Friday, November 15, 2013

The troubled printing of Moby-Dick: how tech errors affect more than just e-books

by Derek Spencer

Not content with destroying Ahab, the white whale went on to smash his creator's finances.

We don't often think of print books as objects that fall victim to technological problems. When we go out and buy a book, we expect our copy to be of the same quality and contain the same information as every other copy of the same edition of the book in existence.

Of course, we live in a time in which communication across continents is near-instantaneous and huge chunks of information can be sent almost anywhere in the world in seconds. When Herman Melville was writing, however, this was not the case.

This article from The Atlantic tells the sad but true story of how miscommunication, variations in copyright law between nations, and long printing times doomed Moby-Dick to a savage drubbing by critics. The book sold poorly as well, earning Melville merely $556.37 — an estimated $16,812 in 2013 dollars. Melville had financial troubles for the rest of his life.

But while printing errors are usually bad for authors, they can be great for collectors, as this article discussing nine very valuable misprints demonstrates. Apparently, a first edition of Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises that contains one error — one error! — might be worth between $40,000 and $60,000. Crazy. So hang onto those printed books, collectors, because you won't be selling your e-books for that sort of cash.

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