Statement from the Chairman Regarding Recent Losses.
BY Ben Greenman
We have lost two billion words. There is no way to sugarcoat this situation. Two billion words are gone. We noticed worrisome signs earlier in the year: first, hundreds of words missing from a history text or poetry collection; then, thousands gone from dozens of titles. At the time, we believed that the words would return. They did not. Losses deepened and broadened until they reached a million, ten million, a hundred million, and then finally the far more serious levels of today. We see now that our belief in the reappearance of the words was misplaced. What occurred was negligence plain and simple. This was a terrible, egregious mistake, and we now feel it is our responsibility to come before you and be forthright about what has transpired.
We do not wish to minimize what has happened—the process by which words were protected was poorly reviewed, poorly executed, and poorly monitored—but neither do we wish for it to be exaggerated. These losses, as serious as they are, do not affect the structural soundness of the written word. Ordinary readers should not feel concerned. We are confident that the known universe of published books will be able to absorb this loss and move on. The two billion words lost represent only a tiny fraction of the overall number of words published in the English language: roughly two percent, to be precise.
There are cases, of course, in which this shortfall is not particularly problematic. Readers of historical novels know that descriptions of battlefield events can be protracted and tiresome. Exposition runs on. Those books can certainly afford these losses; they may even benefit from them. But we are also aware of the more serious consequences: in a lapidary literary novel or a collection of short stories, a few thousand words can mean the difference between artfully compressed prose and garbled nonsense.
Take In the Room, Beside the Room by Mary Crampton. When this debut novel about a young American woman in Seattle was released last year, it was called “a triumph of voice” and “a book that insists ceaselessly upon its own truth.” It earned a second printing, which should have been cause for celebration but was, sadly, affected by recent losses. In the Room, Beside the Room lost more than three thousand words, and as a result, in the version currently on shelves, the movements and motives of the main character, Helen, are frustratingly unclear. How does she get from Kentaro’s room to the airport? The final scene aboard a Bremerton ferry has been abridged beyond comprehension. We are deeply sorry to have violated the trust of Ms. Crampton and her readers.
Some have suggested that we were forced to disclose our losses only when they could no longer be concealed. This could not be further from the truth. While it is true that we knew as early as January about losses in books such as H.A. Enniston’s Lindy Hop (three percent missing) or Michael Washburn’s Pliptopia (only one percent missing, though unfortunately that one percent included the vast majority of proper nouns), we felt, again, that it was likely the situation would improve. We were guilty of a lack of oversight, certainly, and sloppy accounting practices, but most of all we were guilty of hope.
We are not taking this lightly. Three top executives have already resigned; more may follow. We are clarifying and extending our policies for detecting irresponsible verbal management. What we want most of all is to regain the trust of readers. We insist that there was an overt attempt to defraud readers. Well, that’s an interesting development, isn’t it? That sentence should have read, “However, we insist there was never an overt attempt to defraud readers.” The words “however” and “never” just fell away. Weird. Even with them, that’s only two words missing from a published piece of nearly eight hundred words, roughly one-tenth of the overall rate of loss, though the omitted words were clustered quite close together. This should give some fair illustration of the devilishly complex nature of this problem.
We apologize, again, and we ask for your patience as we continue to conduct our internal review and cooperate with regulators.
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