The Kindle’s New Typography is Hard to Pin Down, But It Is Pretty
Several days ago Amazon released a new version of the Kindle app for iPad and iPhone which added a new font (Bookerly), hyphenation, and all around better text rendering.
To hear some tell it, this is the best thing to happen to ebooks since the Kindle Store opened. Fast Company gushed at length about the change, calling it "digital typography that doesn’t suck".
Those of us who have tried to see the new typography before rendering an opinion are less than enthused. While the new text rendering is very pretty, it is also rather difficult to find.
You can see the new typography on the Fire tablet and in the Kindle iOS app, but only if you buy one of a handful of ebooks in the Kindle Store. You cannot, for example, upload your own ebooks and let Amazon add the new features; instead you have to buy one of the titles with the new feature built in. Amazon has named a few you can try:
- J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit
- Stephen King’s Revival
- Veronica Roth’s Insurgent
- Abigail Strom’s Almost Like Love
Amazon is currently listing 58 titles with the new features. Edit: Not all of which have the new features.
After noting that Juli Monroe (and a bunch of people on Twitter) had trouble finding books in their libraries which had the new feature, I bought a copy of Insurgent and sent it to my iPad.
As you can see, the new hyphenation isn’t a myth, nor is the new kerning:
Alas, I didn’t think to take a before screenshot. But I did find the same hyphenation on my Fire HD:
I’ve double checked, and the personal ebooks I uploaded to the Kindle Cloud today and downloaded again don’t show hyphenation.
All in all, this is a nice improvement, but until it is more widely available, I am unable to get excited.
Amazon says that the new typography is used in "hundreds of thousands of books", but there are how many titles in the Kindle Store?
Millions, and that’s not counting the effectively infinite titles which are either sideloaded on to Kindles or uploaded to the Kindle Cloud.
I can’t tell you why the new feature isn’t working everywhere, but I have my suspicions. I am still waiting to hear back from some experts who have looked under the hood of the new ebooks, and if they see what I am expecting then this story will prove to be a lot bigger than just new typography.
Michael May 31, 2015 um 5:59 pm
I’ve only looked at one so far, Almost Like Love, but I see it it has some hyphenation directives in the CSS:
So my guess would be that Amazon finally started recognizing and supporting one or both of those, and that any titles which already included them will now enjoy hyphenation. I can let you know for sure after I upload a new book to KDP tonight.
Nate Hoffelder May 31, 2015 um 6:22 pm
I was about to go teach myself how to strip DRM using the UUID and other details from a secondary device. This will reduce the pressure and lower my frustration levels.
Rob Siders May 31, 2015 um 6:28 pm
Makes sense. Default or undeclared is none.
Rob Siders June 1, 2015 um 12:16 pm
This doesn’t seem to be enough to enable it post-intake, at least it’s not in my tests. Something else is happening.
Michael June 1, 2015 um 12:43 pm
Yeah, just downloaded my submission from last night and there’s no hyphenation. Ah well, so much for doing things the easy way and supporting a standard.
Barry Marks May 31, 2015 um 6:33 pm
You seem kind of down on this new feature. I just downloaded a sample of one of the books with the new features and it looks pretty good on my HD6. I think it’s pretty understandable that it’ll take a bit of time to get it in all or most books but I think it’s a step in the right direction.
I’m not particularly fussy about fonts and hyphenation. I’m happy hyphenation is there but I’m not unhappy when it isn’t. I think the Bookerly font looks good but I’m fine with some of the existing fonts too. To me the point of all this is that they’re improving things. I’m glad to see it.
One of the qualities I’ve noticed in tech blogs and reviews is that you guys seem to think if it’s not revolutionary; not the sort of thing we’re all going to be excited about for weeks; if it’s been done before, it’s not worthwhile. And yet you write about these things anyway, just more negatively. I mean you bloggers, not you the author of this article.
It’s a little like the tablet reviewers saying "Well, it’s not metal but I guess it’s still sort of okay." 🙂
Nate Hoffelder May 31, 2015 um 6:40 pm
I’m down on Amazon announcing the new feature before very many ebooks could make use of it.
I’m down on Amazon not telling us how they enabled the new feature.
What can i say, I hate empty announcements like this.
John May 31, 2015 um 6:50 pm
Checked Almost Like Love, didn’t find anything “suspicious”. It’s the ordinary InDesign crap.
Then I sideloaded this “normal” version on Kindle Fire and it did NOT have better H&J.
So I downloaded the Fire version from my account, sideloaded this one and it did.
Unfortunately, you can’t deDRM Fire nor Kindle iOS files so I can’t confirm the 2 files are different, which is my guess at the moment.
Michael May 31, 2015 um 7:23 pm
Are you using the sample or a full copy? I sampled it on my Fire and copied off the .prc it downloaded. Many samples don’t have DRM even when the full book does.
Of course, Kindle samples aren’t always perfect representations, but this one did have hyphenation for me.
fjtorres May 31, 2015 um 7:51 pm
What I want to confirm is whether the hyphenation and justification can be disabled. 🙂
Nate Hoffelder May 31, 2015 um 8:04 pm
Although, now that I think about it I wonder why Amazon chose such a simple flag for hyphenation. Why not just enable it automatically on the entire platform?
Perhaps the flag is a sign that it will be optional or can be disabled.
fjtorres June 1, 2015 um 12:35 am
If there is no user accessible switch it might as well not be switchable.
Rob Siders June 1, 2015 um 8:32 am
This. All of it. Other platforms figured it out years ago… no CSS hack required.
Nate Hoffelder June 1, 2015 um 11:10 am
And since the Kindle platform already has default settings which override a publisher’s formatting, we know that it’s possible for Amazon to do override settings. They’re just not doing it in this case.
Name (required) June 1, 2015 um 3:40 am
Come on …
How is it "… pretty understandable that it’ll take a bit of time to get it in all or most books but I think it’s a step in the right direction."
Other brands have had choices for justification and even detailed configuration for hyphenation without the need to re-format all the books in the store.
Even the second generation Kindle (the one that came after the white wedge-shaped one) – now called Kindle Keyboard – had option to switch to left justification and saner margins by changing a value in a text configuration file in the Kindle.
The early versions of LaTeX, Aldus PageMaker, Adobe inDesign and other decent page-layout typesetting software ran on 486 and early pentium processors that had less computing power that a contemporary e-ink reader and were capable of creating decent layout.
Why is it *that* difficult to generate a decent page layout with numerous tweakable options [hidden away in a fourth level obscure Experts-Only! menu, or in a text configuration file] on a modern e-ink device?
Nate Hoffelder June 1, 2015 um 6:37 am
What’s even crazier is that the original Kindle shipped a secret setting menu where you could enable ragged right.
What option was that? I wish I had known; it would have been nice to have.
Name (required) June 1, 2015 um 8:11 am
Let me google that for you 😉
Add the following line to the end of the reader.pref file:
Nate Hoffelder June 1, 2015 um 11:05 am
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