Thursday, October 27, 2011

To Err is Easier & Cheaper

Just last night, I was thinking about the typos I keep finding in e-books.  Some books are worse than others for typos-- and some aren't any worse than paper books I've read-- but plenty of them are worse, and it can be pretty annoying.  At the least, it disrupts the flow of the story (and takes you out of the story); at worst, it's downright insulting.  Perfect timing, because this morning I came across a brief article about that very issue-- "'E' Stands for 'Errors'"

The reasons behind the errors boil down to this:  it's faster, easier, and cheaper for the publisher to conduct its business in a way that leaves errors in an e-book (even after they've been corrected for paper versions of the same text).  If you're frequently frustrated by the errors in e-books, that's an irritating message, but it's not exactly surprising.

I think what makes it even more aggravating is that publishers insist on charging so much for e-books-- often even more than they charge for the "dead tree" version.  Also, because of the nature of e-books, it would be so easy to go back and fix the original file before taking it to market.  I mean, any fool with access to a computer and a word processing program could do it!  I regularly take the time to go back and correct typos in my own silly little blogs, when I spot them.  In effect, I'm putting more effort into my blogs that hardly anyone ever reads than these big publishing houses do for something for which they charge good money.

The book designer/typesetter/author quoted in the article hopefully suggests that "maybe this [the comparative lack of attention to typos in e-books] will change as e-books gain more market share".  Yes, most likely.  However, I think that leads us to another aspect of the issue-- namely, that publishers aren't very happy with the growing popularity of e-books and e-readers.

Suddenly, it's becoming more feasible for authors to bypass publishing houses altogether by self-publishing and still reaching an increasingly wider audience.  For that and a variety of other reasons, I think publishers are afraid of e-books.  Why else do they charge as much (if not more) for the e-book version than for the paper version of the same book?  Some try to argue that the cost of materials for a physical book are minuscule, but I'm not buying it.  You have to pay for the manufacturing process, too-- upkeep of the printing machinery-- paychecks for those responsible for keeping it running-- storage space for unsold books-- not to mention the expenses of distribution.  Do they seriously expect us to believe that with all of that taken into account, it's not significantly cheaper to process and "ship" a digital file?

No, I think publishers want to keep e-books down as long as they can, but they have to balance that instinctive fear and even hatred with their awareness of certain (seemingly inevitable) realities.  E-books are here, and they're only growing in popularity, so publishers need to keep up with the times and try to get a piece of the e-pie by selling digital copies that must cost them nearly nothing to "produce" (since they're using the author's original files-- not even bothering to fix up the formatting and typographical errors).

Not happy with your typo-riddled e-book?  Well, that's too bad... but I guess that's just the way it is.  E-books just aren't as nice as good old-fashioned paper, are they?  And look, it's actually a couple dollars cheaper for this thoroughly proofread paperback...