Two articles crossed my inbox the other day that approached the concept of ‘respect the reader’ from different angles.

The first was a write-up about a now-controversial Kindle edition of the beloved Canadian classic, Anne of Green Gables, which has stock cover art that portrays Anne as a buxom blonde, and not the humble-looking (but spunky) redhead the book describes. They designed the cover without even reading the book! They desecrated a beloved classic! Gasp!

The second article was from a Web designer, Baldur Bjarnason, who writes about a trick he’s noticed some e-book designers employing, and which involves a brief note that sometimes appears at the beginning of e-books. The note encourages users of e-reading devices to ‘turn on’ a publisher’s default font.

Bjarnason’s view is that the reader should always be free to use whatever settings they wish. He also suggests that a publisher who sets a particular default font for an e-book has no way of knowing what software or platform the reader is using, or what customization options they’ve chosen. He goes on to say that an e-book publisher’s job is to simply respect a reader’s decision, and to let them read. “When the only difference between [an e-book publisher’s] preferred settings and the reader’s preferred settings is aesthetic,” he writes, “[no, the publisher doesn’t] get to nag the reader.”

* * *

These articles may be about different scenarios, but to my analysis, they come down to the same thing: ‘Respecting’ your customer means that you give them a quality product, period. That’s all this is about. In the first case, the Anne of Green Gables book packager has actually done the reader the monumental favor of indicating that the book has not been proofread. If it had been, they would have realized that Anne is a redhead (this detail is a central element of the plot), and chosen more appropriate cover art. But they didn’t do that, and now they’re paying for it—the book in question has been the talk of Facebook and Twitter. It also has numerous one-star reviews on Amazon (where the cover image has since been pulled) positively roasting them for their oversight. Customers will know to look elsewhere for a quality edition.

In the second case, I could go either way. If a publisher’s default settings produce an attractive book, that’s fabulous. But of course, there are reasons other than aesthetics that might prompt me to change an e-book’s font size or line spacing, or any number of other things. Locking me out of exercising that option because your book is a special snowflake that should only be viewed as you wish it wouldn’t sit right with me. Once I buy a book, it’s mine to enjoy as I see fit. I wouldn’t welcome the publisher putting any obstacles in the way of that enjoyment. So these days, my preference is an edited, DRM-free EPUB that I’m free to tweak as I see fit. I no longer pay for locked-down stuff I can’t work with.

Does ‘respecting the reader’ mean something else to you? Share your thoughts in the comments. I’d love to hear your ideas on exactly what ‘respecting the reader’ means in today’s digital marketplace.

Previous articleFree Books! Get Your Free E-Books Here!
Next articleWeekend Roundup — Used e-books, QR codes and the Amazon sweatshop
"I’m a journalist, a teacher and an e-book fiend. I work as a French teacher at a K-3 private school. I use drama, music, puppets, props and all manner of tech in my job, and I love it. I enjoy moving between all the classes and having a relationship with each child in the school. Kids are hilarious, and I enjoy watching them grow and learn. My current device of choice for reading is my Amazon Kindle Touch, but I have owned or used devices by Sony, Kobo, Aluratek and others. I also read on my tablet devices using the Kindle app, and I enjoy synching between them, so that I’m always up to date no matter where I am or what I have with me."


  1. The cover thing has happened many times in the past with printed books. In the realm of detective fiction there are plenty of covers which unintentionally mislead the reader by depicting events or people wrongly, and worse still, many covers that give the game away by revealing facts the reader is not supposed to know until the last chapter.

  2. There is one major factor in the “fonts debate” I think. It is not a matter of aesthetics.

    Let’s se what is the situation today : the Readers are not free, they can pick fonts vendors let them pick and the vast majority of fonts vendors choose are not adapted at all to reading on a screen. They don’t even ask foundries or specialists which fonts are good.

    Then some typographers embed fonts which are adapted, not because they are beautiful, but because they facilitate (facilitating is the job of a typographer). And since vendors are doing such a bad job at typography (check their default settings, cry your heart out), they feel obliged to put such a message.

    It is not about respecting readers, it is all about respecting readers. Among those guys are people who consider what vendors offer to readers is utter shit and impacts the overall quality of e-books whose typography is so much ruined by vendors that it becomes an inferior book.

    Besides, readers are not supposed to know how to do proper typography. While settings are cool, it is actually a bad user experience to ask them do the job of the ebook designer for each book.

    But I repeat, some publishers do that because vendors are doing the worst shit you can imagine with fonts and typography. Simple as that.

  3. Hey Jon, good to hear from you … and by the way, that sounds like a really good idea for a post. Any chance you’d be up for it? I’m really curious to see a few of the covers you’re referring to …

  4. There is no need to specify a default font on an ebook. We are talking about words on a screen, nothing more.

    Focus on putting together a good story and let the reader select the font/viewing options that they prefer.

    Imposing a font on a reader is arrogant and, to me at least, indicates that the publisher is totally self-absorbed and inept.

    It reminds me of websites nagging me to view them in Internet Explorer instead of Firefox because somehow IE provides a better viewing experience.

  5. That cover art makes me cry!

    I don’t think that notice is about disrespecting the reader. It’s informing the reader and giving the reader a more attractive option…. an option the reader can choose to override if they don’t find it easier to read than their own choices.

    The problem is that readers don’t often know of that option, or they don’t understand it, or they forget about it. The best choice would be for the book to open as the publisher thinks is best for the reader, and then for the reader to have the final choice in overriding publisher typographer, if they desire.

    Also, one of the Kindle eReaders doesn’t allow readers to override publisher font choice. That is very wrong. I feel that is Kindle’s fault, not the publisher’s fault.

  6. While it may not be common, authors sometimes do use font changes to indicate a switch in textual emphases. It’s been a few years, but I remember some novels by William T. Vollmen with multiple fonts in the printed books. This could be lost in the ebook version.

    And this — off topic a bit — brings me to my major beef with Project Gutenberg. A lot of their documents ignore the italics from the original text. This comes from the days before the web when they billed themselves as the home of plain vanilla texts and everything was a .txt file, but their texts are still missing some of the authors intent.

The TeleRead community values your civil and thoughtful comments. We use a cache, so expect a delay. Problems? E-mail