As publishers work tirelessly to release digital versions of titles across the spectrum, Poetry is one genre that continues to be passed over. The dearth of classic poetry eBooks is not to be blamed on cultural limitations, but on technological limitations. Tricky indentations and structured stanzas of most poetry has proven problematic for basic eBook conversion services. Fortunately, we're starting to see more sophisticated eBook tools that can handle complex design needs. Will we start to see more poetry titles emerge as a result?
Poetry has long been plagued by digital format issues, from mangled line breaks in automated eBook conversion to formatting whims of individual eReader devices and reading apps. Because poetry is predominately text, it's easy to assume that converting the text digitally needs no special treatment. Poets experiment with line justifications and complex indentations in word document programs, creating word flow structures with strong visual and literary impact. These tabs and line returns, which seem like rudimentary format options, just don't translate into the eBook's xhtml page coding. Even when automated eBook conversion services can retain a word document's format, other variables can alter the integrity of a poem. Screen sizes and user preferences can impact font styles and sizes resulting in line breaks or white space not originally intended by the author.
The structural flaws have frustrated some poets to the extent where they requested the removal of their digital catalogue. Other poets request disclaimers on their eBooks warning their readers of potential format issues.
Poets and their publishers now have more options when it comes to eBook conversion. Older printed volumes can be scanned and saved as static PDF files to preserve the stanzas and line breaks. PDFs are universal standalone documents that can be read on computers, tablets and smartphones without dedicated eBook applications. The EPUB is a lightweight and widely available format that can retain a book's styles while allowing for user accessibility. however, converting to EPUB is time-consuming as it requires programmers to code individual poems.
With more sensitive technology in place to address the demands of poetry eBook design, are publishers ready to invest in Poetry again? The extensive design needs for individual titles means converting the back catalogue of poetry volumes is a considerable feat for any publishing house. What was already a low-priority genre for publishers may remain as such until consumer demand rises. We may see a slight uptick in the release of classic poetry, although at snail's pace, whilst most poets endure obscurity a while longer.
For emerging and active poets, the technical challenges offer ample creative opportunities. Armed with knowledge of how eBooks work, some poets could experiment with the digital page–perhaps developing an innovative poetry structure that simplifies the back-end for eBook conversion, making the form more attractive to digital publishers. Industrious poets might even consider tackling the conversion themselves and release their eBooks independently.
Improved technology has given poets renewed confidence in digital publication. If this enthusiasm continues to spread, publishers may find themselves amidst a revival of the genre. It's well worth giving poetry eBooks a second glance.
Content on this site was originally written by Katharine Miller between 2000-2015. Many feature articles and interviews were published in print and on websites that no longer exist. Katharine is reproducing her written material here for portfolio and archival purposes only. Links and credits to clients and original publication will be included where possible.