Boston magazine ran a fun article in their September 2013 issue called “Books on the T” (you can see the online version here). The article features pictures of train-riding readers and the captions include the titles of their books.

Books on the T

How often do we want to go up to people with books and ask what they’re reading? (I’m sure it’s not just me!) I enjoyed the article but something started to nag at me. Did it hit you, too?

Every person in the photographs is reading a paper book.

This struck me as odd because when I’m riding on the T, I see a lot of people reading on ereaders and smartphones. So this photo essay didn’t ring true. “What does this mean?” I wondered. Why does the depiction of books in print, online, and in moves seem strongly pro-print? Is there a hidden message here? The magazine has been on my desk and turned to this page for three whole months and I’ve mulled these questions over every day that I’m in the office.

And then today I finally thought, why not just ask the journalist?

Hi S. I.,

As a voracious reader and a publishing professional, I loved your article The Books People Read on the MBTA.

As a print book designer turned ebook developer, I was intrigued by the photos of people in the article only reading paper books. This is something I’ve mulled over and I finally thought, why not ask you? Would you consider, if you did this article on a regular basis, including pictures of people reading ebooks on their ereaders or smart phones?

Many people read ebooks and yet when people in the media are represented reading books, it’s often paper books that are depicted. Even in movies – when was the last time we’ve seen anyone depicted in a movie reading a magazine or book on a device? I just find this to be a fascinating issue because I think it underscores the beloved icon that the paper book has become. We use ebooks but love paper books?

Anyways, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this if you’d like to share them.

Best,
Colleen

And the journalist responded quickly and graciously.

We did take pictures of people reading e-readers. Our art director happened to deem these pictures not among the best. I love e-readers, personally, and can’t remember the last time I bought a paper book, but there you have it. If I were ever to do this again, I would definitely include books in both analog and digital forms.

As to your larger question, why printed books remain iconic in media: A physical book conveys more information at a distance or at a glance. For example, you can usually see: how expensive the book was (marbled edges? leather bound?); its age (discolored paper, cracked bindings); whether it’s been read many times or just a few times (dog ears, margin notes); how thick the book is in comparison to the size of the text; whether it’s “popular” fiction, genre, or literary fiction (“supermarket” paperback versus TPB versus hardcover); how far along the reader is in the narrative. So I think in addition to its iconic status as an object, it’s likely that props people choose printed books because of how much can be implied about the reader by the specific book. Of course, you can also imply something about a person by seeing that they’re using an e-reader!

Thanks for writing … and reading.
S

The journalist allowed me to share our conversation with you and we welcome your thoughts on this matter.

  • Is it about time that ereaders/ebooks be depicted as iconic as print books in popular culture?
  • Does the fact a reader chooses digital versus paper affect your view of that reader?
  • Do you prefer digital over paper when traveling (even short) distances?
  • Why do I over-think?

…ah, well, I guess that last one is for me to figure out. Meanwhile, I’m putting the magazine back on my shelf. Mystery solved!

This is part one of a three-part series called “change the view.” As I write the other parts, I’ll link to them there.

Twin, by Robert Ryman, 1966, MOMA, NYC [audio description]

“The artist imposed two limitations on his paintings: all are white and all are square. Working within these constraints, Ryman demonstrates the broad range of effects made possible by varying the type of paint, how it is applied, and the support.”

After a full day of ebook workshops early in 2013, I found that taking a break and sitting in front of this painting at MOMA to be a very relaxing moment.

2013_07_TOCCON_NYC_11

I then started to notice that people walking by had one of two reactions: to laugh at it or to experience it.

2013_07_TOCCON_NYC_12

Admittedly, it begs the question “What is art?” in a museum full of beautiful and fantastical pieces.

2013_07_TOCCON_NYC_13

To me, it spoke of limitless possibilities that can still exist within boundaries.

2013_07_TOCCON_NYC_14

Sometimes we crave something stimulating in order to recharge. A brand new view.

Other times, we simply want rest.

2013_07_TOCCON_NYC_15

Rest in this view.

