Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Try Before You Buy! The Lack of Q.A. in Publishing Ebooks.

A large number of the paperback books I bought as a kid are worn out. I still enjoy reading a lot of them, but after more than thirty years, many of them fall apart when I open them to read them. The covers fall off, clusters of pages fall out, or the paper is so dry that individual pages tear just by turning them. They are in such condition that most of them are not fit for donating to a library. They are pretty much useless now as books and far more useful as tinder for the fire pit out back.
When I bought my Nook Simple Touch back in the spring, I resolved that as I found my favorite books from back then in ePub format, I would by the digital version and enjoy the stories all over again. So far so good, I’ve replaced a number of them with ebooks. But in doing so, I learned a painful lesson.
One of my favorites was the Dragonriders of Pern by the late Anne McCaffrey. When I bought my Nook, the first ebook I purchased was the trilogy collection of this series containing the original three books. The purchase from Barnes & Noble was easy, the file downloaded right into my Nook Simple Touch and I started reading and–
I thought, “What the hell?”
The formatting was terrible! Paragraphs were double-spaced apart, making it unpleasant to read. I discovered there were spelling errors throughout the books. One of the place names in the story, Ruatha, was regularly misspelled as “Ruath”. Sometimes all on the same page (p14 of Dragonflight)! I was aghast as the poor quality of the editing and typography of the book! I would have been mortified had my name been attached to that book as an editor.
Didn’t anyone actually review the ebook before it was pushed out for sale? It is obvious that there was absolutely no quality assurance being done. The file of the book was handed off to someone who had no idea what they were doing when the ebook was generated.
Worse, this was the third version of the ebook! I was astounded that someone would actually release something done as badly as this. And three times?!
The ebook was published by Ballantine books, a subsidiary of Random House Publishing Group. Reading through customer comments on the Barnes & Noble page for the book, there were quite a number of comments about the problems in the ebook.
By contrast, The Wizard of Karres by Lackey, Flint and Freer and published by Baen Books was very nicely formatted and was a joy to read! In fact, every ebook I’ve ordered from Baen Books has been spot on. Obviously, someone at Baen Books cares about the quality of what they produce and keeps an eye on the quality of their product.
Ballantine, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to give squat about what is flowing out the pipes of their production line. Every ebook I’ve ordered that was published by Ballantine has had annoying typographical issues, typos and spelling errors.
A few days ago, I ordered some of the books from Piers Anthony’s Xanth series, A Spell For Chameleon, The Source of Magic, and Castle Roogna, all published by Ballantine Books. This time, before I bought them I downloaded the free samples via Barnes & Noble. Sure enough, they still had issues with paragraph indentation and line spacing between paragraphs. There were still a few typos, but more of the garden variety than the glaring errors in Dragonriders of Pern.
It only took three small edits to the CSS file in the Xanth ebooks to fix them. Edits that would only take someone with access to the master files less than a couple minutes to fix.
I’m using Ballantine Books as an example here. They represent some of the top authors in Science Fiction and Fantasy, and yet they allowed such glaring gaffs in quality to be pushed out to the paying public. The problem with poor typesetting in ebooks seems to be endemic in the industry, prompting comments from Chris Stevens in an interview in the Toronto Review of Books. (Which prompted this story on Slashdot and thence my rant here.)
While Slashdot’s headline puts the blame on programmers, I put the blame much higher in the corporate hierarchy due to management pushing work onto people who didn’t understand what the work being requested actually involved and then back on the management for clearly not reviewing the work that was performed.
This is a problem that is widespread in nearly all American industries. Where a person who is business oriented is placed in charge of a company. One of the finest examples of this is Apple Inc.
After Steve Jobs was ousted as CEO of Apple, the Board of Directors put a “Businessman” at the helm. “Someone who knew finances and business!” Apple nearly went bankrupt. When Steve Jobs returned and took the helm, Apple flourished. It prospered so much, that now Apple is one of the top companies in the world. The difference? Steve Jobs was a product-focused CEO. He knew the product. He knew what it took to make the product and how to sell the product. He got management’s attention off the stock price and on making the product. And look at Apple now.
Every company I have worked for in the past, the only ones that survive are those with a product-oriented CEO at the helm. Every company that put a finance or business-oriented person on top began making cuts on the production lines and laying off employees within three months. Most of those companies subsequently failed and were sold off in chunks. Others, pretty much shed all their employees and moved production overseas. None of those people understood or even cared just what the product of the company was.
So, I see these poorly done ebooks being foisted on the market, and that only tells me that the top people in their companies don’t care about how their product is being made or how the work is being done. This detachment from production pretty well spells out where their priorities lie and it isn’t on their product line.
What I recommend to the reader is to download the sample file of the book for their ebook reader first. If the formatting isn’t correct, don’t buy the book. Instead, fire off an email explaining the problems you found. More importantly, state that you won’t buy the book until it is fixed to your satisfaction!