On fixing (or not) Kindle e-book typos

kindle2a-thumb[1] Steven Levy at Wired talks about the experience of finding a typo on the title page of a Kindle book. A book entitled I, Sniper opened up on his Kindle as I, Snipper. Levy emailed a friend of his who worked at the publisher about it, and his friend told him that the book was being corrected both for people who had and had not already purchased it.

However, Levy found that it hadn’t been corrected for him—and when he contacted Amazon about it, the Amazon representative told him that Amazon had a policy of not correcting works that had already been purchased unless that purchaser asked for a new copy (or they received a court order).

Apparently this is a result of the uproar that came about last year when Amazon unilaterally removed from users’ Kindles copies of Orwell novels that had been mistakenly sold outside of copyright. Bezos promised not to do it again, and this promise would seem to extend even to fixing typos.

Levy notes that sometimes it might be good to correct mistakes in all instances of a file, or add updates—but on the other hand, he has to admit he doesn’t want Amazon fiddling with his purchases, court order or not.

I talked about the idea of “fixing” mistakes in e-books a couple of months ago, and concluded that from a historical point of view it might not be a good thing. Still, when it comes to embarrassing typos, it might not be worth getting too “snippy” about it.

8 Comments on On fixing (or not) Kindle e-book typos

  1. Thanks for bringing this up. I understand the hesitation, but at the same time, I’ve run into a few issues where the meaning is confusing with the typo and I would like an update.

    Perhaps Amazon could send an email letting the purchaser decide if they want to update or not?

    I also ran into this problem last night while reading a non-fiction book with recipes. There were quite a few places where the ingredient list said, e.g.,:

    1 cup spinach
    G cup chicken broth

    There were also quite a few ‘H tsps’ and that sort of thing.

    I’d love a way to alert Amazon that I would like an updated version, should one become available. I don’t want to get rid of the book, just have the recipes be ones I can use. And I don’t want to just complain.

  2. Alexander Inglis // April 19, 2010 at 8:50 pm //

    But it’s not Amazon’s role to track or make the fixes. Amazon may facilitate independent publishers to publish — bravo! — but Amazon is no more “responsible” for the content, including typos, than it is for something from Alfred Knopf. Publishers are responsible for the content down to each and every unicode character, intended or not

    In this age of all things computerised, it would be nice that typos could be fixed and notices pushed to purchasers … who would then have the option of downloading, again, a title “sitting on their purchased virtual bookshelf”.

    Amazon would need to play middle-man: taking the update request from each publisher; running the batch file to tell all purchasers an update exists; paying for the 3G wireless bandwidth to handle all re-downloads; handling individual queries through the tech / customer support. But all of this comes with a cost … borne by whom? The purchaser? Heavens no! This is fixing a defective product! By the publisher? If there were charge-backs the publisher wouldn’t fix them.

    It could become a point of service differentiation — perhaps a vendor like Amazon could afford to deliver updates and swallow the costs; a smaller vendor could not.

  3. One simple thing that might help the problem is the addition of a version number to the book. Publisher finds mistakes/typos, and pushes a new version to retailers/agents. New customers get the new versions. Customers who already have the book and have noticed a problem can check to see if a later version exists, and download the later version if they choose. Ideally, there’s even information about what changed in the version.

    These aren’t new problems; other people have dealt with changing electronic data.

  4. I wonder if they couldn’t implement something like Smashwords does? I just checked a book in my library there and it gives you the option of downloading versions based on when they were ‘published’…


    Princess of Amathar
    By amathar

    This book has been published multiple times. Please choose the revision you would like to download:

    * 2010-03-24 17:00:08
    * 2010-03-02 01:52:45
    * 2010-02-23 23:52:38
    * 2009-12-17 18:06:39
    * 2009-06-09 19:09:56″

    When making a purchase Amazon would obviously push the latest version to you, but if for whatever reason there was an update you could choose if you wanted to download or not. They could even do a product tracking type deal that emails folks when a product (book) has been updated.

    If the book doesn’t have DRM (or if you un-infect it) it’s not to hard to fix things yourself (for your personal copy) either.

  5. Alexander Inglis // April 19, 2010 at 11:43 pm //

    I completely agree that, if the publisher has a “revised e-book edition” that this is the version which should be presented to new buyers.

    But what about existing owners holding a copy riddled with typos? You know … recipes calling for black pepper, not black people!

    If it were paper … tough luck … buy the next edition! And, maybe, the publisher is forced to do a “recall of unsold paper copies” … but no joy for the previous buyer.

    Where does that leave an e-book owner — with a “defective” copy on his Kindle? Does he have a right, in perpetuity, to updates from the publisher? And free? And the transport costs covered by the middle-man vendor … also in perpetuity?

    Is there an e-book “statute of limitations”? All fixes within 30 days / 30 months / 30 years are free? Pushed or for the asking? At the original account or one transferred? If I bought it at Amazon but now deal with Barnes and Noble … it’s the same Random House title … am I still entitled to the update? Who pays support and transport costs?

  6. In this age of political correctness I also don’t want special interest groups lobbying the publishers to make changes to books.

    It’s inexpensive to make corrections to books but the publishers need a change management system that logs the changes that were made and categorizes them.

    The previous incident with Amazon was caused by the security context. My opinion is that Amazon shouldn’t have the ability to change the user’s books. Any change to a user’s library should be performed by the user. Amazon should notify the user that there are changes to the book and provide the user the ability to look-up what the changes were. The user then initiates the update.

  7. Richard Askenase // April 20, 2010 at 8:06 am //

    I read “Beneath” by Jeremy Robinson recently and noticed a number of typos. I commented on it in my review posted to Amazon, and downgraded the book accordingly (while spelling out why I was doing so in the review). I received an e-mail from Mr. Robinson, who confirmed the typos and told me that a corrected edition had been posted to Amazon as the new version.

    However, I can’t just get it but must first contact Amazon CS and request the replacement, which I will do. But, there is mothing in the product description that tells me that the download is now the corrected one. That actually hurts the author since my review is still posted pointing out the typos.

    More needs to be done on this.

  8. Stuart Moulder // April 20, 2010 at 10:56 pm //

    I suggest that this problem be treated just like software. Here’s how it works.

    1) You have to tag each book with a version number (and probably a smart number with a hashed date, etc.)

    2) You give buyers the option to opt in to automatic updating of their book(s). Nothing sneaky and nothing more is being opened up then updating (no deletions). Users who don’t opt in can still manually update (see below).

    3) When buyers are online, when a sync is done, versions are checked for updates and either done automatically (opt in) or offered to users (manual updates).

    Ebooks are digital. We need to think digital and take advantage of what that offers customers. Of course transparency and choice are essential in this (Amazon’s mistake vis a vis the Orwell book).

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