Yeah, I know, they’re not “green,” they’re heavy, they take up space, blah, blah.
But it’s the one format I can take with me into the crapper and not be accused of looking at porn.
And that’s important.
But, alas, time marches on, and the move toward publishing books exclusively in an electronic format is at this point an inevitability.
Sadly .pdfs are the current default format, and I don’t think that’s going to change soon. But as publisher let go of the bonds of printed books, they need to also rethink the design and layout assumptions that exist because of the physical book and page. For instance, some titles that are solely published in pdf format still use the 8.5×11 portrait format.
During this interim period, when both print and e-book formats coexist, it’s understandable. You format your book for print, print to pdf, and you have both formats.
But once you no longer have to format for print, you need to let go of those layout assumptions.
In fact, they need to let go of layout in general. Talk to anyone with a dedicated e-book reader (like me) and they sing the praises of re-flowable text. It makes the world wide web awesome. It makes reading e-books on my Kindle awesome.
But there are a few obstacles — specifically for the RPG industry.
RPG publishers love their sidebars — and it’s often the first thing publishing people mention about re-flowable formats: it can’t handle side bars (or it handles them poorly).
In many cases, sidebars (that’s the little narrow paragraphs on the sides of the main text in just about any RPG book) are more of a decision of layout than content. The material’s related to the topic in the main text, but perhaps it’s a small tangent, or a special case. Whatever the reason, most sidebars could be integrated into the main text of the page with little, if any, editing.
There are VERY few cases where the content really warrants a sidebar. And what are those cases? When integrating the content into the main text is going to cause confusion.
What did we do before the invention of sidebars? We used italics, maybe parentheticals, etc. Perfectly serviceable alternatives — and re-flowable!
Unless you’re using a tablet PC, iPad or some-such, four-color artwork is going to lose its impact. A temporary problem, yes, but a problem. I have no doubt that someday e-paper will be able to support color, but not now. It does a fine job with line art (or any art made to look like a woodcut), but color images end up looking washed out and, well, black and white.
Although it depends on the game and publisher, some tables in RPG books can get downright huge. I’ve seen them span two 8.5×11 pages. There is no document reader available that I know of that’s going to display that kind of table in any readable way. Even if the table isn’t 11×17, most e-doc readers can’t handle large tables well anyway.
There are only two answers: zooming or breaking the table up into smaller parts. Then again, maybe the RPG hobby and do with less tables …
Alas, Poor Book
I’m going to miss books. Am I a Luddite? Probably. But I’ve come to grip with the inevitable. That last two GURPS 4th Edition books I’ve purchased I had to buy used off Amazon.com. They’re out of print, though available on .pdf — GURPS Infinite Worlds, GURPS Traveller Interstellar Wars.
Steve Jackson Games has seen the writing on the wall and embraced the future of e-publishing. So have others. Eventually they all will.