eBook Font Suggestions Sought

oldnick's picture

Just in case anyone’s interested, I got a phone call from my brother Jim on Saturday, informing me that my favorite nephew—a bright, gifted but troubled soul— committed suicide the night before. Evidently, he simply didn’t want to go on living in this f*cked-up world. OTOH, with the serial idiocy posted by quadibloc and 5star in the “Who is Luc…” thread, I can’t say as I blame him.

Anyhow, over the course of ten days in late June to early July, I put together some thoughts on the current FUBAR state of the world, how we got here, and how we can move on—IMHO, of course. Well, I think that it's time to publish it as a eBook. The source file is currently a Word document; however, I probably ought to set it up in INDD—I really dislike Word's solution to vertical justification. You can find the first chapter here…


...which you may or may not be able to download; despite the fact that I have confirmed that the file exists on my server, neither Firefox nor Internet Explorer can locate it as I type. Perhaps it’s an indexing problem, which will correct itself soon.…or not, with the way my luck has been going lately.

Right now, it’s set up in Georgia, which I personally find to be warm, inviting and easy to read—at least, to my tired old eyes. Plus, it's semi-ubiquitous across platforms—which ought to mean that Acrobat could simply embed the font as it is; instead, this single chapter has around 50 subsetted TTFs in it. Really? See FILE > PROPERTIES > FONTS. Anyhow, given the subject matter or just on a whim, could anyone suggest a more suitable typeface?

Oh. And forgive me if I seem a bit out of sorts. I think that I am at the Anger stage of dealing with my loss, so I might be a bit peckish…sorry if I have offended anyone.

oldnick's picture

Okay—this link appears to work…


BTW: sorry—the language is a little coarse in places, but that’s how real people talk sometimes. And…for some reason, I can’t edit the original post: “a eBook” should be “an eBook”…

hrant's picture

Very sad to hear about your nephew.


oldnick's picture

Thank you, Hrant.

Oh. I inadvertently posted the whole book earlier, so the 50+ subsetted fonts figure isn't accurate: Acrobat only subsetted thirteen fonts. I replaced the original file with an edited on. My bad.

timd's picture

Condolences on your loss.

In my, admittedly very limited, experience, ebooks can be a disaster (typographically) if you are looking at producing it for Kindle or the other e-readers – a recent one I tried converted everything to Boton, which was used for a header style in the original printed document. You might want to look at the conversion to a Kindle file before you make a final decision.


ldavidson's picture

Dedicated e-readers (Kindle, Nook, Kobo, etc.) have their own built-in fonts. Using the built-in fonts, supposedly optimized for the e-ink display, is encouraged, and embedding fonts in an e-book is discouraged.

To discuss this with some passionate amateur e-book creators, try the mobileread.com forums, and post in the "Workshop" or "ePub" forum. You can also get sample ebooks in several formats from the library there. The proofreading and formatting far exceeds what you find at PG, and the best people there do better work than I've seen from the big publishers.

charles ellertson's picture

EPUB is probably hopeless. But PDF isn't what it use to be, and InDesign's got some useful new tools if you want to do both a print & electronic edition.

Apparently Amazon started selling pdfs a year ago. The pdfs are categorized/advertised as print replicas.

From The Digital Reader website:


From Amazon itself:


Hope that's of some interest, and sorry for your loss.

oldnick's picture


Does INDD CS3 have the tools for generating the different versions? I hope so, because that’s what I got.

And, thanks to the rest of you for your suggestions. BTW, did anyone read the chapter? It’s kinda funny (ha-ha funny) in some places…IMHO.

charles ellertson's picture

Does INDD CS3 have the tools for generating the different versions?

Ah, no. But in your particular case, if you're not planning a print version anyway...

I threw in the stuff about the changes to InDesign to show a certain legitimacy, a seriousness of the PDF product, not as something you need to have. Obviously, PDF has been available all along, but always came with too-large margins for most digital readers, and (usually) a need to scroll on the page too often.

In general:

Unless there are a lot of images, tables, etc., it's not particularly hard to just do two versions by hand. I can usually take a book of scholarly-monograph-level complexity (subheads, extracts, lists, etc.) & "redesign" and reset it in about four hours. That includes changing the typeface to a worked-over OpenSource set of fonts to avoid licensing issues where I don't know just what my customer might do. It does NOT include fixing an index. To keep page-for-page while changing the margins is doable, but does require planing ahead, and some small compromises.

I've done a coupe of these as books to test out the notion, but it isn't something we do for customers yet, because all they want these days is EPUB format. Marketing considerations always trump design issues, don't you know.

Probably neither of us will live long enough to see the end of the device wars, and as long as device is a significant part of marketing, I don't think PDF is going to be a primary format. I mean, if something will run on anybody's reader, what's the point? ("It isn't done until Lotus 1-2-3 won run!")

I do believe though, that there will come a time when the digital editions are *designed* and *typeset* just like print editions. And just like print, the (human) reader won't be able to change the typeface or spatial relationships.

J. Tillman's picture

"I do believe though, that there will come a time when the digital editions are *designed* and *typeset* just like print editions. And just like print, the (human) reader won't be able to change the typeface or spatial relationships."

I think the human reader, otherwise known as the customer, wants just the opposite. The reader wants to choose his favorite font. So I think we are headed in the opposite direction. And I would think that soon readers will be able to license a particular font right from their e-reader, just like they can buy (license) a book. The web font concept will be old school.

hrant's picture

The reader wants to choose his favorite font.

Designers shouldn't give readers what they [consciously] want - we should give them what they need. Sort of like you can't let your kids have chocolate cake for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Wise readers (admittedly an increasingly rare breed) know to relinquish typographic control to typographers.


