Digital Reading: Liberating Front Matter (A Follow-up)

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Anne KostickBy 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.

Anne Kostick

About Anne Kostick

Anne is a UX fan girl and a partner in Foxpath IND , specializing in the transition to and from traditional content publishing and online content development, management, and publishing. Her clients include trade book publishers; technology and financial services websites; and arts and cultural institutions. Her occasional column, Digital Reading, discusses user experience and related topics in ebooks and digital reading. Anne is emerita president of Women’s Media Group, an industry organization, program director of the Digital Book Awards and a member of BEA Conference Advisory Board. She is the author of several books for children and a definitive collection of jokes.

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2 thoughts on “Digital Reading: Liberating Front Matter (A Follow-up)

  1. this is really interesting as I had thought about this myself when preparing my recent Kindle books. I’m encouraged to think that I’m thinking like other writers. Thanks for sharing this info!

  2. I agree with you that a reader of a digital book will expect to see the title page and table of contents in the front of the book. I don’t have a strong opinion about placement of the copyright page, although in my book I followed the tradition of putting it after the title page, since I had no reason not to. Prefaces still belong in the front, of course, and appendices in the back.

    While we are reconsidering the placement of front matter, we might also think about back matter. Must the colophon be in the back? If we are willing to jettison the physical book metaphor, perhaps we should take out the copyright page, colophon, and about-the-author page from the table of contents and replace them with a folder (if EPUB would allow that) named “Metadata,” or “About This Book.”

    One way in which digital books differ from physical books is that the cover (and any picture on it or on its dust jacket) is not considered part of the book’s content in physical books, but rather a wrapper for the contents. But digital books really should treat a cover picture as content, and to include it in the table of contents, so that the user can access it. And if the cover should be moved from the front, then it really must be in the TOC.

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