Errors, formatting, and other differences between e-book and print

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the varying quality of e-books. I’m not just talking about the relative ease of digital self-publishing, which for all its simplicity and convenience makes flooding the market with low-rate books an even bigger reality. Everyone should have the opportunity to bypass traditional channels and put their story out there for the world to see, but when it comes time to buy, prospective readers of indie books have to wade through a confusing pool of releases, playing a blind game of Marco Polo with the good and the bad—nearly all of them are cheap, but not enough of them are readable, let alone well-written, and how are people supposed to know a gem from a rock? A free e-book a day is a great luxury, but what use is reading more if what you’re reading isn’t very good?

Sure, reading bad books is just as important as reading good books, but more so if you’re a writer—you learn what not to do, just like the best prose and poetry instructs you on what to do and how you should go about doing it.

One thing I can’t forgive, however, is the often shoddy quality of traditionally published e-books. Some are worse than others, but most e-books I’ve seen contain at least one of the following problems:

  • An unflattering, bereft design and layout — If I’m replacing a normal print book with an e-book, I still want the same pampering. Give me a cover, even if it is in boring black and white. Give me a table of contents, copyright information, and all the other pages you’d typically include before the actual book begins.
  • Spelling and space errors — I know programming e-books is a newfangled task, but it bothers me when publishers (or self-publishers) don’t put as much effort into producing a flawless finished product as they would normally. I routinely spot extra spaces (sometimes big, very noticeable extra spaces) in between words or punctuation, common spelling errors, and similar issues. Embedding pictures is another complication—sometimes they don’t even appear on the page they’re supposed to, or they distort the text. Not okay.
  • Missing bold, italics, or headers — Honestly, I haven’t encountered many problems with italicized words, but bold words can do a lot to differentiate lines of text—especially when publishers neglect to format actual headers that are separated from the rest of the text body, given adequate room, and enlarged for standard reading purposes.

At least the Kindle (not sure about other e-readers) has page numbers available now. Who really used those long numerical locations, anyway?

What other problems have you seen in e-books that wouldn’t ever be found dead in their print counterparts? Do you think the sudden demand for a digital format is any excuse for sloppy editing and poor presentation? Do these issues deter you from buying e-books?

4 thoughts on “Errors, formatting, and other differences between e-book and print

  1. I’ve only got an e-reader since last Saturday so I haven’t read many ebooks. But I’m planning to only read e-books (e.g., review books that I’m offered) if the book also exists in printed version. I.e., any idiot can make a digital version of their ramblings, but if they are confident enough of their work’s worth to have printed copies made, then maybe it’s worth my while.

    It’s far from fool-proof, but it will at least filter out the worst chancers, I hope.

    Bad editing is an insult to the reader. If the writer can’t be bothered to do a good job of taking out spelling and other errors, should I be bothered to read their work? Nah!

    1. Thanks for your comment!

      I think there’s a mindset that because e-books are relatively new, authors and publishers can get away with shoddy editing and formatting. And I think, because of that, a lot of readers just expect it to be riddled with problems. E-books definitely need to meet a higher standard of quality if they want to become more respectable—but, of course, there’s the issue of, as you put it, any idiot making a digital version of his ramblings.

  2. I agree about the spelling, spacing, and formatting errors. I’m not as picky about those, but they still shouldn’t be there. What kills me is all the other stuff — table of contents, cover, etc. I especially hate that the library copies from Overdrive don’t have cover art. I know I’m only going to have each book for two weeks, but I want to see the pretty cover on my Nook Color to entice me to keep reading! The ugly gray cover just look…ugly.

    1. Me, too! Even e-ink screens are supposed to show black and white covers, but I rarely get that much. A color cover would be amazing, but from what you’re telling me, publishers hardly deliver on that, too.

      Thanks for your comment! Hope to see you around again.

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