J.K. Rowling’s new ebook: Literally unreadable

Update, 9/28, 6:30 AM ET: Kindle e-reader owners with their WiFi on should see “update available” for The Casual Vacancy this morning. Or go to the “Manage Your Kindle” page on Amazon’s website to download the new file.

Update, 9/27, 5:15 PM ET: Hachette released the following statement:

Yesterday the eBook file for The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling was released to all U.S. eBook retailers. There were issues with that file, including the adjustability of font color and size and adjustability of margins. As soon as Hachette was made aware of these issues a replacement file was uploaded to all eBook retailers. Hachette has requested that each retailer contact their customers directly about reloading their eBook. Any consumer who purchased the eBook on Thursday, September 27, before approximately 3:00pm ET, who has not heard from their retailer, should contact them and request that their eBook be reloaded. No consumer should have to repurchase the eBook.

Amazon says “We have worked with the publisher to correct this issue, including for customers who have already purchased the book.  The updated file is already available for new purchases and we will make it possible for past purchases to get the updated file in the next few hours.”

Update, 9/27, 2:30 PM ET: Hachette confirmed that the problem was on its end, not Amazon’s, and that the problem was across all ebook retailers. “There was an issue with the file (no issues reading the book, just adjusting the type), but that has been corrected and is fully adjustable/functional for all those who have purchased the e-book and for those who will purchase it in the future,” Hachette executive director of publicity Nicole Dewey told me. But that’s not true: If you’ve already bought the ebook, the file isn’t going to correct itself. You’ll have to download it again — and Amazon isn’t yet pushing out an updated version, so you can either try buying the ebook again (which: why?) or wait for an update to roll out.

“Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling’s new book for adults, The Casual Vacancy, was published today to great fanfare and decidedly mixed reviews. Some ebook readers are holding on off on purchasing the digital edition because it’s priced at $17.99 (here’s why), but e-reader owners who did buy it right away are in for a disappointment: It’s basically unreadable, unless you have a magnifying glass.

Twitter user Alan Jacobs was among the first to notice the problem (thanks for the tip, Robin Sloan):

I confirmed the problem on two separate Kindle e-readers (the book looks fine on the Kindle app on iPad) and it’s happening on other e-readers, like the Barnes  & Noble (s BKS) Nook, as wellAmazon customers are complaining (leading to a slew of comments about whether it’s fair to comment on the book’s formatting rather than its content, but I think it’s justified in this case since the problem isn’t apparent before you buy the ebook). Adjusting the book’s type size on the Kindle only adjusts the margins. Here are your choices:

This is clearly just a file formatting problem. It’s unclear if the problem is with the file Hachette supplied Amazon or if the problem is on Amazon’s end (I’ve asked both companies for comment). Hachette confirmed that the problem is Hachette’s not Amazon’s. It won’t take long to fix. It will probably be fixed by tomorrow, if not earlier.

But. This book is the big book of the season. Why didn’t either Amazon or Hachette test the ebook before putting it on sale? (Maybe because of all the embargoes on it?) It’s $17.99. At the very least, it should be readable. The Rowling fans who were so excited about The Casual Vacancy ebook that they pre-ordered it or bought it this morning should be able to start reading it right away, and they shouldn’t have to have super-human vision to do so.