A trade journal of a still-emerging field, written by Adam Tinworth.

One of my sorta-but-not-really New Year’s Resolutions is to read books a little more. Not paper books necessarily, but book-length pieces of work. And I was doing just that on my Kindle Fire tablet a few days ago, when a notice popped up offering me a new font. Well, as a very low-key typographic geek, how could I resist?

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Bookerly, Amazon’s new Kindle font:

Choosing Bookerly

And here’s a sample of it in use:

Bookerly sample

It’s very nice, isn’t it? Like a lot of people, I’d assumed that Amazon had little regard for typography since the Kindle Voyage (a lovely device, which I will get around to reviewing at some point) shipped without any new typefaces to match its lovely new, Retina-style screen.

As Jason Snell put it, in his Voyage review:

Unfortunately, Amazon has invested all of this effort in improved reading technology only to find itself completely at sea when it comes to typography. The Voyage still only offers six typefaces–many of them poor choices for this context–and still force-justifies every line (with no hyphenation!), creating variable-length gaps between words just so the right margin is straight rather than ragged. A device that’s dedicated to words on a page, one with a screen this beautiful, deserves better type options.

This is a nice indication that perhaps the Kindle team do care, after all.

Rather bafflingly, though, right now this only seems available on the Fire tablets Bookerly is now available on the Fire tablets and on iOS devices, and not on the Kindle readers, the devices that would benefit the most, surely? It’s had the effect of making me slightly disappointed every time I switch back to reading on my Voyage, which is surely not the intended effect.

[UPDATE] As of August 2015, Bookerly is now on E Ink Kindles

  • jonathan munn

    This Bookerly typeface is adequate, but barely so; to the extent of getting poked in the eye just once a day is better than getting poked every hour.

    The overall impression is pale and wishy-washy. If you want the detailed analysis, read on.

    Screen fonts tend to lack crispness, this is both an artefact of screen technology which tend to use antialiasing [grey edges to type just don’t enhance crispness], and the fact that we tend to prefer propose less-contrasted letter forms for screens as fine lines have difficulties being adequately rendered. There is always a possibility that this is made worse by treatments of the screen shot being posted on the blog. But it doesn’t stop there…

    Screen technology, especially in things like e-readers, is more like 19th century printing [and retina or hi-res screens are still only just bringing us into the 20th century]. 19th century printing was epitomised by pretty rough paper, not too efficient ink, and a not very high regard for printing quality. This meant that letterforms that were a bit heavy and lacked contrast were favoured as they would be less altered [polite way of saying damaged] by the process and still remain legible. [See the chapter ‘Newspaper Types’, in ‘Anatomy of a Typeface’, by Alexander Lawson.]

    This is all to say that the letterforms of the typeface are adequate for the purpose, but possess no ambition beyond this basic adequation.

    However even 19th century printing had people who, first of all, cared about their work, and also knew about typography. This means, first of all, they understood niceties like hyphenation, justification and leading. Which those responsible for your Kindle reader obviously also know about, but have chosen to ignore.

    The word spacing is out because they have chosen not to use hypenation. The algorithm that they then use to spread space along the lines, inserting it evenly between letters and words, leaves the text feeling pale and sickly. Technically we would talk about the blocks of type having a very pale colour; colour being the word to describe the impact or greyness of a block of text.

    If you want an example of this, look at the last lines of the paragraphs — “incarcerating others.” or “machines or because they were new.”. Additional spacing is not used here as the lines are not justified. This means that these are using the ‘natural’ spacing for the typeface. It is clearly visible that the space between words is much smaller than for the other lines. Some lines — the one starting “counties of the English Midlands […]” — are nearly three times the designed or optimal spacing width. And for a book type, I feel that the leading [space between lines] is slightly too great, but because this must be greater that the space between words to avoid creating vertical blocks of sense, rather than horizontal lines, it is not possible to decrease that value here.

    This extraneous space combined with a typeface that lacks contrast explains why the text feels pale and washed out.

