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View Poll Results: Should ebooks specify exact paragraph and page formatting?
Yes, I trust publishers to specify exact formatting that will look good on all my devices 7 7.45%
Yes, I may not trust publishers, but I like using Calibre to specify exact formatting 12 12.77%
No, I want my e-reader to decide how to layout paragraphs and pages 54 57.45%
I don't really see the distinction you're making here 4 4.26%
I see what you're saying, but it's never really bothered me 8 8.51%
Other 9 9.57%
Voters: 94. You may not vote on this poll

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Old 06-24-2010, 05:31 AM   #1
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Should ebooks specify exact paragraph and page formatting?

Some ebooks include CSS which specifies whether paragraphs should be represented by indenting the first line (printed book style), or by leaving a blank line after each paragraph ("block paragraphs" / web-style / Word style). It's also common to specify that text should be justified.

Other ebooks avoid this explicit formatting for the main text (although they may include specific formatting options for cover pages, headings, quotes/poetry etc). Instead, they let the e-reader choose an apropriate default. Some e-readers like FBReader provide options for users to alter these defaults.

More detail:
Spoiler:
There's also page formatting, Adobe have extensions which allow ebooks to specify page headers and footers. And I've recently noticed that one of my ebooks attempts to specify the size of the top and bottom margins.

The EPUB specifiction includes CSS with a few small changes. It does mention this issue -

Quote:
this specification does not mandate specific rendering behavior for the OPS Preferred Vocabularies. Some Reading Systems could choose to express the intent of elements in presentation by closely following web browser usage — a blank line before a paragraph, but no first-line text-indent, for example. Other Reading Systems could gear their presentation towards sustained novel-like readability: for example, no extra whitespace between paragraphs, but text-indent on the first line of each.
But it doesn't appear to make any best practice suggestions for either publishers or e-readers. And since CSS is required, it's not like HTML on the web where good webmasters know that webpages should be readable even if the CSS is ignored. My impression is that the creators of EPUB either didn't regard this issue as important, or they didn't think they could do anything about it.

It might sound odd to say that the EPUB specification is so powerless, but it is only a piece of paper. What really matters are the people who implement it. Here's another gift from Adobe:

Quote:
Use spacing that looks more like a book
There’s default values for margins and padding in CSS, and they’re not the sort of thing you want in a book, so get rid of them all by setting a new set of margins and padding for all of the block-level elements you plan to use in your documents, something like this:
body, div, p, h1, h2, h3, h4 { margin: 0; padding: 0; }
Then follow that rule with rules that add the spacing you want.
I could be misreading this, but I understand this to be saying "don't let the e-reader's default formatting show through; use a CSS reset and then specify the exact formatting you want".


What do you think about this?
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Old 06-24-2010, 06:21 AM   #2
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That publishers and e-readers manufacturer needs to work together.

Define such thing as : main text class will be named that way, margins will defined that way. Allowing publishers to set stuff, and the reader to override shall the user wish it.
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Old 06-24-2010, 06:32 AM   #3
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I have to define paragraphs as indented, because otherwise I cannot properly see when paragraphs should not be indented (because it's actually a continuation of the same paragraph after a poetry fragment, for instance), or when there is a scene break.

But I still hope some reader will allow the user to override the default styling for <p> (or any other tag), so I keep my styles as simple and self-explaining as possible. In particular, I use just <p> instead of <p class="normal_text"> or <p class="style1">
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Old 06-24-2010, 09:13 AM   #4
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Quote:
using Calibre to specify exact formatting


Garbage In, Garbage Out - while calibre does a good job of recreating the appearance in many cases, fixing the problems usually requires far more extensive editing, particularly with the poor code produced by kindlegen.
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Old 06-24-2010, 11:00 AM   #5
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I had to go with "other" here.

Yes, the publishers should be able to have creative control of text formatting (including fonts & page breaks, etc) for poetry, chapter titles, inline quotes, etc.

But special formatting should be the exception - not the rule. And our ereaders should be capable & required to apply sane & attractive defaults to the rest.

And the end-user should have the ability to over-ride anything.

But keep in mind that we've *never* had this capability before - the publishers always had complete control - and pbooks sold and were read just fine.


Troy
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Old 06-24-2010, 11:23 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by troymc View Post
I had to go with "other" here.

Yes, the publishers should be able to have creative control of text formatting (including fonts & page breaks, etc) for poetry, chapter titles, inline quotes, etc.

But special formatting should be the exception - not the rule. And our ereaders should be capable & required to apply sane & attractive defaults to the rest.

