Nook’s Epic ‘War and Peace’ E-Book Fail

The invaluable Saul Tannenbaum passes along a tale of editing malfeasance, in which Barnes & Noble’s formatter, converting War and Peace for the Nook from a Kindle edition “changed every instance of ‘kindle’ or ‘kindled’ into ‘Nook’ and ‘Nookd’”:

The Superior Formatting Publishing version isn’t a Barnes and Noble book, so this isn’t the work of a rogue Nook marketer from B&N.; Rather, it’s likely that Superior Formatting Publishing ported its Kindle version of War and Peace over to the Nook — doing a search and replace to make sure that any Kindle references they’d inserted, such as in the advertising at the end of the book about their fine Kindle products, were simply changed to Nook.

The unwitting hilarity of a publisher doing a “find and replace” and accidentally changing the text of a canonical work of Western thought is alarming. Many versions of e-books are from similar outfits, that distribute public domain works formatted for Kindle or Nook at the lowest possible prices. The great democratizing factor of the ebook formats — that anyone can easily distribute — can also mean that readers can never be quite sure that they are viewing the texts as the author intended.

It is nice for books to be cheap, available in a format that’s transportable, and portable from device to device. It’s not nice for them to be produced so cheaply that the text is altered in a way that ruins the integrity of the art the reading experience. There are some parts of producing any kind of art that can be made less expensive with technology. And my understanding is that many publishers now do less editing than they used to before books reach the market. But incidents like this should be a reminder that there’s a hard floor it’s not worth crashing through to make products cheaper.