Monday, September 14, 2009

A proposal to reduce errors in books

This article neatly explains the problem (via Arts & Letters Daily):

How bad is the problem of printed errors? Well, start with newspapers. In 1936 a study of Minneapolis papers found that about half of all articles contained mistakes, and most studies since then have shown very similar results -- not just in Minneapolis. An analysis of such surveys, produced by the American Newspaper Publishers’ Association in 1980, concluded that half of all printed news stories included some sort of error. ...

Book publishers mostly rely on their authors to ensure accuracy; dedicated fact-checking departments now rarely exist except at some magazines. The New Yorker’s checkers are justly renowned for their tenacious scepticism, but even they err sometimes. One reader was annoyed to find himself described as dead, and requested a correction in the next issue. Unfortunately, by the time the correction appeared, he really had died, thus compounding the error. This tale illustrates not only the drawbacks of printed media, but also the role that readers can play in overcoming them -- even if things did not quite work out in this instance.
The author's solution:
Earlier this year Amazon caused an outcry by deleting electronic copies of some books from its customers’ Kindle reading devices when it emerged that the editions were illegal bootlegs. But would anyone object if electronic copies were replaced, by remote control, with corrected versions? Such updating would be far less expensive than printing and distributing a new physical edition, though no publisher has yet announced plans to do any such thing.
The article ends with this sentence, in all seriousness:
An error in the printed version, and in an earlier online version, of this article has been corrected online.