Small Giant Kindle
Is taller than it is wide a dead end?

The default shape of print is not taller than wide. It’s wider than tall just like all the rest, because the default shape of print is two pages side-by-side. And the reason is the same reason as the shape of TV and cinema and theater and surfing and all the rest: because we have two eyes next to each other, not one on top of the other.

I don’t even have a Kindle yet, so this isn’t meant as a specific critique of the device. And I’m sure its engineers had solid practical reasons to design the device the way they did. You can even turn it sideways when needed. It just reminded me when I went to Amazon this morning and saw images of the latest, how design principles in the wild can always be adjusted on the fly, but as soon as they’re embedded in hardware, they tend to stick around. For decades in some cases.

BUT…see furious rebuttals in comments.


  1. “The default shape of print is not taller than wide. It’s wider than tall just like all the rest, because the default shape of print is two pages side-by-side”

    Sorta – this is aimed at academics and students isn’t it? – due to the wide spread use of photocopying and printers most of the material they see *is* one page taller than wide. While the textbook can be said to follow that model and represents the bulk of the material they will purchase, the bulk of the material they will *print* is one page taller than wide – which is the very point that amazon made at the lunch – it’s to replace printing not books as such…

  2. The kindle is aimed at reading text

    Reading is still easier on pages that are portrait mode, rather than landscape, as text gets broken up into easier to blocks by the narrow page. Having a wide page means more, shorter blocks of text, or even many single lines of text instead of paragraphs.

    Take a word doc with a ton of text, and print the same thing out on portrait, and landscape mode. You’ll find it easier reading on portrait pages.

  3. The default shape of text, however, (or at least horizontal text) is taller than wide, because of eyesweep. It’s easier to read a tall, narrow block of text than a short, wide one, which is one reason why newspapers and magazines are formatted in columns. (Plus you waste a lot less space in circumstances where paragraph lengths vary widely)

  4. With the exception of my art history books, very few of my non-comic related books have two page spreads, and I seldom read two pages at a time.

    I think the biggest draw back of this device is its price tag. $500 is a lot to spend on a device with very little functionality. If I could read email on it, or write on it, then that’s another story, but $500 to read ebooks and pdf files? I have an iPhone, nuff said.

  5. The glass is not half-empty or half-full…. it is too large.

    When I use PDFs, I usually read them one page at a time. I display two pages when it’s a spread or the pages refer to each other. Many times, such as with the Previews PDFs, I enlarge the page to Full Width and scroll up and down.

    So, every eBook designer… make a feature which allows the user to toggle from landscape (full width) to portrait (full page) to landscape (two page) to fit best (for widescreen or unusual pages). Also, consider basing the zoom tool on the European ISO 216 standard, making each jump a factor of the square root of two.

  6. Reading on a Kindle is much more like reading from paper than reading from an iPhone or a laptop screen. It isn’t backlit, and that reduces eyestrain. I can’t read for extended periods of time at a computer screen, but I can with books and my Kindle.

    And, Torsten, that’s not how the Kindle works. The text is scalable — the books do not have pages. What you might call a “page” is just determined by how much text fits on the display at the text size you have chosen. It maybe be different once the Kindle fully supports PDFs, but that’s how it works now.

  7. …and when the power goes out? Not that I don’t use my computer all the time, but what I really love about good old paper is you can take it on walks, or read it on the bus, and most people wont mug you for it. I’ve never been mugged for my comics. Hell, sometimes I don’t even have enough money for batteries, although I’m sure this will have a charger. Still, sometimes it’s just nice to pluck a book off the shelf, or comic out of the box, you know. I live enough of my life through a computer because if I want to get along in this modern world at all, I have to. I feel sorry for the kids who are now being born and conditioned to live in computer land completely. I watch them when I’m out, and they’re completely unaware of anything that doesn’t come to them in a text message. Shit man, they’ll sit next to each other and not say a word, because they’re talking through those evil little things. It’s like we’ve all traded this huge wonder we call the world for this lesser, fraud of a little wonder called an I phone, or Kindel, or brain candy, or whatever. I’m not saying this stuff shouldn’t exist, but I just feel like we’re getting a little to eager to kill print. Let’s at least wait until we can charge them up on the sun or something. And what of the future? A thousand years from now, what history will we have left for mankind, but a bunch of scratched DVD’s and broken phones?

