To Reamde, or Not To Reamde

[Amazon Link]

On Tuesday, I noticed that the Kindle version of Neal Stephenson's new novel, Reamde, had gone unavailable on the Amazon website. (The symptom was a missing image over there under the "Media I'm Consuming" heading on the right.) (No, your right.) Wha happen?

On Wednesday, it had (also inexplicably) returned to the store.

And this morning, I got a note from Amazon. In part:

We're writing about your past Kindle purchase of Reamde: A Novel by Neal Stephenson. The version you received had Missing Content that have been corrected.


An updated version of Reamde: A Novel (ASIN:B004XVN0WW) is now available. It's important to note that when we send you the updated version, you will no longer be able to view any highlights, bookmarks, and notes made in your current version and your furthest reading location will be lost.

If you wish to receive the updated version, please reply to this email with the word "Yes" in the first line of your response. Within 2 hours of receiving the e-mail any device that has the title currently downloaded will be updated automatically if the wireless is on.

Fortunately, I hadn't made much progress into the book, although I've so far enjoyed it. The opening chapter is set during a Thanksgiving family reunion in Iowa, with the narrator avoiding stepping in cowpies. (Frozen and unfrozen each have their unique hazards.) Ah, fond memories.

Anyway, I'll start over. Who knows if I missed some of the "Missing Content" already? I should have the fixed version, if Amazon is to be believed, although I can't figure out how to tell for sure.

Some folks are less equanimous than I about the issue. Cynthia Ewer posted a "review" on the Amazon site:

An avid Neal Stephenson fan, I preordered the Kindle version of this book in mid-July. As of this morning, I'm about 40% through the book--and I just received a notice that my Kindle edition was "missing content", and would be replaced.

I'd like to tell both distributor Amazon and publisher William Morrow/HarperCollins that this problem is totally unacceptable--and I expect some adjustment to compensate for this issue.

First, it seriously damages the reading experience. I've invested many hours in the book, overlooking various format errors along the way. Now--without more--I'm told that what I've read is incomplete. Do I begin again at the beginning? Do I plow on? Either way, the reading experience is fatally tainted.

Second, this situation oozes contempt for the ebook buyer. As a published author, I'm aware of the word-by-word scrutiny that my print manuscripts receive. Why should ebooks be any different? Tossing a carelessly-formatted file out at random reflects badly on all links of the publishing chain, from author to publisher to distributor Amazon.

Third, this level of carelessness is inexcusable on economic grounds. I'd expect to find format errors and mangled content in a pirated ebook, not in a $17 Kindle edition. When I purchase an ebook at a price point so close to the print version, the publisher rakes in far more profit than from a print title. To then turn around and offer shoddy, incomplete text in that pricey Kindle title shows an arrogant disregard for economics, the reader, and the distribution channel.

My suggestion? Give each purchaser of the buggy version a 75% credit on this title. That, to me, is a fair reassessment of the injury I've received as a reader of this title. Compared to the cost of, say, reprinting and replacing defective print editions, it's still a financial bonanza to publisher William Morrow--and would go a long way to restore the credibility of this author, publisher and distributor.

Impressive dudgeon. I can't say I blame her.

Last Modified 2012-09-25 5:51 AM EST