Penguin reprinted about 7,000 copies of the book at a total claimed expense of A$20,000 (about A$2.86 a copy). While A$2.86 a copy seems high for a book that sells for A$19.99, it’s still only 14% of the retail price.
So I was more than a little surprised when a Penguin spokesperson was quoted as saying that they would not be recalling books from bookstores because doing so was “extremely hard”. Didn’t booksellers figure out how to return books for credit shortly after Gutenberg invented movable type?
Recalling the books isn’t hard; Penguin just didn’t see the point. Bob Sessions, Penguin Australia’s head of publishing, told the Sydney Morning Herald that he:
… could not understand why some readers had found the slip offensive. “We’re mortified that this has become an issue of any kind and why anyone would be offended, we don’t know.”
Why stop there? Sessions added:
“We’ve said to bookstores that if anyone is small minded enough to complain about this very … silly mistake then we will happily replace [the book] for them.”
In defending the price of e-books, various publishers have gone to great length to explain that physical cost is just a small portion of the total cost of creating, producing, marketing and delivering their titles. Here, Penguin Australia uses the opposite argument, badly, and compounds the error by suggesting that people should not be offended by a phrase like “freshly ground black people.”
If the mistake were life-threatening, of course, Penguin Australia would have spared no expense. This mistake isn’t life-threatening, unless your life depends on people trusting your imprint enough to buy your books.