Publishers’ Neglect of Ebook Quality is Frustrating

I bought a few Kindle ebooks by J. G. Ballard last night. I read many of his books back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and with a movie version of High Rise coming out soon, I thought it would be a good time to read some again.

The first one I started reading is The Atrocity Exhibition (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), which, while not Ballard’s best book by far, is an interesting surrealist look at car crashes. The introduction by William Burroughs shows the link between the two authors; Ballard was very much influenced by Burroughs.

But I’m frustrated by the poor quality of the text. There are typos every couple of pages. It’s really sad that publishers just do quick scans of print books and don’t proofread them at all before selling them as ebooks. Here’s an example:

Kindle typos

The typos haven’t been that close together in most of the book, but you can see that this is the kind of scan-o – words that are read wrong by OCR software – that is not uncommon. The first word should be “die” and the second “that.”

Harper Collins, the publisher of this book, is one of the world’s leading publishers. If they can’t expend the resources to have one proofreader read through a book, then they don’t deserve my business. Perhaps they’re just trying to crowd-source the proofreading. If you’re not aware, you can select text in a Kindle ebook – on a Kindle device or using the Kindle app – and signal typos. Amazon says that they’ll check them, but I don’t think they ever do. The reviews for this book on Amazon UK show that people complained about typos in this book years ago.

I’ll be asking Amazon for a refund. And I’ll continue to do so in the future every time there are more than a couple of typos in a book. (Yes, as a writer, I know that there are always typos, so I’m willing to accept a few.)

16 thoughts on “Publishers’ Neglect of Ebook Quality is Frustrating

  1. Excessive typo levels bother me as well. In many of the ebooks that I have read, there are plentiful typos that would have been caught by an ordinary spell checker. The typos that Kirk listed show valid words that don’t belong in those locations, but I find plenty of letter combinations that aren’t even valid English words. If the scanner sees “the” as “tne”, then the latter appears in the ebook.

    My impression is that they aren’t even applying a simple dictionary to the text. I speculate that this is because the names in most books would trigger many words that require human evaluation, and they don’t want to pay for even the most rudimentary quality control. Even a weak grammar checker, like the one built into Microsoft Word, would have flagged both of the typos that Kirk lists.

    It’s ironic that I find a large number of typos in ebooks that were produced for print in the last decade, even in the last year. The print versions must have been produced electronically, and they contain extremely few typos. When the same publisher produces an ebook, they ought to be able to draw on that already existing, well-corrected electronic file for the book. However, as Kirk mentions, it appears that they do a quick, automated scan, instead.

    I’m going to adopt Kirk’s idea, of returning any book with too many typos. Perhaps that will eventually make an impression on the publishers.

    • Most of the really bad books I see are older, which are definitely scanned. I see the occasional typo in new books, but not as many. I would expect that they use electronic texts, but the publishing industry is weird. I have a friend who’s a mystery author, and even though he writes on a Mac, the publisher uses print-outs and then type-sets the books. So there’s one round of editing on the manuscript, and another round of copy editing on the page proofs. And his books – which are published by a major UK publisher, as well as a big US publisher – still contain more typos than one would expect.

  2. Excessive typo levels bother me as well. In many of the ebooks that I have read, there are plentiful typos that would have been caught by an ordinary spell checker. The typos that Kirk listed show valid words that don’t belong in those locations, but I find plenty of letter combinations that aren’t even valid English words. If the scanner sees “the” as “tne”, then the latter appears in the ebook.

    My impression is that they aren’t even applying a simple dictionary to the text. I speculate that this is because the names in most books would trigger many words that require human evaluation, and they don’t want to pay for even the most rudimentary quality control. Even a weak grammar checker, like the one built into Microsoft Word, would have flagged both of the typos that Kirk lists.

    It’s ironic that I find a large number of typos in ebooks that were produced for print in the last decade, even in the last year. The print versions must have been produced electronically, and they contain extremely few typos. When the same publisher produces an ebook, they ought to be able to draw on that already existing, well-corrected electronic file for the book. However, as Kirk mentions, it appears that they do a quick, automated scan, instead.