We have explored how the longest name in the world in an ebook about world records did (or did not) wrap on ereaders. Then we explored how a soft-hyphenation character entity could be used to make the word wrap.

This post follows up with how that same character entity can throw a wrench into the works … because, after all, this wouldn’t be ebook production without a solution immediately causing a problem!

Rick Gordon asked me if the soft-hyphenation character entity broke the dictionary and search functions in ereaders. I inserted the entity into the first instance of the word “language” in the introduction:

The word language with a soft-hyphenation character entity

And here are the results:

THE ENTITY AND FUNCTIONALITY
Ereader Engine Dictionary Works Search Works
Adobe RMSDK
Adobe Digital Editions v2.0 n/a YES
Nook Color NO NO
Kindles (EPUB pushed through KP)
Kindle iPad App YES YES
Kindle Mac Desktop App YES YES
Kindle Fire HD YES YES
Kindle Paperwhite YES YES
Kindle mobi (in KP) n/a n/a
Kobos
Kobo Eink: Aura YES YES
Kobo App for Android NO NO
Kobo App for iPad NO n/a
Web-based Ereaders
EPUBReader in Firefox YES YES
Readium in Chrome YES YES
iBooks NO YES

Does the soft hyphenation character entity work on ereaders? Yes.

Does the entity work with the dictionary function? Depends. Sadly, NookColor and iBooks don’t play nice. iBooks? Wow! Kindles FTW.

Does the entity work with the search function? Depends. That’s fine except for NookColor. This may or may not be a problem for you, depending on your consumer base and/or your ability to predict the future.

Takeaway

If you are producing an ebook intended only for Amazon, you are in luck … as of June 2013.

If you are producing an ebook intended for iBooks, Kobo, or Nook … well, you may or may not care. Use at your discretion.

I think I’ve exhausted this investigation into soft hyphens in ebooks. I thank all for their input.

On that note, does anybody know an iBooks developer to whom I can send these results?

Screenshots
As always, click to make ‘em larger.
Adobe RMSDK-based ereaders
Kindles
Kobos
Web-based Ereaders

Adobe RMSDK-based ereaders

Nook Color

dictionary_NookColor

Kindles

Kindle iPad App

dictionary_Kindle_iPad

Kindle Mac Desktop App

dictionary_Kindle_Mac

Kindle Fire HD

dictionary_Kindle_Fire_yes

Kindle Paperwhite

dictionary_Kindle_Paperwhite

Kobos

Thank you Laura Brady for the screenshots.

Kobo Eink: Aura

dictionary_Kobo_eInk

Kobo App for Android

dictionary_Kobo_Android

Kobo App for iPad

dictionary_Kobo_iOS

Web-based Ereaders

EPUBReader in Firefox

dictionary_Firefox_EPUBReader

Readium in Chrome

dictionary_Chrome_Readium

iBooks

dictionary_iBooks_no

So Mr. Hubert Wolfe+585, Senior, was giving us trouble last week. During the QA review for the ebook version of The Book of Word Records the longest name in the world quickly became our longest e-problem in the world. (Did you know he was a typesetter? I don’t know whether to scorn him or admire him.) Last week I posted screenshots of how his name rendered on ereaders. The name is so long that it is essentially one paragraph of unbroken letters. If you know ebooks, you know that the inconsistent rendering of hyphenation is a problem. In this case some ereaders didn’t render hyphens, some rendered hyphens for the last few lines only, and only two ereaders (actually, ereader apps for the iPad) rendered hyphens correctly at the end of every line.

