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Typesetting for glass

Raphael Freeman: Everything old is new again, as the arguments for and against desktop publishing on computers are repeating themselves in the e-book age
A woman uses translation software on her iPad (Photo credit: Danna Hymanson/Flash90)
A woman uses translation software on her iPad (Photo credit: Danna Hymanson/Flash90)

It was rather serendipitous that I was in university studying a unique combination of subjects, Computer Science and Printing and Photographic Technology, that the desktop publishing (DTP) revolution was in full force. In my first year we were inputting text on a Commodore 64 and then using a special workstation to output to bromide at £5 a printout (which was a lot of dosh in 1989). The next year was spent playing with QuarkXPress on an Apple Mac and we had a laser printer.What I didn’t realise at the time, that there were many who opposed DTP. On the one hand, it was a fraction of the price to create newsletters and books, but those in opposition were horrified at the lack of good kerning, true small caps, text figures, and the list goes on, but for a kid at university this was incredibly exciting for me. By my final year, I had Aldus Pagemaker running on my 386DX Windows 3.11 computer and my trusted HP DeskJet 500 printer (which I would refill with Quink) and was DTPing away!

Of course DTP as it was once called (and often still is) caught up to traditional typesetting and anybody familiar with Adobe InDesign knows that with professional grade OpenType fonts, there is very little InDesign cannot do very well typographically.

Enter the iPad and the Kindle.

I’m not sure actually sure what came first, the Kindle or the iPad but it’s not important. The statistics speak for themselves. The number of people purchasing books that are read on glass or plastic screens is dazzling be in on a tablet device or even a smartphone. We cannot ignore this phenomenon. Anybody who says that the future of books is eBooks is mistaken. To quote Ilan Greenfield, the publisher of Gefen Publishing House, “eBooks are not the future. They are the now” and he is absolutely right.

Rather than enter the debate as to the whether people still want physical books now or are we are ready for eBooks, or go down the slippery discussion of the halakhic ramifications of digital eBooks, I would rather view this phenomenon from the perspective of the typesetter and book publisher of print and digital books.

However, I will point out that for those of you who think that we religious Jews will always have print books, I should point out that in order to print a book you need paper manufacturing, printing plates, presses, ink and the list goes on, oh but don’t worry, Chazal made a provision for this by making us have Chazrat HaShatz.

But back to the plot. I’m more interested in the same arguments that happened 25 years ago. Look at a Kindle book, and how the text is presented. After the initial excitement that we can change the size of the text, suddenly the typesetter inside me wonders about rivers and leading and it doesn’t take long before I start noticing the lack of kerning, the poor tracking, ligatures, optical margin alignment, small caps, text figuresOh dear, I’ve turned into one of those people who opposed DTP…

This is worse than 25 years ago. Much worse. As a typesetter I can’t even control any of this. There is no concept of typesetting a book for Kindle. It’s simply a text dump with some very basic formatting. Is this where we are? Yet people are buying books in this rudimentary format by the truckload. We have indeed regressed. All that hard work by the folks at Quark, Adobe, Ventura to make it possible to create great looking books just went down the toilet…

Well I guess I can’t control everything.

Interestingly Apple has come up with an answer. It allows two kinds of formats onto their iBookstore. The first is ePub which is usually (but not always) as crude in the text presentation as a Kindle book, but also allows a special .ibooks format that can only be created with Apple’s proprietary, but free, iBooks Author software. In true Apple form, it’s pretty buggy, but it allows you to actually typeset for glass.

Unfortunately, the only way the consumer knows that the book s/he is choosing for iPad has actually been typeset professionally is by noticing the “Made for iBooks” logo when choosing the book.

Fortunately, there are Jewish websites such as Renana Books, where all the books have been typeset in iBooks Author making the reading experience on your iPad or Mac on par with your print book.

Now time to go and buy yourself a iPad mini with Retina display.

About the Author
Raphaël is the Publisher at Renana Publishers. He previously held executive positions at the Jerusalem Post and more recently at Koren Publishers Jerusalem.
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