Why Do eBooks Have So Many Typos?

On the topic of ebook typos and errors (we’d discussed this a bit before: “Thoughts on Errors, Publishing, and eBook Quality”), here is a contribution from Publishing Perspectives — “Error-Free E-books Will Come “When Cars Can Drive Themselves” — with some interesting insights.

It’s tempting to blame imperfect software, but that only seems to tell part of the tale:

“E-books exist in a variety of different formats, which themselves change frequently. Earlier versions of e-book software were inflexible and often difficult to work with and many publishers outsourced their conversion activities to specialized companies. Adding additional steps to workflow and each new time the file is opened invites the introduction of errors and mistakes — and finding out who is responsible for fixing them can be even more problematic.

What’s more, when an older book is scanned to convert it to an e-book, the images are run through optical character recognition software, and then go through a series of steps before they are converted into a basic e-book format. In the case of these pre-digital titles — and Alther’s Other Women would be considered pre-digital — the original copy may have aged, the ink could be faded and blurred, or there could be dust on the page when it was scanned, resulting in text that is difficult for the computer to read.”

But, books can’t convert themselves. At least, not yet, at any rate. If sometimes we encounter ebooks that seem like a rush-job, most of the time, that’s exactly what it is. That’s well and fine for free ebooks, but when book buyers are purchasing ebook versions at nearly the cost of print and ink versions, and get the old college-essay-right-before-the-deadline treatment from publishers? For shame —

“Software will get you 90 percent of the way, but the rest needs to be controlled manually. To ensure top quality you need quality control editors to look at every line and every page…the challenge is when you are converting a large number of books and you’re not willing to spend the hours of quality control.”

Indeed, in the rush to get these older books back into print and capitalize on this otherwise moribund intellectual capital, it appears that expediency has often been prioritized over accuracy. When a book may only sell a modest number of digital copies and “good enough” will do, proofing likely seems like an unnecessary step.”

“Good enough” doesn’t really cut it, though. Spelling mistakes, “I”s replaced by “1”s, and weird formatting … Hmph. A certain expectation of quality is expected of published material from book publishers. Shouldn’t this be a bigger priority?


Surprise me


I run the ThinkLab at the University of Cambridge, and research digital habits, productivity, and wellbeing.

tyler shores cambridge

What I’m Reading Now:

Supercommunicators by Charles Duhigg

Related Articles

Have questions or ideas or requests for working together?

Get in touch