    I’m going to adopt Kirk’s idea, of returning any book with too many typos. Perhaps that will eventually make an impression on the publishers.

    • Most of the really bad books I see are older, which are definitely scanned. I see the occasional typo in new books, but not as many. I would expect that they use electronic texts, but the publishing industry is weird. I have a friend who’s a mystery author, and even though he writes on a Mac, the publisher uses print-outs and then type-sets the books. So there’s one round of editing on the manuscript, and another round of copy editing on the page proofs. And his books – which are published by a major UK publisher, as well as a big US publisher – still contain more typos than one would expect.

  3. And yet, I have friends who proudly declare that they will read nothing but ebooks from now on. And I’ve heard all their arguments — and I have answers for all, or at least most, of them. Yes, you can carry hundreds of books on a Kindle or similar device, but are you really going to read all of them while standing in line at the DMV? (Vacations are different.) And the argument “You can download the latest best-sellers in seconds!” doesn’t work for me. I read worst-sellers, out of print books, things that haven’t been scanned (well or badly) into electronic form.
    I truly fear that we are raising a generation to whom physical books will simply not exist, and the low quality control in a lot of these scans is disturbing for that reason as well.

    • Depends on what you read. I also suspect that you’re a TAB, and mostly hang out with other TABs (Temporarily Able Bodied).

      About half of my reading is nonfiction. Full text search is invaluable. Good indices have become rare, and even the best are necessarily incomplete. I also love being a couple of taps away from multiple dictionaries.

      Unfortunately, nonfiction books are often large and heavy. I can only read them if they’re on a book holder and if they have big enough print with good contrast. With epubs, I can set the font to readable on any book, and an ipad mini is within my holding range. Carrying a lot of books at once is quite useful–you can switch between them easily, such as between a text and references. Not as esthetically pleasing as Thomas Jefferson’s six book holder, but a lot more portable.

      Ebooks are a great money saver. Many US libraries now have reasonably good ebook collections. I never buy fiction anymore, or pay overdue fines. It’s also becoming a space saver–I’ve started pruning my physical fiction as the library gets in titles that I own, so there are now fewer fire-trap piles of books on the floors.

      I still love old books, but I eagerly await more of them getting scanned and becoming available to me again, warts and all. The scannos that bother me are the ones that would have been easily caught with a spell checker. For the others, there are many irritations in the world, most a good bit worse.

  4. And yet, I have friends who proudly declare that they will read nothing but ebooks from now on. And I’ve heard all their arguments — and I have answers for all, or at least most, of them. Yes, you can carry hundreds of books on a Kindle or similar device, but are you really going to read all of them while standing in line at the DMV? (Vacations are different.) And the argument “You can download the latest best-sellers in seconds!” doesn’t work for me. I read worst-sellers, out of print books, things that haven’t been scanned (well or badly) into electronic form.
    I truly fear that we are raising a generation to whom physical books will simply not exist, and the low quality control in a lot of these scans is disturbing for that reason as well.

    • Depends on what you read. I also suspect that you’re a TAB, and mostly hang out with other TABs (Temporarily Able Bodied).

      About half of my reading is nonfiction. Full text search is invaluable. Good indices have become rare, and even the best are necessarily incomplete. I also love being a couple of taps away from multiple dictionaries.

      Unfortunately, nonfiction books are often large and heavy. I can only read them if they’re on a book holder and if they have big enough print with good contrast. With epubs, I can set the font to readable on any book, and an ipad mini is within my holding range. Carrying a lot of books at once is quite useful–you can switch between them easily, such as between a text and references. Not as esthetically pleasing as Thomas Jefferson’s six book holder, but a lot more portable.

