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reamdeAmazon remade its Kindle edition of Neal Stephenson’s new novel Reamde, and is now getting reamed by disgruntled readers, GalleyCat and CNet report. The e-book had been pulled from the Kindle store on Tuesday, and today customers who had bought it received a cryptic (and ungrammatical) email from Amazon advising them that “the version you received had Missing Content that have (sic) been corrected.”

The manner in which this correction was applied has upset customers such as Cynthia Ewer, who was 400 pages into the over-1,000-page novel, or cdale77 who was 500 pages in. They were not upset at obvious typos in the book that they found so much as they were put out by Amazon’s high-handed notification that told them there had been “Missing Content” but gave them no idea exactly what or where that “Missing Content” was. (Even Amazon’s phone support people couldn’t say.) Also, the replacement wiped out any highlights, bookmarks, and notes made in the previous version, as well as the place-keeping bookmark noting the furthest location read.

One reader produced text copies of both the old and new versions (undoubtedly having to crack DRM illegally to do so) and ran them through the diff comparison tool to find out what had been changed, and it turned out that the changes were not major: a few missing words here and there had been corrected, the spelling of the cover artist’s name had been fixed—and in one case, a new typo was introduced!

Stephen Shankland writes on CNet:

Honestly, I don’t think Amazon deserves to be castigated here–the publishing industry is still adjusting to the idea of e-books, after all. And as a digitally published writer who’s produced too many typos over the years, I’m grateful for the opportunity to fix the text after hitting the "publish" button.

But what Amazon needs to do is provide a mechanism to describe the update.

He compares it to the patch notes for apps that have been updated and suggests Amazon should do something similar.

Of course, the problem here is that Amazon doesn’t really have any way to know what changed, unless they do the same thing as that reader and run a diff comparison—because Amazon wasn’t really the one who “fixed” the book. They’re not contractually allowed to make any changes to their own e-books—those changes have to come from the publishers. (I would not be surprised if Barnes & Noble quietly implemented a revision to the Nook edition of Reamde at about the same time.)

Though to be fair, Amazon could probably do that automatically, the same way it generates its e-books automatically, and drop a link to such a comparison in the email it sends. And perhaps it should. (Though I suspect that a raw diff report would puzzle more people than it enlightened, especially since most of the changes to Reamde involved fixes to punctuation or formatting.)

I do have a few words for Shankland’s idea that “the publishing industry is still adjusting to the idea of e-books,” however. If publishers can manage to do most print books correctly the first time, why can’t they do the same for e-books? In an ideal world, this sort of correction and revision wouldn’t be as necessary.

In the end, it’s really kind of funny when you think about it: after all this time readers have gotten upset at finding obvious typos in e-books, now Amazon has found a way to upset readers at having those typos fixed.

 
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