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A Publishing Seal of Approval, a step toward standarization

qed-emblemA couple of days ago, I received an email with a press release announcing a joint venture of sorts to bring a Publishing Seal of Approval to digital books.   The seal will be called QED and it is owned by Digital Book World, a division of F&W Media.  Barnes & Noble, Sony, and Kobo have signed on to support the seal which I assume that means that they will be applying/featuring it in some way in their stores.

From the press release:

The QED is the first-ever independent, third-party assessment of an ebook’s basic production standards. QED stands for “Quality, Excellence, Design” in ebooks. To earn the QED standard for excellence, ebooks must pass muster in a multi-format, multi-platform 13-step quality assurance (QA) process. Ebook entries will be thoroughly and independently vetted on devices from mobile to eInk to tablet. The QED is a reader-centric award that lets ebook consumers know that their purchase will render correctly, no matter where or how they choose to read. For more on the QED, please visit http://publishinginnovationawards.com/the-qed

The idea is that a publisher, whether it is a corporation or individual author, will pay for the book to be checked against this service and then, if it passes, the book will be awarded this seal.  I have no idea how much this costs. (I probably should have asked but did not).   If a publisher pays for this service, the book will be entered into the publishing innovation awards.

The fact that we actually need a QED, which simply ensures that a product is viewable on all devices, is a crime.  The QED is checking that font display is consistent throughout the book, that the book doesn’t open on a blank page, that the hyperlinks work, that the section breaks start and stop in the appropriate places.  These checks are all rudimentary. So rudimentary that every publisher, regardless of whether it is a corporation or an author, should be checking for these things before the book is released for purchase.  We shouldn’t need this seal, but we do.

The QED is a great idea but it’s only the start.  For one thing, the QED seal only measures the mechanical function of the ebook.  It does not address content, even on the most basic of levels.

For instance, while it checks to make sure that the metadata is appropriate, there is no consistency required in the metadata.  Consistency in metadata is important because most ereading platforms, whether they be dedicated reading devices, mobile apps, or desktop programs, sort by author and title.  Even amongst the major publishers, there is no consistent use of the author and the title fields.  For instance, some use ALL CAPS WHICH I HATE.  Others will have the author first name, author last name whereas others will put it author last name, author first name.  This wreaks havoc with the sorting.

The QED will check to ensure that the table of contents is correct, but it does not require a table of contents.  I have heard some authors of fiction wonder why a table of contents is even necessary in fiction books.  Table of contents are vital, in my opinion, for aiding in navigation.  A reader cannot digitally flip through pages as quickly as a reader can page through a physical book.

The QED does not check for typos or formatting irregularities.  While I am thrilled that so many of the backlist titles are being digitized and sold through legitimate channels, the typos are rife.  Harlequin Treasury books have at least one typo, OCR error per chapter. Some readers have reported them on every page.  These OCRing errors are leading to some hilarious but embarrassing results. Witness Susan Andersen who was forced to post on her Facebook and send out a newsletter alert about the error in her book “Baby, I’m Yours.”

Hey, all.

I wanted to give you all a head’s up on a killer typo in my digital edition of Baby, I’m Yours and apologize for page 293, where it says:

He stiffened for a moment but then she felt his muscles loosen as he shitted on the ground.

Shifted–he SHIFTED! God, I am so appalled, not to mention horrified that anyone would think that’s what I wrote.

That is a very accommodating heroine, holding the hero whilst he defecates on the ground.  I have chortled over OCRing errors in the old Amanda Quick books released by Random House.  My favorite error, prior to Baby, I’m Yours, was in David Plouffe’s book The Audacity to Win which had the word “Funfortunately” in it.

FUnfortunately, you can’t just say you’re running and have everything fall into place.

There are some standards that are already in place. OSIS, for example, has four levels of OCR quality.  The fourth level, Trusted Quality, requires that  “Random spot-checks of at least 3% of the text must come up with no instances of more than 1 error per 5 pages (or 10,000 characters of content).”  That’s really low.  Think about it. 1 error per 5 pages is permitted.  However, there are many digitized versions of books that do not even meet this standard.

