I posted earlier about some problems I have been having recently with error-filled ebooks—I am not talking about major editing-process errors, rather, I am talking about typos and formatting glitches resulting from unproofed conversions. People used to complain about these at times before ebooks ‘hit it big,’ but now that we e-reading customers are a more mainstream group, the complaints are getting increasingly vociferous and this has been the first year where I have really noticed a widespread problem myself.

But just how widespread is this problem? Is my feeling that these days, I am becoming more of a copy-editor than an actual reader just an inflated sense of irritation at paying full price for a seemingly inferior product? Or is it really the case that many new releases are hitting my Kindle and Kobo error-filled? For a little scientific investigation, I took a look at the last ten ‘big six’ commercial reads I read and noted which ones I had tagged in Calibre as being problematic. Here are the results.

Book 1: A new-release non-fiction book which came out in conjunction with its eponymous documentary film. Purchased from Amazon. Overall, it was readable. However, my Kindle bookmarks show at least one random line break in the middle of a sentence, and the book had a problem with proper names not always being capitalized. This occurred more than ten times.

Book 2: A self-help book circa 2009, which I purchased from Kobo books. I only noted two errors in this one, but they were stupid errors: the letter ‘p’ being rendered as ‘bl’ (e.g. ‘blurchasing’) due probably to an OCR error that was not caught in whatever proofread may or may not have been done. This is one of the reasons I am in favour of removing DRM for personal use from books I purchase legally! If one does so, such small errors are easily fixed and make the books much more pleasant on re-read.

Book 3: A book in the ‘for dummies’ series, purchased from Amazon. I am halfway through, and it’s flawless so far. The graphics, sidebars etc. all come out beautifully in my Kindle for iPad app. Kudos to the ‘for dummies’ people! The book is super-long and must have been a monster to put together.

Book 4: A blockbuster new release memoir, purchased from Kobo. I recall a few non-capitalized first words or sentences, and a handful of random line breaks, but nothing egregious. Irksome, at full retail price, but the book was still readable.

Book 5: A poetry anthology, circa 2011. Downloaded from the public library. No errors I could recall. Huzzah, a clean book!

Books 6 and 7: Two YA novels, both backlist (1990s or so) and downloaded from the public library. Both were readable, but had the usual ‘we didn’t proof it’ problems (random line breaks, things which should be capitalized but were not, words with no spaces between them) often enough that I noted it. Boo.

Book 8: Another blockbuster new-release memoir (I am in a memoir-reading phase right now) purchased from Kobo. In addition to random line breaks (often enough to be irksome) the book also had random periods in places periods should not have been. They were frequent enough that I took screenshots of this one, sent them to Kobo and got a refund.

Book 9: A 2010 non-fiction release, downloaded from the library. I noticed a few small errors (random line breaks, I think) but less than 5 overall. Not bad! But still, if they are charging people money for this at mainstream stores, not acceptable either.

Book 10: Yet another blockbuster new-release memoir, purchased from Amazon. This was was in Topaz format, if that matters, and it was full of errors. The most common error was that the book contained drop caps which did not display properly, so it made the first words of many paragraphs look as if they were missing a letter. There were also words which had no spaces between them, and words which had too many spaces between them. I would have asked for a refund if this was a Kobo purchase—they take anything back if you have proof. But I have heard Amazon is stingy about how many refunds they will process for one account, and the book was under $3, so I didn’t complain.

So, my overall experience? Of the ten books read…

2 of 10 were totally clean and error-free as far as I could determine
8 of 10 had errors of some kind
6 of those had errors which were irksome, but minor overall
and 2 of them had errors severe enough that they merited a refund

That is absolutely abysmal. No wonder my ebook spending has fallen by about 50% this year! I don’t want to play Russian roulette with either my reading time or my reading budget. If I have to deal with errors, at least I shouldn’t have to pay to do so. I will be spending my August ebook budget on renewing my Philadelphia library membership, which brings the total number of ebook-lending public libraries I can access up to 5. If the book isn’t available at any of them, it will have to be something I badly want to read before I will shell out cash for it. No way am I paying full retail price for the privilege of copy-editing a book that isn’t ready to be sold!

(Photo: quinn.anya)