema to anyone who appreciates the art of typesetting. Graphic Design exerts a powerful influence on ease of reading, and also on more abstract considerations like how the choice of typeface affects the mood of the writing. Today’s eBooks sacrifice appearance for flexibility, enabling text to be resized and flowed from screen-to-screen without any relationship to the original numbered page or typographic design. ePub and .mobi files are little more than bundles of basic HTML pages. They’re particularly bad for educational texts where sidebars and multicolumn layouts are common. KF8 and ePub3 standards will greatly improve the aesthetics of eBook design.
Book design is a lost art. Though book design discussions usually focus on covers, consider how much more time a reader spends staring at the text. An elegant book block is just as important. Decades ago, professional tradesmen practiced the fine art of typesetting. Today, book design is often executed (pun intended) by amateurs. As easy as it is to set type, many fine points of typography are commonly overlooked. Fortunately, for the design-aware, digital tools like Adobe InDesign make it possible to produce pages that aspire to the old standards of hot metal type. This is the first of a series of articles offering book design tips to help polish your pages.
Sacrificing comfortable margins is unfortunately a good business decision, even if it’s a bad design decision. As the book industry has grown, page margins have shrunk. Text is packed ever more tightly onto the page. Why? A big publisher may print 30,000 copies of a new author’s book. That’s a huge financial risk. If more text can be fit on each page, the print run uses less paper and less ink, resulting in huge savings.
Fortunately, self-publishers don’t have this problem because print-on-demand (POD) allows for the production of one book at a time. Using classic margins and printing a few more pages per book adds negligible cost while giving POD publishers a competitive edge. Continue reading →
Kindle Fire or Apple Ipad? I’ve read plenty of buzz about how Amazon’s new technology compares to Apple’s, but discussing the relative prices and values of here-today-gone-tomorrow electronic devices misses the point. At stake are important personal freedoms and the “Promise of the Internet.” When we buy a computer or a mobile device or choose a vendor, we endorse certain business practices. When millions of people buy in, the effects ripple through society.
I understand the allure of technology. I was still in college when I bought my first Mac Plus for $1799 (about the same price as a new Mac today. It had 1 MB of RAM, two floppy disc drives and no hard drive, but was the most powerful personal computer available at the time). I found a job with a software company, started a design studio, got my MFA in graphic design and have followed the Macintosh path for twenty-five years. In 1995, I encountered the Internet. My world changed again. I became a web designer and web design educator. Eventually, I became a writer and book designer, using the Internet to distribute my work. Continue reading →
There is a direct relationship between the number of sales you can expect from a book distributor and the value-added services they provide to publishers and readers. Publishers are best served to ally themselves with book distributors that do the most to earn their sales commissions and inspire customer loyalty. What do they offer in exchange for their cut?
Brick and mortar retailers generally demand 50% or higher commissions from publishers and therefore offer decreasing value. The idea that book retailers should make more money than writers and publishers do for wedging a tiny piece of merchandise spine-out on a shelf full of competing products is absurd, but the state of retail bookstores tells its own story. Publishers and readers have already switched en masse to online book distributors. Some physical retailers do sell eBooks, but it’s hard to justify going to a physical bookstore to buy one when you can sample books, read reviews and purchase them online. Selling eBooks at a bookstore is like selling DVDs of a stage performance at the box office. Continue reading →
I recently responded to an article on Publishing Perspectives by Andrew Pantoja that innocently advises self-publishers about sources for cheap book covers. It is technically easy to create your own cover; therein lies the problem. It’s also easy to sew your own parachute. I have seen successful covers made by amateurs but I’ve seen plenty of authors proudly displaying horrible design abortions.
Why hire a pianist for a wedding when you can get a digital piano cheaper? This same flawed logic is often embraced by do-it-yourself cover designers. It substitutes obtaining a tool for solving a problem. It’s even more embarrassing when the purchaser of the piano can’t hear the difference; a guaranteed room-clearer.
Graphic Design is not about making something “pretty” or even finding something you personally “like.” Design is a craft practiced by professionals who not only understand how to use their tools, but how to choose and mix typefaces, combine colors, achieve tension and balance, and avoid cliches. Graphic design uses text and images to solve a problem or achieve a goal. As with dentistry, there’s much to be said for working with a professional. Continue reading →
From an Internet writer’s forum:
Comment: I see self-publishing as vanity publishing. There’s a reason there’s a traditional route; it really does sift out the crap. I may not be a published author, but I’ll be damned before I chuck in the towel to push out my writing through self publishing. I did not spend years honing my craft, get myself into all sorts of tight corners just to get my stories, and lose all those late night hours redrafting just so my work can get lost in the crowd.
My Response: I’m a proud self-publisher. Self-publishing is, by definition, not vanity publishing. I own all my own rights and my own ISBN numbers. My press is a legal entity. I also got myself into all sorts of scrapes to get my stories and I spend hours honing my craft every day, seven days a week. It’s 5:30AM as I finish this. I challenge any traditional press to exceed the quality of the work I produce.
Traditional presses do indeed filter out some crap, but to assume everything not vetted by a Big Six publisher is crap is the literary equivalent of racial prejudice. Major marketing vehicles like the New York Times Book Review serve only the upper crust of the publishing world, defining by exclusion who “the crowd” is. Continue reading →
It’s the latest big deal in publishing: Big publishers are being sued; accused of using the ‘agency model,’ to keep prices of eBooks artificially high. Amazon, the world’s largest bookseller, is complying but only offering agency terms to the Big Six publishers. But in spite of all the brouhaha, independent publishers don’t need to worry themselves about it.
Certainly, Amazon has well-founded concerns that if they don’t meet the terms of their largest suppliers, they could lose the right to distribute their eBooks. Not only would that be costly, it would dilute Amazon’s strategy for the Kindle; namely having the world’s largest selection of popular, desirable eBooks.
But small publishers—especially self-publishers—operate under an entirely different set of business conditions. While the judicial system referees the conduct of the publishing industry’s big players, other market pressures are more deserving of indie publishers’ attention. Continue reading →