Distributed Proofreaders has an excellent set of documents that it has compiled from the proofreaders to spot “scannos”, the OCR’ed version of typos.   Readers may have come across words like Diere which should have been There.  Some of these errors can be corrected by a script.  Over at the BN Nook board, a reader reported that a YA author of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt would be using a computer script to combat the most common scannos.

Author Diane Duane reported today that her publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, will be working to remove the OCR scan bugs in her “Young Wizards” e-books. What strikes me, though, is that they’re not going to use proofreaders. Instead, they’re going to create a computer script to look for the most common scan errors.

They figure this should only take them two months.

There are scripts that exist already to combat scannos and publishers (authors or companies) who want to put out a cleaner formatted version of their book can use the free program called HTML Tidy.  Problematically, publishers aren’t tech companies. I have no idea how the books go from print to digital at these corporations. I think (although this could be totally incorrect) that they are often outsourced.  (I.e., another company is hired to scan and produce an OCRed version).  Whatever the case may be, the quality control of digital books is very low.

Publishers and authors are bemoaning the $.99 and the $9.99 price points, but readers bemoan the quality. Perhaps if those that are putting out the work would put quality control at a higher priority, readers would be willing to pay higher prices but the more that low quality books are produced, the lower readers expectations will be about the value of a digital book. A QED is a start but the publishers goal (regardless of who the publisher is) should be to eliminate the need for the QED seal.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

33 Comments

  1. Ellen Fisher
    Sep 11, 2011 @ 07:17:22

    Regarding cost, according to the FAQs, it costs $199 to enter one category (which includes QED consideration), and $125 to enter only the QED consideration.

  2. library addict
    Sep 11, 2011 @ 07:20:30

    I’ve had better luck with some of the Harlequin treasury books than others, but so far all of the ones I’ve read have had more than one error per chapter.

    Some of the older Nora Roberts single titles from Penguin also had what I consider an excess of errors.

    Whereas Harlequin has been receptive and offered to make corrections (which I haven’t gotten corrected versions yet, but they have offered) I finally quit emailing Penguin as they consistently wrote back/sent form letter stating

    Please keep in mind, though, that eBook files are merely a conversion of our traditional book files. Spelling errors, typos, and grammatical errors found in our eBooks are likely the result of errors in the original publication and are not eBook specific.

    even when I listed specific examples and told them the errors in question were not in the print versions.

    And I agree 100% about standards in metadata. All I can say is thank goodness for Calibre.

    So, while this seal is a step in the right direction, it does not go nearly far enough.

  3. Jane
    Sep 11, 2011 @ 07:44:51

    @Ellen Fisher: That seems expensive to me.

  4. Ellen Fisher
    Sep 11, 2011 @ 07:54:10

    I agree, Jane. I can’t see many publishers ponying up that kind of money for a lot of books, frankly.

  5. Lil
    Sep 11, 2011 @ 07:57:02

    Sigh.

    Maybe this is why I don’t enjoy reading on my ereader. It’s bad enough when the freebies have all sorts of problems, especially when the scanned pages get turned into text and you have code instead of apostrophes, etc. But when books I have paid for have hyphens in the middle of a word, unjustified lines in the middle of a paragraph, and breaks that make it difficult to tell who is speaking, I get more than a little annoyed. I assume these things are a result of the function that makes it possible to change the size of the type. That doesn’t make them any less annoying, and it doesn’t sound as if QED is going to eliminate them.

    Still, my main problem is that I am an inveterate page flipper, both backwards and forwards. (“Wait! His name is George? I thought it was John last time he appeared.” “If he is really going to be this stupid, I don’t want to read the rest of this.”)

    I use my ereader mainly for information not easily available elsewhere. If I am reading for pleasure, I still infinitely prefer books.

  6. Sarah Frantz
    Sep 11, 2011 @ 08:03:09

    Personally, I think the QED is pointless if it’s not checking for scannos. The other stuff is necessary, yes, but like you say, should be completely automatic. That fee for QED consideration seems ridiculously large for what it’s testing.

  7. Ros
    Sep 11, 2011 @ 09:01:18

    Funfortunately should definitely be a real word, as in, ‘Funfortunately there was a hilarious typo in Susan Anderson’s book.’

