Update, 1:30 p.m. EDT: Sadi Ranson-Polizzotti has just recorded an MP3 of her reactions to the Godine designer’s thoughts on e-books. You might also enjoy the text and podcast of her memories of Saul Bellow.

David R. Godine, PublisherDavid R. Godine, Publisher, based in Boston, started in a barn with a hand-cranked press. Godine books are famous for their flawless design and fine paper and binding, not just their literary quality.

I worked there before I began my own small press, Lumen Editions, and now I was curious how my old colleagues felt about e-books. Might Godine, one of the most prestigious of the small presses, be able to create digital equivalents of its well-crafted paper editions?

Carl W. Scarbrough, who designs most Godine books, among his other publishing and management duties, graciously replied to my questions via e-mail. While his background is in commercial photography advertising, and marketing, the printed page has always held a special fascination for him. He also works as a freelance designer and has designed books for Harvard University, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and Encounter Books in New York.


Suppose you could commission e-book software that offered your favorite fonts, and over which you exercised complete artistic and typographical control in other respects. Would you like this idea?


I’ll admit that one point of hesitation about e-books is the quality of the type image. It isn’t enough to hand somebody “the correct font” and expect everything to look right. Good typesetting is much more complex than people imagine. There are lots of rules that are very easy to forget (or ignore), which is why we see so much bad typography—in books and newspapers, on television, never mind on the Web. Few people realize that often when they have trouble reading something, the difficulty is not due to bad writing but to bad presentation. Forget sensitivity to stacks of hyphens and bad line breaks: I have begun to despair of proper punctuation. More and more I see work—from people who are paid a lot of money to design with type—that is punctuated incorrectly. I’m talking about display type, not body copy. That’s inexcusable.

Frankly, though, the issue of typographic control is a canard. The more astute designers who’ve had something to say on the topic have all been pretty perceptive about the way reading on screen differs from reading a printed page. There is no way the experience of reading Centaur on screen can approximate that of offset-printed Centaur, any more than the offset version can equal the experience of reading a page of foundry Centaur. That’s the reason much of the real progress in type development of late has been in the area of screen-friendly types, that is, types optimized for screen display with print output issues decidedly secondary.

Moreover, we can’t yet typeset for e-books the way we do for print. In digital texts there is a premium on searchability. Texts with ligatures are not searchable (text searches do not recognize an ffi ligature as the individual characters f, f, and i) and good typesetting is nearly impossible without ligatures. This problem is complicated by the recent explosion in script types, many of which have alternate sorts for dozens of ligated pairs, none of which can be located by a standard text search. OpenType further complicates the equation: I expect it will be a while before Unicode is universally adopted by both designers and device manufacturers, which means it will be some time before any one approach to formatting e-book files will dominate the market. A small publisher simply does not have the resources to wade into those waters.


What is the resistance you have to publishing e-books or getting into the e-book scene, when this is clearly the future of books?


Is it? To be honest, I’m deeply suspicious of pronouncements like that. Remember laser discs? NeXT computers? During my first trip to BookExpo America in 1999, all the buzz was about a little start-up called GlassBook, one of the first e-book device manufacturers. They made great play of presenting well-designed e-books in a practical reader. I think they’re Chapter 11 now. Three or four years ago MIT enjoyed a lot of publicity from the development of electroconductive inks that could conceivably be used to make electronic books that looked and felt more like printed books. They could never really get it to work. (There’s a piece in Print magazine this month that says much the same thing MIT was saying when the story first broke.) I’m still not entirely convinced that e-books as they are currently configured are all that great, though I haven’t tried to read one in a long time.


Houghton Mifflin and other all the major publishers are getting their feet wet in this. Wouldn’t this be a great opportunity to show how a small press can do it right and still have control? Something to think about, no?


You make it sound like we have something to prove here. It’s a great deal easier for Houghton to dabble in new technologies. I’m perfectly happy to let them deal with all the growing pains. They are in a much better position to pressure the software and hardware manufacturers to develop new, workable standards. They can afford the staff, the hours, the investment in computing hardware and software, the failures…


I understand that Godine really is about look and feel of books, and that the house itself began as a letterpress operation run out of David Godine’s barn. This is as far away from e-book publishing as I think you can get. Do you think that Godine is still in that place metaphorically—of letterpress and the like—or have you modernized more?


