An American Editor

January 11, 2010

A Modest Proposal II: Book Warranty

Part of the problem for publishers in the attempt to justify pricing for books, regardless of the form — ebook or print — is their inability to convince consumers that there is any relationship between the end product and the cost other than barebones greed. Because I am an editor (disclosure time: I am a freelance editor and am owner of Freelance Editorial Services, an independent editorial company), my perspective on what it costs to produce a book and what a publisher does differs from that I would have if I were solely a consumer; however, I am also a consumer of both ebooks and print, and not always a happy one (see my earlier post about why a good editor is important).

What a publisher brings to the table, other than high advances for authors like Stephen King, Dan Brown, and Sarah Palin, is well hidden from the consumer. What the consumer sees is only the end product. This is really no different than manufacturing an automobile or the latest pharmaceutical phenomenon or even a candidate for political office: all we consumers ever see is the finished product. And this is where publishers fail us and themselves: Publishers are doing nothing to instill consumer confidence in the publisher’s product!

Consumers are buying books that are riddled with errors and are frustrated; I really hate paying $40 for a hardcover that has missing footnotes, or $14 for an ebook that regularly confuses the characters names and whether a character is dead or alive. One consumer reported a mystery novel that had the University of Georgia located in North Carolina and Duke University in Georgia. I have bought books with sentences with mixed up homonyms like “It seams that the principal reason for there work was . . .” or with unclear phrases like “using the gene deleted mice” (does the author mean that the gene got rid of the mice or that the mice were missing a particular gene — but for the want of a hyphen there goes clarity), or, as noted earlier, with character names that change nearly as often as the pages are turned.

I’ll grant that there is no such thing as the “perfectly” produced book — human beings are imperfect and make errors — but there is such a thing as quality control and paying for quality. Too many publishers, to appease shareholder appetite for high quarterly profits, are forsaking quality in the editorial process believing that consumers don’t care, or if they do care, will only grumble and buy the next book in the series anyway. This lack of editorial quality is particularly evident in ebooks that created by scanning print editions that are thrust on the market without proofing first, riddled with errors that even a first grader would recognize.

So publishers are losing the public relations battle with consumers. The end product is not worthy of respect, and if the end product is not worthy of respect, neither is the publisher. Thus my second modest proposal: Publishers should warrant the quality of their books!

A consumer wouldn’t buy a warrantless car or TV or  computer or ebook device; consumers believe that a manufacturer’s warranty indicates quality or at least that the manufacturer is willing to stand behind its product. Perhaps it is time for publishers to join the 21st century and say: “We put a lot of care and effort into our books so as to produce a quality book. When you buy our book, we assure you that it is a quality product and if it isn’t, we’ll do something about it: We stand behind every book we sell!”

A book is a commodity, no different from any other commodity except that a book is a warrantless commodity. Consumers are conditioned as a result of years of it being this way, to accept declining book quality: How many books have you returned because of poor quality in the last year? If publishers warranted the quality of their books, there would be an obvious justification, albeit an incomplete one, for the price of books.

The biggest stumbling block is figuring out how to make a warranty work and what would be warranted. When a part fails on an automobile, it is easy to identify the problem and fix it. It isn’t so easy with a book. But there are possibilities. For example, a publisher could warrant that the book contains no more than 15 misused homonyms, no obviously missing text, no more than 15 misspellings, that characters are consistent throughout (e.g., Jane doesn’t suddenly become Jayne), that the book footnote 25 cites really does exist. I’m sure you and publishers could come up with other things worth warranting.

What happens then. Perhaps the way to deal with warranty problems is to have a warranty alert website for each book where readers could post found errors. The publisher would indicate whether the errors will be corrected (and if not, why not), and when a new version will be available (or if no new version, why no new version). The consumer would then have a choice: If the consumer bought an ebook, the consumer could redownload from the original retailer the updated version. Or the consumer could choose to do nothing. With printed books it would be harder, but a little creativity would come up with solutions (e.g., a discount coupon for another book from the publisher, or the return of the book for a refund based on the book’s condition, or something else).

Okay, I admit I haven’t worked out all the details, all the ins and outs. But I offer the idea of a quality warranty because publishers need to convince consumers that publishers aren’t just greedy corporations (see The eBook Wars: The Price Battle (I)) who have no concern for their customers; they have to convince consumers that they bring something worthwhile to the world of publishing, something that is not easily replaced, and offering a quality warranty could be one step in that process. What do you think?

14 Comments »

  1. I agree with the premise, although I’m agnostic on the warranty. The fact of the matter is that when big publishers let stuff like this out on the marketplace, they can’t then turn around and say self-publishers have no gatekeeping system. (Although they do.) Well, if the gate is missing half its components and the lock is open and rusty, why is the gate there?

    Readers want a quality product. They don’t really care who gives it to them as long as it’s intriguing and available to be bought.

    And as to returns, wasn’t there a big to-do over the fact that Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer was so badly edited it upset even the most diehard of fans, and there was a groundswell to return the book to the bookstores because it was a defective product?

    Comment by Moriah Jovan — January 11, 2010 @ 7:07 pm | Reply

  2. [...] note: The above has been reprinted, with permission, from Rich Adin’s An American Editor blog. Digg us. Slashdot us. Facebook us. Twitter us. Share the [...]

    Pingback by A modest proposal II: Book warranty | TeleRead: Bring the E-Books Home — January 12, 2010 @ 4:48 am | Reply

  3. [...] The argument against publishers goes along many threads, all fueled by objections to publisher release delays of an ebook, the ebook’s quality, and the price of the ebook, among others. (I offered a suggestion addressing the quality issue in an earlier post: A Modest Proposal II: Book Warranty.) [...]

