Home » Amazon, Kindle » The Kindle Finally Gets Typography That Doesn’t Suck

The Kindle Finally Gets Typography That Doesn’t Suck

27 May 2015

From Co.Design:

Amazon’s Kindle e-reader is a lovely single-purpose gadget, with an industrial design ethos that, in its singular focus on the purity of e-reading, even Dieter Rams could love. The iOS and Android apps are even great. But no matter what gadget you read on, the Kindle’s typography and typesetting has always been a bit of a disaster, with six different typefaces, that are barely suitable for reading an actual book. (Who reads books in Futura, anyways?) As for the typesetting, “hideous” is the word many type lovers would use to describe it.

But today, Amazon is making a big step towards better typography on the Kindle. Not only are they unveiling Bookerly, the first typeface designed for the Kindle for scratch, but they’re finally solving the Kindle’s typesetting problems with an all-new layout engine that introduces better text justification, kerning, drop caps, image positioning, and more.

. . . .

Replacing Caecilia as the new default font for Kindle, Bookerly is a serif that has been custom-made by Amazon to be as readable across as many different types of screens as possible. Like Google’s Literata, Bookerly is meant to address many of the aesthetic issues surrounding e-book fonts.

. . . .

On low-res devices, Baskerville’s thin, elegant lines looked crude, whereas Caecilia, a slab serif, was just a bizarre choice for Amazon’s previous default font: although it’s highly readable, it’s a type of font best used for headlines, not body text, because slab serifs often look and feel bolded, even when they’re not.

Bookerly addresses both of these issues. No matter what screen you’re on, Bookerly was designed from the ground-up to be even more readable that Caecilia. According to Amazon’s internal tests, that means it’s about 2% easier on the eye. That may seem like a small improvement, but spread that 2% across millions of Kindle users and billions of pages of e-reading, and it all starts to add up.

. . . .

But to be honest, Bookerly’s not really what has me excited. The Kindle’s new layout engine? That’s another story. After almost eight years, Amazon’s finally starting to get e-book typesetting bloody right.

Previous to today’s update, when you read an e-book on the Kindle, sentences were fully justified. In other words, no matter how big your font size, Kindle’s invisible software always laid-out the page so that the left and right margins were completely straight. And it was ugly. Words were never split across lines, so there could be as many as half-a-dozen spaces between words.

. . . .

Amazon updated the Kindle app for iOS with Bookerly and a new layout engine today this morning. Another update rolling out the new font and typesetting technology to users of Amazon’s line of e-ink readers, Android, and other devices will be available later this summer.

Link to the rest at Co.Design and thanks to Nirmala for the tip.

Amazon, Kindle

60 Comments to “The Kindle Finally Gets Typography That Doesn’t Suck”

  1. OH MY GOSH YAY!!!!

    Okay. Deep breath. I am relaxed.

    Anyone know where the specs are for this thing, how you take advantage of it, what the roll-out schedule is? I’d like to know, and I’d like to adjust my books to take advantage of some of the features….

    • 😀

      Amazon needs to reprocess each book in their Kindle catalog to support the feature. They’re currently working through an extensive backlog, so if you don’t see any improvement, re-download your book, or try again later.

      And…

      Amazon updated the Kindle app for iOS with Bookerly and a new layout engine today this morning. Another update rolling out the new font and typesetting technology to users of Amazon’s line of e-ink readers, Android, and other devices will be available later this summer.

      • Maybe that’s why the product pages all look different on the US site? I thought it was because adding HTML tags to update the look of my book descriptions last night somehow screwed up the way my pc sees them…

    • They don’t need to reprocess books. They need to update the devices.

  2. Holy batter-dipped, deep-fried forest gnomes!
    Now I know what my summer project will be. Time to renovate the backlist!

  3. That’s great and all, but I believe that people who care, really care about typography, are some of the most boring people on the planet.

  4. This has been out for almost six months on Fire devices and it apparently won’t be out for months for e-ink kindles.

  5. I guess this can’t hurt, but for the most part, a good story makes you forget about minor issues with fonts, layout and such.

    I understand that design people like to get excited about such things, but most of us just don’t care a lot. It’s the same with any profession – as a data analyst, for example, I can get pretty worked up over the fine points of a statistical analysis, while my non-analyst colleagues are not interested.