One of my stock answers to this sort of question is that at Godine we remain dedicated to the printed page, but that’s an oversimplification. The long answer is that (and here I speak as a reader as much as a designer of books) there are certain haptic experiences that an electronic device simply can not afford the reader. There is a dramatic difference between the sensations inherent in reading a novella—necessarily a small, intimate book—and studying an overscaled art book, where the size of the illustrations plays an important role in the satisfaction we find in reading. No discussion of e-books has yet taken on the issue of limited size and fixed format in a way I find satisfactory. Another aspect of this haptic issue is the question of suitability of materials. I have beautiful twentieth-century books printed letterpress on exquisite eighteenth-century papers. Reading them is a special pleasure, but it is very different from reading an art monograph where a satiny, coated white sheet makes the illustrations leap off the page.

All of this brings me to an important point, one that is consistently and conveniently ignored by the advocates of e-books. We read for many different reasons and in many different modes. Reading for information is fairly forgiving and flexible, provided the information is rendered accurately and neatly. E-books are marvelously well suited to these more technical forms of reading in which content is primary and form comes in a distant second. I can’t really criticize that, but it only addresses part of the spectrum of reading activities. I am far more interested in reading as an aesthetic experience, one in which the form can significantly enhance, even transform the reader’s response to and understanding of the text. Sure, I can read “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” in the Norton Anthology or pick it up on line, but I’d prefer to read the edition Bruce Rogers designed for Oxford University Press in 1930. Even if someone somehow recreated it as an e-book, a digital interpretation could never approach the sheer sensual pleasure of the subtly tended, gently irregular typography, the charming ornaments, the extraordinary pale-gray paper. That’s the sort of experience I like to provide for a reader.


How do you see yourself modernizing anymore, or do you want to stay as you are?


Your question presupposes an attitude I don’t share: that the printed book is in some way anti-modern. Books are portable, convenient, stable, reusable, recyclable…. They don’t burn batteries and don’t face platform or software conflicts, either.

Godine has never made any sort of pronouncement against the evolution of the book or against new media. That would be childish. And from a production standpoint, we’ve adapted pretty comprehensively to digital file preparation (I couldn’t do even half of what I do without my Macs) and I presume we’ll continue to adopt new technologies. E-books could certainly be a part of our future.


I know you acquired the backlist of Black Sparrow–a natural for e-books. You already would have a built in audience. Why not get that market when it is just waiting for you?


There is a lot to be said for the possibility of keeping backlist titles in print indefinitely in e-book form. Some titles will never justify the expense of reprinting in their current form—all ten volumes of the Charles Olson-Robert Creely correspondence, for example. But that presupposes an audience for recondite titles in the first place. Books go out of print for all sorts of reasons—some of them perfectly good ones. Somewhere in there is an argument for better funding for public libraries. There is a very popular current of thought that insists on preserving every word authors commit to paper. It’s noble, but fails to take into consideration the natural ebb and flow of culture. That sort of inclusivism is also myopically uncritical. Some books should never have seen the light of day.

One of our goals in taking on Black Sparrow was to reinvigorate it by publishing new titles and to enhance existing titles by producing updated, improved editions of existing titles. Our revised edition of the Poems of Charles Reznikoff has been successful in part because we spent so much time polishing the form of the book. I honestly don’t know how an e-book could measure up.

There’s a certain conceptual laziness in most discussions of new media. I can’t recall a single discussion of e-books that tackles the way e-books are different from printed books, or why, or what possibilities those differences present. The presupposition is that we will simply package PDF files that are identical to our print editions without addressing the perceptual differences between texts presented as spreads and those presented one page at a time.


As generations change, so does the way we read and incorporate media. Just look at how the Internet mushroomed over the years; imagine if Godine never built a web site—you’d lose a lot of business, I would imagine and it’s good to have a Web presence…do you agree?


The act of reading, in my opinion, hasn’t changed all that dramatically since the invention of the written word. It has become democratized; it has become easier; it has become pervasive. But the underlying principle of cuneiform tablets is not far removed from the latest pixel-based handheld device. But reading on screen is still a chore. I loathe it and avoid it whenever possible, even when it means printing out a piece of ephemeral text.

