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Hey Macmillan, Why Does My eBook Say That it Belongs to a Public Library?

Screenshot_2013-09-10-08-28-57Were you amused by the formatting error that inserted George RR Martin’s name into one of his ebooks? Then today I have a treat for you.

According to the title page, my recently purchased ebook copy of Absolution by Murder is the property of Half Hollow Hills Community Library. You can see this in the screenshot below.

That screen shot was taken on my KFHD and it shows the Kindle edition of Absolution By Murder, a title that was originally published by Macmillan in the US in 1996. The Nook version of the book has an identical stamp, and you can see it in the preview.

Screenshot_2013-09-10-08-28-57Funny, no?

In case you’re wondering, this is probably a scanning error on the part of Macmillan or one of their contractors. What you are looking at is a scanned title page that came from a book which was originally owned by a library.

This title is old enough that by the time Macmillan decided to sell the ebook there very likely no digital copy available. The only way to get an ebook was to either type the book into a computer or scan an old paper copy.

It’s my guess that Half Hollow Hills Community Library, a small library system on Long Island, discarded a copy of this book and sold it at a book sale. It then passed into the used book market and was bought so it could be sliced up and fed into a scanner.

The usual next step would be to OCR the scanned pages and then convert to text. In the case of this title most of the ebook was converted to text, but for some reason the title page was inserted as a scanned page.

Scanning a paper book is usually the easiest and quickest way to convert 20th century books into ebook form, though we rarely see such a visible example of this conversion method gone wrong.

But never mind that; I now own an ex-library ebook.


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Kevin September 10, 2013 um 9:16 am

Sorry, I’m used to EPUBs, so what is this books’s current format? Was it scanned to become a PDF? What happens when you view a book like this on different sized screens?

Nate Hoffelder September 10, 2013 um 9:22 am

The body of the ebook is text, but the title page was added as a scanned page instead of being converted to text.

David Haywood Young September 10, 2013 um 9:18 am

The Amazon "Look Inside" doesn’t show it…too bad if it’s gone, ’cause I was going to buy the book. Not quite my standard sort of book, but I spent some time near the Rock of Cashel a few years ago, which (along with the glitch) would’ve pushed me over the line to a purchase.

Nate Hoffelder September 10, 2013 um 9:22 am

I bought it about an hour ago. It’s still there.

David Haywood Young September 10, 2013 um 9:38 am

Got it. Will hope for a stamp on my Kindle. 🙂

Rob Siders September 10, 2013 um 9:52 am

Not sure if it’s a feature or bug with the the online preview software for Kindle books, but images don’t display in the online sample if they immediately follow the cover.

Tom September 10, 2013 um 9:55 am

The NOOK version has it too.
It shows on the sample:
Very sloppy work…
Makes you wonder if they even bothered to check the OCR quality

Nate Hoffelder September 10, 2013 um 10:03 am

They also forgot to update the related books page ton include the other 22 titles in this series.

fjtorres September 10, 2013 um 10:20 am

They’re too busy "nurturing" authors to bother with quality assurance.

Johnny Pearseed September 10, 2013 um 6:15 pm


All these publishers, still pretending to be nineteenth-century-style "gatekeepers of culture" while in fact pushing sloppily produced books on their customers (OUP’s and Penguin Classic’s standards of production have noticeably slipped over the past ten years or so). And they’re treating writers, i.e. their suppliers, as if they were customers!

I can hardly wait to see these arrogant dinosaurs get wiped out. Good riddance.

Caroline Murray September 12, 2013 um 4:07 am

If you ever buy print-on-demand paperback books, you will find much worse quality than this – missing pages, dirty pages, illegible pages, folded illustrations not scanned. There is usually a publisher’s disclaimer at the front saying in effect that this work is such an important cultural artifact that you won’t mind the condition it’s in. What they mean is that they have taken an inadequate scan off the web and not bothered to correct or clean it up in any way: this is perfectly possible but takes time and money! You’ll have to forgive the self-promotion, but you can read more on this at:

Nate Hoffelder September 12, 2013 um 6:57 am

It gets worse, I know. I’ve seen it myself. Thanks for the link!

Michael Sherer September 11, 2013 um 12:42 pm

Better hope they don’t dun you for late fees! 🙂

Sally Jane Driscoll September 11, 2013 um 3:53 pm

I spent many hours in that library, across the street from my old high school. Bizarre.

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