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Are You More Forgiving of Errors in E-books?

If e-books feel more ephemeral than print books, are the mistakes therein less alarming?

By Edward Nawotka

hand on keyboard

In today’s feature story about errors in e-books Olivia Snaije describes how she was so frustrated with the mistakes in one of her digital editions that she demanded a refund from Amazon — one that they granted. Do you find yourself wanting to do the same when you run across a particularly egregious series of errors?

I’ve found that the more I read digitally, I note errors and mistakes, but have a tendency to scan over them. For example, when using the NetGalley service to read pre-pub copies of books for review, I like to have the titles sent to my Kindle and often this means Amazon is converting a PDF copy of a book to the Kindle format. This is, I assume, done automatically and without human intervention. The formatting is often somewhat scrambled with odd line breaks, broken or even missing words. Still, my eye tends to travel over the text, filling in the details. I do notice, but I’m less bothered by them than I might be in print.

Perhaps this is because e-books feel more ephemeral than print books, making the presence of errors less alarming.

Are you more forgiving of errors in e-books than print books? Have you ever been motivated to ask for a refund on an e-book?

Let us know what you think in the comments below.

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8 Comments

  1. Tina
    Posted August 23, 2011 at 6:53 am | Permalink

    That depends. If I’ve paid for it, certainly not – if someone’s taking money from me, I want an acceptable product in exchange. I’m prepared to accept scrambled formatting as one of the limitations of an ereader, but not missing text, and certainly not poor spelling or grammar.

    I’m more forgiving of free books, at least older ones. It’s better that these books should be available in a poor state rather than lost forever. I accept that there will be scanning errors, and in a way, I see correcting the book as my ‘payment’ for its enjoyment – I send any errors to the site from which I’ve downloaded it, in the hope that at some stage they’ll be corrected and the book improved as a result.

    However, for newer books, I still consider they should be edited and proofread properly. Even if an individual book is free, it’s likely to be a ‘taster’ for a series that the author presumably hopes people will be willing to pay for. I certainly don’t consider I should make any effort to improve that book – the author should have paid for someone to do that before releasing it – but I might well post a review, and it’s unlikely to be a good one!

  2. Joelle Wilson
    Posted August 23, 2011 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    Errors in in e-books are just as frustrating in printed books.

  3. Posted August 23, 2011 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    Not forgiving, really, but my expectations are different. For an ebook from a major publisher that’s a year old or more, I don’t expect much. They’ve been slow to get the details right, or in some cases, the basics. An ebook that’s released now by a major house really should be impeccable. The workflows are documented, the conferences have been held, and if you’re they’re charging ten bucks for a DRM’d ebook, it had better be well-produced.

  4. Posted August 23, 2011 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    Tina said:
    I’m prepared to accept scrambled formatting as one of the limitations of an ereader.

    Scrambled formatting is NOT due to the limitations of ereaders. It’s because publishers don’t take the time to format properly. There are lots of “conversion” programs that people can use, including emailing the file to Amazon and getting a Kindle file back, but automated conversions are often riddled with formatting errors.

    I’ve read ebooks on my Kindle that looked GREAT! Not at all inferior to the printed book. Just a little bit of extra care and some hand coding can make all the difference. (And yes, I do ebook conversions for a living.)

    As an indie author/publisher I would NEVER put anything into the marketplace until I was convinced it was as good as I could possibly make it. And I do tend, possibly unfairly, to equate quality of formatting with quality of writing.

    Catherine M Wilson
    http://catherinemwilson.com/free-ebook.html

  5. Posted August 24, 2011 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    Typos, misspellings, and obvious grammatical errors drive me crazy regardless of the format. I’ve often said that it’s impossible to read through the front page of any major newspaper – digital or print – without finding multiple errors.

    With books of any sort, the fault is multiplied, given the more durable nature of the medium.

    It actually adds to the credibility of the writing (I read mostly non-fiction) if it is published without errors. Conversely, when I see many errors over the course of a book (again, regardless of format) it causes me to start questioning the author’s character as a journalist.

  6. Posted August 25, 2011 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    Unlike your other commenters, I agree with you about the tendency to overlook errors in ebooks and be less bothered by them than I am by errors in print. It’s not that I don’t see the errors (I am a former academic with a Ph.D.), but as you say my eye travels over the text and fills in. I think standards are changing. Take a look at spelling and grammar in texting. That’s what the younger generation is used to. Also I find many errors in newspapers, including the NYT. But why focus on the mistakes? I think readers who do that are looking for the negative. Not sure why.

  7. Posted October 13, 2011 at 5:55 am | Permalink

    Amen to Catherine. Whether a book comes from a traditional house or indie author, the creators and producers of content in any form need to care about quality if they care about readers and building (or keeping) a loyal fan base. I might finish a book with errors and formatting mishaps, but I can guarantee I wouldn’t recommend it.

    The most powerful marketing support for any book is word of mouth. If an author is too proud, lazy or cheap to get a proper editor, or a house is too busy and short on resources to assign proper proofreading and design review, how can they expect or hope for the coveted viral embrace from consumers?

    I disagree with Tina (respectfully). It doesn’t matter to me what I’ve paid for a book. If charging less is an excuse to deliver an inferior product, then it can’t be considered a discount; its just an inferior product.

    Any author hoping to be taken seriously should not risk turning readers off by caring less about their book than the buyers.

    As a marketing and sales professional for more than 20 years, I can confidently share that the first rule to commercial success is, never insult or ignore the intelligence of the customer. We are, after all, in the literary world. If our changing marketplace is now all about content vs. format, don’t believe that digital vs. print changes the need or demand for quality and attention to detail.

  8. rodger k. arriola
    Posted September 3, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    Frustrating doesn’t even come close. I paid some good hard earned money for my Kindle DX. The Kindle Format needs some severe tweeking. Mistakes to numerous to count. Wholeparagraphswithwordsrunningtogetherlikethis. And subtitles every other paragraph. Whole pages with broken sentences. Who can enjoy e-reading with this mess!

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