On The Next Great Generation, Julia Dawidowicz discusses her experience with e-book reading. She starts with her relationship with paper books, both as reading material and as physical artifacts. (It seems quite a few people can’t seem to divorce the word from the material it’s written on, and those tend to be the ones with the hardest time adopting to e-books.)

But to be fair, Dawidowicz did decide to give e-books a chance—but when she did, she ran into the same problem about which both Joanna and I have ranted at length: the tyranny of the typo.

The first thing I noticed, after jumping to a collection of short stories by Roald Dahl (which I own in print), was an array of typos, not present in the paperback edition. O’s became 0′s; punctuation marks were misused; instead of her “mouth,” Claude’s mother opened her “mou1361″ to scream. Someone unfamiliar with the text would’ve thought the poor old guy wrote this story in a late night drunken blog post.

She suggests that, rather than focusing on ease of reading, e-book stores are focusing on cheapness of reading, digitizing books as quickly as possible with little care to accuracy in order to sell them as cheaply as possible and hook people in on price.

“Google has done a disservice to these works and their readers,” Joseph Esposito, member of the Society for Scholarly Publishing, writes. ”Free is a terrible price, as many readers will flock to these free editions — not knowing that other things are not equal — bypassing the edited volumes prepared by scrupulous publishers.”

(I wonder what Mr. Esposito thinks of Project Gutenberg, which was offering high-quality free public-domain e-books for years before Google ever got around to it?)

With Google’s scanning program for public domain books, she may have a point, but as I have pointed out before, Amazon and stores like it are at the mercy of publishers who provide the e-text versions. And as agency pricing indicates, they’ve certainly shown no inclination to want to sell e-books as cheaply as possible. (Indeed, Dawidowicz remarks later in the article on authors whose works get one-starred by “indignant shoppers who believe they are overcharging.”)

I really hope publishers start getting their acts together and providing better quality e-books. Sooner or later, they’re really going to have to. But it’s a bit unfair to place the blame solely on bookstores who are contractually prevented from fixing typos if they find them.


  1. She seems to be conflating several issues. Free Google scans of public domain works have absolutely nothing to do with paid-for, in-copyright Roald Dahl short story collections. And if the errors she cites are examples of publishers who have, according to the quote in her article, ‘scrupulously’ prepared things, then where is the higher ground she thinks she’ll find elsewhere?

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