Ebooks and Fonts

3046678-inline-3046678-slide-s-5-the-kindle-finally-gets-some-typography-that-doesnt-suckCo.Design (“The Kindle Finally Gets Typography That Doesn’t Suck“) had an interesting article that caught my attention, which provides a design-focused, nuanced look at one of the more unnoticed aspects of e-reading: fonts.*

So it there any importance, other than cosmetic, that can be attached to Amazon’s newly designed Bookerly font (and improved typesetting layout engine) for Kindle? Maybe:

“No matter what screen you’re on, Bookerly was designed from the ground-up to be even more readable that Caecilia. According to Amazon’s internal tests, that means it’s about 2% easier on the eye. That may seem like a small improvement, but spread that 2% across millions of Kindle users and billions of pages of e-reading, and it all starts to add up.”

google play books literataHey, 2%, over a year’s worth of e-reading is a big deal! I think. Probably. The transition between print and digital is still an ever-ongoing process and this quote from Amazon was on point:

“In e-books, you have this tension, between the purity of a book’s layout as it was envisioned in print, and the flexibility that e-reading brings to a customer, by allowing you to increase font size, read books across multiple devices, and so on … It’s a tension between the beautiful but static nature of print, and the dynamism of digital. We’re trying to strike a balance between those two things.”

Google took a different approach with their Literata font for Google Play Books. If typography porn is your thing, you’ll really want to check out the WSJ article (“E-Books Get a Makeover“) for the font comparisons.

And for a counterpoint, Digital Book World, “Fonts and Nonsense: What Bookerly and Literata Get Wrong” takes a more measured response about the limitations with typesetting limitations inherent in the ebook format:

“But apart from these typographical infelicities borne of shoddy decision-making under hardware constraints, there’s the more broadly problematic idea that one font will work well for every single kind of ebook.

This notion really just throws book design out the window by dispensing with any halfway nuanced appreciation of the content—something that should make any author or publisher recoil as well. Just as all print books are not typeset in the same font, so their digital counterparts should be afforded the same basic considerations.”

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*Speaking of fonts, here’s something to file under Fun Trivia, also from Co.Design, “Are Some Fonts More Believable Than Others?

“The results: For every 1,000 respondents, almost five more people agreed with Deutsch’s statement when it was written in Baskerville than they did when it was written in Helvetica. That might not seem terribly impressive, but Dunning assures us that this so-called Baskerville Effect is indeed statistically significant: ‘It’s small, but it’s about a 1% to 2% difference — 1.5% to be exact, which may seem small but to me is rather large … Truth is not typeface dependent, but a typeface can subtly influence us to believe that a sentence is true.'”

There’s even more about Errol Morris’ intriguing truth and typography test here, (“It’s absurd to think that we would be nudged by one typeface over another, into believing something to be true. Something disturbing about it, I’d go so far to say.”)

Are Screens at Bedtime Bad For Us? Yes.

File this one under Things We Know Really Should Stop Doing (via NPR: “One More Reason To Reach For A Paper Book Before Bed“), staring at light-emitting (specifically shorter wavelength blue light) screens before bed is bad for our health:

screens before bedtime = bad” ‘We knew that light in the evening affects circadian rhythms and affects sleep and alertness,’ Chang says. ‘But we wanted to test if light from light-emitting devices, such as e-readers, which were gaining in popularity, would have the same effect if people were using them to read before bedtime.’ So the researchers asked 12 healthy young people to spend a couple of weeks in a sleep lab. For five nights, they read what they considered to be relaxing material on an iPad for four hours before going to sleep. For another five nights, they read the same kind of material from books made of paper.

Based on the findings and others, Chang recommends that if people want to read before bed, they should consider devices that don’t emit light — or just pull out an old-fashioned paper book.”

(I wonder how many of the participants in the print book reading study snuck glances at their devices while reading … but that’s a different topic for another day).

