Ebooks and Typos: Readers, and Consumers, Deserve Better

A recent article in The Guardian highlighted an embarrassing typo in a romance novel:

When she spotted me, she flung her anus high in the air and kept them up until she reached me.

Yes, that “anus” was meant to be “arms,” but the OCR software used in the book make a little mistake. This was spotted on Google Books, so it’s not even a question of cheap OCR software. It is, however, a scan that has not been proofread.

Over the years, reading ebooks, I’ve seen a huge number of typos, and it’s getting annoying. I can understand an un-proofread book, such as the Google Books example, but when a mainstream publisher sells an ebook with lots of typos, they should be held responsible. I’ve recently been reading William Trevor’s Collected Stories (only available in Kindle format from Amazon UK apparently), and I’m appalled at the number of typos in the book. There are a few in each story; and there are a lot of stories in that book, which is some 1,200 pages in the print edition.

I’ve seen worse. I bought a Stephen King book that was missing nearly 100 pages. And I’ve seen terrible formatting in ebooks. All of these examples show that publishers don’t pay much attention to the ebooks they sell.

As an author, I’m familiar with the law of the conservation of typographical errors. When correcting proofs, every typo that you remove is replaced by another one to maintain balance in the universe. But I don’t think any of my books have had more than a few typos. Seeing the number of typos – or, more correctly, scanos – in these books shows that there’s no serious proofreading going on after the books are scanned.

I note, however, that the William Trevor book is published by Penguin, the same company whose edition of James Joyce’s Dubliners had such bad formatting. I’m not sure if it’s endemic at Penguin, but they’d do well to take a look at their production process.

You can report typos from a Kindle, but I don’t know if anything ever happens after you do. I think that we readers should contact the sellers of these ebooks and ask for refunds if there are more than a handful of typos. Only then will publisher (perhaps) start taking such things seriously.

10 thoughts on “Ebooks and Typos: Readers, and Consumers, Deserve Better

  1. I believe there’s a monumental psychological divide (on the part of “publishers” of all kinds) between print publication and digital publication.

    The organisation I work for produces print publications (a big, annual effort as well as smaller books nearly weekly and various ad hoc pieces). It also has website content, electronic direct-mailings and other things that exist only in the digital realm.

    What I’ve noticed is that print pieces are proofread religiously, more than once and by more than one set of eyes, and nearly always by at least one person who knows the material and is a good proofreader. Typically the copy is properly edited and prepared before it’s typeset as well.

    But the digital content enjoys none of this attention. Editing is poor or nonexistent, the proofreading (if any) seems to miss glaring errors with regularity, and in the case of website content, no genuine proofreading after “typesetting” takes place at all, so accuracy is totally dependent on the quality of the supplied copy.

    Perhaps this is because digital publishing encourages a mentality of “we can always fix it later” whereas physically printing something seems terribly final: any errors seem set in stone, and so more care is taken. When I’m in a relaxed mood I actually find this fascinating.

  2. I believe there’s a monumental psychological divide (on the part of “publishers” of all kinds) between print publication and digital publication.

    The organisation I work for produces print publications (a big, annual effort as well as smaller books nearly weekly and various ad hoc pieces). It also has website content, electronic direct-mailings and other things that exist only in the digital realm.

    What I’ve noticed is that print pieces are proofread religiously, more than once and by more than one set of eyes, and nearly always by at least one person who knows the material and is a good proofreader. Typically the copy is properly edited and prepared before it’s typeset as well.

    But the digital content enjoys none of this attention. Editing is poor or nonexistent, the proofreading (if any) seems to miss glaring errors with regularity, and in the case of website content, no genuine proofreading after “typesetting” takes place at all, so accuracy is totally dependent on the quality of the supplied copy.

    Perhaps this is because digital publishing encourages a mentality of “we can always fix it later” whereas physically printing something seems terribly final: any errors seem set in stone, and so more care is taken. When I’m in a relaxed mood I actually find this fascinating.