Of course it’s good to have a Web presence, but let’s not overplay the importance of publisher’s Web sites. I have yet to see one that is truly useful or genuinely informative (our own included). Amazon does a far better job of assembling and managing content, and readers are offered the advantage of recommendations and related titles that will enhance the market for our titles far more than a plunge into new media. We sell far more books there than we do through our own site. I’m happy to let them do the work.


What about readers who do own handheld devices, like the Tungsten E, or MobiPocket or the Dell Axim—or any small handheld device that people can read as they travel. Couldn’t you offer downloads on your own site or partner with another site if you wanted, so people could choose to download right to their PDA if they wanted? I think you might be surprised at how many people would do this. You would, naturally, charge a fee for this, just as you would for any books, so why would you miss out on this whole segment of the market? If nothing else, you could charge other companies for electronic rights to your books.


My understanding is that the devices you mention represent a small market sector. No one has asked us yet for an e-book. I haven’t seen a download kiosk in my local Borders. I doubt we’re missing much.

You do bring up the rights issue, and it’s a big one, although I don’t want to dig into it here. I’d be far more interested in licensing e-book rights to another publisher than in developing e-books in house.


I realize that Godine is an exclusive house with a keen reputation for the literally hand-held book, that is, the traditional book. But, again, just as you do special letterpress editions of some books, couldn’t you likewise do some special e-book editions of certain titles that would appear to a certain audience?


We don’t view ourselves as exclusive. Selective, yes, at the editorial level. But we’ll sell our books–even the fancy ones—to anyone with the cash. As for a special e-book edition, I don’t know what that would be. How do you add value or exclusivity to a digital file? It’s far easier to do a signed, slip-cased edition of a poetry book than it is to do a special e-book at a premium price.

This brings to mind Kevin Kelly’s recent New York Times Magazine piece “Scan This Book.” One of Kelly’s big points was that, in the future, as texts became more readily available in on-line forms, the intrinsic value of the texts themselves would decrease, and that publishers will derive more income from ancillary items: access to the author, say, or pod-casts. What went unsaid in all this was that, almost inevitably and especially in cases where the author could not be counted upon to participate, income would probably be derived from some form of advertising. I’d rather suffer through a printed book, however primitive, with no commercials, if you don’t mind.


In time I think you will be left in the dust and will see that more and more your books are being made into e-books as you lose rights to them in due course. If you take control of it now, then you will have a great deal more control than you otherwise would have in terms of typography. There are companies that will even work with you to help maintain the integrity of your typeface, and you could supply them with PDF of the original work, therefore the integrity of Godine’s fine reputation is in no way tarnished. Overall, as a journalist who deals in e-books and sees the large houses falling one after the other into the market, I think you’re going to face a lot of competition as you sell subrights to your books and then e-books will be made as they are and you will then lose the “Godine Integrity, for lack of a better way of putting it.


Thanks for the dire forecast. You’re being a bit premature. Movies, television, and audio-books have all been touted as the death of the printed book, and none of them has yet succeeded.

PDF means “pretty darn fallible” in my experience. We’re only starting to use them to output real books. I’ve lost count of the number of PDFs I’ve downloaded that were absolute failures: fonts that displayed erratically or didn’t output, pages sequenced incorrectly, you name it. One of the most shocking was a manual from the manufacturer of our font-management software!


E-books would vastly increase your web presence isn’t that something you would want? Why not increase Web presence with e-books and keep abreast of new technologies?


I don’t know why you equate the new format with a greater Web presence. As you said, the big houses are already in the market, which means they are already poised to dominate the supply chain and will eventually dominate media coverage and the Web–as they currently do for print product. I don’t see how marketing e-books will change our overall position in the market.


You could even partner with another small press to make matters easier; wouldn’t that work for you?


I suppose, but Godine’s history with partnerships is admittedly spotty.


The main point is that you would maintain artistic control over all of your titles and that would be key for a company like Godine, I should think.


As I’ve said, I think artistic control is a comparatively minor concern. What’s more, we have only occasionally insisted that a licensed publication offset our design and typesetting. We’re proud of the work we do—it’s something of a trademark—but we’re not that precious about it. I don’t even think the issue of reproduction quality is that important, provided there is a way to view illustrations in adequate detail. I find the limitations imposed by devices far more problematic; I don’t want to have to format all my books to the same size and proportions, any more than I want to use a single type family for every book I do.


What do you think about Godine’s future in e-books?