  8. “…and when the power goes out?”

    Then you have about two weeks or 5000 page turns before the kindle goes flat? if the power is still out in two weeks I’d suggest that Mad Max has come true and you have better things to worry about – like clean water and fighting off gangs of mutants.

    The rest of your post is too patronising to really bother with – it’s basically a mixture of “kids off my lawn” and “I had it better in my day and my day is gone”.

  9. On reflection that was.. impolite but it’s getting real tired hearing off people who aren’t interested in such things telling the rest of us why we shouldn’t be interested in such things…

  10. seriously, ooga booga? Kindle DX, dumb device, I think. It’s too big, it’s too expensive. Why do I want that instead of you know, a PS3, or a 3 day vacation, or lots and lots of yuengling?

    But just because it runs on electricity does not make it the devil, and print isn’t Jesus.

  11. I own a desktop PC, a desktop Mac, a PC laptop, a cellphone, an iPod touch, and an iPod shuffle, and a digital camera. Now I’m supposed to shell out $$$ more for something that does little more than present text?

    I’ll wait until e-paper is a commodity that costs about as a night at the bar before I buy one more device.

    Oh yeah, I also have a TomTom.

  12. Kindles aren’t available in Canada yet, but I think of e-paper devices almost every morning when I’m washing the newspaper ink off of my hands in the morning after the daily commute.

    It’s expensive and still a bit klunky but remember this is generation 2.5 of Amazon’s Kindle. Fujitsu released a colour e-reader in Japan recently called the FLEPia and it goes for around $1000. I imagine that Amazon could have released a colour version if they wanted to, but likely held off because of how expensive it would be.

    Give e-paper another 10 years or so to decrease in price and increase in features (thinner, more depth, colours, size, plus capability to write on and save your notes) and I think they will be as common as an MP3 player is today (note MP3 players first came out in 1998, with Apple’s first iPod released in 2001). Which will completely change print, more so newspapers and magazines than anything else.

    While I don’t think e-paper devices will ever completely replace physical books or comics, I do think that eventually far enough in the future the majority of things will be published through e-paper devices. At that point they will likely all be a thin as paper, with a small device is needed to change the page (there’s already prototypes like this).

  13. > Christopher: in what place do you live where the power goes out for extended periods of time?

    And if you are talking about ‘end of the world’ type scenario I think we will be too busy eating each other at that point to have time to read our precious paper books.

  14. “On reflection that was.. impolite but it’s getting real tired hearing off people who aren’t interested in such things telling the rest of us why we shouldn’t be interested in such things…”

    I’m not telling you not to be interested. Hell, I think alot of this stuff can be very productive, but alot of it is getting 16 year old kids thrown in jail as registered sex offenders, you know. I don’t think I’m being an old foggy. I’m only 32. I look upon these new things as I would new drugs. A lot of people thought LSD was wonderful when it was first discovered, and now there are some very irreversibly burnt out people from it. Can you tell me with any certainty that technology doesn’t have the same potential for harm to humanity. No, you can’t, because it hasn’t been integrated into our society long enough for us to see the results. Of course, I’ll just come off as a quack saying all this stuff, but as someone who has been assimilated and has also had good people pull me back from it a little (thank you Heidi) I’ve had time to observe, and this is what I feel I see. I see pros and cons. Check out my blog and I think you’ll see, that I see some positive to it, as well.

  15. Interesting that in all the commentary about the Kindle DX, even this blog, no one has said anything about its potential as a comics vehicle. I’m in the process right now of re-formatting a 120-page graphic story (so far not published in print) to work on the Kindle2. It’s a process similar to reformatting comics for the iPhone.

    The Kindle DX, I’m fairly certain, would display this black-and-white art just fine in its original format, with readable lettering, without reformatting. Definitely an advantage, although the $500 price-point gives me pause.

