Saturday, July 24, 2010

iBooks Buyers Beware

What follows is a lengthy account of my experience with iBooks and an eBook riddled with errors. You have been warned.

Being an early adopter of new technology usually gives one a few bumps. Often, those can be goose bumps; sometimes they are less thrilling. It's the trade-off you make for stepping in early before the kinks are worked out. This is why I haven't been upset with Apple because their iBooks app hasn't been the perfect eReader from day one. I figured they'd fine tune the app over time.

Recently, they've released updates that improve the reading experience nicely. Although they still allow anybody to post a book review & rating regardless of whether they bought the book or not—which is causing false ratings for most political books—and every update resets any organizing you make to your library, the bookmarks work better now, PDFs are supported, and I like being able to double tap on a graphic and see it larger. The Disney picture books I bought for my youngest daughter look fabulous. Unfortunately, my copy of "Heart of Darkness" seems to have been ported over from the Kindle and features very lo-res grayscale graphics—complete with all their jaggy goodness. I'm disappointed, but it was purchased on opening day for the iPad. Newer editions will likely take advantage of iBooks' better graphics. See? It's just a bump. No crisis.

Some bumps can leave a bruise, though. I've already detailed my disappointing experience with "Storm Front" by Jim Butcher. I encountered blocks of missing text. I had to get the eBook again through Barnes & Noble's store to see what I had missed. I was disappointed with the iBooks edition, but Apple gave me a refund so no harm was done.

Unfortunately, "Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card was a different matter. The book was so full of errors I swear it had not been scanned by OCR software as much as it had been scrambled by it. I bookmarked 32 pages of errors, and those are just the ones I was able to find. It seemed every occurrence of "ru" was turned into an "m". There were other issues, too, like runtogetherwords, etc.

I took a different approach with this eBook. I first wrote a negative review. I also reported the problem. Then I waited to see if Apple would do anything. Mine wasn't the only complaint. I wondered how iBooks would handle updated editions. Would it be like the appstore? Would I be alerted that an update was available? I set a reminder to revisit the problem and deleted the book.

Several weeks later I checked on the book and downloaded the available sample. The errors seemed to have been corrected, but iBooks wouldn't let me re-download the book. It seems my edition of the book had been removed and replaced with an updated edition. This effectively erased all the negative reviews. It also left me out in the cold.

I reported the problem to iBooks support and asked for an exchange. No response. I reported the problem again. No response. This was odd since my experience with "Storm Front" was so immediate and satisfying. I can't recall how many weeks passed between attempts, but I eventually called Apple tech support and explained it to them last week. I was assured I would be put in touch with iBooks support via email.

Last weekend I received an email and a followup email. It was basically explained to me in a very friendly, even cheery, manner that I could go suck an egg. OK, they didn't say that exactly. Here's the response:

Dear Douglas,

Thank you for contacting iTunes Store Support. My name is <snip>, and I will be your iTunes Support Advisor today. I look forward to assisting you with a positive resolution.

I understand that you purchased, "Ender's Game", and you do would like the updated version instead. I know how this is concerning for you and I will be glad to look into this issue for you.

I have looked at your purchase. I am unable to refund this item. I do apologize for any inconvenience. I cannot "replace" this item with a new one.

Your request for a refund for "Ender's End" was carefully considered; however, according to the iTunes Store Terms of Sale, all purchases made on the iTunes Store are final. This policy matches Apple's refund policies and provides protection for copyrighted materials.

You can review the iTunes Store Terms of Sale for more information:

Douglas, I am confident that I have provided you with the resources you needed. We want your iTunes experience to be an unforgettable one.

You are a valuable part of the iTunes Store and your satisfaction is our number one goal. If you need further assistance, please do not hesitate to respond to this email.


<snip> (Charlotte, NC)
Apple Advisor

So now I'm out $6. It's not the end of the world, but I'm still bothered by it, especially since I received a refund before for the first error-filled eBook and it wasn't nearly as error-filled as the second book. To say Apple doesn't do refunds is not quite true.

It seems a simple matter to me. Tor sold me a book through iBooks that was copyedited so poorly that they pulled it and replaced it with a new version. I would simply like to get a copy of that edition. I paid money in good faith expecting a professional publication. If Apple won't help me, then I'll have to approach Tor. What bothers me most about this electronic experience is that if I had bought a book with as many errors as this one had at any brick & mortar bookstore, I could have brought it back and at least received store credit, if not a full refund.

Since I had never read "Ender's Game" before, all the mistakes ruined the experience for me, especially because they obscured legibility. My recommendation is that you should not be the first kid on the block to buy a new release off of iBooks. Wait to see what types of reviews people post. For all their complaining about equal value for eBooks vs. pBooks, publishers don't treat eBooks with much respect. If I had waited for reviews with "Ender's Game", I would have known to stay away. It's a shame because other books I have purchased on iBooks have been just fine.

What follows are screen caps of all the errors I found. You tell me if you find it excessive for a professional publication:

Each image's filename is the page number


Follow me on Twitter for my ADHD escapades at @SplinteredMind or my novel writing project over at @DouglasCootey. And if you're a glutton for punishment you can friend me on Facebook as well.

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