Digital Reading: Liberating Front Matter (A Follow-up)
By Anne Kostick, Partner at Foxpath IND | @bklynanne
Once book people stop thinking of the book reading experience as a one-way street and start thinking of their electronic creations as, say, an immersive snow globe of information, they begin to question many aspects of the print legacy. This column’s article on front matter (and the webcast with Peter Meyers that preceded it) sparked even more discussion about handling those components still called front matter.
One question on DBW’s LinkedIn forum led to an interesting exchange about placement of front matter—why keep it in front? A respondent pointed out an excellent reason to move front matter to the back: Web features that sample or preview content (such as Amazon’s “Look Inside” book feature) are programmed to display the first x pages in the digital file. How frustrating it is to discover that your preview peek consists of the half title, the card page, the table of contents and the copyright page. Moving front matter to the end would mean that preview features could give browsers a look at Chapter 1. I call that very reader-friendly.
In fact, the section formerly known as front matter could theoretically be anywhere in the file, as long as the reader can find it. You still want a welcoming and gracious entrance, so items such as the inside cover and/or title page; table of contents; and must-read-firsts, such as a foreword or preface, would still come ahead of the body of the book.
After that, you may be able to let the reader decide. There are significant differences in the way the reader of a print book and the reader of an e-book reader encounter “extra” material, and that’s why considering usability is so important here. Does a reader come to an e-book with the same expectations about where and how to find information as with a print book? Devices and apps are slowly breaking down the sense of order we’d come to expect in print books, and as physical placement sinks in importance, connectivity and navigation rises in importance. We’ll need more research, more reader feedback, and some flexible thinking to find a new sense of order for book matter in digital form.
Anne Kostick is a partner in Foxpath IND, a digital-print-web consulting and services company specializing in the transition to and from traditional content development, management and publishing. She is also the current president of Women’s Media Group.
Anne is also a member of the advisory board for the Publishing Innovation Awards, which celebrate the best in ebooks, enhanced ebooks, and book apps. New to the Awards this year is the QED Seal, which highlights usability in ebooks along a thorough 13-point ebook inspection in multiple formats and platforms.