    Finally, there is the line length: ‘Bringhurst’, in ‘The Elements of Typographical Style’, proposes a value of about 65 characters per line [45 to 75 are the limits of agreed acceptable ranges, depending on circumstances] for comfortable text reading. Here we have lines that routinely tickle 90 characters a line. This creates discomfort in reading, particularly when returning to the beginining of one line to read the next.

    Until the people who create e-readers start implementing these basic rules of typography that have been known for hundreds of years, and are generally taught to first year print and design students, the reading experience will remain poor.

    On a side note, your blog post came up in my Typography feed in Zite, but I wouldn’t have been prompted to reply here [and not is such excrutiating detail] had I not recognised St Mary de Haura peeking in on the left of your photo on the top of the page.

    • For what it’s worth, the only modification the screenshots have had is being resized in the blog software. If you click on one, you’ll get the original images.

      How do you know St Mary de Haura? I’m a Shoreham by Sea resident, so it’s pretty familiar to me…

      • jonathan munn

        Did look at the large size images, thanks.

        As far as I can see no e-reader [software or device] of any make/brand currently gives a reading experience equivalent to even rough printing. Which is surprising as, mostly, the technological problems are solved. This means that it doesn’t matter to public [or to people making the software/devices]. If makers wanted they could [as I stated], so obviously it is the public who is not shouting for this… Why I wonder? [Personally I find it so annoying that everytime I try an e-reader I finish by wanting to throw it across the room…]

        Yet, from your post, it seems to please you… What is your reading experience here — for example, in comparaison to a paperback?

        [How did I recognise St Mary? Was born in Shoreham and go back to see the family there from time to time. Small world!]

        • It pleases me in relative rather than absolute terms – it improves on what was there before, and is an indication that Amazon might be taking steps towards improving the typography on Kindles, which has languished as the hardware has improved. It’s still inferior to many (most?) paperbacks, but the other advantages of ebooks outright that for me in all but a tiny minority of (hardback) cases.

          • Hmm. I find the Bookerly font is so faint on the Kindle that is unreadable. For me, it’s going backwards.

        • Ewan Marshall

          Okay, computer scientist here, time to explain the technical facts on
          this one. No we can not do perfect automatic typesetting in real time.
          Yes we have algorithms to do it, but 1) they are not perfect (neither is
          manually doing it, but more on that in a bit) 2) they do not operate in
          real time. They are not fast enough to work on any device that allows
          the user to change font size, margins including your desktop they take a
          good few seconds to compute on a modern high end gaming PC… Amazon do
          a very good job on the kindle all things considered but we are at the
          limits of what we can do in an embedded device like the kindle unless
          you want to be waiting minutes for the book to load and also drain your
          batteries really fast.

          Now as I said, they are not perfect and no
          system can be, as things like hyphenating the wrong word in the wrong
          context it can accidentally convey the wrong meaning, Therapist ->
          the-rapist for example, part of an editors job is to go through the
          final document and manually check for such errors that could end with
          libel/defamation lawsuits, there is no automated way to do this checking
          as one needs to fully understand the language it’s written in. Finally
          different languages have different rules for typesetting and so one
          needs to program all these rule sets in, lets not assume everyone is
          reading an English book on their e-reader.

          For more I suggest you
          check out these 2 youtube videos which demonstrate just how intensive
          and problematic such typesetting really is:

          • James Kellar

            Kobo ereaders can justify and create hypens in close to real time.

    • K. P. Badertscher

      Line length is actually shorter on the Kindle reader devices than what you see in these Kindle Fire screenshots. Also, it is adjustable by the reader by way of changing font size and margins. The best typographer in the world can’t make a paper book look good to every reader’s preference.

      The inter-word spacing situation is improving, too (if it hasn’t already), as auto-hyphenation is being added to the newest Kindle software. Leading is already adjustable by the reader to suit individual preferences.

      A device with a relatively large screen like the Kindle Fire or an iPad is generally not the best way to read text anyway. The Kindle reader form factor and system software more closely approximates books than most reader software for tablets and computer screens. With new fonts designed for the screen and ongoing improvements in the Kindle renderer, the e-reader experience is getting better all the time.

  • Julianne

    So how can I get Bookerly on my Kindle Fire HD? Or is it available?

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