It's great to have the opportunity to review books and there are certainly lots of books being published. I volunteer to review books that interest me, so that means I seldom review a book I actively dislike - just once or twice that I can remember. However it does sadden me that spelling errors and grammatical errors now seem almost universally present.
Why is this? Well I think we have to start with an assumption of good-will and due diligence on the part of all concerned. People go into publishing because they love books, they believe in the transmission of thought and they are concerned for standards. After all, there are easier ways to make a fast buck than publishing! Also people train to edit, to proof-read etc, and it is meticulous, lonely and tiring work.
So why aren't non-existent words (like my favourite, forebearers) and classic errors (like principle/principal) weeded out? Why isn't every sentence clear? Why do errors in footnotes persist, etc.
I've noted in the blog before that Christian books in France are MUCH more expensive than in the UK/USA. I always assumed that this was because of bigger print runs in English, but I am not sure that the answer is so simple. The fact is that quite a lot of things are more expensive in France.
For example, chickens. In the UK supermarket shelves used to be full of pre-packed standard oven-ready birds at really quite low prices. Here in France there are a few chickens like that, but most are about twice the price and have labels giving details of their age, nutrition, region of origin. People pay for the quality.
Similarly the price of books is still protected by law, so wherever you buy a book it will cost roughly the same. The biggest discount you can offer by law is 5%. Recently, to protect French bookshops, the government has banned free delivery by firms like Amazon. So people know they can't buy a pot-boiler or a thriller for £3.86 off the supermarket shelf, or three for £5 or whatever.
This means for example, that Kevin DeYoung's "Crazy Busy" costs £8.99 on Amazon.co.uk and 16,50€ in French as "Vie de fou". It's not a big book, but it costs the best part of 20 euros.
Now I just wonder whether the cause of falling standards of production in publishing in English is down to me. (And to you, gentle reader). We want to buy cheap books. We want good theological reflection, we want lots of it, and we want it at a rock-bottom price.
OK. If we're not going to pay much for the book where can economies be made? Already printing is done in countries where labour is cheap (so putting European printers out of business). We can hardly farm proof-reading and editing out to non-English speaking countries, so how can we cut those costs? I strongly suspect that many people are forced to work long hours doing meticulous work for insufficient pay, far below the minimum wage.
And we can't blame the publishing houses. Like the bookshops, they struggle to survive.
When I worked in the computer industry my boss would give me tasks to perform. I'd quite routinely ask, "Do you want it well-done and slow, or a quick dirty fix?" Sometimes a quick dirty fix was just what was needed, but sometimes we coud afford to do a good job, which is, of course, far more satisfying.
If you and I will not pay a fair price for a well-written, well-edited, well-constructed, well-printed, well-bound book of excellent quality, where the quality of production matches the quality of thought, then I only have myself to blame if standards slip. You can't have well-done and slow at quick and dirty prices.
Friends, we can help by buying the best books. And we can help by being willing to pay more for them.