  8. Laura Florand
    Sep 11, 2011 @ 09:47:32

    Personally, I think this is ridiculous. A publisher’s name needs to be the guarantee of that book’s quality, and in the case of self-published books, the author’s. Those are the brands. I realize this is not yet the case, except for some authors (Courtney Milan, for example; she established trust in her quality right off the bat). A certification process is only necessary when inspectors need to check on site for hidden issues (child labor or organic practices). Here, readers see what they get. There’s no hiding bad production values. It’s up to the publisher (or author, if self-published) to build trust in their brand. The same way it is up to the author to build reader trust in her stories.

    I do think more and more publishers will see the light as ebooks grow ever more dominant in the market. I hope! Self-publishing, of course, is a completely open field, and there I suppose the QED might provide some reassurance to purchase a first-time author, but for a long-term career, it will be up to the author.

  9. Maryann Miller
    Sep 11, 2011 @ 09:55:04

    Very helpful post. I had no idea there were so many resources available to check the finished product of a digital book. Not being very tech-savvy, it is good to know there are resources to help authors get it right when it comes to producing the e-version of their books.

  10. DS
    Sep 11, 2011 @ 09:56:50

    I wonder what resolution publishers are scanning their books at? I have discovered with my own projects that scanning at a high resolution– 300 dpi at least and sometimes up to 600 dpi and a quick run through with the eraser tool to remove any stray dots or marks from the scanning process before OCRing can result in a very clean text. Once OCRed I’ll use MS word to do a visual and spell check.

    I can do this using a Xerox Documate 510 sheet fed scanner and Paperport Deluxe 9 and it’s not that time consuming. I suspect the major publishers don’t want to pay for that time though, especially if they intend to just blow off complaints in the future.

  11. Lynn S.
    Sep 11, 2011 @ 10:01:49

    Interesting in that the parent company is mainly a publisher of non-fiction titles. I can see the QED goal being essential to the viability of visually-oriented books in the digital marketplace; I don’t see it being all that helpful to fiction.

    The more I read this article the harder I was laughing. First the Anderson error in which the descriptors preceding the typo required that the typo be explained. Then Plouffe’s book is shat upon by the mightly F. Finally the Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt nonsense. Wonder when they’re going to come to the conclusion that if they hire enough programmers, they can cut out the authors entirely.

    @Ros: You should submit funfortunate to the Urban Dictionary. Your usage example is perfect. As to defining it, how about “An unforunate error in digital rendering that results in something way more fun than the original meaning.”

  12. Jody W.
    Sep 11, 2011 @ 10:12:33

    Sounds like the QED is as much a moneymaking venture as anything.

  13. DM
    Sep 11, 2011 @ 11:00:52

    I have a high threshold for glitchy fiction ebooks because once I’m in the story, I’m in and I just futz with the reader or change platforms (I read on a tablet–not a specialized reading device) or use Calibre to change the format if I hit a problem–because I just want to get back to the read and know what happens next. But with non-fiction, if the table of contents isn’t working, or the index isn’t usable, I’m sunk. So I’ve moved back to paper books for non-fiction. If this seal is widely adopted for non-fiction, I’ll give approved books a try.

  14. Linda Hilton
    Sep 11, 2011 @ 11:22:17

    I just spent roughly six hours proofreading, converting, reproofreading, reconverting, and re-reproofreading a document for publication on Amazon. The document was originally about 90 double-spaced manuscript pages and had been created in software about three generations (10 years) ago. Converting and cleaning up formatting errors from font changes, etc., was a tedious process. Am I positive I caught all the errors? No, not positive. I’m reasonably sure I caught all of them, but no one is perfect.

    The point is, however, my name is on that product, and if I don’t have enough respect for myself and my reader to put out the best work I possibly can, then I don’t deserve to sell any and get paid for them.

    There is no reason whatsoever for any publisher — small press, corporate behemoth, or individual author — not to take the time to clean up the product. None whatsoever. It’s clear that the publishers who are putting scanned reprints into digital publication have no respect for anything other than their own bottom line. I have no doubt that they could pay individuals $10 per book to proofread those scanned digital versions and have decent results. If they’re too tightfisted to part with even that tiny bit, then it’s pretty clear to me they don’t give a rat’s patootie about their readers, or their authors.

