First Look: Crossway’s ESV Reader’s Bible

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The most interesting of the Bibles slated for release by Crossway in 2014 has to be the ESV Reader’s Bible, which features one of the purest, most uncluttered layouts we have seen in a long time. The Reader’s Bible looks like a book meant to be read: the 9 pt. text is set in a single column and paragraphed. There are no cross references, no superscript notes, and even the verse numbers have been done away with. A running header at the top of the page locates you in terms of book, chapter, and verse range — but chapter numbers are whisked off to the margin. The header, the chapter numbers, and the page numbers are printed in dark red, setting them apart from the text itself.

Now that Crossway has released a PDF preview of the interior layout, you can take the Reader’s Bible for a test drive. I received mockups of several page spreads and a blank sample of the hardcover edition, so I can offer some insight into both the design and form factor. The snapshots in this post depict pages from the Reader’s Bible pasted onto black poster board. Since they’re hard copies, they give a slightly different sense of how the Reader’s Bible will appear than viewing the PDF online. However, please remember that these images do not represent the final paper. They’re output on very opaque stock. No matter how opaque the paper Crossway ends up choosing is, it won’t be this opaque.

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Less is more. The design team at Crossway has created a very elegant typesetting while employing a minimum of elements.

What makes for a reader-friendly Bible? If you take any edition of the Bible, enlarge the scale, and print a new run on more opaque paper, you will have a reader-friendlier book than you had to begin with. This is how most publishers up to now have approached the problem of making Bibles for reading. The design hasn’t changed, only the execution. Now execution is important, and the success or failure of the ESV Reader’s Bible when it releases in May will depend a great deal on the quality of printing and paper. Before press work and paper become a factor, though, there’s the question of design.

Traditionally Bibles have been designed more like reference works than books meant for reading, and this has subtly influenced the way we use them. A Bible for readers ought to look like the books you read start-to-finish. Some people use “looking like a novel” as a shorthand, but single-column paragraphed text is standard both for fiction and non-fiction. When you open such a book, the design is transparent. It simply works, without calling attention to itself. The text, not the layout, is what shines.

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The only difference between the ESV Reader’s Bible and the typical book is the type size, which is still small compared to the histories and novels on my nightstand. There are few distractions on the page, nothing to pull you out of the text. The proportions are elegant. The design team at Crossway has made it look easy, but I know from experience that it isn’t. In some ways, I think the Reader’s Bible represents the apotheosis of several years’ worth of good design coming out of the Crossway shop. Nothing here is out of step or novel in comparison with recent editions. The Reader’s Bible is a rigorous distillation of the necessities and nothing else.

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One of my favorite personal design projects is creating the order of worship for our church each week. Our services are Scripture rich, full of readings short and long, and when I design these passages I remove all the apparatus but the text itself. The emphasis is on the words alone. This is the experience you get from the Reader’s Bible, about as unmediated as you’ll find. If you’re coming from an old two-column, verse-by-verse setting, the change will be shocking, invigorating — it’s as if someone just cleaned the pane of glass you’ve been staring through. If you already use a single column, paragraphed setting, the shift will be more subtle. Even though I’ve been using the ESV Legacy a lot recently, which is free of cross references and notes, with only chapter and verse numbers inserted, I find the Reader’s Bible cleaner and less distracting.

The mock-up hardcover is a little larger than my Cambridge Clarion, but easily hand-sized. It’s comparable in scale to medium-sized hardcover, though of course the page count makes it thick. As of now, this cloth-over-board cover and a couple of TruTone bindings are all we have to look forward to. I’m not disappointed … but only because I love hardcovers for their practicality and TruTones for their suitability for rebinding. The mock-up opens flat and looks pretty nice.

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Don’t get me wrong: I would love to see Crossway do a Netherlands-printed, goatskin-bound edition of the Reader’s Bible. But I will be quite happy to get my hands on the humble hardcover, which will make a wonderful reader.

This is a first look at a Bible that doesn’t exist yet. When we see it in May, the question will be how well the Reader’s Bible fulfills its promise. Judging by what we see here, I’d say that potential is huge. If the printing is good and the paper sufficiently opaque (I’m hoping for Legacy-level opacity, at least) then we will have an affordable, beautifully-designed Bible optimized for pure reading. I am happy to see Crossway releasing such a unique edition. I can hardly wait until May.

