« Erin's Perspective, Resources

The A$20,000 Typo…Would You Pay For It? I wouldn’t.

By Erin L. Cox9780143011071

As reported in the The Sydney Morning Herald last week, Penguin Group Australia had to reprint 7,000 copies of their book Pasta Bible because of a typo that called for “fresh ground black people” instead of “pepper.”  Bob Sessions, the head of publishing for Penguin Group Australia, said that the mistake will cost them A$20,000 to reprint the books.  But, they cannot recall the books from the stores.

In hearing this story, I decided to put on my would-be publisher hat and ask, “Would I have paid to reprint the books?” 

The short answer is NO.  It seems clear to me that it was a slip-up generated by spellcheck (we’ve all had spell check or the fill-in feature on text messaging provide the wrong word).  Do you worry that it might offend readers?  Perhaps, but none of the coverage of this story has had reader (or writer) response.  Who found the typo and why did they choose to reprint?  Was there the threat of a lawsuit or just the decision of righting this rather unpleasant typo? 

If I were publisher, I think I would have printed a sticker to go on the books in stores alerting people to the typo and apologizing/clarifying.  What would you have done?

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9 Comments

  1. John Welch
    Posted April 21, 2010 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    I am an editor and publisher of an academic journal and scholarly books. I am also a lawyer. While I understand the value of the good will that the Sydney Morning Herald probably garnered by making its decision quickly and voluntarily, I’m not sure I would have jumped to this decision immediately. Obviously, something needed to be done, but putting a notice on the SMH web site that the error was deeply regretted and that options for rectifying the gaff were being investigated could have allowed time to perhaps take other steps, including more importantly assuring the public that the error was inadvertent.

    In the mean time, people can enjoy a laugh, even if it goes against themselves. (I still laugh at lawyer jokes.) Once, I spotted a typo in some final page proofs. The text should have read “I am the Alpha and the Omega.” It read, however, “I am the Aloha and the Omega,” which similarly had gotten through the spellchecker. I almost let the typo go uncorrected. Think how many copies of that book we might have sold in Hawaii! And, I didn’t think that John the Revelator would be offended. But then, it wasn’t too late to fix that typo.

  2. Erin
    Posted April 22, 2010 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    Hey John,

    Just to clarify, the Sunday Morning Herald just reported the story. Penguin Group Australia published the books and made the decision to reprint the books, pulping the ones with the typo.

    Erin

  3. John Welch
    Posted April 22, 2010 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    Erin,
    Thanks for the update. I certainly applaud the decision of the Penguin Group Australia.
    As it turns out, it is fortunate that, even though costly, the hurtful error could still be corrected.
    After all, civility, sincere apology, and genuine concern for one another is what it is all about.

  4. Jen
    Posted April 23, 2010 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    Only 20K? I mean, that’s not to say it’s not a waste in many ways, but I’ve reprinted stuff for smaller errors and it’s not *that* much compared to what printing things costs. In my mind, the PR value of fixing it is worth that (and I’m in marketing) because it’s not just about whether or not someone is offended by the mistake itself. What a company does in this kind of situation-when crisis problems arise- says more about it than making the mistake in the first place. An apology and not fixing the mistake says “We know this could be offensive, but frankly we don’t care since it would cost us money.” I don’t care how nicely the apology is worded, that’s how it comes off. And even without the overtone of race, it comes out as “We are a company that doesn’t fix our mistakes. Instead, we apologize and hope the customer sucks it up.”

  5. Bill
    Posted April 23, 2010 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    Well, recall and reprint is expensive, but it does earn Penguin some good PR. Plus, the copies that “got loose” will have value on the collectors’ market, sort of like the Bibles years ago, in which the printer accidentally omitted a “not” from one of the Commandments. Hey, it’s Life. Just laugh at it.

  6. Sparrowhawk
    Posted April 24, 2010 at 2:10 am | Permalink

    Well, that’s what you get when you rely on Spell Check. Personally, I’d fire any editor who did so. Unconscionably lazy practice.

  7. Old Pressman
    Posted April 24, 2010 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

    Seems like a human proofreader might have caught this before the ARC stage, let alone the first printing. Don’t they check for context, etc. because spellcheckers can’t be relied upon to do so?

    My favorite typo occurred years ago when I was working for a printer/engraver responsible for most of the graduation announcements in Oregon and Washington. We’d already pantographed the plates for the announcements and drawn the first couple from the press when someone noticed that rather than, “sowing the seeds of immortality”, the text read, “sowing the seeds of immorality.” Fortunately, that one was caught in time.

  8. WotV
    Posted April 26, 2010 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    I would reprint. Absolutely. That typo would come back to haunt them later…

  9. Posted May 13, 2010 at 4:36 am | Permalink

    Recently wrote an assignment including “Public Health”. Which had a letter omitted and came out as “Pubic Health”. Oh well, oops. You gotta laugh!

2 Trackbacks

  1. By Bookninja » Blog Archive » On expensive typos on April 22, 2010 at 8:37 am

    [...] publisher asks: The $20,000 typo: would you pay for it? Her answer? No. A short piece, but a great question. If you had a typo like the one that appeared [...]

  2. [...] typo that called for “fresh ground black people” instead of “pepper.” http://publishingperspectives.com/?p=14590 (via [...]

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