Are eBooks driving better book design?

eBooks may be changing print books in interesting ways.

eBooks give me a predictable experience.  I know how a book will look on my Nook or my iPad and I know that I’ll be able to read it comfortably there.  Think of it like Starbucks, where I know I’ll get a decent cup of coffee.  Yes, a Starbucks latte may be a little different store to store or barrista to barrista, and ebooks can be designed better or worse within some pretty restrictive parameters, but the basic experience will be similar from Starbucks to Starbucks and ebook to ebook (although I have even seen two ebooks where the translation from print was criminally bad).

When I read physical books, the experience varies.  A well-designed book remains more fun for me than an ebook.  I love beautiful covers and high quality paper and well-done white space.  These things make a book a pleasure, and even in some cases, a work of physical art.

Bad book design can cause pain: some come with refelctive paper or fonts so cramped up on the page that you suspect the publisher was trying to hit a certain page-count at any cost.  And I no longer even bother to try and read mass market paperbacks.  The font is often so small and the so bad that I can’t actually read it for long.

Poorly designed physical books cause me to download the ebook.

I pretty much buy hardbacks, trade papers, and ebooks.  The deciding factor is often how pretty (yes, beauty matters) and how readable the physical book is (or isn’t).  I do the same for coffee – I have favorite independent coffeehouses and mall chains that I’ll choose over Starbucks every time they’re convenient, but often Starbucks is just fine.

Other readers I talk to say the same thing:  boring book design or boring covers takes them to the eBook.  This isn’t bad; ebook reading is a great experience.  I think that fact is causing some publishers who want to sell physical books to try a little harder to make them a quality product. What do you think?

5 thoughts on “Are eBooks driving better book design?”

  1. More than half of my reading for the last few years have been ebooks on my iPod Touch. I bought a kindle keyboard this month and am half way through my second book on it. One thing I really like about hard copy is that I have a subtle sense of where I am in the story. Even though the ebooks have a little progress bar or some indicator, I always have this subtle feeling that I don’t really know where I am in the stories. 45% doesn’t give me the same feedback that a book almost halfway read does.

    I really dislike hardback books. I know that a lot of people love them, but I just find them far to heavy for reading in bed, or in the tub. They’re also just to bulky to carry around with me casually. I really have to be in a book mood to take a hardback book out of the house. Paperbacks on the other hand fit right into larger pockets, or whatever you carry your stuff around in without noticing.

  2. Hello, first let me thank you for the Silver Ship and the Sea,
    it’s one of my favorite books of all time 😀

    I’m from Mexico

    I was going to buy one of you books on amazon since your work is not exported into my country, I though well, if I buy a kindle maybe I could read those books of authors that aren’t being published on my country, but as it turns out your books are not available for me on digital form for my geographical location, nor for the Caribbean,

    Thank god I realized of this because I really love your books and a BIG deciding factor in whether I would buy a kindle or not was to see if my favorite authors would be available for the hardware, if I would have bought the kindle foolishly thinking that the internet would allow for more freedom of information I would have ended having a very very expensive paper weight, I being looking for info on this matter on the web because I was really excited about the idea of finally having full access to my favorite authors without the need to have my book mail sent to my country, which is expensive and time consuming, and so I found your blog and decided to post this message.

    I know that the sales of full paper back copies of your book on my country might not be cost effective as I’m aware the amount of sci fi readers on my country is rather small, but I was hoping e-books with the no cost for printing and distribution would be more global and progressive.

    Now I’m not sure if I will ever read the rest of your books since the cost to have them mail sent to me can be rather expensive and a kindle would have made my book consumption a much less hassle free and affordable task, now I’m back at square one where as much as I like your work there’s many other authors I would like to read too, and now I must carefully choose what books I can afford and which are entirely out of my budget.

    Kindle as its implemented right now for non US citizens is the least forward thinking most consumer damaging system to read books in the market.

    I know this would probably change nothing, but for what is worth, I would have bought most of your body of work if I could have done it with a kindle, in digital form, and I’m just posting this message so you know that at least one reader outside the US is interested on having your work available in digital form 🙂

  3. I still like physical books, too, when the design is good. I agree with you on the knowing how to “feel” where I am in a story when the book is open in my lap. However, I’m getting old enough now that mass market paperbacks are had to read because of the small print so there are some books i would not read if the ebook readers weren’t available.

  4. Pingback: Just writing a book is sooo last century… « Writing Made Visible

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