44 Comments on “First Look: Crossway’s ESV Reader’s Bible

  1. I wasn’t very interested at first, when I read that the chapter and verse numbers had been removed. But this post presents a much better picture of what the Reader’s Bible will actually be like, and it looks very nice. Yet another book I’ve seen on this site that is very desirable.

  2. Great post Mr. Bertrand! Out of all the new offerings, this is the one I wanted to know about most. If the estimated price for the hardcover on the website is accurate, it is truly a gem at such a low price. I too am attracted to it being offered in a hardcover, even though goatskin offerings are my favorite.

    • Some people are unimpressed with hardcovers, but I love them — when they open flat. They are rugged, handy, and easy to store on a shelf without fear of damage. Also they’re more appropriate aesthetically in a variety of contexts. A beautiful hardcover is a good format for Scripture.

  3. The Reader’s Bible looks lovely. One question about it, though: in inches, how wide is that single column? I find that I have trouble taking in the entirety of a column that is more than about 3 1/4″ in width. This means, for instance, that the 4″ column in the Legacy, as pleasant as the proportions look on the page, offers the same kind of distractions that the “orphans” do in double-column poetry. I’m constantly having to flick my eye to catch a word or two, which takes me out of the text. I fear that the Reader’s Bible will give me the same problems, but I’m hoping it won’t.

    • Matthew, I would measure it for you but I’m 1200 miles away from the page spreads at the moment. If you print the PDF preview you can check for yourself whether it will work. The gutter width on the final product is hard to predict from mock ups, too, and that can influence perception of the text column.

      • Thanks for the reply. From eyeballing the PDF’s, I’m guessing a column between 3.5 and 4 inches. Depending on how close it is to the former number, it may work for me.

  4. Hi Mark,

    Thank you for this. Would it be possible sometime or through correspondence to see your order of worship that you produce for your church? I regularly put our meeting together so would love to see this.

    Thanks for this and the blog!

  5. Ah…the Bertrand Effect rises again! It’s cost me many a coin and there’s more to come…or spend. My Bertrand single-column stack of the last six years has grown more than I ever dreamed. Looking forward to this one (actually two).

  6. Thanks Mark. Looks better than I thought. Any indication if Lego will do the printing?

  7. Does anyone know of an equivalent version for the King James?

    Excited for this ESV!

    • The closest equivalent I can think of using the KJV is the Cambridge New Paragraph Bible (though it does have verse numbers and notes). Penguin publishes a paperback version that is worth checking out.

  8. A) This is really exciting. It looks most excellent.
    B) What are you going to do with that blank Bible mock-up? It seems like a most excellent journal or something.

  9. Woo hoo, I can’t wait!

    I notice the spine of the hardcover is cleaner looking than some of their other Bibles. I have an ESV Legacy whose spine says “Holy Bible”, then “ESV”, then “ESV” again but a little fancier, then “English Standard Version”, then “Crossway”. I always thought that looked really busy and clunky, marring an otherwise beautifully designed Bible. This one looks like it loses one of the ESV labels, which is a definite step in the right direction….

  10. Mark – the dimensions look similar to the ESV Classic Reference which is a handy size. Is that about right?

    • More or less, though it’s been awhile since I’ve used a Classic Reference so I’m relying on memory. I think the Reader’s Bible is shorter and thicker … only don’t quote me on the former.

    • Crossway lists the Reader’s Bible as having a 5.25 x 7.75 trim. That’s about halfway between Crossway’s Personal Reference Bible and the Classic Reference.

  11. The layout looks terrific. I love the red “superstructure”, which sets itself nicely against the text. I definitely agree with the other commentators irritated at the spine clutter that mars an otherwise superb edition. “Holy Bible – English Standard Version” is sufficient. No need for the garish ESV logo or abbreviation.

  12. The key thing for me in a single-column is to limit the words or syllables per line to that of normal books. This Reader proves Crossway is finally getting this right. It has a good 10% fewer letters per line than the Legacy, the Personal Ref, or the Heritage which I think is critical. Plus, unlike the Heritage, whose skinny outer margins left me cold when I actually saw one, the Reader appears to be closer to a normal book in that regard. (The Legacy is probably overkill, unless you really like jotting notes in the text.) And of course, labeling the apparatus in red, instead of the words of Christ, is a huge improvement in both readability and beauty. I’m glad they retained discrete (red) chapter numbers, and would even have appreciated an italicized description of the page’s content across the top, like the classic KJV layouts had, to aid relocating a section whose chapter number I may have forgotten, but that’s just a quibble. My main complaint is font size. Why couldn’t they have produced this in a normal 6×9 book size with everything scaled up to 10 or 10.5 point type? This is not a “take to church” sort of Bible, so portability should have been low on the list of design criteria and approximating normal books in terms of font size should have been higher.