      Ebooks are a great money saver. Many US libraries now have reasonably good ebook collections. I never buy fiction anymore, or pay overdue fines. It’s also becoming a space saver–I’ve started pruning my physical fiction as the library gets in titles that I own, so there are now fewer fire-trap piles of books on the floors.

      I still love old books, but I eagerly await more of them getting scanned and becoming available to me again, warts and all. The scannos that bother me are the ones that would have been easily caught with a spell checker. For the others, there are many irritations in the world, most a good bit worse.

  5. Thanks for bringing this up! It’s been such a frustrating experience for me, too. Even worse than typos is when the line suddenly breaks in the middle of a sentence, or the general formatting is just done sloppily. Breaks my heart, especially because it’s so easy to fix…

  6. Thanks for bringing this up! It’s been such a frustrating experience for me, too. Even worse than typos is when the line suddenly breaks in the middle of a sentence, or the general formatting is just done sloppily. Breaks my heart, especially because it’s so easy to fix…

  7. I loved my kindle! I sang its praises. Then, I read the ebook A Bright Shining Lie … by Neil Sheehan, National Book Award, Pulitzer. Our hero marries a gal whose last name is Allen. About half way through the 768 pages her parents start being referred to as the Aliens. I was confused. Well, I thought maybe that is what he called them; he did not get along with them very well. However it didn’t make sense that this author would not have introduced this new moniker. But when, toward the very end of the book there was a phrase that read “the soldiers were 0 miles from Saigon,” I had to go to the library to find the hardcover version to see what was really what. They were never referred to as the Aliens. The soldiers were 110 miles from Saigon. I referenced these “typos” thru the ebook version to whoever might be reading them. Then I requested a refund from Amazon. They only do that within a week? 3 days? of purchase. I had not read far enough in that period to come across these egregious errors. I did get a notification from Amazon that I could get the most recent version of the ebook for free. Well, I just read it. And it was such a disturbing experience that that was the last ebook i bought (over a year ago). To me It felt like a crime to misrepresent the book and the author that way and to subject a reader to that amount of consternation when i wanted to be engrossed in the book.

  8. I loved my kindle! I sang its praises. Then, I read the ebook A Bright Shining Lie … by Neil Sheehan, National Book Award, Pulitzer. Our hero marries a gal whose last name is Allen. About half way through the 768 pages her parents start being referred to as the Aliens. I was confused. Well, I thought maybe that is what he called them; he did not get along with them very well. However it didn’t make sense that this author would not have introduced this new moniker. But when, toward the very end of the book there was a phrase that read “the soldiers were 0 miles from Saigon,” I had to go to the library to find the hardcover version to see what was really what. They were never referred to as the Aliens. The soldiers were 110 miles from Saigon. I referenced these “typos” thru the ebook version to whoever might be reading them. Then I requested a refund from Amazon. They only do that within a week? 3 days? of purchase. I had not read far enough in that period to come across these egregious errors. I did get a notification from Amazon that I could get the most recent version of the ebook for free. Well, I just read it. And it was such a disturbing experience that that was the last ebook i bought (over a year ago). To me It felt like a crime to misrepresent the book and the author that way and to subject a reader to that amount of consternation when i wanted to be engrossed in the book.

  9. The main problem on Amazon is that reviews of ebooks are collated against the title regardless of version or publisher. So it is impossible to find out which versions are ‘clean’ and which are not. Sometimes price is a guide but not always. When reviewing a kindle title I have purchased I now always include the name of the version I have purchased. For many English Lit. classics, (Austen, Eliot, Dickens et. al.) the ‘Wordsworth Classics’ version has proved the most reliable so far.

  10. The main problem on Amazon is that reviews of ebooks are collated against the title regardless of version or publisher. So it is impossible to find out which versions are ‘clean’ and which are not. Sometimes price is a guide but not always. When reviewing a kindle title I have purchased I now always include the name of the version I have purchased. For many English Lit. classics, (Austen, Eliot, Dickens et. al.) the ‘Wordsworth Classics’ version has proved the most reliable so far.

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