    The only way to make them clean up their act and their digital editions is to stop buying the books and making it profitable. Since that will never happen, just get used to reading about characters shitting in the saddle, barfing out commands, fucking the lint off their sleeves, and snuggling up to the handsome cuke in bed beside them.

    No one is perfect, but everyone can at least try.

  15. carmen webster buxton
    Sep 11, 2011 @ 11:54:39

    I use my Kindle’s notation feature to make a note of typos and formatting errors when I find them. I once found an embarrassing formatting error in a small press novel. It was a new book, not an OCR’d backlist book. Words occasionally ran together on the Kindle screen, not an uncommon problem when converting from files used for print. In one instance the two words made rather a naughty word. When I notified the publisher and offered to tell them where the errors were, they suggested that if I cared about the appearance of the book, I should buy the trade paperback. This instilled in me a desire not to buy any more of their books in any format.

  16. coribo25
    Sep 11, 2011 @ 12:16:55

    I’d just be happy with kindle sorting their software out. Too many books are opening in the middle of sentences, showing code at the start and missing the front pages. And it’s not the fault of authors because I know my files are clean and still my books open in the middle of sentences. Refreshing the page usually sorts the problem but no point in paying for seals of approval if the ebook software doesn’t display the books properly.

  17. Wahoo Suze
    Sep 11, 2011 @ 12:22:34

    Nobody wants to spend money on quality control. It’s so frustrating. I worked in the oil industry, where lack of quality control can kill people, and where they’re freaking rolling in cash, and they still cheap out on it.

    Why is it that it only seems to be non-business people who understand the “people will willingly pay more for quality product” concept?

  18. coribo25
    Sep 11, 2011 @ 12:28:19

    @Wahoo Suze: I’d love to see someone willingly paying more for an ebook. Not going to happen, though.

  19. LG
    Sep 11, 2011 @ 12:33:17

    @carmen webster buxton: Oh, that kind of response would make me so angry. If I’m going to pay for a book, whether it’s a physical book or an e-book, I want what I’m paying for to as read-able and error-free as possible. If I take the time to report an unacceptable number of errors, or a repeated particular type of error, I want a prompt “thank you, we have fixed this and you may re-download it” response. I’ve so far read only two e-books with a noticeable number of errors – one was free and the other I paid for. I didn’t report the errors in the free one but decided I would probably not get any of the publisher’s e-books that would actually cost me money – a good reason for publishers/authors to make sure that even their free e-books are error-free. I did report the errors in the book I paid for, and I got an error-free book within a day or two, with no one making me feel like I was being unreasonable. Ideally, there shouldn’t be errors in the first place, but, if there are errors, the response to them should not insult the customer.

    All the kind of response you received says is, “We don’t respect the buyers of our e-books, but we grudgingly offer e-books because why waste an opportunity to get people to give us their money?”

  20. Brian
    Sep 11, 2011 @ 12:43:48

    I just spent a bit of reading the QED website. Seems pretty pointless to me and it doesn’t address the problems I as a consumer have the biggest issues with. The QED stuff may be important, but is mostly minor compared to other problems publishers need to address.

  21. LG
    Sep 11, 2011 @ 12:47:18

    @coribo25: That depends on what you mean by “more.” I could, if I wanted to, get nothing but free and $0.99 e-books. However, I regularly buy e-books more expensive than that. Since I don’t technically own the e-book and can’t guarantee that the file will still be read-able 10 years down the line, the way my print books are, my personal highest price point is $7.99. That, to me, counts as “more.” A whole lot of things factor into how much a person is willing to pay for e-books, and the highest a person is willing to pay differs from reader to reader.

  22. Jane
    Sep 11, 2011 @ 14:48:57

    I just downloaded the Kindle4Mac V. 1.7 and it includes a “report content error” menu option. I have a screenshot of it in my post about the Kindle collections.

  23. Kelly S. Bishop
    Sep 11, 2011 @ 18:02:20

    Why do you need a TOC in a novel when you can just do a search – ex. Chapter 10?

  24. Jane
    Sep 11, 2011 @ 18:40:49

    @Kelly S. Bishop: Because accessing “search” and then typing in “Chapter 10″ is laborious compared to pulling up the table of contents and accessing the correct chapter.

