Teeny-weeny tiny print!


As I might have mentioned a while back, I’m in the middle of developing this cookbook-rating app, which means that I’ve been going through the backlist and re-examining cookbooks from about the last 12 years (as well as some up-to-the-minute ones).

One of the many criteria I tabulate is the size of the print, because although – as we all know – the size of the print has no bearing on the quality of the recipes, the fact is that a book with teeny-tiny print oftentimes gets mysteriously set aside and eventually forgotten.  It’s just too much work.

Over the years it’s seemed as though the print’s been shrinking, but I thought it was my imagination until I spent the last two weeks neck-deep in books.  Yes! the print is actually, really getting smaller.  If you look at the 1997 Joy of Cooking, which has small serif type, you can see that it’s still bigger than the 2006 75th anniversary Joy (tiny, sans-serif).

This last week I received a batch of Anness series cookbooks (Recipes from my …. Kitchen).  Adorable!  I thought.  Then I opened them, to discover a dizzying miniature world of print in which each individual character was smaller than a grain of raw couscous – I actually checked.

Now much of this can be easily explained.  It’s expensive to print books in a world that gets its content online.  The bigger the typeface, the more pages you use, the more expensive the book.  Fair enough.  But often what we see is tiny print on a sea of white in a little slender book with no more than 75 recipes: say, The Gourmet Cookie Book.  My point is, that’s a style choice.

Production departments, take heed!  Read the customer reviews!  I thank my stars for the publishers who still appreciate a restful page of text – Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Harvard Common Press, Clarkson Potter, just to pick a few examples.   The demise of print may be imminent, but let’s not hasten matters, shall we?

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  • Jane  on  March 26, 2013

    My suspicion is that the designers are young (20s) without the eye issues us older folks have. I really hate it when I have to take a book to bright light in order to decipher if it says 1/4 or 1/2 cup.

  • geoff@kupesoftware.com  on  March 26, 2013

    YES! This drives me crazy. The worst thing is tiny fractions, as Jane pointed out. I've messed up recipes by misreading teeny fractions. Recipe book designers need to consider practical USE as well as overall prettiness.

  • hshubin  on  March 26, 2013

    It happens in Web design, too. Young designers who don't wear glasses can read tiny print.

    Cookbooks should use black type, too, not gray.

  • bookpoet  on  March 26, 2013

    I agree, hshubin — my own particular pet peeve is the use of grey (or light seafoam green!) text, sometimes on pastel pages. Are these design projects, or books to cook from?!

  • PatriciaAnn  on  March 26, 2013

    If I'm going to buy a book, I want to be able to read it EASILY.
    Small print, light print, difficult to read typeface, etc. definately affects all cookbook purchases.

  • ellabee  on  March 26, 2013

    This is an issue sadly common enough that the 'look inside' feature is a must if you can't browse it in person and want to minimize frustration and disappointment.

  • adrienneyoung  on  March 26, 2013

    Maybe it's a plot to get us all to buy more of our cookbooks in kindle format? I love my kindle library, but I HATE cooking off a screen! Bleh.

  • PatriciaAnn  on  March 27, 2013

    And let's not forget transparent pages. I never buy a book if you can see the print from the other side of the page; it's hard on the eyes.
    I, too, do not cook off my Kindle.

  • tagubajones  on  March 27, 2013

    Loads of young designers wear glasses.

    The problem is not just what they perceive to be the most eye-catching design, but the fact that, these days, design exists as a category unto itself, sometimes even divorced from function. I also suspect that today's young designers, whether or not they wear glasses, have grown up with the awful concept that text is mere "content" that fills a box that is part of an overall design.

    I hope you can go through with your rating app. This might wake up some publishers to the fact that we actually read our cookbooks…

  • NaomiManygoats  on  March 28, 2013

    Tiny font drives me nuts. I have always had bad eyesight, but when even my husband, cannot read the print with reading glasses on, it is beyond absurd! I write a lot of reviews for amazon, and when the font is too small for me to read, they lose a star. Which is a shame to have a cookbook that has great potential and a lot of recipes that you cannot read!

  • geoff@kupesoftware.com  on  March 29, 2013

    This has been on my mind lately, too. Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Hoe is especially guilty of this, with not only a tiny font, but very faint colours, too (it's orange, of all bizarre colours to use!). Why would anyone do this, especially when there's plenty of space available on the page?!

  • lesorelle  on  March 31, 2013

    Hand in hand with the proliferation of tiny print is drop-out type (white type on colored background) or colored type which, combined with inappropriate choice of typefaces, makes it near to impossible to read recipes nowadays. I was at a reading this past year where several of the cookbook authors choose to read text from their iPads rather than actual copies of their books because… the type was too tiny!

  • LDGourmet  on  April 1, 2013

    Yes our arms get shorter as we get older. This is partly why I love cooking from recipes I pull up on my iPad. I slap a sheet of StretchTite over the screen (AKA my iPad condom) and I can make the type as big as I need. Voila!

  • ellabee  on  April 1, 2013

    Tiny type is maddening. It's absolutely inexcusable in ingredients and directions, the heart of any cookbook. It's also very difficult to forgive when applied to page numbers. This goes double if the already tiny page numbers are positioned in the center of the page rather than at the outside corner, where they can be easily read while riffling for quick recipe location. The larger the page, the more dysfunctional centered page numbers become. I'm looking at you, Artisan, publishers of Ad Hoc at Home (Thomas Keller).

  • ellabee  on  April 2, 2013

    @Susie: The paragraph about the Anness books is one of your best passages ever. Makes me laugh out loud every time.

  • veronicafrance  on  April 3, 2013

    I recently bought a book called My Basque Cuisine by Ash Mair in which all the pages have a greyish textured background. A number of reviewers complained this made it difficult to read. As it happens, despite my aging eyes I don't have too much of a problem with it. But it's a clear case of a designer trying to be clever and ignoring the actual USE of the item they are designing. It must have made it more expensive to print too!

  • geoff@kupesoftware.com  on  April 15, 2013

    Not one of you have the correct answer, it's because some titles are shrunk down when reprinted and so the type becomes less legible at the reduced size.

  • geoff@kupesoftware.com  on  July 25, 2013

    Eyesight being what it is… That said, no one should have to go about reading with squinted eyes hunting a 200 watt light bulb. The publishers have the ability to print books with a very decent print size with jet black coloring against a snow white page. Why don't they?

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