There’s a lot of blue-sky chatter when it comes to e-books, as there is with many promising technologies. It’s about 50% PR and 50% wishful thinking. I keep looking for the substance: a device that can provide a significantly improved, radically different, or dramatically enhanced reading experience, not to mention content that gives me an incentive to abandon the printed page.

In the end, e-book advocates need to give more thought to the marriage of form and content. It is a commonplace to think of all texts as fodder for the e-book mill—as, essentially, interchangeable. That simply is not so. For all the convenience they offer, e-books exist as the fruit of certain compromises: quality of type image and restriction of format come most readily to mind. The familiar limitations faced by the printed book—trim size, extent, cost—can actually work in favor of the material, forcing the publisher to seek the most suitable form and to shape the work into manageable, economical form. One of the dangers inherent in the e-book is the temptation to indulge in excess: to throw in meaningless extras or variant texts in the hope that the reader will find them interesting and worth an extra dollar or two.

Update, 2:15 EDT: I’ve changed the Rothman-written headline to reflect Carl Scarbrough’s exact thoughts. Godine won’t do e-books now, but he’s hoping to be able to do them in the future when the technology improves and technical standards shake out. – David Rothman


Moderator’s note: Sadi Ranson-Polizzotti is a former publicity director and editor for David R. Godine, Publisher, and has worked at Conde Nast Publications, The Atlantic Monthly and others. She has been widely published and now writes regularly for several publications including the famous Cleveland Blogcritics, Geek2Geek, Boston Globe Arts Section, and she has also written for Publisher’s Weekly, Independent Publisher and others. Visit her Web site.

Enjoy Sadi’s podcasts regularly by pasting her TeleRead audio feed into your podware. And remember, she welcomes feedback.


  1. I have begun to despair of proper punctuation. More and more I see work–from people who are paid a lot of money to design with type–that is punctuated incorrectly.

    Oh dear. You should use mdashes—It makes the text much more readable without the spurious hyphenated words. Like so:

    I have begun to despair of proper punctuation. More and more I see work—from people who are paid a lot of money to design with type—that is punctuated incorrectly.

  2. Fascinating interview. I was wondering: could anyone elaborate on specific ways in which onscreen versions of fonts look/feel different from print versions? Also, are there specs online about font support for upcoming devices like Sony Reader? Or maybe does font support matter mainly at the software level?

  3. Actually, I originally typed spaced en dashes, the form I prefer. Em dashes were developed so that Linotype workers could bang out horizontal rules in a hurry. They make for a very ugly page when used to indicate changes of thought, which is why (I believe) Tschichold precribed spaced en dashes at Penguin. Someone swiped my spaces!

  4. Hi Malcolm – not Godine’s fault. Actually, the en-dash issue was on our end. Yes, em-dashes should be used, but i believe they were changed on our end… not Godine’s fault at all. Believe me, they are big on typography; not a mistake they would make…. We’re talking about a house that is fussy about type to begin with… place the blame on me if you have to catch someone.

    But yes, you’re right.

    thanks for reading – s.r.p.

  5. RJ – i’ll leave your answer to Godine, but there are older types that simply do not translate (at least, that i know of) and as to Godine, it really has to do with look and feel of the book in printed form. I don’t think some of the real older faces would really translate, and Carl from Godine is right about ligatures etc etc… Until there is a better way, or until someone could customize a reader for Godine, i don’t think this is a route they would take… that said, you never know. I think in due course, they may, but i think Carl’s answers really cut to the quick of the issue … i know as a former Godiner myself, that type is everything for this small and prestigious press – after all, it began as a letterpress operation, and so some of the older fonts may not be available or may not translate quite as well.

    I do, however, feel that this is a whole segment of the market that Godine is missing and could benefit from. It may not be their readership/ customer base at the moment, but it would or could create a whole new customer base and i see everything good in that and it would be a win-win situation. But again, the big publishers have gone that way – small presses seem more reluctant… as to the exact Whys, i think again, CS addressed that issue for Godine specifically, but this is fodder for a healthy debate to be sure. Check out their site http://www.godine.com and get a sense of what they do publish and check the backlist…. that might make things clearer.

    Also, i’m not sure about how images would translate – you’d need some calibration program to get the images perfect and i’m not clear that we yet have that technology such that the image appears the same on all hand-held browsers – which would be a sticking point for a house that places a premium on quality control and perfection — a thing that has made Godine the great house that it is today. In short, the customer base so far has come to expect a certain quality and that quality is a high one.

