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Deadly typos: The difference between reaching Venus and never leaving the ground

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For rare book collectors, a 1926 first edition of Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises” commands around $2,500. However, when you have an edition that, on page 181, line 26, contains the word “stopped” printed with three Ps, then you’ll be $60,000 richer. This is not uncommon: misprints often skyrocket a rare book’s value.

For example, in 1631, some 1,000 copies of the King James Bible suggested the seventh of the ten commandments was “Thou shalt commit adultery,” putting its value at around $100,000. A first edition of Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” which saw the mix-up of the word “saw” and “was”, could garner you $18,600.

In the business world, however, content errors can cause irreparable damage to a company. This was further explained by Gavin Drake, vice president of marketing at Quark Enterprise Solutions, who claimed such types of errors happen regularly. “The reason is simple: a lack of rigour and control in the content lifecycle driven by inefficient and outdated processes. So what’s the answer?”

Apparently the answer is to keep a vigilant look-out and not do the “silly mistakes” that cost these six companies quite a lot of money.

(1) NASA

In 1962 NASA’s first interplanetary probe Mariner 1, which was intended to explore Venus, never left the hemisphere – and the reason why is far less complex than expected. This cost NASA $80m.

After a decade of meticulous planning, construction and calculation, a single hyphen brought the craft to its untimely demise less than two minutes after takeoff. The omission of the hyphen, part of a code that set trajectory speed, led to an explosion. Arthur C. Clarke, author of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” called it “the most expensive hyphen in history.”

Richard Morrison, a NASA official, said: “[The hyphen] gives a cue for the spacecraft to ignore the data the computer feeds it until radar contact is once again restored. When that hyphen is left out, false information is fed into the spacecraft control systems. In this case, the computer fed the rocket in hard left, nose down and the vehicle obeyed and crashed.”

It seems even the greatest of companies sometimes get it wrong.

Eight of the most expensive mistakes in business history

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(2) Penguin Australia

Ever heard of “The Pasta Bible”? Well a one-word slip in the recipe book ensured the publisher lost $20,000 as it had to recall thousands of copies from stores across the country due to international outrage. “It can’t be that bad, surely,” you say. It can when your tagliatelle recipe calls for “freshly ground black people”.

Bob Sessions, the book’s publisher, acknowledged that it was a “silly mistake,” that could have been avoided with more meticulous proofreading. However, he was “mortified that this has become an issue of any kind”, questioning “why anyone would be offended”.

Sessions defended proofreaders for letting through a misprint that he suggested came from a spell-check program, explaining that since almost every recipe in the book calls for black pepper on each page it was an error he considered “quite forgivable”. That, and he called those who complained about the error “small minded”.

Probably the best piece of advice for someone looking to address an error they’ve made is to stay clear from vocalising any negativity they feel towards their target audience – it’s sure to have lost the company not only money in recalling the books, but money that could have been raked in later from those loyal to the Penguin brand.

Read on to find out why Companies House and The Yellow Pages were sued.

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