Too much nighttime screen time (unsurprisingly) makes us less alert during the daytime, causes difficulty falling asleep at night, and generally wrecks havoc upon our circadian rhythms. In more specific terms: “light from the screens will increase alertness at the very time you should be winding down, which can delay people’s bedtimes. This exposure will then prolong the length of time it takes to fall asleep, which delays the circadian rhythm, which reduces the amount of melatonin (the sleepy-making hormone) that the body produces. It can also delay and reduce the amount of REM sleep, and finally it will negatively impact awareness the following morning” (via Wired UK, “Screen Reading Before Bed Can Ruin Your Sleep“).

well_glasses-tmagArticleOn the other hand, there are also these really dumb-looking-but-maybe-effective orange glasses (via The New York Times, “Can Orange Glasses Help You Sleep Better?“) which could help counteract those deleterious, melatonin-inhibiting effects of blue light emitted from screens. Or … could we just not?

The NYT article has lots of interesting points, definitely worth a read. I’d never heard of the more general applications for blue light blocking —

LEDs are also increasingly popular as room lights, but “warm white” bulbs, with less blue, tend to be a better choice than “cool white” for nighttime use. The lighting company Philips also makes a bulb, called Hue, that can change the intensity of its component colors via an app, and GE last month announced a reduced-blue LED bulb, meant to be used before bedtime.”

Granted, people are probably more and less sensitive to these light sources than others, but in terms of practical tips: “Short of cutting out all evening electronics, experts say, it’s advisable to use a small screen rather than a large one; dim the screen and keep it as far away from the eyes as possible; and reduce the amount of time spent reading the device.”

How Important is Screen Size for Reading?

responsive-typography-reading-distanceWhen it comes to reading on devices, how important is screen size? Pocket, the reading and bookmarking app, looked at how some of its users opened some 2 million articles and videos comparing iPhone 5/5S to iPhone 6/6 Plus, which suggests at least some ways in which screen size is changing people’s behaviors (via the Pocket blog: “The Screen-Size Debate: How the iPhone 6 Plus Impacts Where We Read & Watch“).

Of course, it’s a small population of users who a) use the Pocket app, and b) have iPhones and iPads, but one of the things that caught my attention:

“The bigger your phone’s screen, the more time you’ll spend reading / watching on it: Users who upgraded to an iPhone 6 now view content on their phones 72% of the time, up from 55% when on a smaller screen. Those who went big and bought an iPhone 6 Plus consume content on their phones 80% of the time – the same ratio of phone to tablet reading as seen on Android.”

PKTBlog_iPhone6_v2-2

What would be even more interesting would be the amount of time those users spent interacting with their reading content relative to device and screen size — does more screen size also mean more time spent reading? For what it’s worth, Adobe earlier this year had similar findings about screen size and video watching habits (via Adobe Digital Index: “Large Screen Mobile Changes Video, Commerce Habits”). Not to overly geek, but as an avid Pocket app user, I wonder if some of those increased usage numbers are related to the iOS Safari integration.

The Pocket research also drew an interesting conclusion about morning commute and reading habits: “It’s pretty tricky to read on your iPhone 6 Plus with one hand and grasp a subway pole with the other. Turns out that those with an iPhone 6 Plus read 22% less on their morning commutes than those with an iPhone 5/5S or 6.” And as the graphic on the right indicates, more iPhone time meant less iPad time — with the exception of nighttime reading habits: “Regardless of which iPhone they have, users still reach for their iPads around 9pm for some late-night, bedtime reading.”

 

I wrote a bit about iPad reading and how the iPad still makes the most sense as a media consumption device — although GoodReader and iAnnotate are some of the best app options you’ll find for things like PDF reading — so maybe the iPhone 6/6 Plus hovers right in between that Kindle-sized device for reading/browsing. The difference between that hefty iPhone 6 Plus screen (5.5″) and the iPad Mini (7.9″) is relatively little; and how many devices do people need to use that do the same things, perhaps only slightly differently?

Could wearable technology track our reading habits?