    Still, again, i personally think it would be worth pursuing the e-book angle for at least the back-list, text-only books —

    I doubt we’ve heard the last from Godine on this matter.

    Thanks – be well,


  6. Like Sadi, I thank Carl for reading the interview—and for spending time on his answers. As for the evil dashes, I’m the villain, not Sadi. The TeleBlog has multiple contributors, and I suspect that most like to use the typewriter style for a dash, like this: –. I myself don’t want to have to do special coding. However, I do notice that when one types the – (hypen) three times, the result is — without any coding. Would it make everyone happy, Carl included, if we went this route as a compromise? Meanwhile the Wikipedia offers some information on the topic of dashes. I encourage Carl, the real authority, to weigh in on the accuracy of the Wikipedia information. Meanwhile, in honor of Godine, I’ve gotten rid of the existing dashes and used —- throughout Sadi’s piece. I can do it with or without the spaces. I notice that Carl used spaces, but then the exact character involved was different. Finally, let me say that there are other issues hereby acknowledged, such as smart quotes in places; let me see what I can do. Thanks. David

  7. Not to discount the challenge of managing fonts for ebook platforms, but I think the bigger challenges have to do with design/layout and consistency among platforms.

    First, the concerns of the two worlds are different. The packaging/design of a p-book is essentially marketing for the book itself. Picking up the book and flipping through the pages is a way to let the reader in a bookstore know what the book is about (although fonts probably impact the actual reading experience itself). But there is no ebook at a bookstore to pick up and inspect. All we have is the amazon page and perhaps a sample page and cover art. It’s not clear whether design for ebooks fulfills the same purpose of marketing the book itself. Ebook design has to do more with navigation and organization of content than style (although obviously both are related). To add value, ebooks have to be designed in a way to allow different kinds of navigation from p-books (in terms of searching, indexing, sequence of reading).

    Another problem is consistency among platforms. Individual ebook software platforms are doing innovative things (see dotreader’s annotation feature), but the need to maintain consistency among platforms tends to discourage the use of these advanced features. There are parallels with the early days of CSS. Unless you were willing to do separate designs for different browsers, you had to use kludges and use only the most basic CSS features.

    That said, Adobe Reader has lots of advanced features (video, flash) that might justify separate design work (especially if future reading devices support PDF). It remains to be seen whether PDAs will be capable of supporting these advanced features in Adobe Reader.

  8. Appropriate typography in ebooks is an interesting issue, and too little attention has been paid to it. We did some work on this a few years ago, and came up with a way of preserving original printed typography in an PDA-formatted ebook version of a carefully typeset paper publication. See “Paper to PDA” for details. I’ve recently reproduced this for UpLib, which uses a completely different system for producing a list of the word image rectangles in reading order.

    On a completely different topic: CWS said

    To be honest, I’m deeply suspicious of pronouncements like [e-books are the future of books]. Remember … NeXT computers?

    To be fair, the NeXT computer is currently better known as Apple’s Mac computer, and is reasonably popular. The next release of Microsoft Windows is widely thought to be imitating many aspects of it. Saying that it was the “future of personal computers” isn’t too far off the mark.

  9. A very interesting interview!

    The crux of the issue seems to me to be that two different markets
    are being described in this interview: the market for the content of
    a book, and the market for the book as a piece of art. While these
    may overlap, they are certainly not one and the same.

    E-books shine in the market where content is king; the advantages
    of compact storage, searchable text, annotation without damaging
    the original, etc. all leverage the ability to manipulate content.
    As a physical work of art, however, e-books are extremely limited:
    some control of font and graphic elements is possible, but
    restricted; engagement of haptic and olfactory senses is almost
    non-existent (unless you have an overheating e-book reader!) and
    generally not under the control of the publisher — it will even
    vary by which device the reader uses (think of reading on an iLiad
    vs. a PalmPilot).

    A book as a physical work of art offers a distinct experience where
    the artist — the publisher — can control aspects such as size,
    format, texture, material, etc. to a great degree, manipulating the
    medium to accentuate particular sensations in the reader. To express
    this another way, compare the experience of seeing a Jackson Pollock
    painting in person vs. a picture of one on your computer.