The solution is to manually insert soft hyphens into the name (thank you India and Nick). Let’s end the suspense. Here are the before and after results:

HYPHENATION RENDERING IN LONGEST NAME IN THE WORLD (EPUB2)
Ereader Engine Hyphenation
WITHOUT soft hyphens
Hyphenation
WITH soft hyphens
Adobe RMSDK
Adobe Digital Editions v2.0 last line only all lines
Nook Color last few lines only all lines
Kindles (EPUB pushed through KP)
Kindle iPad App all lines all lines
Kindle Mac Desktop App no lines all lines
Kindle Fire HD no lines all lines, see screenshot
Kindle Paperwhite no lines all lines
Kindle mobi (in KP) no lines no lines
Kobos
Kobo Eink: Aura last few lines only all lines
Kobo App for Android no lines all lines, see screenshot
Kobo App for iPad all lines all lines
Web-based Ereaders
EPUBReader in Firefox word doesn’t wrap all lines
Readium in Chrome word doesn’t wrap all lines
iBooks word doesn’t wrap all lines

But now I had to figure out where to insert the soft hyphens. The first thing I did, for kicks, was to insert a soft hyphen after every letter in the name. This yielded the exact results I expected: it crashed ADE. (Yeah, ADE ain’t all that but usually if something crashes ADE, it will crash ereader devices.) I briefly considered going to my copy chief but then I thought I’d try a little sleuthing myself before my problem became her problem. I went to Wikipedia, copied Mr. Hubert Wolfe+585‘s name, and pasted it into Dreamweaver.

Wikipedia entry

Wikipedia entry pasted into Dreamweaver

Hyphens appeared in (what looks to me) appropriate places in the name! So I manually replaced each hyphen with a soft hyphen and ended up with 76 soft hyphens (down from the 589 soft hyphens after each letter).

Here’s the paragraph ready for prime time in Dreamweaver:

Dreamweaver with ­ inserted

And here’s the paragraph in a variety of ereaders:
Adobe RMSDK-based ereaders
Kindles
Kobos
Web-based Ereaders

Adobe RMSDK-based ereaders

Adobe Digital Editions v2.0

Adobe Digital Editions v2.0

Nook Color

Nook Color

Kindles

Kindle iPad App

Kindle iPad App

Kindle Mac Desktop App

Kindle Mac Desktop App

Kindle Fire HD

Note the space automatically inserted before the soft hyphens

Kindle Fire HD

Kindle Paperwhite

Kindle Paperwhite

Kindle mobi (Kindle Previewer)

Kindle mobi (Kindle Previewer)

Kobos

Thank you Laura Brady for the screenshots.

Kobo Eink: Aura

Kobo Eink

Kobo App for Android

Note the space automatically inserted before the soft hyphens

Kobo App for Android

Kobo App for iPad

Kobo App for iPad

Web-based Ereaders

EPUBReader in Firefox

EPUBReader in Firefox

Readium in Chrome

Readium in Chrome

iBooks

iBooks

Takeaway

So if you ever find yourself needing to split a record-breaking word give soft hyphens a try. One caveat: these are EPUB2 files and this soft hyphen is a named character entity, as Jorge reminds us:

Name_Twitter_AFTER

Is this solution future-proof and will it work in EPUB3? It remains to be seen.

UPDATE LATER IN THE DAY: Rick tells us that there is indeed a numeric character entity for the soft hyphenation character (remember that named character entities are not allowed in EPUB3):

Good advice

And I’m encouraged to put these into action by John:

More good advice

I put the numeric character entity to the test:

Name_ENTITY

… and the results in the table above are still sound. Sometimes it takes a village! I’m encouraged by this testing and, although this is a manual one-at-a-time process, this feels like one itty bitty step towards better ebook typography. Please let me know if you have additional devices you would like to see added to the table.

If you want to learn more about the history of soft hyphenation for the web then you’ll want to read this very thorough account. I found this paragraph particularly illuminating:

Conceivably, people want fast solutions to their problems. When we see the problems which arise from Web browsers using no hyphenation, we pay attention to the worst cases and wish we could solve at least them, and solve them now. The simple idea of giving an explicit hyphenation hint suggests itself. Several popular text processing programs allow you to enter “hidden hyphenation hints” that are normally invisible. This is probably how people started thinking that there must be a character for the purpose, and when one looks at the ISO Latin 1 specification, what else could one use but soft hyphen?

No, this solves nothing. But at it least sheds light on why browser hyphenation is such an issue.

