proofreading2I’ve written about the e-book error problem several times before.

So I was delighted to see a post from Good e-Reader offering some insight into how e-books do or do not get proofread.

The issue is this. Line-by-line copy-editing and proofing have already been done for the print edition, and the scanning has already happened for an e-book. A line-by-line check is assumed not to be needed.

“For e-books,” Good e-Reader quoted a proofreader’s fiancee, “she’s supposed to make sure the links and page numbers all work and that the links themselves have no textual errors. Before she gets it, someone goes through every page to ensure the paragraphs line up appropriately with the digital pages. To my knowledge, no one checks the text itself after the conversion.”

As a long-time reader of e-books, I am simply appalled by this. One of the complaints that publishers have had about e-books is that customers expect a lower-than-print price, and they feel that an e-book should be considered just as valuable. How can they say that if they are not prepared to run full quality-control on these titles? If you want me to pay full paper price for an e-book, it needs to merit that full paper price. I am not paying that much for a text that is riddled with typos!

Amazon does have some mechanisms for reporting content errors, but one-tap options are only available on the e-ink machines. Tablet users, including those who use the Fire Tablet, must report errors via the Amazon website. And if errors do get reported, it is up to the publisher to fix them, or not. I periodically check on a book that has been my benchmark for the e-book problem. When I bought it—and returned it—several years ago, it was over $18. The Kindle edition is currently listing for $13.01, and if the sample I checked is any indication, still filled with typos.

I have a solution to this problem. If Amazon want to make innocent customers do the copy-editing for them, then the company should pay us for it. Amazon should hire an intern to verify every error that a customer submits, and then bill the publisher for 20 cents per mistake. Ten cents of it will go to the intern to fix the problem, and ten cents of it will go to the user who submitted the ticket. Maybe if the publishers were held accountable where it hurts them, they would take more care to prevent these errors in the first place.

Photo credit: Here. Actually the photo involves editing, not just proofing per se. Alas, in terms of likenesses, proofers seem underrepresented in free image collections.

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  1. In your last paragraph you state:

    “If Amazon want to make innocent customers do the copy-editing for them, then the company should pay us for it.”

    This should read:

    “If Amazon wants . . . . ”

    Do I get 20 cents — or even 10 cents — for pointing this out?

    Having said this (and feeling much richer for the 10 cents I expect to receive), recently Apple sent me a “Ticket” for one of iBook editions. There was some error in the book. I actually corrected the same error in the Kindle edition promptly because it was easier for me to do so. The iBook edition will be corrected in due time when I have a chance to review the whole book.

    Regarding the 20-cent penalty for each error, this would be far too little to have any impact. After I released the print edition of my “The Joy of Not Working” in 1991, I found out three years later that it had 150 spelling errors. That would translate into a $30 penalty. Incidentally, “The Joy of Not Working” sold 30,000 copies before I found and corrected the errors. I had only one complaint; the complainant (a grammar school teacher) only spotted seven of the errors in the book. The lesson here is that if you write a great book with great content, there will be few people complaining about any errors in it. (Enjoy any typos and errors in grammar that I have made here.)

  2. Considering how copy editing of print books, newspapers, and magazines has gone completely to hell (and I’m not talking about whether people use singular they, which I support, but simple punctuation and spelling), it’s not surprising that e-books are neck and neck in the race to the bottom.

  3. Unless the book was published by Amazon, as opposed to simply being sold at retail by them, I’m don’t understand why Amazon should accept the blame for poor proofreading or be on the hook to pay for corrections. As it is, they’ve already made a positive contribution by facilitating the reporting process so that corrections get funneled back to the authors.

    But since the actual publishers have already made it clear that they really don’t care, the process breaks down there except in the case of indie authors who can edit and republish their own product.

  4. You say: “The issue is this. Line-by-line copy-editing and proofing have already been done for the print edition, and the scanning has already happened for an e-book. A line-by-line check is assumed not to be needed.”

    This applies to eBook reissues of old books that were printed on paper years ago, and thus require scanning.

    Surely all new eBooks are created from the same final electronic files that will be sent to a printer to be turned into paper books. I would expect, therefore, that the eBook and the paper copies of a new work will be letter for letter identical to each other.

    That new eBooks, and, I assume, the corresponding paper books, still contain too many dumb errors only indicates to me that publishers have cut back on editing to save money.

    • What Gary says here is correct. If a text or word processor file has been proofread for the print edition of a book, there’s no reason why that file should be proofread again for the e-book edition. Converting a word processor file into an e-book will not and cannot introduce typos into the text. So the “appalling” revelation from the proofreader’s fiancee whom you quote isn’t appalling at all; it’s just common sense.

      As Gary also notes, when you see an e-book that’s riddled with errors that aren’t in the paper edition of the same book, it’s because it’s an old book, for which the publisher had no digital source file. In these cases an e-book may be created by scanning a paper copy of the book and processing it with optical character recognition software. As one might expect, OCR is far from infallible, and will inevitably introduce a lot of errors. In these cases the e-book *should* be given a word-by-word proofreading. Unfortunately, it’s often clear that this step has been skipped or done only perfunctorily.

  5. Ernie, in the phrase, “If Amazon want,” Amazon is considered a collective noun, the same as saying “If they want.” This is accepted usage in the UK, Canada and some other countries with English origins. The US chooses to go a different way, but either is correct. Remember, Joanna is Canadian so she is correct in saying it that way and you don’t get your proofreading money. Neither would you get it if she had used the word colour instead of color.

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