Publishing Perspectives has a brief piece on the error-ridden nature of many e-books, especially those of older pre-digital-publication titles. It explains why and how these errors manage to creep in—the different number of digital formats that all need to be corrected, and the age of the source material are often prime factors—as is the rush to get pre-digital works into electronic print as soon as possible so as to sell more copies.

I found amusing this passage, from a spokesman for a publishing company that produced a book so riddled with errors the author of the article got a refund from Amazon for it.

“Open Road recognizes that this is a challenge and therefore has a stringent process in place and puts in a lot of resources to produce quality e-books. The books go through a thorough proofread and at least two subsequent levels of quality assurance before being finalized. While the technology is certainly new and there will always be some mistakes when you publish hundreds to thousands of e-books a year, we are proud of our track record and will continue to invest in and improve our already thorough process.”

Get the feeling that butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths?

When you get right down to it, the article concludes, software can only go so far, and in order to weed out errors humans have to be involved at the end of the process—and that costs money that publishers aren’t willing to throw at every backlist title they convert. And as long as that is the case, e-books are simply going to have more typos.

I still say that if the publishing industry can produce (mostly) error-free print books, it should be able to do the same for e-books. But perhaps this is an unrealistic hope.


  1. “We work hard, it’s the hardware/software’s fault!” So typical, so tiring, so FALSE. The hardware/software for OCR was perfectly suited for the job over a decade ago… you just have to use it properly, and not use low-resolution images of dirty pages run through cheap software. I used to do it regularly, starting with a simple xerox of each paperback page enlarged to fit an 8-1/2 x 11″ page, run that through a sheet-fed scanner, and I experienced less than 1% errors in my conversions. LESS THAN 1%. It’s time for the publishers and their contractors to do the job as if it’s an important one, and stop making excuses for their cheap procedures and lack of quality control.

  2. My biggest gripe with the errors is the price charged for ebooks. I’m currently reading Revenger (checked out of my local digital downloadable library). It has tons of words that are hyphenated–looks like the words were originally at the end of the line. Why is the error ridden ebook $12.99, when the paperback version is available for $8.00? (That’s not really a question, it’s an expression of disgust. )

  3. “I still say that if the publishing industry can produce (mostly) error-free print books, it should be able to do the same for e-books. But perhaps this is an unrealistic hope.” Yes, it’s completely unrealistic. They spent the money on editing once, and simply don’t want to do it again, unless they can run it through software. They see it as a chance to milk the cow again, without having to spend any more on feed.

  4. Two words: crowd sourcing. Give reader software the capacity for users to flag and report errors. Offer a free eBook to the first reader who finds, say, ten acknowledged typos. It’s not rocket science, people.

  5. Really, the time for excuses has passed, when ebooks represent 30% of the market, and the only part of the business that is growing.

  6. More importantly, they should not be charging prices as if this were an actual, quality product if that is not the case. If the book is a backlist title they are choosing not to invest in, they should price it accordingly so that customers are not being forced to pay full, retail price for a product that isn’t retail quality.

  7. If Project Gutenberg can do it for free, publishers can do it with the ridiculous amounts of money they demand for ebooks, let alone backlist ebooks. I volunteered with PG’s proofreading arm (Distributed Proofreaders: great community!) while I was still able to spot errors reliably in English. DP volunteers check one page at a time, comparing each word from the scanned page with the OCR result. Books were old, pages were often in a bad state and included archaic language, complex headnotes and footnotes and indexing. If “untrained” volunteers can deal with complex scanned texts, why can’t experienced editors just read through a story and spot the errors? Heck, the readers can do it!

  8. I have been following, publishing and reading ebooks for years. Often the problem of typos has arisen because larger publishers have turned the text file into an ebook before going into design, page layout, and proofing for the paper edition. Ebooks need editing and proofing as much as books. –Dan Poynter,

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