    If, as a publisher, your mission is to create a physical work of
    art, then e-books naturally have little place in your product line.
    As a businessperson, this may be a restrictive approach; as an
    artist, it is little different than choosing to work in oils vs.
    computer graphics. I think there is always a market for works of
    art, as long as economic conditions can support it; it isn’t likely
    to be a growing market, but one can make a living at it. The
    challenge from a business perspective is then one of reaching your
    entire target market efficiently, not one of expanding your customer
    base to new markets.

    That said, I think there is still a place for e-books within the
    publisher who is creating books as physical art. The simplest might
    be advertising: for example, an e-book of the content, but with an
    advertisement before the content. “Imagine these poems bound in
    silk, artwork by such-and-so! Slipcased limited edition!” etc. etc.
    Another was hinted at in the interview: preservation of content.
    An artist can create only so many works of art, but may have more
    valuable content than can be distributed in this form; at least
    the content can be preserved for posterity, perhaps so that some
    future book-artist can create around it.

    We might ask the question, can an e-book present itself as a physical
    work of art? I think the answer is yes, much in the same way that we
    have computer graphics as works of art; but it is a particular medium,
    with different constraints and potential than a physical book. For
    example, one could imagine layers of annotation that create an
    aesthetic effect, an artform not replicable in a book. Sliding into
    the realm of science fiction, we can imagine that someday we will have
    a sufficiently powerful virtual reality that engages all the senses;
    an e-book as an artform might then be quite powerful. But for the
    publisher-artist, the choice of medium is an individual decision.

    Just some thoughts!

    –John N.

  10. I know I’m being incredibly picky, but I have to nit-pick something CWS said.

    Laserdiscs are still with us. They’re just called “DVDs” now, and they are doing phenomenal business.

    NeXT computers are also still with us. Only now they’re called “Macintosh”, and Apple Computer is selling more of them than ever before.

    I’m not bullish on eBooks as a medium, but I think some form of electronic distribution of the written word is inevitable – more so than we have today. While I agree that electronic works are more useful for reference material *today*, that may not be the case forever.

    Certainly people who appreciate a well-made book will continue to pay for well made books. I will be one of those people for the rest of my life. But I don’t necessarily need a high-end production job for whatever crap novel the big publishing houses dump onto shelves this week. I think the electronic book for leisure reading will replace the disposable paperback, but only when the economics of it make sense for the consumer.

  11. Robert Nagle asked about onscreen fonts vs. print fonts, and noone seems to have addressed that question yet. Here’s an attempt from an amateur.

    Most screens have comparatively bad resolution, which leads to fine details of type getting lost, as well as oblique and slanted structures (that can’t be shown well on a coarse orthogonal pixel grid) also getting lost or distorted.

    Some recent typefaces were specifically created for the screen, and there is some information about issues and tradeoffs at http://www.will-harris.com/verdana-georgia.htm . The Lucida family (by Bigelow & Holmes) is also well known for having been designed with low-resolution media in mind, and there are typefaces designed to be highly legible under very adverse conditions (say, road signs that need to be legible in bad lighting, bad weather, and bad viewing angles) that also are very useful for screen use (Agfa Bosis Medium, for example).

    Recent OpenType typefaces come in various design sizes, one of which is typically designed for small print (6-8 pt), and typically proportionally wider, and with fewer ‘refinements’ than the larger sizes. Using these at normal text sizes (10-12pt) also helps in making texts easier to read on low-resolution screens. (The older Multiple Master technology from Adobe could do the same thing for some typefaces.)

    Beside type design, type disposition is at least as important: the screen seem to require larger line spacing to be equally easy to read as a printed text. (This will be an important issue for various ‘reader’ software in the future: do they do adequate line spacing for the typeface and type size the user has selected?)

    At the same time, some typographical refinements may not make good sense in text intended for screen reading: thin spaces may not be at all visible on screen, for instance.

    However, an e-book (say, in PDF format) designed to be read on screen, using large and clear typefaces and extra spacing etc will look pretty odd when it is printed out on a high-resolution printer: it will look more like a book for beginning readers, and so may put ordinary readers off. Some modern pocket books show this: the type is unexpectedly large, possibly to offset the fairly low quality (‘resolution’) of the paper used, although I suspect text bulk inflation is an important sale factor as well.

