Quality and Kindle Book Publication

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.

11 thoughts on “Quality and Kindle Book Publication”

  1. I fully agree with this. It happened to me with a couple of books and it was really frustrating.

  2. Wow, Dune is selling for $15.99 as an ebook but $3.23 as a used paperback. Doesn’t take a math whiz to figure out which one people should be buying.

  3. You couldn’t be more right.
    After my first purchase for the kindle (a book in the Mistborn series), I was appalled by the poor quality of the ebook. For me there were so many typos as to make the story unreadable. I ended up buying (yes, I have now two books with the same title) the american version of the ebook which had more decent quality control.

    There should be a way in Amazon to award stars to different editions of the books. Right now I’m getting by with the “samples”: If I see a couple typos in the first ten pages I know I will not be able to read the whole book.

  4. I think your blog ate my last comment, but this is a pervasive issue with backlist as opposed to frontlist titles. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that publishers are spending next to nothing on converting ebooks.

  5. I’ve just finished reading The Source by James Michener a week ago, bought it from Amazon for Kindle after reading it in paperback almost 30 years ago.
    I fully agree with you, it had lots of mistakes, even some paragraphs were repeated!
    As it is a very long book, it took me more than 2 weeks to finish it, so I could not ask for a refund, and that doesn’t make me happy.
    And just trying to compare the prices between Kindle and paper edition, I just found out that it seems they retired the Kindle version for sale.

  6. If a very poorly edited, error filled version of a purchased title shows up on my Kindle, I now automatically return that purchase to Amazon for a refund (prior to the ‘7 day’ limit). I make sure hit the feedback button for formatting on the title’s Kindle Store page. I might also add a formatting error issue note to any review I leave on the site, to alert others to the problem, and have had feedback there that people have found those warnings helpful.

    I have found some independently published works to be truly illegible and have reluctantly returned them, but I especially get some perverse satisfaction in the return if the ebook came from a Agency publisher, as many of their titles are amazingly full of formatting, OCR and other text errors. As they are not being honest in their justifications for their inflated prices, I believe that the best feedback we can give them is to ask for a full refund if they are not delivering the quality they have been attributing to themselves.

  7. One more interetingly ironic note. I recently downloaded a HarperCollins title from our county libraries’ OverDrive site, and found it to be as badly produced as any ebook I have returned to Amazon for these issues. They really don’t have a clue as to what they are doing in this area.

  8. This hits home for me as well. I’m perfectly fine paying the equivalent price for an ebook as a paper book, but more?? Publishers will learn the way the music industry did, but it will be painful for both parties. Last I looked, Atlas Shrugged is $19 on Amazon as a Kindle book and $12 in paperback?!

  9. >There should be a way in Amazon to award stars to different editions of the books.

    A thousand times this. We need a way to separately rate the story vs the various products it comes in.

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