Justified ebooks on a phone

I’ve been alpha testing a new ebook publishing site for someone and something came up. I justify my ebooks (equal left and right margins). The owner of the site says he reads on his phone and it’s awful to read when it’s justified.

I’ve seen justified ebooks on an iPad and a Kindle and they look great. The Kindle isn’t that much larger than a phone. For those who read on their phone, what’s your opinion?

I guess no one reads ebooks on their phones.

They look fine to me with justification switched on, but I have the text set to its default size. If it’s bigger than that, the gaps between words can get quite ugly.

I write my own HTML for ebooks, and I don’t specify whether the paragraphs should be justified or left-aligned, so the user can make their own decision.

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I create the epub I upload to KDP by inputting a docx file into Calibre. In Word, you have to choose an alignment — left, center, right, justify. For novels, I choose “justify” (except for chapter headings (H1) and scene breaks which are centered).

Isn’t “text-align: left” the HTML default? So even if you don’t specify it, it’s as if you specified left alignment.

But thanks for answering the question. I never read a justified ebook on a phone so I got worried when I was told it was awful.

I believe so, but the device or app or user could override it and provide their own default.

Then if you choose “justify” instead of taking the default, the user can still override it. Right?

It depends on the device or app.

Okay, I’m confused. You earlier said, “I write my own HTML for ebooks, and I don’t specify whether the paragraphs should be justified or left-aligned, so the user can make their own decision.”

So even though you don’t specifically code it that it’s left-aligned, it is because of the HMTL default.

Are you saying if I specify “justified” the reader can’t override it, but if I take the default of left-align then the user can? Does that also mean if I hard code “left-align” (rather than just let it default) the user wouldn’t be able to change it?

I’m off topic because I was simply wondering if the webmaster who told me he hates reading justified books on his phone had a legitimate complaint, but as an ex-IT guy I’m curious about the other.

All I’m really doing is not making a decision, or not expressing a preference. I have no say over who does make the decision, or whether someone else can overrule it.

As I understand it, the device defaults can be overridden by the user. When you specify something in your XML stylesheet, you are overriding the device defaults in a way that the user can’t change.

That MIGHT vary from device to device, but that’s the reasoning was given for keeping the style sheet as loose as possible.

I found this in the article at: https://alistapart.com/article/ebookstandards/

Everyone complains about full-justified text in E-readers (text with straight left and right margins). It’s harder to read because letterspacing and wordspacing are worse, causing rivers of whitespace. The reason? E-readers tend not to hyphenate words. Hyphenation is complex and still has not been perfected even for languages where there’s a strong market incentive to do so, like English.

That seems to support what the guy told me. Yet every traditionally published ebook I’ve checked out justifies the paragraphs.

The article also mentioned em-dashes:

As commonly used in print books, em dash (—) with no spaces on either side does not work in onscreen text. Rendering engines may be too dumb to break a line before or after the em dash. Of course that may be solved someday. But in any event the character fails at its intended function — to break up text, as for appositives and parenthetical statements. En dash (–) surrounded by spaces avoids linebreak problems and works better at the intended purpose. (Stated concisely: Nospace-emdash-nospace doesn’t work; space-endash-space does.)

I use xx—xx (em-dash without spaces) so that paragraph troubles me.

Many publishers seem to think ebooks should be exactly like print books, just on a screen…

Lately the Kindle app on my phone has started hyphenating automatically. I haven’t noticed it doing it badly, though I admit I haven’t looked carefully. One rule I remember is that hyphenating a word shouldn’t trick you into mispronouncing it if you’re reading aloud. Since English spelling is, at best, a hint as to pronunciation, you can see why most e-readers don’t do hyphenation.

There is a solution that allows an em dash with no space on either side - follow the dash with a zero-width space. This is <wbr> (word break?) in HTML and &#8203; in Unicode. It tells the e-reader that it’s OK to have a line break there. If the e-reader decides not to break the line there, the character takes up no space on the screen (as its name suggests!). Not all e-readers support this character, though most recent ones do.

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Another question.

In a print book, you indicate a new scene with a blank line (maybe two, I don’t remember).

But in an ebook, you can’t do that. If the blank line is the last or first on the screen it will be missed. So you have to use a scene divider, such as a centered ***.

I want white space before and after the ***. Currently, I do it with a blank line before and after (basically a wordless paragraph). Would it be better to simply define the *** paragraph with before and after space?


Yes :slight_smile: That makes it more obvious (if only in the HTML) what its purpose is, and makes it easier to control its appearance and positioning. For instance, the e-reader will usually ignore space-after at the bottom of the screen, so if the scene break occurs there, the device can fit an extra line of text in above it, and the next screen won’t have a blank line at the top.



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My fiancé is the only one I know that reads on his phone and he has the Kindle app on his phone.

But most people I know have a tablet to read ebooks on.

Has he ever complained about books that are justified? (That is, equal margins on both sides with extra spaces between words to make that happen.)

No, he’s never complained about anything to do with ebooks on his phone.


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