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Neal Stephenson‘s Reamde - Who Screwed Up?


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#1 Rick Spilman

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Posted 29 September 2011 - 03:42 PM

How Should Publishers Respond to eBook Errors?



Today Amazon wirelessly replaced the eBook version of Neal Stephenson‘s Reamde after readers found errors in the $16.99 eBook.


This may be a stupid question, but who screwed up here?

I presume that it was the publisher, Harper Collins. They set the price and I assume that they prepared the ebook. Given that the book is priced, I would argue overpriced, at $16.99 I would hope that the file is a decent quality. There is little enough excuse for a self-publisher to put out a badly formatted book. I can find none for a big publisher to do so. Is there something that I am missing here?

#2 jwmstudio

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Posted 29 September 2011 - 03:56 PM

That's awful and very hard to understand. An occasional typo is one thing but missing parts and formatting errors is unexcusable in a $17 e-book.
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#3 dgaughran

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Posted 06 November 2011 - 08:56 AM

We have now seen HUGE errors in high profile releases from Pratchett, Stephenson, and, now, the Steve Jobs biog.

It's immensely frustrating to me that the news stories seem to blame either the author or the retailer. Clearly, the blame should be laid at the feet of the person producing the book: the publisher.

It's unacceptable - especially at those eye-watering prices. They seem to be conversion errors from, I'm guessing, the process where they export an EPUB from InDesign which they then convert to MOBI.

I hand-code the HTML for all my e-books, and compile each format separately. That's the only way to guarantee zero errors on all devices. It takes a few hours for something very complex like non-fiction. Less for fiction. It seems that publishers are trying to cut costs and formatting time, and don't even do a minimum of testing. I don't get it. It's really not hard to do.
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#4 Rick Spilman

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Posted 06 November 2011 - 09:55 AM

Karen Dionne, writing in Huffington Post, looks at e-book errors. She quotes Maggie Dana on the mechanics of layout and editing.

It seems to be just another example of the big publishers not adapting to a new technology and showing what amounts to disregard of the interests of both their authors and their readers.

"E" Stands for "Errors"

#5 patskywriter

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Posted 06 November 2011 - 11:20 AM

Speaking as a proofreader/editor, I am often dismayed and upset by errors that I catch both in printed and electronic form. I wish publishers would take the written word more seriously and stop placing all their/there/they're (LOL) focus on the mighty dollar.
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#6 dgaughran

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Posted 08 November 2011 - 08:43 AM

The amazing part to me is this: they don't appear to proof the text AFTER it has gone through the conversion software.

This is really basic stuff. It should be easy to get right.
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#7 Rick Spilman

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Posted 08 November 2011 - 03:02 PM

The amazing part to me is this: they don't appear to proof the text AFTER it has gone through the conversion software.

This is really basic stuff. It should be easy to get right.


It seems to be institutional carelessness. All the final edits are made on the pdf galleys for the print book and not transferred back to the electronic file from which the e-book will be converted. No rational reason or excuse except that that seems to be the way it was always done and most big publishers have haven't adapted to the new world of e-books.

#8 Duncan11

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Posted 15 November 2011 - 12:40 AM

"The publisher rakes in far more profit than from a print title." Not so unfortunately. The per unit revenues of the e-book are more than paperback editions under certain conditions, but not more than hardcover editions. Additionally, errors happen. Even in printed books. Whereas you used to have to go back to the Barnes and Noble and exchange the book, now it happens instantaneously in the palm of your hand. That being said, e-book divisions are terribly understaffed at the big publishers, and they shouldn't be trying to do more with less in this arena. It is the future after all. The whining, crying, and stomping your feet future.
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#9 Tom Preece

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Posted 16 December 2011 - 02:23 AM

Time to remember that Robert Heinlein expected his publishers to correct all errors. They did at the beginning of his career; they did not at the end when anything with his name on it would sell.

Ultimately the writer is responsible. Since I don't hold Neal Stephenson to so much a responsible writer this is no surprise.

#10 Rick Spilman

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Posted 16 December 2011 - 08:27 AM

Time to remember that Robert Heinlein expected his publishers to correct all errors. They did at the beginning of his career; they did not at the end when anything with his name on it would sell.

Ultimately the writer is responsible. Since I don't hold Neal Stephenson to so much a responsible writer this is no surprise.


These were not errors made by Stephenson. These were errors made by the publisher including, apparently, leaving out entire sections of the book.

Many publishers have given little attention the the preparation of ebooks, including not keeping track of revisions to print galleys. Stephenson is just the latest and one of the worst examples. For a description of how the publsihers are screwing up Karen Dionne does a good job of summarizing it here :E is for Error

In many cases, this means that the e-book is created from the author's original Word files because it's the easiest (currently) to format. And because this document doesn't reflect the editorial and proofing changes that the book underwent during the typesetter's page layout process, the author's Word file that winds up as an e-book is often full of errors.





#11 Pete Morin

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Posted 16 December 2011 - 11:27 AM

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#12 RSMellette

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Posted 16 December 2011 - 11:36 AM

I was watching PAWN STARS where they bought an old book - I think it was a Dickens - and weren't sure what addition it was, so the expert turned to a certain page to find an error. In the first run there was a mistake that was corrected in the later versions. With the mistake, the book is worth more money.

In digital world, mistakes are obliterated. What will that do to collectibles?

Also, computers have always made mistakes bigger and faster than the standard methods they replaced. It's like, if you drive your car 5 mph, an accident it's a big deal, but going accross town is. At 70 mph, the reverse is true.

#13 Rick Spilman

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Posted 16 December 2011 - 01:20 PM

The "Wicked Bible" of 1631 may have set the standard when it omitted the word "not" from the commandment about adultery, turning "thou shalt not" into "thou shalt commit adultery.

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The issue with e-books goes beyond typos. It is about the indifferent sloppiness shown in preparing ebooks for which the big publishers then over charge the consumer.

#14 RSMellette

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Posted 16 December 2011 - 01:50 PM

We've gone around and around on the "over charged" part. Since I'd like to be a professional writer, and support professional writers, I'm on the side of the value being in the story, not how that story is delivered. In the old days, if you wanted to read the story first, you paid a premium for the hardcopy. In the movies (also an intellectual property issue), you pay a premium for seeing the movie in a theatre.

In both cases, you can pay less once the story has been told in the premium market. The devaluation isn't in the delivery system, but the timing.

As for mistakes - a typo in a paper copy is a word misspelled. In a digital version, it can mean a link is broken, which would leave out a whole section.

Both suck. One is just WAY more obvious.

#15 Rick Spilman

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Posted 16 December 2011 - 02:16 PM

We've gone around and around on the "over charged" part. Since I'd like to be a professional writer, and support professional writers, I'm on the side of the value being in the story, not how that story is delivered. In the old days, if you wanted to read the story first, you paid a premium for the hardcopy. In the movies (also an intellectual property issue), you pay a premium for seeing the movie in a theatre.

In both cases, you can pay less once the story has been told in the premium market. The devaluation isn't in the delivery system, but the timing.

As for mistakes - a typo in a paper copy is a word misspelled. In a digital version, it can mean a link is broken, which would leave out a whole section.

Both suck. One is just WAY more obvious.


As a writer all I care about is maximizing the number of my readers and in maximizing my income. The rank stupidity shown by the big publishers in sticking to outdated perceptions and market models does not accomplish either. Over-charging reduces sales, which reduces income to the author, which is the ultimate devaluation of the story. To make matters worse, the big houses are paying writers proportionately less for ebooks than they do for hardcovers. The sloppy and indifferent preparation of overpriced ebooks is just the icing on the cake, to coin a phrase.




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