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FeldsparTech

Online Reading — Why it fails for some formats

Vivek Kodira
Updated on ・3 min read

Did you know that the world does not know whom to credit as the inventor of E-books? There are contenders for the title from as far back as 1946. Ref

For you and me, our first time experiencing e-books were as PDF documents. These were typically technical journals and pirated scanned versions of popular books.

It took some time for traditional publishers to accept this new format and begin selling them but since then e-books have exploded. Project Gutenberg now has over 60000 books one can read for free. For many of us, E-books are now the preferred format. This could be for several reasons:

  1. Cost (an e-book is typically cheaper than the physical alternative)
  2. Space (e-books don’t take up any space. You can carry a thousand on a holiday)
  3. Convenience (you can read an e-book in the dark)
  4. Environmental impact (e-books don’t need paper and so fewer )

But even the most ardent fans of the format will admit that there are disadvantages.

  1. With e-books we lose the tactile experience of touching and feeling a physical book
  2. Some formats, graphic novels, comics and childrens’ books for instance do not lend themselves to an e-book format The second disadvantage is the focus of this blog.

Graphic Novels and Comics as Ebooks

With the limited screen real estate in small devices, text such as speech bubbles in graphic novels and comics are often not seen clearly. Google and Amazon, the big two players in the e-book market both address this in similar ways — by zooming in certain portions of the page.

Amazon’s Guided view
Alt Text

Google’s Bubble Zoom enhances speech bubbles in each panel. Amazon’s Guided View navigates a comic panel-by-panel

These approaches address one problem but end up creating another. Arbitrarily zooming in on certain portions and truncating others may make the text legible but harm the overall experience.

The focus on the textual content mean that user loses out on experiencing the art.

How do you do justice to art?

Graphic Novels, comics and Childrens’ books are as much about the illustrations and the art as the story.

Watchmen

The art in such books are a labour of love and painstakingly detailed. Mobile Form factors do not render these as originally intended by the artist.

Gosu

Artists and authors recognize the issue and are beginning to address this problem in new ways. Webtoons, a site with mostly South Korean artists, formats all content in vertical panels with very large text bubbles — this is art designed specifically for consumption on mobile devices.

Graphics are not just for entertainment

Before we dismiss this problem as trivial and relevant only to entertainment, consider that graphics are an integral portion of most technical manuals. To quote a cliche “a picture is worth a thousand words”.

Today, graphical novels are being used for more than just comics. Google has used them to explain the inner workings of a browser. Universities use them to explain copyright laws. So this isn’t a challenge to be taken lightly.

Where do we go from here?

Content creators are evolving to produce art that is more easily rendered on mobile devices. E-book stores are creating technology to help improve a consumer’s experience of consuming such content. However, convenience and market forces are not the only driving factors. As technology makes them more affordable, people who can afford it, are moving to other larger form factors such as tablets. These solve the problem of real estate.

At FeldsparTech, one of our design tenets is to model technology after nature and the real world. We believe that reading a digital book should be as similar to reading a physical one as we can make it. And that everything else that consuming digital media typically entails (algorithms, annoying ads) should be removed or reduced from the user’s experience.

References

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