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February 15th, 2011

It’s been a while since my post on going digital [], in which I bemoaned the fact that I could not get a Kindle that worked in Singapore. I wanted the Kindle only for periodicals. I didn’t then and I still don’t really want to read novels in digital form. I suppose someone out there will call me a Luddite, and I accept that digital books are inevitable but I prefer long reads to be in the physical form. Magazines on the other hand? Digital all the way baby!

I never did get a Kindle, but I got the Kindle app for my iPhone, iPad and I have it on my work laptop and home iMac. I like the ecosystem approach, where I can read my content on multiple devices at my convenience. I do now consume the Economist (the rag which prompted my previous post) almost exclusively on the iPad (I still have a physical subscription but will not renew — I’ll go all digital next billing cycle due to the timing of the app being ready). I absolutely love reading the Economist on the iPad and it’s even OK on the iPhone. But… I don’t use the Kindle for the Economist (I might need to give that a try when I do go 100% digital), I use the dedicated Economist app on my iPad and iPhone. So what am I using the Kindle apps for? Non-fiction books mostly, and for sample chapters from books I might want to buy.

I did give the Kindle apps a chance however. I read The Lord of The Rings (a yearly read), The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales all in the Kindle app on the iPad over the fall. Not a bad experience over all, I still prefer the physical read, but the benefit of traveling while I was reading these is a plus.

Now for one criticism I have to make: Who is proof reading these books?

I suspect no one is. I imagine that for most books, at least the ones that are not new, they are being converted by a machine — OCR. But shouldn’t someone review them? Isn’t this what editors and publishers do? And; are books still ‘typeset’ or is a digital text file use to make the master plates that are then used for printing? Shouldn’t that be used for the Kindle copy rather than OCRing a physical book?

I thought maybe the errors in the Tolkien books I read might be specific to the heavy use of hyphens, diaeresis and accents in the fictional names in the books. But I see a lot of comments on Kindle books pages from other users bitching about the proofreading (or complete lack thereof.)

Here is a sample of the issues I found in Unfinished Tales:

Location 295: extra space
“This account of Gandalf’ s” should be “This account of Gandalf’s”
Location 385: extra hyphen
“the caves of And-roth” should be “the caves of Androth”
Location 1606: missing hyphen
“their lady in Dorlómin” should be “their lady in Dor-lómin
Location 1610: extra hyphen
“her return with Thin-gol’s” should be “her return with Thingol’s”
Location: 3139: missing hyphen
“a man of Dorlómin” should be “a man of Dor-lómin”
Location: miss-placed diaeresis []
“concerning Ea¨” should be “concerning Eä”
Location 3731: miss-placed diaeresis
“therefore Ea¨mbar” should be “therefore Eämbar”
Location 4119: missing space
“‘Be off,Îbal!’” should be “Be off, Îbal!”
Location : missing space
“His ‘right name’ wasÍrimon” should be “His ‘right name’ was Írimon”

This is only a small list, I made almost 100 notes in Unfinished Tales and similar amount in both The Lord of The Rings and The Silmarillion.

While somewhat forgivable on Amazon’s part, these errors are annoying and should be fixed. One additional note that makes the mistakes, at least in The Lord of the Rings, ironic and perhaps a bit embarrassing for the publisher is this passage from the Note of the 50th Anniversary Edition by Wayne G Hammond and Christina Scull:

In this edition of The Lord of the Rings, prepared for the fiftieth anniversary of its publication, between three and four hundred emendations have been made following an exhaustive review of past editions and printings. The present text is based on the setting of the HarperCollins three-volume hardcover edition of 2002, which in turn was a revision of the HarperCollins reset edition of 1994. As Douglas A. Anderson comments in the preceding ‘Note on the Text’, each of those editions was itself corrected, and each also introduced new errors. At the sametime, other errors survived undetected, among them some five dozen which entered as long ago as 1954, in the resetting of The Fellowship of the Ring published as its ‘second impression’.

So maybe they should fix the Kindle edition.

Maybe Amazon should leverage the masses here — include a ‘highlight for review’ or ‘flag proofreading’ option in the Kindle apps for people to identify where things are wrong so they can be fixed. The good thing about digital is you can update the users copy later when the problems are addressed.

As a final thought, Apple’s recent move against Sony [] should earn Apple a bitch slap from consumers. Maybe Amazon and Sony should have ‘in app’ purchase, but with a note that all in app purchases include a 30% ‘service charge’ for the “convenience”, and consumers can always make their purchased via the online store for a 30% discount.

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