    Oh well, I’ll just have to get stronger lenses.

    I also am a little surprised by the cost difference between the hardbound and the TruTones. I wouldn’t have thought the manufacturing cost difference between the two would be that much. But if a leather edition is not being initially offered, that just might make my cover choice easier. But the light-colored cloth will sure show smudges, grime, and coffee stains!

  13. I see the NIV ‘BOOKS OF THE BIBLE’ for sale in hardcover on Amazon for about $17. Do you know if the ESV Reader’s Bible organizes the books in the usual Protestant way, or does it combine Luke-Acts, etc.?

  14. Disappointed that this has chapter numbers on the margin. Was really hoping that this would be similar to the “books of the bible” and look like a regular novel with no chapter or verse numbers.

  15. Looks really good. The only quibble I can think of at the moment: I wish they had decided to use contemporary formatting for dialogue, i.e., a new speaker would begin a new paragraph, rather than the standard ESV paragraphs divisions. The HCSB does this, and it works out real well.

    • I agree with you, Fernando, but that’s probably a translation-level decision rather than an edition-level one. Breaking the ESV as-is into proper dialogue punctuation isn’t always effective, since the dialogue tags aren’t worded appropriately. You end up with something like:

      And he said, “This.”
      And he said, “That.”
      And he said to him, “The other.”

      It doesn’t look natural and probably reads better when buried in a longer paragraph. I do hope the translation team will take up the challenge at some point.

  16. Mark, does the mock-up open up like Crossway’s Single Column Journaling Bible? That’s what I’m hoping for as it’s my favorite hardcover.

  17. This is awesome. About two years ago I actually went and copy pasted the entire Bible into 66 different Word documents (Pages actually, it’s a Mac). Then I deleted all of the verse numbers, superscripts, etc. I had wanted to do this for about 5-6 years before I finally sat down for about a month and went through that. The fact that Crossway is doing it and binding it and making it so nice is absolutely great to me. I have a Single Column Legacy as my main Bible, but for something like daily reading this verses-absent layout is gonna be wonderful.

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  19. Lovely, and so, so close, but why oh why the line break with new chapters? Surely the aim is for it to flow as a reading experience and let the text speak for itself. Where there are unhelpful chapter divisions (as is so often the case with scripture), they will now be accentuated, not minimised, by a whacking great big gap in an otherwise uncluttered layout, thus defeating the main aim of liberating the text from such hindrances. Close, but no cigar.

  20. Does anyone know of an equivalent version for the NASB?
    Is there a contact at R. L. Allan that would take requests?

  21. This is exciting! I was just doing a Google search for ESV Bibles without chapter or verse numbers, and that’s how I found this blog post. Glad to hear that this Bible will be published soon, and (as it appears) in a very well-executed way! :)

  22. Wow, this bible format looks amazing. I like the referencing and chapter markers found in most bibles, as they can serve for various study purposes. However, there are days when I just want to read the bible fluidly the way I might read a noble. I think that this bible format will fit the bill for such instances. Truth be told, I wish they would release this edition in pdf format. I know that there are various electronic ebook bibles out there; I use the olive tree software for my esv study bible. However, I prefer reading high quality pdf files; I blame school for my aberration. I’m definitely going to buy this bible when it is released and maybe I can scan it so that I can read it on my tablet; I hope that’s not illegal. Thanks for your reviews and lovely blog.

  23. Will it also be available in epub format? With the current ESV epub there are so many endnote and footnote references that I can hardly touch the screen without be whisked away to someplace I don’t want to go.

  24. Questions for you lovely folks:

    How have you found the binding and paper quality of Crossway’s cloth-over-board books, vs. their tru-tone versions?

    And what’s all this hoopla over floppy yoga bendy covers? Wouldn’t a limp cover cause problems when reading without a solid work surface to support it? Apologies if I missed a blog post about this.

    Until I’m corrected, my plan for ultimate bible-reading aesthetics is this ESV reader, hardbound, with a Saddleback Leather Co. full-grain bible cover ($40).

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  26. Just thought of this, Didn’t ESV already come out with a Bible w/ no versification that Ryken was involved with? Or maybe it was just that this one was on regular paper so it appeared more like a book?

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