    The Kindle 2 and DX have been knocked for their lack of color but there is a fairly large library of good monochrome comics that could find new life on these platforms.

  16. I just dropped my copy of From Hell on the sidewalk and now I can’t read it. I’m going to have to shell out another $500 to see what happend. Oh wait, no. That’s what would happen if I dropped my Kindle. My copy of From Hell is just fine. :) I’m being a brat, I know, but I’m just having to much fun.

  17. Kindles come with a warranty. If you drop one within the first year of purchase, you can get a new one free. If you accidentally drop your copy of From Hell into the bathtub, or a river, or a large water puddle, such that it is ruined, will King Hell replace it for free?

  18. You can take your Kindle into the bath? Yes that’s a good point Scott, BUT if I drop my copy of From Hell in a river, I’m out one book. If I drop my Kindle, I’m out the whole bookshelf. I can also take my paper books to the used bookstore and trade them for others I might want to read. I may also injoy the many forms of binding books come with, or discover books I’ve never head of by hanging out and looking through a bookstore where I may interact with other book lovers, who still enjoy face to face interaction. I may get to talk to someone I’ve never met before, just by noting the book she’s reading, and asking how it is. Besides, everything I’ve ever had brake on me did so the day after the warranty ran out. I have books over 50 years old that have not broken yet.

  19. Why not have books on a USB memory sticks, plug them into an inexpensive book like screen. You always retain the book copy, reader screens could be replaced by newer improved more durable screens. USB Memory could also replace music CD’s. Do we need to spend $200-$500 for the do it all electronic gadget, that’s replaced in a year?

  20. A reminder:

    Audiophiles once raved about the quality of sound from vinyl records. Then magnetic tape provided an easier if lesser listening experience. DVDs replaced both, although certain harmonics were filtered out, and some feel that digitization does not capture every nuance that analog recording does. MP3 files take digital recordings and compress the data, losing some quality, which most people do not notice.

    Tower Records was once a thriving mecca for music lovers, offering a multitude of artists and genres and styles. It was not uncommon to meet someone with similar tastes while searching for interesting titles. The staff were experts, and Tower was legendary.

    Then along came MP3s and itunes and Tower is no more. If electronic paper can provide an acceptible analog to ink on paper, what happens to bookstores and libraries?

    Is a print of “The Rake’s Progress” a lesser work than the original painting? If technology allows more people to view art while at the same time reducing the quality of reproduction, is that good or bad? If it allows a creator to profit more because it is easier to find?

    I don’t think ebooks will replace paper books. Television broadcasts movies at a reduced quality than the original projection, yet movie theaters continue to thrive. Live concerts, ballets, and musicals still survive and prosper even when the music is available on CD or DVD or MP3. Magazines, some highly specialized in region or subject, continue to be published and sold on newsstands.

    People once thought black and white comics weren’t commercially viable, that color was necessary for success. (Even though, at the time, B&W comic strip collections were charting on bestseller lists.) Manga showed the falacy of that argument, and I think much concern over ebooks will look a little silly in retrospect.

    (typed on a Palm Treo 755 cellphone)

  21. One more note… the American consumer prefers affordability and convenience over quality. Plasma screens are going the way of Betamax… LCDs are smaller, cheaper, and most viewers don’t notice the lesser image quality.

    Can you tell the difference between plastic and metal printing plates? Computer and hand lettering? Does it matter?

