fontanorexiaTeleRead’s campaign for an all-boldface option for Kindle and Fire users has made Slashdot, a Web site dear to millions of techies.

Some Slashdotters are repeating a key point of ours. Lack of the bold option is ageism, since older people may not be as easily able as younger ones to distinguish between text and background.

All-bold text, a choice present in rival Kobo machines through a font-weight adjuster, the best fix for Kindles and Fires, would be dirt-cheap to add if you consider the number of customers.

SlashdotIn responses to my Slashdot summary of an earlier TeleRead article on Amazon’s Thin Helvetica Syndrome, the leading e-reader maker got both bashed and ridiculed for its refusal over the years to offer better readability for those in need of bold.

My fellow victims and I often choose Helvetica as the least evil of Amazon’s font choices, but in its recent Kindle update, Amazon actually thinned out Helvetica.

Of the scores of complaints on Slashdot against the Kindle’s font anorexia and against reader-hostile Web design, my favorite was from JeffB (presumably not Jeff Bezos). He zeroed in on the outrageous ageism evident in the designer profession’s HR policies and in its frequent contempt for older readers:

“I think we all see that there’s a big push toward The New Shiny for implementing Web UIs, and a push toward hiring young frontier-chasers in place of older developers and designers who are perhaps more attached to older, less cutting-edge technologies.

“Well, surprise—younger people IN GENERAL have an easier time focusing on close targets, perceiving low-contrast images, and dealing with generally lower light levels.

“Now, most of the designers I’ve worked with at least pay lip service to accessibility, universal design, and maybe even special-needs users. But when they’re showing mockups to decision-makers, they still seem to push for what’s trendy—and, hey, the twenty- and thirty-somethings in the room have no trouble reading it, and if the forty- and fifty-somethings do, they sure aren’t going to call further attention to their ‘differently youthful’ status by complaining about it.

“As a result, we see today’s visual design. If we squint enough.”

If Jeff Bezos really cares about his customers, then he’ll ideally visit a site called Contrast Rebellion, which, although about the Web, would also be useful from a Kindle and Fire perspective. Besides, maybe Jeff and friends could pick up some wisdom for use in the Fires’ Silk browers—by way of a high-contrast mode to help deal with reader-hostile Web sites.

“Clearly,” says Contrast Rebellion, created by two designers at odds with the know-it-all arrogance so common among their peers, “aesthetics are important but aren’t the ultimate goal of design. And often poor readability doesn’t get noticed during the design process, as we are not like our users. We don’t read the texts as a visitor does.”

Kinde contrast bold Flash CardIf you want to see how much an all-bold option could help many older people and other Kindle and Fire users, then follow the advice of a TeleRead commenter named Steve B. “Check Vocabulary Builder to see how rich and contrasting bold text can look. The difference is amazing.”

Granted, many people will prefer light fonts and not cherish the difference in the least and maybe even hate it. But why is Amazon refusing to let other users go with heavier fonts? I don’t get it. We’re talking about an option, not imposition of bolder fonts on everybody. The option would nicely fit within Amazon’s existing font-related menu structure.

Yes, I’ll send and Amazon’s PR people a link to this post. Amazon’s e-readers have many positives, Jeff, and in general I love your hardware. But why are you making it harder than necessary for certain of your customers to enjoy book-reading on their Kindles and Fires—especially when sales of E Ink Kindles are far less robust when they should be? In the end,  even viewed from a strictly bottom-line corporate perspective, this isn’t just an accessibility issue. It’s a shareholder one. Even if the effect is small, because Amazon is about a lot more than e-books, you’re still hurting sales, profits and growth in equity value.

Which comes first, Jeff—your shareholders’ investments or your font designers’ egos?

Of course, without acknowledging the complaints of people like me, you could simply do your next firmware update with an all-bold option or a font-weight adjuster added. I know. You don’t like to announce your plans in advance. But a classier approach in this case—much better PR—would be to address the issue head on and personally let people know ASAP that you’re hearing me and the Slashdotters. You say you’re customer friendly? Here’s a great opportunity to show that.

The faster you act, Jeff, the better you’ll look both to your customers and shareholders. If you really do read messages sent to, it’ll take less than a minute to send me a reply promising that “an all-boldface option or better will appear in all our next firmware updates and in all Kindle apps for  iOS, Android and windows. If possible, we’ll provide for adjustable font weights, and if we can’t do it, we’ll explain why not.”

Don’t leave this decision to your font designers, engineers or others responsible for the present mess. I’m certain they’re gifted, well-meaning people in general, but I doubt you’ll change their minds. Please, Jeff—just do it!

Photo credit: Here.


  1. After reading comments about the update which impacts two of my Paperwhites and my Voyage, I decided to manually download it to the latest Paperwhite. Not only are all of the fonts much lighter in weight than previously, but if you are using list view on the Home page, that is a real kick in the pants. Holding the updated Paperwhite alongside one which is not updated, the difference is extreme. Why do these designers think it is cool to display print so light that you can barely read it? Why do we not have a choice? As you mentioned, on the Kobo it is possible to darken a font, making it easier to read. The other thing the Kobo has is a much better range of font sizes without the big size gaps that exist on the Kindle, i.e., on the e-ink Kindles, the second font from the right is a gigantic leap up from the third font. There should be options in between.

    What I am now reduced to is turning off the wi-fi on the Voyage and my other Paperwhite so that they do not receive the update. I should not have to do this. The update should have been an improvement. I did appreciate the option to turn off the new home page with cover images so that I could use list view. Why did they have to go and ruin the fonts?

  2. @Mary: I’m sorry you’ve suffered such horrors from the update. Tomorrow or Monday I’ll write a Dear Jeff post and include your example. I’ll welcome yet others sharing their stories. As for ruining the Paperwhite fonts, they were not that terrific for my own purposes in the first place—that is, not without an all-bold option, which Amazon has yet to give us. With Kindle font design in mind, may I suggest a new line for Shakespeare: “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the designers.”

    Of course some designers undoubtedly read this blog, and I’ll welcome rebuttals and hope they’ll tolerate my hyperbole. I do, however, wonder just whose art counts more, the font designers’ or the writers’? As a writer, I am more than a little annoyed at the designers for making it harder for me to reach my readers.

    In regard to the font size range, you’re not the first with that complaint.


  3. Amazon replied to my first e-mail more or less like this: “We regret your unpleasant experience with the recent update, but it is not possible to revert to a previous software version.” I e-mailed Amazon back, playing the senior citizen card- thinner fonts are worse for older people etc. etc. Amazon replied, informing me that they would work with me on installing a previous software version. I haven’t gotten around to finding out how accurate a prediction this will be, but it’s a start.

    I recently talked with a cousin to warn her against the update. Her reply: “What update?” She told me she doesn’t do Amazon updates- though she uses Amazon readers and tablets quite a lot. Good decision.

    B&N also did the thinner font trip with its new Glowlight Plus. As you point out, thirty-something designers are doing something because it is aesthetically or technologically cool, without considering what a wide range of its customers think of them. There is a reason for trying products out on consumers before releasing them to the market.

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