Why the Kindle App Is Just Better With Bookerly

I was spending too much time on Facebook and Twitter, so I took them off my home screen and replaced them with the Reeder and the Kindle apps, mostly to go back to reading the good stuff whenever I have a few minutes. The Kindle app is getting a lot of use, largely due to the new custom Amazon-made typeface, Bookerly.

So far it’s gotten a pretty good reception. As Fast Company’s Design blog noted, “In appearance, it looks something like if Baskerville, a 225-year-old typeface that has been shown to shape our perception of truth, and Caecilia made a baby.” That line is harsh. I actually find it easy to read on the iPhone and iPad but just okay on the Kindle Fire. This is a custom font that is a replacement for Caecilia, which until recently was the Kindle app’s default font. I am confounded by the fact that it is not available on Kindle Voyage, which is an amazing book reader in every sense of the word except typography. (By the way, Google recently upgraded its default eReader typeface to Literata, while it seems like Apple’s iBooks long-forgotten software uses Iowan typeface as a default, though I like Athelas.) Typographers are of the opinion that the real improvement for Kindle will be when there is hyphenation for reflowing text at different sizes. According to experts, Amazon has to reformat its library book by book, which will take time.

After reading the Fast Company story, I emailed typography and font legend Erik Spiekermann to see what he thought of the changes. He wrote back, “It’s ok, but late. I am shocked that it took these people many years to arrive at standards of typedesign and typography that have been with us since the late 15th century. They could have asked me or one of the many other designers who know more about type than everybody at Amazon together.” Erik is going to be gracing Pi.co shortly, and we will be talking in great depth about typography and, well, how the digital world doesn’t think about typography as often as it should. He wasn’t much of a fan of the new Apple default font, which apparently is going to die a peaceful death with the emergence of San Francisco typeface everywhere.

Update: Regular reader Edward Campbell wrote me this wonderful email, which I thought was worth sharing:

I downloaded Kindle app on both my iPad and iMac as part preparation for my return to early studies of Existentialism in the 1950’s — kicking off with Camus’ THE STRANGER. The first thing that struck me was the font — without going into the detailed investigation you’re capable of. It just felt so familiar. Now, after reading your recent post, I realize the font is similar to what was used for textbooks, especially literature texts, in grammar school/elementary school days in the 1940’s, 1950’s, in my New England-factory town school days. Before I was conscious of philosophy; but, trending through omnivorous consumption of any and all literature. What a feeling. It was like an old friend in the room — even though I was sitting in the living room or outdoors in the portal of our workshop reading from an iPad instead of an actual book.

A letter from Om

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