  22. Okay, I’ve had enough of my own messing around. Torsten brings up some good points, but what this is really about is control. Books (real books) can only be monitored, to a certain extent, but now computers have a record of everything we read. We freak out when people burn them, but now we’re talking about a system where they can just be deleted. If Amazon decides that books that cater to gay people are to offencive to offer, boom, those books are gone. Sooner or later someone in charge will say, “Hey, I don’t like what so and so had to say in his book.” Boom! IT… IS… GONE. Who is it that most seeks to control a thing, but those who hate a thing? When I look at all this stuff, I see people who want to control what we read, when we can read it, and how we read it. Maybe, for now, it’s just about making money for them, but those who seek power usually don’t know when to stop. Do you want to get rid of books. Well, you can’t do that in America, so what do you do? You convince the people that there is no need for books anymore… that they have no value. You convince them that your alternative has value, and then you slowly and discreetly exorcise your will over it, until it’s to late for anyone to anything about it. Don’t like people having a right to assemble… freedom of speech? Again, you can’t do that in America, so what do you do? You convince the people that there is no need to assemble. There’s My Space, Facebook, Twitter, and so many other places, but you have to play by there rules, or they’ll delete your account. By then, so many people have tuned in and dropped out, that you have no choice but to play, or your an outcast. Want to look at a topless picture of your girlfriend? Congratulations! You’re a pervert, who should be thrown in jail, and then registered as a sex offender for the rest of your natural life. They say it’s to protect our children, but most of the time, it’s our children that they’re throwing in jail. So, I hate to brake it to you, but yes, big brother is watching, our world is becoming less free everyday, and the people who want to abolish books are in charge of them now. Do I sound paranoid? HELL YES I DO, but you know the old saying. “Just because your paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not after you.” Oh, and by the way, siding with them doesn’t make you anymore safe from them. We’re all in this together, no matter what.

  23. Audiophiles once raved about the quality of sound from vinyl records. Then magnetic tape provided an easier if lesser listening experience. DVDs replaced both, although certain harmonics were filtered out, and some feel that digitization does not capture every nuance that analog recording does. MP3 files take digital recordings and compress the data, losing some quality, which most people do not notice.

    Your point about consumers preferring convenience over quality is generally valid, I think, but the music-related “analog vs. digital” debate involved/involves a lot of snobbery and egotism. Sampling at a high bit rate produces recordings with greater fidelity than analog recording does, but, IIRC, listening tests indicated that some listeners actually prefer harmonic distortions and the resulting “warmer” sound, accounting for, e.g., the popularity among some of tube-based audio gear. I read Stereophile for years, partly out of amazement at how people could turn playing LPs into cult-like rituals.

    I guess I’m too old to work up much concern about digitization of text creating a threat to free speech. As long as the U.S. economy remains consumer-based, retailers will still have to market products and compete. It’s not as if the U.S. government is going to nationalize publishers.

    I would think that e-books, text and graphic fiction alike, will have to be marketed on the basis of their equivalence to paper publications. An artist might think it’s great to not be bound by format requirements, but no graphic fiction story that takes less than ten minutes to read will be worth $4 or even, IMO, $3. Likewise, a novelette will never be worth the price of a novel, no matter how excellent the writing might be.


  24. The kindle is here to stay, at least for awhile. That doesn’t mean all the other devices–including some we probably haven’t seen yet–are going away. The Kindle DX, like the other kindles, works just fine. Its easy to read on and easy to use. However, for many readers the DS, like the 1 & 2 Kindles, is overpriced and probably the least convenient way to establish a digital library. first and foremost, the current Kindle 2, simply doesn’t present comics very well, although I have not seen comics on the DX as yet. I have seen them on the Kindle 17 2, and you don’t want to go there.

    Its a proprietary system, locking you into Amazon for everything you want to buy, although you can read your Kindle books on an iphone, which is very telling. I’m not so sure that everyone wants to be saddled down with a b&w e-reader and in an age of vivid touch screen handhelds (all of which support a variety of ebooks), inexpensive and powerful netbooks and laptops. And best of all iphones and iPod touch devices and maybe even a new and larger version of the ipod touch we’ve heard rumors about. That said, whatever else you say about the Kindle DX, it certainly works for prose books and will be with us for a while to come.

  25. Between me and my brother we have owned more gadgets over the years than I care to count, including GPS units, iPods (classic & touch), etc. I love Kindel, it’s by far the coolest toy I got.  Why? Because I was very happy to discover just how well-designed and fun it is and how easy it is to use . Make sure you buy the leather cover though as it will get scratched pretty easily.