R.'s picture

hrant: Wise readers (admittedly an increasingly rare breed) know to relinquish typographic control to typographers.

Slightly off-topic: What does ‘increasingly’ contribute to the content of your sentence? It feels like a trite one-word dirge to the good old times and there doesn’t even seem to be any factual basis for assuming that things have become worse. Has there ever been a time when readers technically had full control of typeface choice and still wisely left it to typographers to do the right thing? I don’t think so. And it’s specifically in such cases that I dislike these clandestinely whining sentences. Or is it more than that?

hrant's picture

I'm glad you asked. :-) I believe the disease of self-importance -which is promulgated by a system that realizes people are easier to control and usurp when you flatter them- has been spreading at the expense of the sober modesty of knowing one's limits. Our kids are now told things like: "You can be president if you just want to!!" Such delusions make their futures worse, not better. People are increasingly unwilling -in essence unable- to submit to other people's expertise, and this includes [not] changing the font.

A notable detail here is that people typically choose a font size that's too large for comfortable extended reading. This has been empirically shown, and it makes perfect sense to anybody who has an appreciation of text/unconscious typography as opposed to mere display/conscious typography.


charles ellertson's picture

I think the human reader, otherwise known as the customer, wants just the opposite. The reader wants to choose his favorite font. So I think we are headed in the opposite direction. And I would think that soon readers will be able to license a particular font right from their e-reader, just like they can buy (license) a book.

Hmm. Glad I won't be around much longer. Designers are bad enough. Up in the Old Hotel set in Perpetua. And poorly. Indeed.

The Pacific set in Jenson. All the horrors of WWII brought to you via the Italian renaissance. Some (sort of human) reader would want to use Goudy Old Style, no doubt.

Or are you just smelling increased sales of *product*?

J. Tillman's picture

Charles_e, Its about giving the reader the best possible reading experience. Who knows more about the tastes of Idamae Jackson in Omaha? You or Idamae?

Hrant, I think readers are smart. Readers will find a font they like through trial and error, fiddling around, talking to their neighbors, and so on. This is how a carpenter finds the best hammer for himself. And how a walker finds the best shoes for herself. This is how the system works best--when customers choose. And how does the system work worst? When a government-designated or self-designated expert makes one product and everyone is forced to use that product. (Talk about a "disease of self-importance"!) That doesn't ever work.

hrant's picture

Reading is not about taste. Intelligence does not replace expertise. Yes, you need to listen to your carpenter too. The customer cannot always be right; wise customers know this. But it's hard to be wise when the system tells peons they can change the world simply by wanting to. Wanting is over-rated.


J. Tillman's picture

Hrant, are you the self-designated font expert? Perhaps you're ogling that future font czar position in Washington DC? Advice: Do not get caught calling the readers "peons" on the internet.

Seriously, I believe that font competition, in the near future, may be at the retail, individual buyer level. Just like shoes and hammers. Buyers will be able to pay a few bucks to use the font, only on their own e-reader. Maybe you can buy a set of fonts (text, caption, header, subheading, and chapter title) for twenty five bucks, for your own e-reader only. I definitely would buy a charles_e recommended package. But a Lindsay Lohan or Charles Barkley recommended package sounds good, too.

Unlike most other products, fonts have, historically, not been sold at the individual retail level. This may be changing.

hrant's picture

You're a peon and so am I.

About the future, you may be correct. Sadly.


charles ellertson's picture

Yup. Modern times in the U.S. is all about "me" and "feelin' good." I'd just be another old man griping about that young generation, except... three million manufacturing jobs currently unfilled (according to 60 Minutes). Apparently all the high school grads were doing was touchy-feely, feelin' good stuff. Can't write a sentence, can't look things up in a trig table.

Wonder how many have their own, individual font?

ldavidson's picture

Typographers? Publishers don't use no stinkin' typographers. The current practice is for the publisher to tell the conversion hacker to throw in a copy of Charis SIL in every book they convert to electronic form, along with some cobbled-up xhtml.

dstdenis's picture

Condolences on the loss of your nephew.

The latest formats for Kindle (Kindle Format 8, or azw3) and EPUB allow publishers to embed fonts in their ebooks. But I'd second the comment from ldavidson that embedded fonts don't always look good, especially when using e-ink readers. For example, Random House embedded Georgia in the Kindle version of John Grisham's latest book, The Racketeer. You'd think this font would look good on an e-reader, especially the Kindle Paperwhite, which has higher pixel density than most other e-ink readers. But it looks a bit off -- the thin parts of the glyphs seem too thin, at least to my eyes. Meanwhile, the built-in fonts, Palatino and Baskerville, for example, look much better, because these particular versions have been optimized for the device. (The Racketeer looks fine with Georgia on an iPad 3, however, because of the higher pixel density, I suppose.)

Some publishers are having trouble formatting their ebooks in KF8, particularly when migrating the file from a word processor like MSFT Word through the KindleGen software. Apparently Word leaves specific font size and typeface encoding in the file that can make it impossible for the user to select one of the built-in fonts. These problems can also mess up the font sizes. So if you're considering formatting your ebook in KF8, here's a link to a forum thread with an explanation of how to avoid these problems (see the post from mrlasers on Nov 7).

BTW, I was recently reading Matthew Butterick's description of his Equity typeface, and it occurred to me that it might work well on an e-ink reader. I licensed Equity and used Calibre to embed it in a KF8 sample. I think it works well, and I prefer it to the built-in Baskerville and Palatino fonts. I realize Matthew wasn't thinking about e-ink readers when he designed Equity, and some typographers might advise against using a condensed face for long-form reading, but I think it's cool that it works so well, at least to my eyes.

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