Kindle’s New Bookerly Font and Other Typography Features

by | Jun 22, 2015

Many ebook readers—and not just us typography nerds and designers, either—have complained about the limited font set provided with the major e-readers.

Considering the vast sums that have been spent on developing these devices, it’s always seemed odd to me that they would trumpet their e-reading devices and commitment to book readers, then ship a product that aims to fulfill these promises… but only in one of these fonts:

  • Baskerville
  • Caecilia
  • Georgia
  • Helvetica
  • Palatino

I’ve typeset books in Baskerville, but there’s Baskerville, then there’s Baskerville, a sturdy face with high stroke contrast and lovely long serifs, not the weak-tea version on the Kindle.

Now Amazon has put some work into upgrading both the font selection on its Kindle devices and apps, but also on other areas of typography that Kindle has historically fallen down on.

The rollout of these features seems to be happening slowly along Amazon’s product line, and it’s hard to tell which devices have received which upgrades.

On Amazon’s own site for the new Kindle PaperWhite, they list 5 new features:

    Bookerly font

  1. Bookerly, a brand new font designed especially for the Kindle—the font has been gradually introduced since December 2014
  2. Hyphenation and improved spacing—introducing hyphenation alone will improve the look of almost every Kindle ebook, eliminating the unseemly and distracting big white spaces in the middle of lines that couldn’t be justified any better
  3. Improved character placement—kerning and ligatures will now allow more print-like typographic features, although nicely kerned letter pairs won’t help a line with big white spaces in it
  4. Improved page layout—drop caps and better positioning of text and images will make Kindle pages more book-like
  5. Large font adaptations—customizing the margins, columns, indents, nested lists, borders, and drop caps to keep the page easy to read.

Amazon’s page lists the last four of these innovations as “coming soon,” although some writers report having seen the upgrades on their own devices.

I had no trouble selecting Bookerly from the font list on my iPhone 6 Kindle App, but font selection was no where to be seen in the Kindle App for Mac I downloaded today on my Mac Book Air running Yosemite.

More About the Bookerly Font

I like Bookerly, and I think the designers met the design brief for a font that would display well on screens of all sizes and that would create an easier reading environment for their millions of avid ebook readers.

Bookerly fontCaecilia has some of the same characteristics of the slab serif Bookerly, but the new font is far more graceful and even on the type line.

The font it reminds me of the most, and one I’ve used in the books I design, is Adobe’s Chaparral, designed by Carol Twombly and released in 2000.

In both cases you can see traces of humanistic font design in the slightly swelling strokes and the chunky unbracketed serifs that aren’t completely right angles, like the serifs you would see on a traditional slab serif font like Rockwell.

These fonts run the risk of being a bit boring, but the sturdy design really helps Bookerly stand up to very small sizes, and that’s a good thing to have when designing text publications for digital display.

Maybe more than anything else, it’s gratifying to think that the designers at Amazon are thinking about improving the design cabailities of their e-readers, and all these improvements will be a most welcome start.

What do you think of Bookerly? Had you noticed your Kindle had a new font? Let me know in the comments.

Resource links

To dig into the changes happening in the Kindle typography world, check out these articles.

 

journal
marketing

20 Comments

  1. Scotto

    I just got the update on my paperwhite 2 and so far I don’t like Bookerly. It looks too thin and greyish compared to Caecilia. I like Bookerly on my iPhone and iPad not on the e-ink screen.

    Reply
  2. Richard Wilson

    Bookerly is still not available on the basic Kindle (7th generation) :(. Any idea when it is going to get this update?

    Reply
  3. Sunil

    I love the legibility of this font. Also, the kerning and ligatures are much better compared to other font options on Kindle.

    Reply
    • Albert

      I hacked my GenI paperwhite; and I’ve installed Bookerly and Literata on both. After reading a few pages; I ended up choosing Literata. It was noticeably faster to read; and I had absolutely zero rereads; where bookerly had one or two. I’ve changed my Microsoft Word default font to Literata as well. All my docs and contracts are now in Literata; it’s vastly superior to Tahoma; which was my computer default font, and 100x better than the standards world Times New Roman.

      Reply
  4. Rita

    I like it!

    Reply
  5. Bob W.

    The hyphenation will be a huge improvement. I mistakenly thought it was going to be delivered with the new Kindle Paperwhite version, but it’s apparently yet TBD.