With the recent intense interest surrounding the Apple Watch and what it might or might not do (I can hardly wait to see one in person), more general questions about wearable technology in daily life are going to be inevitable in the coming months. With apps and devices enabling us to track our steps taken, miles covered, hours slept, and calories burned — could our wearable devices not start measuring more cognitive functions? What if wearable tech — smart glasses, for example — track how and what we read? The New Scientist (“Fitbit for the mind: Eye-tracker watches your reading”) mentions some intriguing new research on this front:

google glass reading
Google Glass and reading?

“‘ A cognitive activity tracker’ developed by Kai Kunze at Osaka Prefecture University in Japan can tell how many words we read how often and how fast we read, and even whether we are skim reading or actually concentrating on the content. It could also generate summaries of documents as you read them by logging which passages your eyes dwell on … Kunze is taking the technology in a different direction. In tests on volunteers wearing infrared eye-tracking glasses, his team found that their software could count the number of words read with an accuracy of about 94 per cent, and tell how fast you were reading, purely by looking at the movement of the eyes. By asking their volunteers to read different types of materials – novels, fashion magazines, newspapers, research papers and textbooks – they have shown that these various media can be discerned near perfectly from the way readers’ eyes move around their telltale layouts.”

Thus far, we’ve seen the most research devoted to eye tracking and advertising and marketing and even video games (for example, check out this eye-opening post from KISSMetrics). But the possibilities for delving into our reading habits are so intriguing. Could eye-tracking glasses lend insight into what we read, how long we read, what keeps us engrossed, and what causes our attention spans to wander? The applications for education are even more encouraging —

“Or, says Kunze, publishers could work out if textbook designs need rethinking by seeing how readers navigate their pages. If the software knows what the document is – a novel being read on a Kindle, say – then more advanced features can be used. ‘It could lead to adaptive reading materials in which the computer recognises I have trouble understanding a particular word and changes the text in real time to give me the definition in the next sentence,'”

Could this kind of adaptive reading content and those kinds of insight in turn influence our reading habits? I think it could. I use a Fibit, and that subtle nudge of how many steps left till the 10,000 step goal usually is reminder enough to take the stairs instead of the elevator — could a similar nudge encourage more reading time?
Kobo’s Reading Life deserves credit for being one of the first to make a push into reading data — and this might just be the beginning.

Amazon Popular Highlights, the “Hawking Index”, and Attention Spans

There’s so much more information about our reading habits online now, it’s tantalizing to think about the possibilities. Jordan Ellenberg (Wall Street Journal: “The Summer’s Most Popular Book is …”) had a clever use for Amazon’s Popular Highlights feature, while coining the phrase, “the Hawking Index*” about what Kindle users are — and aren’t reading:

“How can we find today’s greatest non-reads? Amazon’s “Popular Highlights” feature provides one quick and dirty measure. Every book’s Kindle page lists the five passages most highlighted by readers. If every reader is getting to the end, those highlights could be scattered throughout the length of the book. If nobody has made it past the introduction, the popular highlights will be clustered at the beginning.

Thus, the Hawking Index (HI): Take the page numbers of a book’s five top highlights, average them, and divide by the number of pages in the whole book. The higher the number, the more of the book we’re guessing most people are likely to have read. (Disclaimer: This is not remotely scientific and is for entertainment purposes only!)”

The results: 775-page The Goldfinch (surprisingly to me) was one of the most-finished reads, while 696-page Capital in the Twenty-First Century was the least finished on the list. It makes some sense that fiction — and perhaps especially serial fiction with their built-in cliffhangers and delayed narrative gratification — would see greater completion rates than nonfiction. What does all of this mean? Probably nothing without a bigger sample size of books, but it’s still neat to think about. I wonder if in the not-distant future, that kind of data about reading habits could influence the decision-making process of book publishers.

On a related note, check out The Atlantic’s compilation of The Most Popular Passages in Books, According to Kindle Data:

like any big business, publishing must always center on the mass: What do the most people want? What will the most people buy? What do people respond to? Between these two, there is a strange relationship. Companies collect and analyze this data, but rarely do readers get to see it.

