Franzen corrected: or, don’t blame the printers
When we first heard that the first 80,000 copies of Jonathan Franzen's new novel, Freedom, have been recalled because of 'an error by the printers', our first thought was 'we doubt it'. And we've been proved right.
Franzen is well known for being a stickler, so it's surprising that he blamed the printer when in fact the problem arose from an earlier draft of the pages being sent to print by the typesetters in place of the finally corrected and amended version. Perhaps he was misinformed. Perhaps we're being a bit pedantic.
Most people don't know the difference between a printer and a typesetter, and of course many companies - including Calverts - design, compose and print books in one place. Nevertheless, the tendency to shift blame as far down the value chain as possible is a tendency we've noticed in the industry. It's a reflection of how 'vertically disintegrated' and hierarchical it remains, in spite of (or perhaps because of) productivity-enhancing innovations in workflow and production management.
The other reason things like this happen more often than they should is that clients seem to love producing print on unrealistically short timescales, and fail to read or check their proofs. It's as if they think having a book designed and delivered is like ordering an electric toothbrush on Amazon, with the same expectation of 72 hour delivery. With the advent of e-readers, including Amazon's own Kindle, this is a fair analogy. Anyway, we utterly sympathise with the typesetting firm, apparently a small outfit, who thankfully are not going to be sacked or sued.
Anybody in the trade who knows their stuff recognises that no matter how good your systems are, and how experienced you are in anticipating potentially catastrophic errors, well ... these things happen. It's how you handle it that matters. Charlie Brooker's column in today's Grauniad, on how it actually feels when it's your fault, is spot on.