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Archive for September, 2011

e-Books and the Future

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

Much as the concept of e-readers appeals to me, I haven't bought one. One of my biggest complaints about them is that they lack the crispness of the printed page. Fonts that look reasonable on a backlit screen because we expect it seem harsh and ragged on a Kindle. Perhaps by the time e-ink can achieve "retina" resolutions and reasonable redraw speeds they'll have smoothed out some of the other edges, such as clunky UI and ugly keyboards. Then I will gladly give in.

What else do you lose in the transition from the printed page to the digital page? Professional typesetters cannot apply many techniques they relied upon when the dimensions of the page were known. Perhaps they'll be able to fall back on responsive design or its successors. Typography has gained a lot of traction in the web design world in recent years, so this could mean a lot more crossover between the two disciplines.

In any event, printed books will be around for a long time yet — there's too much momentum there for them to fizzle out in an evening, even if the competing formats were entirely mature. e-books are harder to sell in your brick-and-mortar store. You can lend your paperback copy of Dune a friend, or donate it to a library, or even burn it if you're so inclined. There are many tangible benefits, so to speak.

As for me, I only buy books that I plan to re-read, or that I want to refer to later. If I can't find a package that pleases me (well-designed cover, reasonable condition, no "Now a major motion picture" blurbs) I tend to postpone buying even my favorite books. If I find a better version, I'm very tempted to upgrade. My shelves, though extensive, are a slim selection of the books I've enjoyed reading and would recommend to others. I hope that small press editions like those of Subterranean Press will remain popular even as e-books consume more of the market, so that my gradual accumulation of my favorite books can continue long into the future.

Note that these are all my thoughts as a web designer and a lover of books; I possess only a passing familiarity with typography and that whole industry.