Nuance in the art of fine Bible publishing

Posted: 20th August 2007 by ElShaddai Edwards in Uncategorized

The thumbnails below are of two “ultrathin” NASB editions from Foundation Publications. Regular readers will know that I treasure my NASB Side-Column Reference Wide Margin edition from Foundation; however, one of these is sorely tempting as well.

30228_3_exc_dp351313_3_exc_dpThe sample page on the left is Foundation’s NASB Ultrathin Reference Bible. This Bible is one of the only editions of the NASB to be offered in paragraph format rather than the more familiar verse-by-verse presentation. The page size is 5-1/2″ x 8-1/2″ x 7/8″ with 9pt text. The sample page on the right is Foundation’s NASB Large Print Ultrathin Reference Bible. The page size is 6-1/2″ x 9-1/4″ x 1-1/8″ with 10pt text, so measurably larger than the regular edition. The caveats must be noted that neither is truly an “ultrathin” Bible and that 10pt text qualifies as “large print” only in comparison to 7-9pt standard Bibles.

I wanted to make a couple of observations: first, I love the paragraph formatting of the regular-print edition (left), but it would have made a better edition to not include the references. The text feels tight and thick with the center-column squeezed right up to the text margin (a common complaint I have with center-column reference Bibles); the effect is magnified by the block paragraph text. If not a text-only format, than this might be better in a single-column text layout like my NASB Side-Column Reference Wide Margin.

The large-print edition (right) features verse-by-verse formatting, which provides a little more whitespace in and around the text, even with the center-column references and full justification. However, more importantly, notice how the publisher has mixed serif and non-serif font faces. The section headers, verse numbers and reference notes are all set in a non-serif font, creating visual differentiation between the text and the surrounding apparatus. I find that this approach makes it easier for the eye to focus on the text or the notes without being distracted by the other. The regular edition uses all serif fonts on the page, which contributes to the dense appearance and all the text seems to run together.

I have been highly critical of the typesetting of most recent study bibles with their garish text colors and mixed typography that tries to be contemporary. In this case, it’s gratifying to see that mixed font styles can still be done in an aesthetically pleasing manner with a traditional Bible layout. I love Foundation’s commitment to better publishing standards and wish that other publishing houses could provide such high quality at reasonable prices.

If I did not already have the wide margin reference edition, a copy of the large-print ultrathin would certainly be at the top of my list.

  1. ElShaddai,
    I appreciate Foundation’s commitment to quality as much as anybody, but there is a Bible you should check out as well, and that’s Zondervan’s NASB Giant-Print personal-size reference Bible here
    This is the one that’s been my personal companion for several years. While it’s not really GIANT print, it’s comfortable, and you will appreciate the paragraph format and the easy-reading reference system, even though it’s also center-column. Click on the excerpt and take a look.

  2. voxstefani says:

    Aww, shucks–Gary Zimmerli stole my thunder. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    But of course, he’s absolutely right in everything he says. Nearly everyone who came to the store where I once was Bible Czar looking for a NASB walked out with this Giant Print Reference Bible, Personal Size edition.

    (Meanwhile, I can certainly appreciate the sweet irony in the fact that I once had unlimited access to any edition of the Bible that I wanted while now I can’t even find a pew TNIV at my local Borders, but I’m not such a fan of the whole situation. Heh.)

  3. Thanks for the link, Gary – the sample page looks good. I’d be curious about the binding – is it sewn like Foundation or glued? Isn’t that the big deal about the TNIV Reference Bible – that it’s supposedly a sewn binding from Zondervan?

    Esteban, did Baker carry NASBs from Foundation? I’ve seen maybe one or two at our local Christian bookstore, but nothing recently. Seems like another publisher with limited distribution, at least here in Minnesota.

  4. Jim Swindle says:

    You’re right that such things matter.

    I’m convinced that one reason the ESV has sold well is the clear font in most of the editions, and one reason the HCSB has not sold better is the light-weight font in most of the editions.

  5. I agree, Jim. The HCSB suffers a poor font face – it looks a little oversize and the lightweight style doesn’t help. I especially don’t care for the New Testament typesetting, with the OT quotes in bold and that funky box sign in the crucifixion texts, Luke’s account of the naming of John the Baptist and in Revelation – probably a few others as well. It looks gimmicky.

  6. Unfortunately it’s glued, ElShaddai, and bonded leather.

    I wrote to Zondervan a few months ago telling them how impressed I am with that Bible, and suggesting they do it in real leather and sewn binding, and the reply they sent me was that they’d consider it.

