Style in ebooks is a difficult thing and it has to do with the fact that electronic reading software, wether it’s on smartphones, tablets or e-ink devices, is not very good at following standards. Others would say it has to do with the fact that those standards are no good, or that there are a lot of awfully styled ebooks and because of this, electronic reading software makers had no other choice but to ignore a lot of styling aspects to make those books look presentable on their platform. Margins are ignored, fonts are ignored and basically the best you can do to make your ebook look good on every platform is stick with as little styling as you can.
This lowest common denominator of ebook styles is understandable, but it is also regrettable. In an ideal situation all ebook reading software supports all EPUB features and ebook creators would all be experienced professionals in styling using these features with care, creating the most wonderfully styled ebooks. Unfortunately that’s not the case and we’re stuck with this lowest common denominator. The alternative would be to design ebooks specifically for each and every platform. Right now that would be a costly enterprise and I doubt that anybody except the biggest publishers would have the money for that.
An alternative would be that readers flock to only the best ebook reading software, the kind that supports the best looking ebooks. That woud be great! Are you reading your ebook on a rusty old piece of crap software that forgot that time is moving on, or are you reading it on a brand new standards compliant super duper kind-of ebook software? Publishers could recommend “Best read on brand X e-reading software…”. Unfortunately the ebook world is dominated by platforms and even though there are also independent ebook reading solutions, my guess is that they are only used by a minority of ebook readers.
Most ebook readers never make it beyond Kindle, iBooks and Kobo. I don’t blame them, these are pretty good platforms that make it real easy on you to buy and read ebooks. But these platforms have not, in my view, the best e-reading software. They have all adopted the lowest common denominator philosophy and I feel they are not really pushing for innovation and adoption of the newest standards.
One way of fixing this would be for readers to start ditching ebook platforms and switch to independent ebook stores and independent ebook reading software and be aware of the quality of ebooks and which software is of the highest standard. This seems like an unlikely thing to happen, since everybody I talk to is convinced that platforms are the future and most readers are probably too lazy to make this effort. I know I was until a short while ago. But I started to get annoyed by vendor lock-in and now I’m exploring my possibilities as a reader, testing out different ebook reading software, buying in different ebook stores to see what I like best in search of the best reading experience.
Perhaps we should be looking for a new platform? A platform that fixes what’s wrong with the ebook world right now. A platform that’s focused on the highest standards out there. A platform focused on innovation that ditches the lowest common denominator. This thought reminds me of the beginning of the internet age, the Nineties. The pre-Google age. Search was synonymous with AltaVista and Yahoo. That was it and a lot of other very bad search engines. And then suddenly something happened that nobody saw coming. Google arrived and it changed everything. I would very much like it if something similar happened in the ebook world. Everybody seems to think that Amazon has won the ebook war. They rule. But what if somebody came up with something better? Ahh, wouldn’t that be nice? Would you switch within a heartbeat? I think I would. Why not? As a reader of ebooks I’m looking for the best reading experience and it’s unlikely I’m going to find it with the lowest common denominator.