Finally, on a lighter note, you can listen to Mr. Hubert Wolfe+585′s name pronounced here:

A print designer called me over to her desk this week during an ebook review in Adobe Digital Editions to show me something I had never seen before.

That’s always a good start to the workday, right?

ADE v1.7

PRINT DESIGNER: “There are some crazy long words that drag on across 2 pages in some places.”
ME: “… . Let me think on that a bit!”

The first thing I do in these situations is to take it to Twitter:

Help!

Then I thought of the first thing I should have asked her.

ME: “What version of ADE are you using?”
PRINT DESIGNER: “Looks like v1.7.”
ME: “Oh! Okay, update to v2.0. I’ll send you the link. Adobe doesn’t push updates for ADE.”
(I go get another cup of coffee while she installs v2.0.)
PRINT DESIGNER: “Problem solved!”

Of course, it’s not as simple as that. (For the small amount of our readers who may be using ADE v1.7 … well, I draw the line at optimizing our ebooks for out-of-date ereaders.) Knowing how ereaders mess with my head render content inconsistently, the day ahead included some testing. I’ve compiled these screenshots for your viewing pleasure and for the advancement of humankind.

Here’s the paragraph in question:

Adolph Blaine Charles David Earl Frederick Gerald Hubert Irvin John Kenneth Lloyd Martin Nero Oliver Paul Quincy Randolph Sherman Thomas Uncas Victor William Xerxes Yancy Zeus Wolfeschlegelsteinhausenbergerdorffvoralternwarengewissenhaftschaferswessenschafewarenwohlgepflegeundsorgfaltigkeitbeschutzenvonangreifendurchihrraubgierigfeindewelchevoralternzwolftausendjahresvorandieerscheinenwanderersteerdemenschderraumschiffgebrauchlichtalsseinursprungvonkraftgestartseinlangefahrthinzwischensternartigraumaufdersuchenachdiesternwelchegehabtbewohnbarplanetenkreisedrehensichundwohinderneurassevonverstandigmenschlichkeitkonntefortplanzenundsicherfreuenanlebenslanglichfreudeundruhemitnichteinfurchtvorangreifenvonandererintelligentgeschopfsvonhinzwischensternartigraum, Senior.

Here’s the paragraph in Dreamweaver:

Markup (Dreamweaver)

Markup (Dreamweaver)

(updated to include the css)

css

And here’s the paragraph in a variety of ereaders:
Adobe RMSDK-based ereaders
Kindles
Kobos
Web-based Ereaders

Adobe RMSDK-based ereaders = passable

Adobe Digital Editions v2.0

ADE v2.0

Nook Color

Nook Color

Kindles = passable

Kindle iPad App

Kindle iPad App

Kindle Mac Desktop App

Kindle Mac Desktop App

Kindle Fire HD

Name_Kindle_Fire

Kindle Paperwhite

Kindle Paperwhite

Kindle mobi (Kindle Previewer)

Kindle mobi

There’s some ereaders I’ve skipped (sorry Kobo!). Laura Brady kindly testing this paragraph for Kobo:

Kobos = passable

Kobo Eink: Aura

Kobo Eink

Kobo App for Android

Kobo App for Android

Kobo App for the iPad

Kobo App for the iPad

I deem all these passable because I didn’t have to do anything special to the long word to make it wrap and, in some cases, hyphens were even included (small victories!). Clearly, Kindle App for the iPad and Kobo App for the iPad are the winners. The word breaks with appropriately-placed hyphens. Who woulda thunk it?

Web-based Ereaders =
I expected more from you!

EPUBReader in Firefox

EPUBReader in Firefox

Readium in Chrome

Readium in Chrome

iBooks

iBooks

Web-based ereaders are simply allowing the word to wander off the page into oblivion.

The thing about this testing is that it’s interesting and valuable, but loading ebooks onto ereaders and compiling screen shots takes a long problem and makes it even longer. Anybody have tips to alleviate that process?

boy, that escalated quickly

Several Twitter friends recommended hyphenation solutions. I’ll be tackling that next.

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