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Things just keep getting more and more complicated.

March 11, 2013
by
Technological marvels.

Technological marvels.

A few days ago, I received a problem report ticket from Amazon:

Text in your book is unreadable for readers using black or sepia color schemes.”

It is a rather cryptic message and didn’t give any details about solutions. It did give a link to the Kindle formatting page: Guide to Kindle Content Quality. The guide gave very little useful information about the issue.

Ultimately, I went off on an Internet search and eventually discovered that I wasn’t alone, others had received emails such as mine, but there were no real solutions. The original problem, which wasn’t readily apparent, is the newer Kindles, such as the Fire, can display the book with a black background with white text. Several authors took the attitude that viewing a document with white-on-black letters was so “80’s.” I didn’t exactly see this as a healthy attitude or solution to the problem. We authors can’t always know the reasons our customers do things.

I originally wrote and published my book using Microsoft’s Word. I no longer have Word, it proved too arcane and difficult to use, not to mention, expensive. I’ve since migrated to OpenOffice.org and their Writer tool. It is user friendly and offers all the same bells and whistles as MS Word, and is free! (they DO appreciate donations)

For reasons I won’t go into here, when I first published Three Hundred Zeroes, I was able to upload the document to Amazon’s Kindle site as a MS Word document. Recently, I had to make some changes to the document and decided to do all the work in HTML (a language used to write web sites). The tools I have are not very robust for such work, but I’m sufficiently comfortable with HTML at the source code level and can fix things where needed.

In January, I did an update of the Kindle version of the book, uploaded it to Amazon’s KDP site (their Kindle interface) and thought I was done. Then came the email, I wasn’t done, apparently.

I couldn’t find a solution in any of the OpenOffice forums, so I posted my problem. Usually, within an hour or two, someone will respond with a solution. I waited. Nothing. I then decided that I had to dig in and find the problem. It occurred to me that the HTML for the book has various “styles” defined. The styles guide the electronic viewing equipment (computer, Ebook, Iphone, etc.) with instructions on how to display the information.

After diving into the HTML code I found that it did indeed have some CSS definitions, and in there, I did find a few that explicitly defined that the text should be “black,” using code #000000. Black text, on a black background means a black screen!

The definitions defined the basic text (P)and a few of the headers (H2, H3 and H4) as black. I fixed just the “P” (for paragraph) and loaded it back into my Kindle simulator. Sure enough, I was now able to read white text on a black screen for the paragraphs and the H1 headers. Problem solved!. I went back and fixed all of the parameters to use “automatic” colors, instead of “fixed” colors.

It has since been posted and updated on Amazon. If you already have a copy of the book, pester Amazon for the updated version (11 March, 2013.) They probably haven’t sent out word about the fix yet, but if they get enough requests, they will.

Several technological areas collided to cause this problem. First of all, when I first wrote and published this book on Kindle, it wasn’t capable of being displayed in this fashion. Since I originally posted it with MS Word, it probably would have worked in the newer units, since I didn’t have CSS code defining colors. When I saved the file in OpenOffice as an HTML file, it wouldn’t allow me to turn on the automatic color feature, which means, let the viewing device control color. In spite of all of this, I’m really surprised that the Kindle code doesn’t inspect the CSS to see if there is a request for black print, on a black background. It should, and it should force the text to white under those conditions, that just stands to reason.

These technical devices we use these days are extremely complicated and I can only imagine that these sorts of problems will continue to crop up. They are designed by humans, and we’re not infallible.

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