war_and_peace_0By its very greatness (and excessive length), War and Peace has become a cliché for great literature. How many times have we heard someone say, “Well, it’s not exactly War and Peace, but…” in defense of some work of more recent literature they enjoy?

Which is why it’s so amusing that the book has been bitten by one of those e-book transcription bugs that are more commonly associated with works from more recent times. A blogger named Philip reports on the Ocracoke Island Journal that, in a Barnes & Noble e-book version of the public-domain classic, every single instance of the word “kindle” or “kindled” in the text has been changed to “Nook” or “Nookd”. “It was as if a light had been Nookd in a carved and painted lantern…”

As Kendra Albert notes on Jonathan Zittrain’s blog “The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It,” it seems likely that the third-party publisher took an e-text it had prepared for publishing on the Kindle and searched and replaced any references to Amazon’s e-reader for the B&N Nook version—but didn’t consider the implications. I wonder if it ever happens the other way around, giving rise to mention of “every Kindle and cranny”?

Adding to the irony value, this e-book was prepared by a company called “Superior Formatting Publishing.” Superior formatting, maybe, but not so great search-and-replacing!

It’s not the first time something like this has happened, of course. Long-time net users may still chortle over Yahoo’s 2002 decision to search-and-replace words in users’ emails (to prevent the execution of malicious code) leading to such hilarious neologisms as “medireview” or “reviewuate”.

So next time you see a recent book with transcription errors and typos, keep in mind that it can hit even older e-books as well. Often hilariously.

(Found via Ars Technica.)


  1. All “Superior Formatting Publishing” needed to do was grab the Project Gutenberg copy of War and Peace. (PG files are very well-proofed.) Perhaps they need to change “Superior” to “Lazy and Uninformed”.

  2. I imagine they did do that, then they wrapped it in intro text or whatever that said “Kindle” in it a few places. And then they searched and replaced to change those references (so they wouldn’t have to write the same text all over again) but forgot that “kindle” might be used within the story itself, too.

  3. Just to give an alternate interpretation:

    It is entirely possible that the contract between Superior Formatting and B&N included a requirement to “make D*** sure that you change any reference to a Kindle to a reference to a Nook instead.” In which case B&N got exactly what they specified and paid for.

    In this case, the “Superior Formatting” employees would have known exactly what they were doing; and decided to stick it to B&N for some reason.

    Whichever way it happened, we will never find out for sure.

  4. When audio CDs came out, we all thought – or assumed – or at least hoped – that they’d be cheaper than vinyl, because duplication was easier and faster. Didn’t turn out that way. But in the end, we had to admit that audio CDs were a much better product than the vinyl they replaced. With eBooks that’s not true.

  5. jim, it’s not exactly true that “with eBooks that’s not true.” I know you’re referring to the quality of the content, where you’ve got a (hopefully temporary) point, but when viewed from the larger picture it’s not so cut and dried. There are numerous things about eBooks that make for a better product that a DTB. To name a few:

    1. Very substantial difference in storage space. While that was somewhat true of Vinyl as well, books are much bulkier than records.
    2. War and Peace, as an appropriate example, is a hefty book that can be difficult to hold while reading for an extended period of time. The eBook reader in contrast is small, lightweight, easy to hold, and will fit pockets (depending on the reader and the pocket).
    3. Searching an eBook is much easier.
    4. Annotations can be a lot friendlier with an eBook, where they can be hidden so as to not distract when reading.
    5. You can carry an entire library with you on vacations.
    6. Updates, such as corrections to these badly edited versions, can be applied “in the cloud” and distributed to all customers.

    I could go on. Admittedly there are downsides as well, such as not being able to sell a “used eBook” and vendor lock-in caused by DRM. However, I believe most people will find the benefits are enough that they’ll be willing to continue to pay the same prices. At least, despite the poor job of translation done so far, that seems to be the case. The eBooks are selling strong at a price comparable to the DTB.

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