From a social perspective, I do find interesting what passages carry resonance with a large number of readers. But in my own Kindle reading, I usually opt for turning Popular Highlights off because of the potential for distraction. It’s more than a little possible that there is a mirror neurons kind of effect going on; perhaps our eye is drawn towards those passages that others have highlighted because it feels more significant because of that appearance of social importance. On some level, we probably can’t help but look more closely at the passage that says “4000 other people highlighted this part of the book” as opposed to “11 other people highlighted this part of the book.”

Trivia: attention span of goldfish is 9 seconds

I do wonder about our collective attention spans, and how our reading habits are being shaped by the various forms in which we are now reading our books.

Science Fracture (The Rise of Short Fiction) also has some observations on Kindle Singles and the role it might contribute in shaping our reading habits — but if in fact our attention spans are gravitating towards shorter forms of content, why do longer form books (think: the Game of Thrones series and a combined 4000-plus pages and counting) remain so popular?

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* Because apparently, A Brief of History of Time is the book everyone says they’re going to read but never do.**

** note to self: finish reading A Brief History of Time

Thoughts on Readability

So what do we mean when we say a book is “difficult”? The Atlantic (“Readability is a Myth“) had some interesting thoughts on the topic —

manet the reader painting“First, I think it’s more true to the experience of reading to see “difficult” as wrapped up in evaluation of “bad,” rather than as separate. Most people are willing to admit, even if grudgingly, that aesthetic quality is to some degree subjective. You may (as I do) find Art Spiegelman’s Maus a tedious, pompous slog, but that’s a judgment about which reasonable people may differ (even if, of course, all right-thinking people agree with me.) But “difficulty” seems to hold out the possibility of more objective standards—to assure us that these books, over here, by Joyce and Faulkner, are 1000 pounds of pure prose, while these books over there, by Stephenie Meyer or Tom Clancy, are sniveling 90-pound weaklings of meretriciousness. It’s as though “good” may be relative, but “tough” is always and everywhere the same.”

I think readability is a funny term to begin with, and we likely often tend to mean different things when we say Henry James is “difficult” or The Road is “difficult.” Sometimes it’s constructive  and refreshing to pause and think about what we mean when and how we come to arrive at those value judgments.

There is a virtue in difficult reading — by which I think of as challenging, long, complex, or outside of our usual reading norms — but I wonder about the line of argument that suggests a stoic moral obligation to finish reading a book, no matter what (Tim Parks had a great read on this, via The New York Review of Books: “Why Finish Books?“).

iPhone vs. Android Reading Habits

Well I just love random snippets of information on reading habits — and doubly so when it’s in infographic form! Oyster‘s post on reading habits (“Game of Phones: The Battle of iOS vs. Android“) piqued my curiosity.

The sociology of operating systems and user behavior is probably a whole topic of discussion unto itself, but some of the morsels of information about reading behavior unearthed by Oyster are fun: Android users appear to read at a quicker pace, and for longer durations of time, and are bigger comic book fans; iOS users prefer C.S. Lewis, books on happiness and read Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People (really?). None of this counts enough to draw any sweeping conclusions about Android user reading or iOS user reading, but wouldn’t it be interesting to know the reading preferences of Kindle users, or fiction/nonfiction reading preferences for phone vs. tablet users?

Observer (“Reading Habits Indicate Android Users Are Fun, iPhone Users Are Lifehacking Megalomanics“) also shares some tongue-in-cheek observations about what these reading behaviors might suggest about Android vs. iOS personalities.

iOS vs android reading habits

Amazon’s “100 Books to Read in a Lifetime”

100 books to read in a lifetimeOk, I’m kind of a sucker for book lists. Have you seen Amazon’s “100 Books to Read in a Lifetime“?

It’s actually a fairly interesting mix. And here’s a link to the GoodReads version — I wonder what the list composition would look like if it were a crowd-sourced list.

Some tidbits from their press release:

  • Oldest book on the list: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813)
  • Most recently published book on the list: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (2013)
  • Book on the list that inspired the most internal debate: 1984 by George Orwell
  • A few books that were unanimous across the team: Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth, Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Really, Portnoy’s Complaint? Maybe I’m just not a liver fan.