  6. This sounds pretty cool, but how was this person reading in Palatino on his Kindle? Is font choice something that only Fires permit? My Touch offers only Caecilia, Caecilia Condensed, and Helvetica. So I go with Caecilia. Bookerly looks a lot prettier and a lot easier on the eye!

    Amazon needs to reprocess each book in their Kindle catalog to support the feature. They’re currently working through an extensive backlog, so if you don’t see any improvement, re-download your book, or try again later.

    Oh, my! I just reloaded all my books to update the back matter. Now it looks like I’ll be doing it all over again to be sure my ebooks have the new and nicer layout.

    ETA: Ah! Looks like Bookerly will be coming to my Touch (I hope!) in July or August. Yay!

    Another update rolling out the new font and typesetting technology to users of Amazon’s line of e-ink readers…will be available later this summer.

    I hope that means existing devices, not just newly releasing ones.

    • I honestly don’t see much difference between Caecilia and Bookerly, but I switched to Bookerly anyway, just to check it out.

      • I hated Caecilia. One of the the reasons I was so glad to switch from my original kindle ereader to my kindle fire.

        • ‘Fraid I’m another Caecilia hater. But Helvetica would be completely unreadable for me. I need those serifs! It’s true that I usually get so lost in the story that I don’t notice the font while I’m reading. But I will still be happier once Bookerly is available on my Touch.

          Please Beelzebezos, what must I sacrifice to make it so? 😉

        • Maybe THAT’S why I didn’t like my regular Kindle, but I love my Fire.

    • Bookerly has been available on the Fire tablets for almost six months. It’s the default, but you still have a choice of fonts.

      The reprocess books stuff is nonsense. It’s a device option.

  7. Hope I’m not the only one who didn’t even notice the font while reading. My Touch is set to whatever the default is and I’ve been a happy reader with it for years.

    • I might switch just for a lark. I tend to go between Caecilia, Helvetica, and Lucida. I do think Bookerly looks nice. Much better than Caecilia? Dunno.

    • Jim J. nope you are not the only one!!!

  8. Not to throw any shade on Bookerly, but was there something inherently wrong with Caecelia? I could read it just fine.

    I don’t really give a tin poop about the typeface change, but some of the other formatting stuff is really cool. I actually LIKE justified margins (reminds me of the old-school novels I used to read, like way back in the day) but I’m glad they’re trying to think about formatting changes and make improvements.

    Can we finally get the ability to drop-cap without having to insert a stupid image? Please?

  9. I never actually thought about the typeface on my Kindle Fire before. I just check and mine offers choices of Georgia, Caecilia, Trebuchet, Verdana, Arial, Times New Roman, Courier and Lucida. I’ve been using Georgia this whole time and it’s definitely my favorite of those choices.

    • Lots of people really, really, really like Georgia.
      It’s my default font on my reading apps.
      It is very well suited to eink screens and looks pretty good on LCD. But on eink it makes a big improvement.

      Unless you’re one of *those* who prefer sans serif fonts. 😉

    • …choices of Georgia, Caecilia, Trebuchet, Verdana, Arial, Times New Roman, Courier and Lucida.

      I’m jealous! 😀

    • I have Caecilia, Georgia, Palatino, Baskerville, Helvetica, and Lucida. How do you get those other fonts (Arial, Times New Roman, Courier, Trebuchet, Verdana)? Or is it book-specific? (For example, the text on my copy of a John Everson novel is different from the text on my copy of William Malmborg’s new novel…)

      • It doesn’t seem to be book specific. Maybe Fire model specific? I still have the original Fire. My daughter’s original Fire HD offers Georgia, Caecilia, Palatino, Baskerville, Helvetica and Lucida.

    • Patricia Sierra

      Another Georgia fan here. I had no idea Kindle typography is a disaster. I must have been too busy reading to notice.

  10. Stuff that happens when my epub moves to Kindle:

    My unordered lists get bullets even though the css says no bullets.
    The small caps get converted to regular text.
    Ems don’t work. (So I use percentages instead in both formats.)

    Have any of these things been fixed?
    And if they were, wouldn’t the change require a new version of kindlegen?

