Many ebooks aren’t going through the same kind of quality control that regular books do. That’s been my experience and that of other ebook consumers. I’m not talking about technical problems here as much as basic editorial ones.
Sometimes the issues are minor: occasional spacing errors, missing or overzealous capitalization. Other times they can be more prevalent. A friend recently purchased Sarah Vowell’s The Wordy Shipmates from the Kindle store and many of the quotation marks were mangled (it’s likely the wrong encoding was used).
Amazon responded to the customer complaint very quickly, saying that they would notify the publisher and my friend could re-download the corrected book when it was posted. They also gave him a credit for an additional purchase. That’s a good outcome, obviously, but you never have to return a printed book because the punctuation is wrong.
Clearly the quality control needs to be on the publisher end, as each individual bookseller can’t be responsible for checking all of the digital books they offer. The recent survey conducted at the Frankfurt Book Fair found that 60% of the respondents did not have an ereader, and while I don’t think everyone involved in book publishing actually needs to own one, I’d hope that any group distributing ebooks would be able to review them in the same way that their customers are receiving them. If you sell Kindle books, someone on your team should have a Kindle and should check at least a representative sample of your offerings, especially if your group is new to digital distribution.
The best thing readers can do to improve ebook quality is to complain. For now I believe the focus should be on simple fidelity: does this ebook at least contain the same text as the printed version? Eventually, though, expectations about digital books should rise to the point of considering design. This is especially true when the ePub format is capable of supporting embedded fonts and the same level of aesthetic sophistication that’s present on the web. Books can be works of art, and ebooks can be beautiful too.