Aegir Hallmundur writes over at The Ministry of Type,
The whole idea of pages bound like that is an artifact of a particular printing technology — it’s the nature of the delivery medium, not the message. So when we have a digital book, we’re using technology that has its own set of conventions, its own restrictions and its own freedoms, and every bit of digital technology has some means of moving through any arbitrary content: a keyboard has cursor keys, page up and page down keys, a mouse has a scroll wheel, laptops have trackpads with scroll areas, and smartphones have touchscreens, joysticks or D-pads.
My concern with pageless eBooks has been that they eliminate two of the most important elements of design: the top and bottom of the rectangle that describes the page. All graphics, pull-quotes, and everything must be both inline and may only address the right and left margins.
But now I’m rethinking it. Pages are arbitrary breaks, dictated by the size of paper that’s convenient to print on. Without them, we have:
- Right margin
- Left margin
- Right third
- Left third
- Paragraph top
- Paragraph bottom
The big difference here is that the left and right margins are dictated by the medium, but the top and bottom are dictated by the context. That is very, very interesting to me. We’re also missing the top and bottom third now, unless paragraphs are meant to fit onscreen by themselves. This might be a problem, since we don’t know font size.
I also have some concerns that, with font size a variable, the column width is liable to get too great or small for easy legibility. Even newspapers and mass market paperbacks usually manage to keep it between 7 and 12 words (about 65 words per line, give or take a dozen or so), but the eBook readers I’ve looked at don’t care about that at all, which is a problem.
(Thanks to the glueyest of monotremes!)