    The transition from the relatively slowly printed book on fine paper to high-speed printed newspapers on considerably less fine paper showed a similar change: typefaces for newspapers became ‘clearer’ and less detailed to survive the printing process. The transition to the screen as ‘print medium’ is a continued development of this process. (And typefaces designed for newspaper use are also often effective on screen, e.g. Linotype Excelsior).

    High-resolution screens are beginning to appear — though electrophoretic paper (such as the E Ink electronic paper used in the Sony Reader and the iRex iLiad devices) will probably not change much at first: even if resolution improves (from 90dpi to approx 160 dpi), it looks as if contrast suffers, and so the need for ‘clear’ type will remain, even if disposition issues may change.

    As far as I know there seems to be no conscious creation of beautiful e-books (I would love to be proven wrong). To some extent this is due to many display issues being left to the ‘reader’ software, which rarely seems to be designed by people with typographical skills, though some basic points are beginning to show, such as the need for good hyphenation and avoidance of widows. Also many e-book creators seem only too happy to leave the ‘old dead-tree typography’ behind, and reinvent a new wheel from scratch. It’s a pity: it sets the bar of acceptance lower than it needs to be.

  12. “As far as I know there seems to be no conscious creation of beautiful e-books (I would love to be proven wrong).”

    I think this statement is true. I have purchased many e-books that don’t even take advantage of the simple formatting capabilities some of the file formats provide, but just pour the text in and take whatever the batch converter spits out.

    I purchased a copy of “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe” last year, and it was so full of obvious OCR errors that no amount of formatting would cover up.

    Perhaps producing an electronic edition of a book is not a work of art the way CWS sees it, but it would be nice to see people take some pride in their presentation.

  13. HI Richard, i think that’s the point CWS was making as i understood it ; that e-books simply cannot yet live up to the typographical standards of print books. If you’re not familiar with Godine, i highly recommend checking out their site at http://www.godine.com and seeing their list, which has many books on typography.

    I think for a house like Godine, until a reader can be designed for them, or until the integrity of the type and design can be mastered, then they will stay with print books – at least for now – that may change as standards change and improve, but as to the present moment, i can’t imagine a house that prides itself on typography really getting into e-books at the moment.

    That said, typos creep into every book, hopefully and less so with Godine. Dostoevsky once said that a book is not a book unless it contained at least one typo.

    Not sure i agree with him, but it’s a great quote.

    Thanks for chiming in with your point of view…

    be well,


  14. Your question presupposes an attitude I don’t share

    I felt the entire interview that the interviewer presupposed an attitude the interviewee (rightly so) did not share.

    Sadi, perhaps you and Carl should read Cory Doctorow’s essay Ebooks: Neither E, Nor Books. Carl because of his statement that he cannot “recall a single discussion of e-books that tackles the way e-books are different from printed books, or why, or what possibilities those differences present”; you because of the following:

    Back to democratic-ness. Every successful new medium has traded off its artifact-ness — the degree to which it was populated by bespoke hunks of atoms, cleverly nailed together by master craftspeople — for ease of reproduction. Piano rolls weren’t as expressive as good piano players, but they scaled better — as did radio broadcasts, pulp magazines, and MP3s. Liner notes, hand illumination and leather bindings are nice, but they pale in comparison to the ability of an individual to actually get a copy of her own.

    Which isn’t to say that old media die. Artists still hand-illuminate books; master pianists still stride the boards at Carnegie Hall, and the shelves burst with tell-all biographies of musicians that are richer in detail than any liner-notes booklet. The thing is, when all you’ve got is monks, every book takes on the character of a monkish Bible. Once you invent the printing press, all the books that are better-suited to movable type migrate into that new form. What’s left behind are those items that are best suited to the old production scheme: the plays that *need* to be plays, the books that are especially lovely on creamy paper stitched between covers, the music that is most enjoyable performed live and experienced in a throng of humanity.

  15. I was wondering: could anyone elaborate on specific ways in which onscreen versions of fonts look/feel different from print versions?

    Microsoft Typography has done a lot in the area of screen typography. See for instance under About Fonts: TrueType Hinting.

    Also, are there specs online about font support for upcoming devices like Sony Reader?

    See for instance here. Or were you wondering what fonts the Reader will support? Assuming it will display (possibly pre-rendered) PDFs, the answer would be “all”.