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.


  1. You said: “If publishers can manage to do most print books correctly the first time, why can’t they do the same for e-books? ”

    Have you read a print book lately? Publishers can’t get them right either. I run into more typos, grammatical errors, and incorrect word choices (i.e. ‘there’ for ‘their’) than I can count, regardless of format. I suspect that publishers are counting on spell check and grammar check and not on human editors – either that or all the good editors have retired and the ones being hired now are victims of our worsening school system (a rant for another day).

  2. Admittedly this is anecdotal, but I can’t recall finding anywhere near as many typos, on average, in all the print books I’ve read versus all the e-books. I suppose there could be something about e-books that just makes typos more noticeable, but it just doesn’t feel that way to me.

  3. Here is the email I received from Amazon about this. Note that Amazon warns of the loss of bookmarks, etc. and makes the update voluntary on the reader’s part. I can’t see how people have the nerve to complain:

    We’re writing about your past Kindle purchase of Reamde: A Novel by Neal Stephenson. The version you received had Missing Content that have been corrected.

    An updated version of Reamde: A Novel (ASIN:B004XVN0WW) is now available. It’s important to note that when we send you the updated version, you will no longer be able to view any highlights, bookmarks, and notes made in your current version and your furthest reading location will be lost.

    If you wish to receive the updated version, please reply to this email with the word “Yes” in the first line of your response. Within 2 hours of receiving the e-mail any device that has the title currently downloaded will be updated automatically if the wireless is on.

  4. “Amazon has found a way to upset readers at having those typos fixed.”
    Oj please . . this is a rather perverse comment. I see no one upset because Amazon fixed typos.

    “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.”

    A bit of a logical sidestep . . . If Publishers can manage to most print books correctly the first time …. then why does one need ‘a ideal world’ to get it right in eBooks ?

    No. The truth is if they can do it with paper books they can do it with eBooks … IF THEY CHOOSE.

  5. Little off topic, but Amazon pushing “corrected” content onto devices seems to be local customer support. Sounds like a possible in-state presence? Attention state sales tax authorities. Even beyond the on-device content management, you have the prepaid whispernet service being delivered to devices in all states by Amazon, and, on top of everything, the fact that Kindle devices are essentially local sales terminals for (beyond an internet PC connection).

    Amazon wants to reach into all of our lives, where we live? Then it can collect and pay sales taxes like all of the other retailers who support our communities.

  6. Seems to me that by now Amazon should have come up with a way to allow transfer of notes and bookmarks between two versions of the same book. As a programmer myself, I understand that implementing such a feature wouldn’t be completely trivial, since locations can and do change from one version to the next, but it’s certainly not in a class of difficulty beyond Amazon’s ability to fix.

  7. Just a thought;

    A long time ago it was suggested that minor word, grammar or spelling changes to each copy of a printed document would help investigators track down the source of information leaks.

    A book of 1000 pages would provide more than enough room to randomize each copy in an identifiable way. A pirated copy of an e-book could be traced back to it’s original source using this method.

    Has anyone compared two or more of the pre-correction copies to see if they have the same errors?

    Paranoid, but plausible.

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