    • You are doing it wrong. Not meant as an insult, just that I know that that simply isn’t true if you convert an epub with Kindlegen to KF8. Either you converting to the old format or you are using the wrong tool. Describe your conversion process and I will help you fix it.

      • @William Ockham

        You are doing it wrong.

        That’s what my wife said to me last night. Different context.

        Oops! Maybe that’s TMI. Forget I said that. Where’s the delete button?

      • kindlegen -c2 file.epub -o file.mobi

        Is there a kindlegen that will convert directly to KF8?
        Will kdp let me upload a kf8 file?

        • The small-caps thing is almost certainly a font issue. The others are puzzling since you are using kindlegen. If you want to send me your epub, I will take a look. I have a gmail address which razoroftruth.

        • its better not to convert before uploading. If you upload your epub to KDP it will be converted to the various kindle formats in the best way possible. Mobi seems to have the fewest features, so converting to that first doesn’t allow you to take advantage of the better formats, kf8, azw.

          Best way to check is through kindle previewer. It will convert to and let you check all formats. Upload to a couple of devices to check, and then upload the ePub to kdp.

          • Last time I tried the Kindle previewer, it seemed seriously buggy, but I suppose I can try it again.

            Thanks for the tip. I didn’t know they took epubs. Something about their documentation leaves the impression that they want a mobi or (shudder) a Word file.

      • Or possibly they’re looking at it on a device that doesn’t support the KF8 options.

  11. I am not a fan of the word “hyphenation” with regard to ebooks. The horrors of what Adobe InDesign does with auto-hyphenation just send shivers running through me, and I don’t see how hyphenation would work in dynamic text without some form of comparable auto-hyphenation software.

    I’m going to wait and see what it looks like on an eInk Kindle before even considering re-formatting my books to take advantage of the new design features.

    • Automatic hyphenation is actually very easy to do for KF8. I built (but never released) a system that did it for English language text. Just use a well-designed dictionary component and insert soft hyphens appropriately. All you have to do is avoid hyphenating words not in your dictionary.

    • On my Kindle, I read some books in German (currently Bismark, Gedanken und Erinnerungen). There are some words in German that will not fit on one line. I have no issues with the hyphenation breaks shown on my Kindle.

  12. Yay! I long for the day when ebooks can surpass print! It has so much untapped potential.

  13. My Touch uses Caecilia, Caecilia Condensed and Helvetica, so I’ll be looking forward to the new font(s). But I’m fine with Caecilia. I have to bump the size up a bit anyway, so it’s not like it has to look like a book page.

  14. Can’t wait to figure out what the tecnical details of this really are. The Kindle ‘layout engine’ was just webkit. Did they add some open source JavaScript projects (there are good ones that do all of the stuff they announced)? Guess it is time to head over mobilereads and see what’s up.

  15. I inherently distrust someone who says that Caecilia was a bizarre choice for the default font on eInk devices. That just screams ‘I am completely ignorant of the actual technology used to render fonts on electronic devices’. It was an obvious and brilliant choice, as attested to by the fact that most people never noticed.

  16. I just spent a few minutes over at mobileread.com and I think that Amazon is doing auto hyphenation incorrectly. For example, they are hyphenating two letter syllables and that is wrong. I wonder if they would accept an offer to help. I would open source my code if they would use it.

  17. Does all this apply to devices other than Kindles? Would we see a change on a Nexus or iPad?

    • The iPad Kindle app updated yesterday with Bookerly added. That seems to be the only device that actually was updated this quarter. The Fire’s got Bookerly back in January and the e-ink kindles won’t have it until late summer.

      Kind of amazed at the clickbait power of this article to be honest.

  18. Now, if I could control fonts or view “personal documents” (stuff emailed to my kindle address) on the Kindle cloud reader….

  19. Huh. My iPhone app was updated, and I like the new font (haven’t noticed anything regarding layout), but the old font looking bolded doesn’t make sense to me. Bookerly looks a lot more bold than the old font. Maybe I wasn’t using Caecilia? I’m certain that I’ve looked for font options on the iPhone app and didn’t find them…

  20. So this is supposed to make for better typography, but typographers can’t actually — you know — USE the damned font? WHERE IS IT!?

    M

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