I have a shelf of my own books in my house, and it always intrigues me to see how the presentation styles have changed over the last 25 years or so.
There have been a big shifts even in the last ten years. And the stuff my publishers of the day were doing in the early 1990s certainly wouldn’t cut it today.
It’s inevitable. Styles change. Technology changes. A lot of what we regard as ‘cool’ is driven by that changing technology – witness the sudden arrival of drop-shadows when Adobe InDesign got the capability as a tick-box panel. In general, we can do things today – quickly and cheaply – that weren’t possible even with ‘desktop publishing’ software 25 years ago (yes, I’m talking about you, Aldus/Adobe Pagemaker) or which demanded a lot of fiddle-faddle with $250,000 purpose-built typesetting machinery.
For e-books, of course, the art of book design has taken a back seat to the utility of display on screens.
Cover designs rule. Internal content – not so much. Kindle adjusts the display according to the device. Self-pubbers often use MS Word or some near equivalent – it’s rare to see an e-book completed with InDesign (still rarer to see one in Xpress, which seems to have vanished off the face of the typesetting planet). That’s not a problem where Kindle re-formats on the fly. But Word has also leaked into print, via self-pub services that accept its files. And therein is the problem. Word sucks, big-time, as a typesetting tool. Especially when it comes to composition – it just can’t compete with InDesign’s paragraph compositing algorithm, and that’s just for starters. It also lacks proper frames, which is a killer for layout stability.
Should we lament that loss? I think so. There is still a place in print for a well-designed, appealing book – a book where the artistry of the page design is as much a part of the reading experience as the content.
I’m reading one at the moment – Ian Brodie’s marvellous photo-essay book on Middle Earth locations in New Zealand. It’s a fabulous example of the book-maker’s art, with textured cover and wonderful reproduction quality. Good stuff.
Are you reading a book at the moment -a real, physical book – that is a joy to hold and to look at, quite apart from the content? Do you own any? And what do you think about the loss of that side of things to an e-world where screens dictate the presentation?
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2016