    Pingback by The eBook Wars: The Gatekeeper Role « An American Editor — January 19, 2010 @ 3:12 pm | Reply

  4. [...] Random House, Sony In two earlier Modest Proposal posts (A 21st Century Publishing Model and Book Warranty) I offered suggestions for changes publishers could (and should) consider to their business model. [...]

    Pingback by A Modest Proposal III: Dying Days of Giant Publishers (Part 1) « An American Editor — January 20, 2010 @ 1:57 pm | Reply

  5. [...] The argument against publishers goes along many threads, all fueled by objections to publisher release delays of an ebook, the ebook’s quality, and the price of the ebook, among others. (I offered a suggestion addressing the quality issue in an earlier post: A Modest Proposal II: Book Warranty.) [...]

    Pingback by The eBook Wars: The Gatekeeper Role | TeleRead: Bring the E-Books Home — January 20, 2010 @ 2:16 pm | Reply

  6. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by sell_ebooks: A Modest Proposal II: Book Warranty: Part of the problem for publishers in the attempt to justify pricing for book… http://bit.ly/8bEVfD

    Trackback by uberVU - social comments — January 22, 2010 @ 8:29 pm | Reply

  7. [...] degree and whether other sources actually exist. Here the publisher is acting as a gatekeeper and warranting the quality of the book; what would be the case if the book had been [...]

    Pingback by eBooks and the Never-Ending Rewrite « An American Editor — March 2, 2010 @ 2:14 pm | Reply

  8. I very much like the “Warranty” idea. I may seriously consider it on future works!
    Who does the editing on articles that have paragraphs that begin with a question like –
    What happens then.
    I would have expected something like “What happens then?” :)

    Comment by Ron W. Henley — April 6, 2010 @ 9:02 pm | Reply

    • Not all “what happens then” statements are intended to be questions. Those that are and that are missing an appropriate question mark are just further evidence that even editors need editors to review their original writing. :)

      Comment by americaneditor — April 7, 2010 @ 7:19 am | Reply

  9. [...] The advantages that the Agency 5 do retain really relate to the level of professionalism in putting together the ebook — the professional editing, the professional cover design. But that advantage is easily eliminated by Smashwords authors who could hire these services independently [see, e.g., Professional Editors: Publishers and Authors Need Them (Part 1) and Professional Editors: Publishers and Authors Need Them (Part 2)], and with the right pricing, is readily overlooked by ebookers. Even though I am an editor and find amateurish errors annoying (see On Words & eBooks: Give Me a Brake!), I am more forgiving of them in a $1.99 ebook than in a $14.99 ebook, where I won’t forgive them at all. (Perhaps the Agency 5 should rethink offering a warranty of quality; see A Modest Proposal II: Book Warranty.) [...]

    Pingback by Smashwords is the Real Threat to Agency Pricing of eBooks « An American Editor — May 7, 2010 @ 7:32 am | Reply

  10. [...] The advantages that the Agency 5 do retain really relate to the level of professionalism in putting together the ebook — the professional editing, the professional cover design. But that advantage is easily eliminated by Smashwords authors who could hire these services independently [see, e.g., Professional Editors: Publishers and Authors Need Them (Part 1) and Professional Editors: Publishers and Authors Need Them (Part 2)], and with the right pricing, is readily overlooked by ebookers. Even though I am an editor and find amateurish errors annoying (see On Words & eBooks: Give Me a Brake!), I am more forgiving of them in a $1.99 ebook than in a $14.99 ebook, where I won’t forgive them at all. (Perhaps the Agency 5 should rethink offering a warranty of quality; see A Modest Proposal II: Book Warranty.) [...]

    Pingback by Smashwords is the Real Threat to Agency Pricing of eBooks | The Digital Reader — May 7, 2010 @ 8:56 am | Reply

  11. I read your post with real interest, since as you know I am also trying via my blog to bring attention to this problem. I must confess that I hadn’t thought of a warranty as a weapon in this fight however. But it seems a good idea to me – once, as you say, the rules are worked out.

    Shouldn’t be hard to create a simple and universal set of rules when it comes to eBooks which are a world wide commodity, and thus national laws wouldn’t apply usefully.

    Curiously enough, I have found that often the least annoying eBooks from the point of view of typos and other crap are some of the self-publishing or free sites (Baen leaps to mind), where the proof reading seems to be generally of a high order, whereas the commercial houses seem to be the main offenders. Perhaps they dont get the authors to proof read the electronic versions of their books?

    Comment by Tony Cole — May 10, 2010 @ 9:14 pm | Reply

  12. [...] is almost a warranty of quality, something I suggested quite some time ago (see A Modest Proposal II: Book Warranty). But think of what this would do, the effects it would have. First, it would establish a minimum [...]

    Pingback by In the Face: eBook Errors — September 16, 2010 @ 5:43 pm | Reply

  13. [...] goes back to the publisher’s warranty of quality that I proposed nearly a year ago (see A Modest Proposal II: Book Warranty), a warranty that continues to be ignored by publishers and by authors. Authors need to insist as [...]

    Pingback by Authors and eBook Problems: Expanding The Net of Responsibility « An American Editor — October 13, 2010 @ 5:37 am | Reply


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

The Rubric Theme. Blog at WordPress.com.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,242 other followers

%d bloggers like this: