Look At All Those Type O's Dept.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2013-06-08 10:00:00-04:00 No comments

If there's one thing that has irked me non-stop about e-books, it's not the form factor, the file formats, the costs, the bottom-feeding, or any of the common rallying cries of intellectual property or freedom of information movement so beloved by digistas. It's the copyediting. More like, the lack thereof.

This problem's most pronounced in e-book editions of books that have been in print for some time, but have never been converted into a digital format until now. I recently bought e-book replacements for two books that went missing on me a long time ago — one a science-fiction classic, the other a lesser-known but still widely-regarded SF work. Both had been converted to e-book format by nothing more ambitious than OCRing the text. Both were not only littered with conversion errors, but were replete with all the other bonehead issues that OCRed texts suffer from, like indented text having no corresponding right margin indent. I ended up returning both books for a refund (thank you, Amazon).

With e-books, we seem to be at the same stage of quality control that plagued the home video industry right about the time DVD first came to market. Many titles didn't have anamorphic transfers and were prepared from the same masters used for earlier LaserDisc editions, with all their attendant telecine issues. It took years for the baseline quality of this stuff to get caught up, and even then we had lots of DVDs that were way below the baseline.

That doesn't make me any less irked that I spent fifteen bucks on these books (around $7 each) and got lousier copyediting and formatting than things I've produced myself and sold for five dollars apiece. Is there really no time, no money, no incentive to police this stuff properly? How about a distributed copyediting system a la the Gutenberg Project, where purchasers of the books could report typos back to the publisher via a web interface? How about, in short, using the tools you have to make this stuff easier, not harder?

Back when I worked at a magazine that was sold from newsstands and had a fairly large subscriber base, our subscription system was controlled by some company out in California that was notorious for being backwards. One of our editors remarked, "Well, they do have an email address, but I suspect if you send anything to it, some secretary just prints it out and then types up a copy on carbon paper." I now believe she was being hopelessly optimistic.

Tags: editing publishing self-publishing writing