And the end-user should have the ability to over-ride anything.

But keep in mind that we've *never* had this capability before - the publishers always had complete control - and pbooks sold and were read just fine.


Troy
I have to agree, exactly. With some exceptions, allow the end user to choose. For exzample, I love the formatting in Zelda's edition of Three Men in a Boat. It is truly a work of art, showing the great extent of control a publisher/editor can have on the appearance of an ebook.
However, for the vast majority of books, this is not the case and too much formatting will make books look like poorly converted PDF's.
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Old 06-24-2010, 12:30 PM   #7
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I want to be able to choose, preferably via settings on my reader. I'd like to have a reader that lets me choose not only font style and size, but margin width, whether to have justified text, whether to insert a blank line between paragraphs, whether to indent paragraphs, and so on. People's preferences vary so much that it makes sense to leave it up to the person reading the book rather than the publisher. For example, I always cringe when I start reading an ebook and realize it has huge margins, but I know other people like wide margins.
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Old 06-24-2010, 12:51 PM   #8
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Troymc's comment above catches my view pretty well. Some texts (I'm talking about fiction here, not magazines or other stuff) require quite specific formatting; most do not. Further, reader's preferences vary widely.

I would strongly prefer an approach that allows readers (the devices) to produce reasonable default layout while simultaneously allowing readers (the people doing the reading!) to adjust the defaults on their device to match their individual needs and taste. Finally, I want publishers to be able to specify quite detailed and complicated layout when necessary -- but only when necessary, as this should be quite an unusual occurrence.

Broad industry agreement on standard markup for the simple cases would be a great step in this direction.

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Old 06-24-2010, 02:18 PM   #9
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Old 06-24-2010, 03:39 PM   #10
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I agree that the end user should be able to choose how the story elements of a book are displayed, while the publisher decides what each element of a book is (such main body paragraph, chapter heading, and chapter subheading). To me, this is especially important when the same ebook will be used on a variety of devices, each with different screen sizes and displays. I agree with Xenophon that an industry standard markup scheme would help with this.
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Old 06-25-2010, 03:14 PM   #11
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One of the greatest advantages of digital devices is their display flexibility... stylesheets shouldn't narrow the options, they should provide for more options. This allows users to select their reader based on its particular reading characteristics, not on whether or not a book is designed for it.

Forcing specific page and paragraph styles--proprietary formatting--would only result in books that would be unreadable on devices not optimized for that particular style... like taking an ebook specifically formatted for an iPad, and trying to read it on a cellphone screen. (And unfortunately, we're already seeing that in the newest iPad app magazine and textbook content, formatted for larger screens only, and unreadable on most smaller devices.)

CSS styles should all be universally set by a standards body and used identically by publishers. Individual reading devices should be able to decide how they will render the material, based on the CSS styles as modified for optimal display by that device, and tweaked by the individual user. All devices should be able to demonstrate that they are standards-compliant, so the consumer knows they will be able to read an ebook from any source.
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Old 06-25-2010, 04:13 PM   #12
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I would be happy if the formatting on some books wasn't a total disaster.... don't run paragraphs together, if using breaks within a chapter make sure there's some way of marking that break (a small graphic or a blank line), make sure there aren't weird hyphens and line breaks all over.

I'm not hard to please. I just don't want the ebooks that I pay for to look like fanfic that nobody bothered to proofread and was posted on the web by a poorly trained monkey.

Last edited by whitearrow; 06-25-2010 at 04:15 PM.
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Old 06-25-2010, 06:48 PM   #13
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Old 06-27-2010, 09:02 AM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve Jordan View Post
One of the greatest advantages of digital devices is their display flexibility... stylesheets shouldn't narrow the options, they should provide for more options. This allows users to select their reader based on its particular reading characteristics, not on whether or not a book is designed for it.
Precicely. Publishers should be given to tools (i.e. the file format's capability) to reproduce whatever is required of the specific book, and readers should have the ability to change their device's settings to tweak the view to their specific device or needs.

A format needs to be settled on that allows complete freedom of formatting while preserving the user's ability to change font styles and size, etc. without rendering the book unreadable.

I've been disappointed with some commercial ebook formatting. Certain unicode characters don't seem to work, I've seen page breaks in the middle of chapters, etc. A proper markup format, along with care from publishers, would eliminate all these errors and leave the formatting to the device/user's preference.
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Old 06-27-2010, 10:40 AM   #15
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I don't care, as long as the end result is competently done. Apparently though, that's a little too much to ask for.
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