    Reply
  6. Lisa Nicholas

    I quite like Bookerly on my Kindle Fire. I would prefer Baskerville or Palatino for print, but I find Bookerly works well for ebooks. Formerly, I kept my Fire set to Caecilia, but I think Bookerly is an improvement over that. I’m just glad that Amazon is giving Kindle readers more and better choices — when I first considered getting an ereader, about five years ago, I was leaning toward the Nook, simply because it allowed a more realistic simulation of a printed book (then I got a Kindle keyboard reader for Christmas, and that was the end of that). I also like the control over margins and line-spacing that I have on my Kindle Fire — I just wish every Kindle book would cooperate with the settings.

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Lisa, I usually do me ebook reading in iBooks because it does the best job of mimicking a printed book. And I agree that Bookerly is an improvement over Caecilia. It has a robust character that stands up very well to screen reading and small type sizes.

      Reply
  7. Sara C. Snider

    I’m the same as Alex — no new font has shown up on my Paperwhite. I’m also wondering if they’ll be rolling out these updates for existing Kindles and, if so, when.

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Lots of us want to know that, Sara, but Amazon hasn’t provided any details that I’m aware of.

      Reply
  8. Michele DeFilippo

    I thought the new font was distracting. It’s too ornate. I found myself looking at the letterforms instead of comprehending the text. I do think it’s great that Amazon is beginning to consider typography, though, and I’ll welcome the new features, especially hyphenation. That said, for me there’s nothing like a real print book, artistically designed by someone who understands typography. We have all opened a book and been immediately captivated by a beautiful layout. It’s very difficult to put a well-designed book down. We WANT to keep reading. I hope the industry (and especially readers) will never forget this.

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      As an “old print guy” I’m also a fan of printed books. But considering how dreadful many of the early ebooks were, I applaud any efforts especially on the part of device makers, to improve the typography and layout offered to ebook publishers. Thanks for chiming in, Michele.

      Reply
  9. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

    I like it. And they’ve done a nice job on the italics.

    While searching for fonts to use for my first book, I discovered that not all fonts have italics that take up the same horizontal space! That was a shocker. If you are formatting text, and doing a few minor cleanups by hand, and then decide to change a chunk of text to or from italics, you could be in for a rude surprise.

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Alicia, that’s because the early italics (and many designs that still do the same) were modeled on the cursive handwriting of the renaissance. Vertically these typefaces are compressed somewhat, taking up much less space than their roman counterparts. But you know that now, don’t you?

      Reply
      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

        Yup.

        And there are SO MANY historical artifacts left in our profession, some good, some just THERE.

        Terminology. Leading. Fonts from a previous age ‘adapted’ for the web – or just thrown up there willy nilly.

        One of the best parts of preparing to self-publish is how much of this you learn (even while tearing your hair out) while going through all the steps. I love learning.

        Then, after absorbing mountains of material, you make your choices – knowing that you want to make good choices now, but change is going to be possible if they’re later superseded by something better, or you just learn more.

        Italics – and the space they do or do not take up – new tidbit. Glad I noticed ahead of time, because one of my jobs in the final revision is to question every single use of italics.

        Reply
  10. Michael W. Perry

    Yes, at the present rate in another quarter of a century or so, Amazon Kindles may achieve perhaps a tenth of the beauty of Gutenberg Bible from the 1450s. You can see just how beautiful it is here:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gutenberg_Bible

    That’s a “new” technology that’s only lagging some 600 years behind its older counterpart. But hey, this is Amazon. What do you expect? Look at its webpages. They’re world-class ugly. Amazon is bean-counter heaven and artistic hell.

    Keep in mind that the Kindle’s pitifully limited font set is a giant step backwards from the mid-fifteenth century. Then, publishers could use any typeface they wanted and do the lettering beautifully

    But hey, these are 300 dpi screens. Doesn’t that matter? Not really. Ugly is ugly whatever the dpi.

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Michael, perhaps you meant “mid sixteenth century” since printing with moveable type was only getting started in the 1450s and at that time there were no typefaces beyond what early printers used for their own presses.

      Reply
    • J. Carver

      I don’t know who you think you’re kidding. The Gutenberg Bible, as pretty as it is, is not easy to read by any stretch of the imagination.

      Reply
  11. Diamond

    I have tried reading a couple of books in this font and I don’t care for it. It seems to slow me down and I notice every letter rather than chunks of information. I’ll try it a few more times to see if I get accustomed to it, but for now, it’s Helvetica all the way!

    Reply
  12. Alex

    No idea. Don’t have it on my paperwhite 2. No idea of I’m getting it, or the rendering engine. Amazon doesn’t seem to have announced any dates or anything. I’d like to try it out but I guess I’m just going to have to wait.

    Reply

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Show me how you write and I tell you who you are. Digital typography now and then. – I Like Big Books And I Cannot Lie - […] https://www.thebookdesigner.com/2015/06/kindle-new-bookerly-font-and-typography-features/ […]
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