Ebook Errors?

People who know about the inside working of big publishing, I need your help.

I have been hearing people talk about ebook editions that appear to have OCR type errors in them. This sounded suspicious to me, in that “publishing can’t possibly be doing what I think they are doing” type way. I have now some examples in captivity. I own all of George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire books in hardcover but I am reading them on my Kindle. Who wants a 10 pound book smashing their face at bedtime? I noticed these errors in the passages of the kingsmoot, where Balon Greyjoy is referred to many times. There is a stretch of two paragraphs with half of them “Balon” and the other half “Baton.” If the image is too small to read, follow to the blog post and click it and you’ll see a pretty large version of it. I highlighted the passage on the Kindle just to make it extra obvious.

The question is this: do the big publishers prepare their texts for commercial ebooks by scanning and OCRing typeset versions of the text? In other words, is there no way for them to capture the final edited version in a soft copy that could then end up in the ebook version? I’m withholding judgement until I understand this better but it seems remarkably backwards to me. If the electronic copy can introduce additional errors from the paper versions, something in the workflow seems amiss to me.

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Dave Slusher is a blogger, podcaster, computer programmer, author, science fiction fan and father. Member of the Podcast Hall of Fame class of 2022.

9 thoughts on “Ebook Errors?”

  1. Saving this to read later. I notice this ALL the time. Any Stephen King book I’ve read digitally replaces the word “corner” with “comer” . I don’t know why that stands out among all the other errors.

  2. Kehin Faux says:

    hmmm is Kaven lannister the lord of casterly rock? or cercei?

  3. Evo Terra says:

    Short answer: Yep.

    I have a friend who used to work for a big company that did ebook conversion. As little as a year ago, as crazy as this sounds, the workflow included scanning the print-ready .pdf file via OCR. Yes, even if the raw, unadulterated digital text existed.

    The rationale, as I understand it, is that their workflow also had a bunch of software the mostly replicated the work of the print book’s interior designer, so that the ebook looked a lot like the print book.

    This, he said, was easier than starting with clean digital text and trying to edit the CSS by hand to replicate the print book.

    To which I replied — why the fuck are you trying to replicate the print book? It’s an ebook. Stop it.

  4. PJ Cabrera says:

    I bet you the publishers are doing this as a way to extort generous fees for digital publishing out of authors. “Oh we can’t just take your Word manuscript and turn it into a Kindle book, we have a processing fee we need to take out of your paper royalty earnings first”

  5. Dave Slusher says:

    +J. Steven York  Reading your comments gives me hives. I was working for that ebook startup in Portland in 98-99, and even we back then could support granularly updating texts and versioning. I think about what a small investment in technology back then would have paid off in increased margin through the next 17 years. Is there any business worse at business than book publishing?

  6. Some companies are catching up, but that doesn’t undo past bad practices. Generally, the older and bigger the company, the harder it is for them to change.

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