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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

An Elegant Solution to a Vexing E-Book Problem

Posted by on Tue, Feb 26, 2013 at 4:01 PM

For a long time now, the publishing industry has been struggling with the proper way to format poetry e-books. The problem is that if you change the size, font, and spacing of a poetry book, you could throw whole poems out of whack, creating page after page of unreadable word salad. But in the process of formatting their back catalog into e-book form, Port Townsend publisher Copper Canyon Press has devised an elegant solution to this problem. As soon as you open the e-book, you come across a page that reads:

Click to enlarge.
  • Click to enlarge.

And that's it. Rather than obsessing over some confusing technological solution that won't work on all platforms, this is a direct and obvious answer to the problem. It works on e-ink readers and tablets. Plus, I love the idea of "calibrating" an e-reader before launching into a book, it feels at once old-fashioned and future-thinking, like the way people in the 1950s thought we'd be reading books in the future. This is a problem that has plagued the industry for years, and Copper Canyon bested it with a line of placeholder text.


Comments (6) RSS

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Will in Seattle 1
I think that I shall never see
An e-poem as lovely as a tree
Because after the power cut
My e-book's dead oh what the fvk
Posted by Will in Seattle on February 26, 2013 at 4:22 PM · Report this
Zebes 2
Taking time to adjust things yourself? That just won't do at all in the era of the tablet, the app store and of highly sculpted user experience. We want shit that, you know, just works.
Posted by Zebes on February 26, 2013 at 4:39 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 3
Actually, though, Zebes is right.
Posted by Will in Seattle on February 26, 2013 at 6:33 PM · Report this
beatgrl 4
That sounds tedious rather than elegant, the e-Reader should self calibrate. Not that I have ever actually used one, maybe I am missing something?
Posted by beatgrl on February 26, 2013 at 6:56 PM · Report this
rob! 5
@ Paul, did you run across a particular news item about this (link)? There wasn't much on the Copper Canyon site other than the fact that titles were released and the Paul Allen Foundation funded the back-catalog conversions. I found a few older articles on the topic at the Poetry Foundation, but nothing recent.

I'm interested in the larger problem of preserving the artistic and functional elements of layouts for all kinds of books when viewing electronically.

I save and file tons of info from the web on topics I'm interested in, usually in the form of .pdf files ("printing" web pages to .pdf). I often have to try many different ways of doing this ("printing" directly if the page uses cascading style sheets; using the Reader function in Safari; CleanPrint; PrintFriendly; etc.) in order to get an acceptable result that includes the information I want.

I'm always amazed at the variable results from the same page using different methods, and how some sites have obviously devoted effort to making this process work well, while others produce ridiculously cluttered and garbled results.

From that experience, it seems obvious to me that one of the best ways to preserve the graphical elements of a poem would be to render it in a zoomable form, à la .pdf, but I guess either e-reader manufacturers don't want to pay licensing fees to Adobe for full PostScript capability, or the readers lack the computing horsepower to render it.
Posted by rob! on February 26, 2013 at 9:35 PM · Report this
I am confused by this solution. There are already accepted -- and tested -- ways of dealing with line breaks and hanging indents in HTML, ePub and kindle formats (negative indent positive margin) . With well thought out styling from the designer long lines can be easily distinguished from hard line breaks. It seems as if people don't want to learn new ways of doing things. This solution is a little like a scribe, used to working with scrolls, suggesting that his readers cut pages out of a codex and tape them together before reading.
Posted by David s on March 1, 2013 at 7:22 AM · Report this

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