February 12, 2010

E-book Abomination Index

Posted in books, e-books, production, Rants, technology, typography at 4:40 am by India


India, Ink., has moved. The live version of this post is now located at http://ink.indiamos.com/2010/02/12/e-book-abomination-index/. Sorry for the inconvenience!

I’ve been reading a lot of e-books in the past ten days or so, and I have seen a lot of messy formatting. But the latest one takes the cake: a McGraw-Hill Professional book in which the first letter of every paragraph appears on a line by itself. Thus:

he quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.

Hella annoying. And there was an egregious typo in the book, repeated three times in one paragraph. Annoying enough that I dug around on the McGraw-Hill site until I found a place to lodge my complaint.

But then I got to thinking, as I filled out their lengthy incident report form, that if I want to report every fucked-up e-book I come across—which is most of them—I could spend the rest of my life chasing around on publishers’ websites for the buried feedback addresses or forms. And then I thought, Why not set up a sort of Hall of Shame where not only I but anyone else who finds a crappy e-book can post the gory details?

Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you the E-book Abomination Index submission form?

If you find an evil e-book, won’t you please come report it there? I’ll post results once I accumulate enough to make it interesting.

I threw this questionnaire together hastily, so if you have any suggestions on ways to improve it, I’d appreciate your letting me know.

Kick ass and take names!

Photo: Pillory by kriscip / Paul Krisciunas some rights reserved.


  1. India said,

    Meanwhile, I finally got around to reading Kassia Krozser‘s pre-iPad post over at Publishing Perspectives, “Before E-book Experimentation, How About a Little Back to Basics?

    Yeah, what she said. Good comments there, too.

  2. India said,

    Got a reply from McGraw-Hill yesterday morning (which was, to their credit, less than twelve hours after I filed my support ticket). My original message, posted on Thursday night, read as follows (after a bunch of form fields asking which book I was talking about, operating system, and so on):

    I purchased this book from Fictionwise.com in eReader format, and I was amazed to find that the first letter of nearly every paragraph—the exceptions being those that immediately follow section heads—is on a line by itself. Thus:

    o find it, let’s explore . . .

    This is extremely annoying to read, as I’m sure you can imagine.

    Furthermore, in one paragraph of the book, William Kunstler’s name is misspelled three times as “Kuntsler.” He was a well-known figure, and a competent proofreader should have looked the name up if he or she didn’t know it already from reading the news.

    I don’t know if McGraw-Hill converted this book to eReader format or if Fictionwise did it—I see that only the Adobe Digital Editions version is available from mhprofessional.com—but either way, it’s insulting to charge $15 for a DRM-encumbered book that is so carelessly produced.

    I am very disappointed to find that McGraw-Hill puts out such shoddy work.

    On Friday morning, I got a reply from MH Professional Technical Support, with no specific tech’s name, though I see now that on the incident page in their web-based “Customer Portal” the case was handled by someone named Andre. Thus spake Andre:

    Thank you for your inquiry to McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing Technical Support.

    Hello India,

    Here at McGraw-Hill we do not offer or convert our ebooks into eReader format. Any issue you see in that format is not a result or caused by us. I have examined the a copy of the Adobe Digital Editions version . . . and it does not contain the issues you have noted, so the issue you have is with the http://www.fictionwise.com/ website and/or the entity that facilitated the book being converted or reproduced into the eReader format.

    So that answers that question. But it’s still their problem, as I said in my reply:

    Thank you for your reply, O nameless person.

    What you have described is what I suspected was the case, after discussing the matter with colleagues who produce e-books for other publishers.

    I must stress, however, that when an e-book is so badly formatted, regardless of who performed the conversion, it reflects poorly on the publisher, devalues both e-books and books in general, and reduces the likelihood that the reader will recommend that book to another person. It costs McGraw-Hill sales in the short term and will drive e-book prices down across the board in the longer term, as consumers come to think of buying an e-book as a crapshoot—maybe they’ll get something readable, maybe not.

    The fact that McGraw-Hill is not directly responsible for the appalling quality of this e-book does not mean that this issue is not McGraw-Hill’s problem.

    Thanks for your time.


    So, aside from giving poor Andre a hard time, so far I’ve gotten nowhere. Crap: 1; reader: 0. Next stop: Fictionwise.

  3. India said,

    Whoa! Guy just pointed me to a very similar project, announced four days before this one: An American Editor’s Hall of Shame. Synchronicity!

  4. Schizohedron said,

    These are the sorts of glitches that would lead me to throw the e-reader device at the nearest wall. If errors this egregious are that common in e-books, that would end up costing me a fair chunk of change (and no small bit of my security deposit). I’ll go with running a free Gutenberg text through a quickie InDesign template until a critical mass of text coders begins Getting It Right.

  5. John Tranter said,

    Looks to me like they had a drop cap that ended up as a crap drop.

    Yes, shame them.



  6. India said,

    ut a drop cap on every paragraph, John? Surely not.

    eanwhile, I mentioned this on Twitter, but not here: five weeks after I filed a support ticket with Fictionwise, I received the following resolution—

    Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. Our provider has not yet replaced the file . . . I have returned the ebook and credited your Micropay so you can purchase another book. Your Micropay balance is now $17.65.

    We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused and thank you for your patience.

    So, good on Fictionwise, but I wish the conversion vendor they use didn’t suck so much in the first place.

  7. John Tranter said,

    I like the idea of your Abomination Index, but gee, did you have to make it as long-winded and as difficult to fill in as a McGraw-Hill complaint? May I suggest some more questions?

    When you first read Proust’s “A la recherche du temps perdu”, did you
    [a] throw up
    [b] faint with amazement
    [c] take up camomille tea?

    When you think about an e-book version of Shakespeare’s King Lear, do you
    [a] burst into tears
    [b] write an angry note to Sir Laurence Olivier
    [c] take a two-month drama course?

    When someone tells you that 1940s typing schools forced tyro secretaries to type two spacebars after a full stop (US: period), do you
    [a] scream No! No!
    [b] tell your tyro secretaries that no novel on their bookshelves has two spacebars after each full stop, just look at the bloody things why don’t you
    [c] smile and meditate?

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