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April 22, 2012


I downloaded the free sample of the Nook edition from Barnes & Noble, and it has exactly the same problem as the Kindle edition. (See my response to your comment at Language Log, in case the hyperlink is erased by your typepad installation.)


Thanks for doing that research! I'm sure we'd all be very interested to hear what Mr. Barth thinks about the problem, should you bring it up when you see him at Penn.

Hey, Doc. The interesting thing about e-books from pro publishers is that it's not that stores like Amazon or B&N don't care about the quality of the books they make available. It's that they are prohibited by their contracts with the publishers from making any changes at all—even to fix typos. Any fixes or changes of any kind have to come down from on high.

There have been some pretty hilarious typos in e-books. For example, these from Diane Duane's "Young Wizards" series or a particularly embarrassing one that proves "shift happens". A lot of them are attributable to bad (or unedited) OCR conversions from pre-e-book printed form. Apparently publishers just entrust their e-books to scripts because they don't want to spend the time, money, and effort to deal with them.

Though I still prefer the old paper age model, one of things which made the Kindle so much fun was the ability to carry around an entire library of out of copyright classics, at very reasonable prices.

The joy of having all of Dickens to hand is somewhat diminished by the prevalence of obvious OCR errors.

I expect things will improve gradually, and much appreciate efforts to speed the process along.

Amazon don't proofread

Probably they're not alone in this. I doesn't proofread sometimes, too.

From Wikipedia (emphasis mine):

Charles David George "Charlie" Stross (born 18 October 1964) is a British writer of science fiction, Lovecraftian horror and fantasy.

Amazon is a "they" to Brits, rather than an "it" as to Americans, thus the subject-verb agreement looks funny to you, yank.

How many commas remain in Kindle's version of the Second Amendment, I wonder?

As to proofreading, I've done it myself professionally years back -- on paper with a red pencil.

I still can't proofread or edit on a computer screen. I just can't SEE what I am doing.

Sometimes, I repeat repeat words in my comments, you know what what I mean? And no matter how many times I scan the text, I don't catch it.

As to Wall Street --- blech --- since Inauguration Day, 1981, they've made a commodity of everything. Especially employees, who must now stand on one foot as they work (figuring they'll be lighter in weight that way; it's a quant thing) because it's cheaper not to have load-bearing walls in the workplace.

It's the WalMart 50-gallon drum of Giles Goat-Boy Meat Product for everyone, except for those who can afford the high-margin specialty boutique gated community writing product.

At the urging of the University of Chicago, natch.

I fully expect Amazon to offer Barth's works with the "its" restored but it will be a higher-priced add-on. Like luggage fees on airlines or the nine-dollar hospital aspirin.

Or maybe they'll have apostrophe derivatives, bundled together so you don't notice -- well, until the world's punctuation system implodes altogether.

Wait until they get done with medical care in this country.

Fred "Slacktivist" Clark has observed that the same thing happened in newspaper publishing: even in the age of newsprint, it was never a high-return business, and the expectation of high returns was one of the things that led to the gutting of newspaper staff and a consequent decline in quality, disappearance of real investigative journalism and tendency to print unaltered press releases.

Selling inferior products as though they were standard is one of the usual advantages of monopoly. Stross may well assume we know this.


It's been pointed out that booksellers -- including Amazon -- are prohibited from changing the texts they sell, including fixing typos. No, the typos are being inserted by the *publishers*, probably because they outsource the ebook-ification process and never bother to check it over.

What I don't get is all the OCR errors--and turning "corner" into "comer", a problem I've seen in a number of ebooks, is clearly an OCR error. Haven't we been in the age of electronic publishing for quite some time now? Surely the master for that printed book exists in electronic form?


That's what I thought, too! But I've been informed:

I don’t know specifics about any particular publishing house, from everything I’ve read and heard from friends in big publishing, no one saves anything in the publishing process except the contracts.

Writing friends make me crazy because they are as bad as the publishing houses to delete files from the various stages of editing.

I don't understand the mindset, frankly.

I think that a lot of writers don't like to be second guessed. If you have all of my revisions back from when I first put fingers to keyboard, the process by which the final product gets to your hands probably seems a lot more mundane, I imagine.

About OCR errors, there was a recent flap about Google asking users to decode blurry house numbers in the UK, which was apparently an outgrowth of the use of captcha codes to help decode OCR errors, which I thought was interesting. I'm not sure if doretta is amazed that the OCR process goes on with no human oversight, or something else, but the use of people to check these OCR errors was interesting to me.

I think what amazes doretta is the idea that publishing companies start off having electronic copies of books they publish and then lose those files, so that whenever they have to issue an electronic edition, their only option is to scan and perform OCR on a print copy. Given that you could store an electronic copy of every book even a large publishing company has ever printed for free, this behavior seems very dumb.

This seems like a very strange practice. In contrast, the music industry seems much more rational when it comes to preserving original recording masters. Even some universities now have a policy that the library system must receive electronic copies of all theses.

I don't understand the mindset, frankly.

Neither do I. Storage is cheap.

Of course, my pack-rat mentality takes it to a bit of an extreme--I still have archived email from 1996 lying around somewhere...

"The evidence for this book, at least, is that publishers are converting text files to e-book formats without having a competent human so much as glance at the result before sending them to the e-book companies. What can I call this besides flagrantly unprofessional?"

A business decision.


Productivity improvement.

Reducing overhead.

Reducing headcount.

Mortgage bundling.

Return on investment.

Maximizing profit.


Howard Roark, in Ayn Rand's "The Fountainhead", would have referred to this practice as "balconies", and reached for the dynamite.

Even Roark's altruism, toward his creations, gets the heave-ho in the world Rand has wrought.

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