  3. The purpose of these google book scans are to preserve classic works for future generations in a digital format and make them widely available but I ask what the purpose is of this exercise if they are never proofread? Tiny compacted font on a fading crumbling page can at least provide you with enough reasonable context to make out words but I have down loaded a number of classic works off google with pages of special characters and gibberish (Why do they even allow the computer to use the sign for the yen when scanning an old western novel?). They are doing no great service to anyone and make it difficult for readers to at least flag errors or submit their own corrections.

  4. The purpose of these google book scans are to preserve classic works for future generations in a digital format and make them widely available but I ask what the purpose is of this exercise if they are never proofread? Tiny compacted font on a fading crumbling page can at least provide you with enough reasonable context to make out words but I have down loaded a number of classic works off google with pages of special characters and gibberish (Why do they even allow the computer to use the sign for the yen when scanning an old western novel?). They are doing no great service to anyone and make it difficult for readers to at least flag errors or submit their own corrections.

  5. I’m guessing the typos in this post were a test for us?

    Only then will publisher (perhaps) start >>
    Only then will publishers (perhaps) start

    the OCR software used in the book make a little mistake >>
    the OCR software used in the book made a little mistake

  6. I’m guessing the typos in this post were a test for us?

    Only then will publisher (perhaps) start >>
    Only then will publishers (perhaps) start

    the OCR software used in the book make a little mistake >>
    the OCR software used in the book made a little mistake

  7. YES! If I buy a sandwich and they switch the tomatoes I asked for and give me cucumbers instead, nobody would assume insubordination if I ask for another. If you pay for it, you tell them if the product doesn’t meet specs, and if they don’t listen, tell them with your wallet. However, because many companies have licences on classics which won’t go away anytime soon due to Mickey Mouse laws, you can expect people to charge you for books which google has scanned for free. Blame not the people who scanned it, but the people who put laws in place that make you pay for things which should be public domain. That way, if people noticed errors, there might be a way for revision to take place. Just my two cents.

  8. YES! If I buy a sandwich and they switch the tomatoes I asked for and give me cucumbers instead, nobody would assume insubordination if I ask for another. If you pay for it, you tell them if the product doesn’t meet specs, and if they don’t listen, tell them with your wallet. However, because many companies have licences on classics which won’t go away anytime soon due to Mickey Mouse laws, you can expect people to charge you for books which google has scanned for free. Blame not the people who scanned it, but the people who put laws in place that make you pay for things which should be public domain. That way, if people noticed errors, there might be a way for revision to take place. Just my two cents.

  9. Late to the party, but I too am increasingly frustrated by this. I have a lot of free classic novels, and the text just keeps getting re-used with the same errors. I don’t see how these (Gutenberg?) editions can ever be fixed because so many copies have been made.

    Charlotte Bronte’s ‘The Professor’ ebook not only contains numerous typos, but every word that should be in italics is in capitals, which reads very awkwardly.

    I bought Anthony Trollope’s ‘The Three Clerks’ from Amazon (in book form). It turned out to be a print-on-demand version of the e-book. No breaks between paragraphs. Numerous errors. Random new paragraphs in the middle of the text. Chapters starting on the bottom line of a page.

    I wrote to Amazon about that one, offering to improve the layout and fix errors! They did apologise profusely and refund the cost, but I don’t know that anything has actually been done.

  10. Late to the party, but I too am increasingly frustrated by this. I have a lot of free classic novels, and the text just keeps getting re-used with the same errors. I don’t see how these (Gutenberg?) editions can ever be fixed because so many copies have been made.

    Charlotte Bronte’s ‘The Professor’ ebook not only contains numerous typos, but every word that should be in italics is in capitals, which reads very awkwardly.

    I bought Anthony Trollope’s ‘The Three Clerks’ from Amazon (in book form). It turned out to be a print-on-demand version of the e-book. No breaks between paragraphs. Numerous errors. Random new paragraphs in the middle of the text. Chapters starting on the bottom line of a page.

    I wrote to Amazon about that one, offering to improve the layout and fix errors! They did apologise profusely and refund the cost, but I don’t know that anything has actually been done.

Leave a Reply to Emma Glaisher Cancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.