Shortcovers is a new E‑book service from Indigo, Canada’s Walmartesque bookstore near-monopoly. It’s got a good premise – instead of buying full E‑books, which carry sticker shock and seem too overwhelming to read all at once, you buy chapters at a time.

They’ve tried very hard to be au courant with the Web, and they seem to want recognition for that fact. But delivery mechanism and “content” are, as ever, two different things. With books, whether P‑ or E‑, apperance counts, and Shortcovers’ typography is atrocious. In retrospect, I wouldn’t have expected anything less.

Take Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow, which I am finally reading on my third borrowing from the library. It’s a novel written in free verse about marauding human lycanthropes. The book lends itself to an instant design analysis:

  • Great cover design. (Those are just labels on cloth boards.)

  • Slipshod copy-editing. This isn’t Ratz Are Nice (PSP) territory here; using the wrong its is just a mistake.

  • Some apparent incompetence in how to typeset verse (always use hanging indents).

The designer of the HarperCollins version I have here is listed as Leah Carlson-Stanisic; she gets two stars at most. (And surely her surname is missing some diacritics.)

iTouch screenshot Still, the P‑book is a Bringhurstian masterpiece compared to the E‑book. (See photos.)

  • Problems start right away on “page 1,” with ragged a right margin that bespeaks a mindless intermingling of soft and hard returns. Again, people: Hanging indents.

  • Apostrophes and quotation marks are neutral, a particularly egregious failure here because one early line reads “wanted” “wanted” “wanted” and I kind of want consecutive quotation marks to be correct especially in a case like that.

    Close-up photo

    MS‑DOS called; it wants its “quote marks” back.

  • Web-site screenshot They can’t even get any of this right on the Web version. It seems obvious now that jamming initial copy alongside a cover thumbnail is a bad idea.

What’s the culprit?

Export to “plain” text in Word for Windows? Not knowing what Unicode is because it’s too hard to figure out (in Windows)? Just not giving a shit?

Questions for Toby Barlow

  • If you wrote a novel in verse and approved the creative cover treatment, did you really countenance slipshod copy-editing and text design in your printed book?
  • Do you really think the electronic text does you any justice whatsoever?
  • Did you even know any of this was a problem? (Why didn’t anyone spot the copy errors, for example?)
  • Are you going to be able to fix the E‑version? Or is would that not be “worth it”?

What I visualize when I think “pack o’ werewolves”

No girls; a clear-eyed alpha male, leading by a pace and a half, threatening to get in some asshole’s face if he keeps giving me trouble. (Up to this point I never figured I needed a minder. But anyway: The perfect boyfriend?) Somehow all I can see is Hugh Dillon in a hoodie and bomber jacket. Packs of human werewolves would, by definition, be same-sex, and don’t you fuck with them. Their bites are like guillemets.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2009.03.10 14:32. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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None. I quit.

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