Philip Howard’s poker buddies thought it was hilarious. The 67-year-old craft gallery owner from tiny Ocracoke Island, North Carolina, had found that his $.99 Nook edition of Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” had replaced every instance of the word “kindle” with the word “Nook.”
So when the “flame of the sulphur splinters” burned up on page 3,401, they hadn’t been “kindled by the timber,” as the English translation read, but “Nookd” by it.
“Oh my God they got a kick out of it. That’s everybody’s first reaction,” Howard said on the phone today from the porch of his gallery. “Then they talk a bit longer, and it’s, wow — that’s really disturbing.”
Howard shared the discovery with readers of his island living blog on May 22, not knowing whether he was the only one to notice. By now, it’s spread across the tech newscape, picking up affirmations and likely explanations and going down as another telling skirmish in the e-book wars between book giants like Barnes & Noble and Seattle’s own Amazon.
The leading theory, explained here by author Jonathan Zittrain and Berkman Center research associate Kendra Albert, is that the publisher that offers the 99-cent e-book through the Barnes and Noble store, Superior Formatting Publishing, might have moved its original Kindle version to the Nook store and done a quick find-and-replace to remove any mention of the competing e-book device from marketing copy attached to the book, including — unwittingly, one would hope — at least 10 instances of the word in Tolstoy’s text. Confirming that hypothesis is not easy. Superior Formatting Publishing appears to keep an unusually low online profile.
Much like his friends, Howard found the gaffe funny, then, as he phrased it, “disquieting.”
“It’s another example of how difficult it is these days to determine what information you’re getting is accurate information, if it’s changed, no matter how it got changed,” he said.
Then again, he said, that uncertainty is part of digital life. He blogs pretty consistently and knows that readers who find his 8 a.m. post at 1 p.m. have no idea that he changed it a bit at around 10.
But to alter Tolstoy, I asked him, an 1869 Russian classic that has no business being changed?
“I’m reading a translation, and it’s one of many translations,” he said. “So there’s another side to that coin, too.”
Howard emailed Barnes and Noble about the problem but hasn’t heard back. Then he emailed “The Daily Show,” at the urging of his friends.
“They all find this very funny,” he said.
Meanwhile, Howard has become a bit of a mini-celebrity in little Ocracoke, population 948. Just today the island paper made a note of his post’s viral spike. It’s been viewed 58,000 times since it was posted and is still picking up worldwide traffic.
Howard finished the Nook’d “War and Peace” and doesn’t expect to read another e-book for a while, if ever. He only downloaded the Russian classic on the Nook his girlfriend gave him because the paper version was too big to read comfortably.
Let us know if your paper books give you this kind of grief, Howard. I expect they never will.