I go to the university library in Cambridge. I ask the library staff to fetch a copy of The business of digital publishing by Frania Hall (Routledge, 2013). I take it home, put on my (recently acquired, perfectly adequate) reading glasses, and settle down to read — looking forward to learning more about digital publishing and minded to publish a review.
Then I open the book – at which point, I decide instantly that I’m not going to read it. Because of the text design.
In a previous post (‘On the buying of books: the role of production values‘, 16 Feb 2012) I wrote: ‘Poor production values put me off buying. Frequently I’ve found myself picking up a book with interest, only to put it down again when I’ve seen how it’s designed. Usually the problem is poor text design – specifically, too small a font. If I open a text and see tiny characters crawling across the page I just think, “Forget it! I just don’t want to bother with this”.’
If I’d discovered this book in a shop, I would have put it straight back on the shelf.
In the acknowledgements, which I have now read, the author thanks a good many people for their contributions, including Routledge staff for ‘doing all that complex work that many people these days disregard’. The tragedy is, unless someone does the not-very-complex work of ensuring the text design is readable, all those contributions and all that work is wasted.
Why do publishers do this? Ensuring that text is readable is surely a minimal demand for calling yourself a professional publisher. Perhaps at some point they’ll publish a further edition, one with a banner proclaiming ‘NOW WITH READABLE TEXT’.