  7. voxstefani says:

    Baker did indeed carry Foundation NASBs–the whole line, in fact. This was particularly true pre-ESV; by the time of my second stint there in 2005, demand on the NASB had gone down, and so there were less editions available. However, the leather Foundation Reference NABSs always sell, so they certainly had them. Baker’s the only bookstore where I’ve seen every imaginable edition of the Bible available at one time or another: certainly the only place I’ve seen, for instance, things like the reprint of the 1901 ASV in both hardcover and genuine leather!

  8. That’s a good point, Esteban. We talk a lot about the ESV vs. TNIV “debate”, but it really seems like the ESV takes more away from the NASB, especially with their implicit “a more readable NASB” marketing theme.

    It’s interesting that both the NASB and ESV were conceived and marketed as the conservative evangelical response to the theologically “liberal” Bibles of their day, the RSV and NRSV (later also the TNIV), respectively. Yet the NASB doesn’t seem to raise the same ire that the ESV does in some corners.

  9. the NASB doesnโ€™t seem to raise the same ire that the ESV does in some corners.

    Well, the NASB people didn’t attack other translations like the ESV people did, but only set out to make the most accurate Bible they could, and marketed it as such. And they did market it, letting it gain its reputation by its own quality.

    The ESV people attacked other translations, particularly the TNIV of course, and loudly trumpeted their own revision of the RSV, which I think also raised the ire of those who use and love the NRSV and the NASB. The ESV basically elbowed its way roughly into the fray, which is not exactly a very good way to make good bedfellows.

  10. The ESV people attacked other translations, particularly the TNIV of course, and loudly trumpeted their own revision of the RSV, which I think also raised the ire of those who use and love the NRSV and the NASB. The ESV basically elbowed its way roughly into the fray, which is not exactly a very good way to make good bedfellows.

    Yes, which makes me look at quotes like this one from Dr. James Packer, general editor/chair of the ESV translation, with a healthy amount of double-take…

  11. voxstefani says:

    Yes, it is largely the NASB market that has suffered with the publication of the ESV. I don’t seriously think that the release of the ESV caused anyone to veer off the TNIV: after all, these are two very different types of translation, and sides for each were taken long ago in the NASB vs. NIV controversies.

    I think it’s very unfortunate that the NASB has lost some of it market. I still consider it a far better translation than the ESV–if anything, because it’s more consistent! Come to think of it, the ESV is ultimately not that different from the NIV in the matter of translational consistency, even if they turn out to be very different translations.

    Meanwhile, the estimable Dr Packer must be living in an alternate universe! My exhibit A is Grudem and Poythress’ The TNIV and the Gender-Neutral Bible Controversy, and my exhibit B Ryken’s The Word of God in English.

  12. Yeah. And try to find a negative comment about the ESV over there …

    Sorry, I guess I never realized how frustrated I have become about the attack on the TNIV. But it seems to me they’ve really done a major job of hyping that warmed-over RSV.

  13. Oh, sorry, we posted on top of each other, ElShaddai. My post was referring to your previous post about the quote from Dr. Packer.

  14. Oops, sorry again. That wasn’t ElShaddai, it was Esteban. Sorry, bro.

  15. voxstefani says:

    Well, I certainly don’t find it offensive to be confused for ElShaddai! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Meanwhile, I love the “warmed-over RSV” bit. That is exactly what it reads like! Just like when you microwave some pizza after keeping in the fridge, and it’s kind of stale, but passable. (Can you tell I’m a bachelor?)

    Personally, I use quite a bit the Catholic Edition of the RSV, recently published in a second edition by Ignatius Press. This is the old RSV, with the well known changes in the NT, and with new changes made in the OT: such as using “virgin” in Is. 7:14, and changing all of the “Thees” and “Thous” to “you.” Because the changes are minimal, it certainly reads like the real thing, though it is not without its problems in matters of consistency.

  16. Kevin Sam says:

    I don’t like the center-column either. There doesn’t seem to be many bibles that have side column reference because it seems like a waste of paper, but for those who like wide-margins it’s much easier on the eyes and extra space for writing notes. I also cherish my NASB Side-Column Reference by Foundation and refer to it all the time along with my other translations. Nice observations on the NASB Ultrathin Reference Bible. It’s tempting me to take a closer look at it but I’m going to hold off on it but I might still cave in when I see it in the bookstore.

  17. Thanks for stopping by, Kevin. I hope things are going well in Taiwan this summer.

    I think the combo of single-column text and side references is the right approach, but recognize that it leads to bigger Bibles, which are more expensive to produce, especially when combined with thicker paper adequate for note taking. If I didn’t like to scribble notes down, the NASB Large Print Ultrathin Reference would be the way to go, IMO.

  18. […] Nit one: Tyndale has used a sans serif font for almost everything. Sans serif fonts are great for smaller font sizes (like references and study notes), but the larger text size of the scripture in this edition might have been better served with a serif font and provided some visual relief (in my opinion). See a comparison here. […]