A few weeks ago, I posted some recommendations for Kindle-based reading material. One of the books I brought up caused some problems for people because, while the book itself was great, the copy on the Kindle Store was overpriced and has some pretty glaring errors that indicate inferior quality control. This got me thinking about the current arguments for and against self-publishing in the digital world.
One of the things we’ve heard over and over again from publishers is that when you price your ebooks too low, it cuts down on the money they can afford to spend on the typical overhead that goes into book publication. That is, editors, publicists, etc, all fall away. This particular book (Dune by Frank Herbert for anybody that’s interested) was clearly not more than a step or two removed from a scan of the paper book run through some OCR software. Where’s the advantage to paying the extra money in situations like these? I’ve chosen this book as a good example, but I’ve found that it isn’t uncommon for books originally published pre-ebook to have these errors in them while still being sold for the same price as newer books with proper quality control.
In case you’re unfamiliar with OCR, or Optical Character Recognition, let me explain as briefly as I can. You start with a scanned image of a page. Just a picture basically. You then feed it into your OCR software which “looks” at the page and tries to pick out words and formatting to make it into a text-based document. You need to do this in order to have the resizable text, font choices, text to speech, etc that make the Kindle so neat. Sometimes the resultant text is nearly pristine, sometimes it is highly flawed. OCR has come a long way over the years, but even so it’s unlikely for you to ever get a completely perfect scan the first time through. You need a human, usually with no tool more complex than a basic spell checker, to run through and look for instances when the software mistook an ‘h’ for ‘l n’ and other such near equivalencies, not to mention random brackets and semicolons that for some reason just appear out of nowhere sometimes.
These are not difficult problems to address. Your average underpaid intern could manage to get through most novels in an afternoon or two. Maybe a little more for books like Dune that make up a lot of dictionary-unfriendly words and force you to pay attention, but the point stands. If all the fuss over pricing really stems from the value present in a professionally published eBook rather than a potentially poorly edited self publisher, then why aren’t we getting finished products?
I didn’t mind these sorts of things when ebooks were still basically a hobbyist thing that people on the internet did for fun. We’re a good long way beyond that, though. No, it doesn’t make a book unreadable most of the time, but it shows a distinct lack of interest in real customer satisfaction. Like I said, so far it seems to me to primarily apply to older books, but some people do still enjoy books more than five years old. Wasn’t the point of an Kindle that I would be able to carry my whole library in a pocket? The device lives up to it, I just want the publishers to do so as well.