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And for those that don’t want to scroll through the Amazon website to see the full title list (like me), here’s the list:

1984 by George Orwell

A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah

A Series of Unfortunate Events #1: The Bad Beginning: The Short-Lived Edition by Lemony Snicket

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

Alice Munro: Selected Stories by Alice Munro

Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

All the President’s Men by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein

Angela’s Ashes: A Memoir by Frank McCourt

Are You There, God? It’s me, Margaret by Judy Blume

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Born To Run – A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall

Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brene Brown

Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Book 1 by Jeff Kinney

Dune by Frank Herbert

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream by Hunter S. Thompson

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared M. Diamond

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

Jimmy Corrigan: Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

Moneyball by Michael Lewis

Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth

Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X and Alex Haley

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

The Color of Water by James McBride

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson

The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

The Giver by Lois Lowry

The Golden Compass: His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The House At Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

The Liars’ Club: A Memoir by Mary Karr

The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1) by Rick Riordan

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler

The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 by

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat: And Other Clinical Tales by Oliver Sacks

The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

The Poisonwood Bible: A Novel by Barbara Kingsolver

The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert A. Caro

The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

The Shining by Stephen King

The Stranger by Albert Camus

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: A Novel by Haruki Murakami

The World According to Garp by John Irving

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann

Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

 

Do We Really Care How Long It Takes Us To Read a Book?

Delay iphone reading app

What if we could know exactly how long it took us to read a book before we bought it? Does it really matter?

This article from Publishing Perspectives (“Should Books Tell You How Long They Will Take to Read?“) got me thinking. In particular, PP mentions a new type of reading app:

“the Delay App, which asks readers to indicated the amount of time they would like to read and, in turn, the app offers them selections that can be read during that period.” 

Here’s a link to the related press release (PP: “Dutch Delay App Gives You Stories Tailored to Your Free Time“), and it does take an interesting approach: marketing ebook content by length of reading time.

With the Kindle, for instance, we get an estimated reading time based on our reading speed and pace at which we scroll through pages. From personal experience, I started out as a big fan. But lately, if I want to read simply for the sake of reading (right now, I’m reading Anna Karenina), the thrill has worn off and I longer get a thrill out of knowing how many hours and minutes are left in the book.

Part of that is probably related to the fact that the Kindle estimated reading time varies from fairly good to terrible. Reddit definitely comes in handy if you are looking for a way to reset that pesky Kindle timer: “How to fix Kindle reading time estimates.

suggested reading timeAnd here’s another interesting viewpoint, from Flavorwire: “No, Alexis Ohanian, I Don’t Want Books to Tell Me How Long I Should Spend Reading Them“:

“… the purpose isn’t so much informational as it is, I think, sort of hilariously disciplining of both author and reader. A slow reader will feel guilty; a fast reader will feel pride; in both cases the feelings serve no useful purpose. For a writer of any real caliber the thing is actively self-debasing. This is an author saying to you: “I have written a book. Isn’t it great? It is, but it is only worth five hours of your time. It might take you longer to read War and Peace, sure, and you might have to do a couple of re-reads. But the whole sum of human knowledge on offer in this book: it’s five hours only. I’m just efficient like that.”

My Kindle Paperwhite tells me that War and Peace should take about 30 hours. I don’t know how much of a bearing that has on my life or my reading experience.

What’s the point of all of this? I doubt the suggested reading time is a trend that will really catch on. But, as more and more of everyday life becomes quantified and organized into more and more slices of data, I can’t help but wonder that there is some importance in resisting over-scheduling certain things, like our reading time.

Interesting: Which Countries Read The Most?

This showed up in my RSS feed, from The Paris Review. India is ranked at Number 1 with an impressive 10 hours, 42 minutes spent reading per week; the U.S. is at 23 with 5 hours and 42 minutes. Although keep in mind the data for this nifty infographic comes from 2005:

Hours-Spent-Reading-Around-the-World

 

Here’s the full article with some additional details, if you’re interested.