  25. Brian
    Sep 11, 2011 @ 19:37:06

    @Kelly S. Bishop: While it’s true you can do a search in some apps and on some devices this isn’t always the case, plus it more awkward than just jumping to the TOC. I never cared all that much about a TOC until I started reading on multiple devices then it went from ‘nice to have’ to ‘pretty much essential’. Plus it’s not much work to have it there so why not have a TOC?

    Speaking of TOC’s I really wish Penguin would stop not including a books Prologue in the TOC. I’ve been emailing them about it for years to no avail, most if not all Penguin books that have a Prologue skip including it in the TOC.

  26. carmen webster buxton
    Sep 11, 2011 @ 19:46:15

    @LG: It did annoy the heck out of me. I would have been happy with a polite brushoff along the lines of “We’re a small press; we can’t afford to proof in every format on every device.” But to be told that they basically don’t consider that ebooks are worth any effort was pretty bad. It was an excellent book, too, which is the sad thing.

    On the subject of ToCs, another handy feature is the “next chapter” jump. On a Kindle, if the book is formatted such that the chapters are properly identified as chapters, you can jump forward and backward a chapter at a time by press the right and left sides of the 5-way controller. I love that!

  27. Brian
    Sep 11, 2011 @ 21:29:09

    @carmen webster buxton: Right there with you on the Kindle. I often reformat stuff that’s not properly formatted just so I’ll have chapter marks and the benefits that go along with them.

  28. brooksee
    Sep 11, 2011 @ 21:37:20

    @Kelly S. Bishop: The ebook I’m reading now doesn’t include the word “Chapter” in the headings; just the number spelled out: One, Two, etc. Since the search feature ignores case and finds all occurrences of the search string, searching for “Ten” would find every word the ebook that includes the string “ten” in it.

  29. SAO
    Sep 11, 2011 @ 23:12:31

    So, a guarantee of quality that ignores the major quality issues. Yeah, that will be a wild success.

    What I don’t get about egregious scan errors is that having a set of beta readers who get books for free in return for flagging errors would be super cheap. I’d agree to check a book a week.

    Perhaps the problem is that too many beta readers might write reviews and sink a book before it’s actually published, but frankly, the publishers shouldn’t be publishing dreck.

  30. J L Wilson
    Sep 12, 2011 @ 06:48:44

    The web site reads more like a contest than a service. And a pricey contest, at that. I’ve paid a reputable person to do the formatting for my rights-returned books, and I double-checked them and had a beta reader check them. I’m not 100% sure they’re ‘clean’, but I’ve done the best I could to ensure that. I’m not sure “QED” could provide any additional quality assurance.

  31. Brian
    Sep 12, 2011 @ 08:19:37

    @SAO:

    What I don’t get about egregious scan errors is that having a set of beta readers who get books for free in return for flagging errors would be super cheap. I’d agree to check a book a week.

    Crowdsourcing ideas have been floated for quite a while, but so far no publishers big or small have tried it AFAIK. Heck, publishers can’t even be bothered to give us a way of submitting errors after the book’s published which kind of says something. Maybe one of these days someone will give it a try. I’d guess they fear the book being released through file sharing channels before it’s actually published more than they do a few reviews.

    I’ve submitted errors/problems to many big and small pubs (both traditional & digital first) and can think of two times total (out of say 50) where I got anything but a canned response or no response at all. Those two times the books did get fixed and those two times I was able to get in contact with someone besides the publishers generic customer service email. When ever it’s been an email to some type of CS address nothing has happened any other contacts can be hard to find in many cases.

  32. carmen webster buxton
    Sep 15, 2011 @ 09:09:26

    @LG: I agree! I do think things will get better, but I think the long term solution is a single source workflow, where the data (books ARE data!) is stored once, proofed & corrected, and then output in whatever format is needed.

  33. Seal publishers | Autoserviciosm
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 11:42:54

    [...] A Publishing Seal of Approval, a step toward standarizationSep 11, 2011 … A couple of days ago, I received an email with a press release announcing a joint venture of sorts to bring a Publishing Seal of Approval to … [...]

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