We all make them: a careless slip of the keyboard, a moment of inattention… and unless we notice our mistake, we become the laughing-stock of LinkedIn, the twit of Twitter or the red face of Facebook.
But typos – a contraction of ‘typographical errors’ – can also cost money. Big money. Take these examples, and while you’re reading them, think to yourself how easily these typos could be overlooked.
The eBay Bargain That Was No Small Beer
Cost of typo: $502,996
The original seller knew that his bottle of Allsopp’s Arctic Ale would fetch a good price. After all, the 150-year old beverage had been specially brewed for an 1875 Arctic expedition led by Sir George Nares, a Welsh naval officer, on which it was hoped that the ale’s strength (11.5%) would keep it from freezing and its nutritional properties would protect the expedition members from scurvy.
And so he auctioned it on eBay with a starting price of $299.00. Interest was disappointing – he only attracted two bidders – but the hammer fell at a satisfactory $304.00 and he pocketed his beer money.
But when the same bottle appeared again on eBay just eight weeks later, attracting fierce competition from 56 bidders and closing at $503,300.00, the unfortunate previous owner was left staring into his glass. How could the value of a bottle of beer appreciate so far, in such a short time?
Turns out, it didn’t. When he had advertised it on eBay, he had listed it as ‘Allsop’s Arctic Ale’ (see what he did there?) and apparently this tiny typo prevented online searches from alerting ale aficionados and investors.
The only change the next seller had to make was to spell the name correctly.
The Cookbook That Got Too Hot To Handle
Cost of typo: $2,000
When Penguin Australia published ‘The Pasta Bible’ they couldn’t have imagined how controversial this would quickly become or what it would cost them, but among its recipes sat one for Tagliatelle with Sardines and Prosciutto which included “salt and freshly ground black people” among its ingredients.
The publisher only became aware of the ghastly error when a member of the public contacted them, and although they pulped 7,000 copies of the book to limit the damage, many copies had already been sold and will presumably remain as a lasting legacy to this monumental slip-up. In fact, the mistake is likely to add to the book’s value as a collectible, and their faux pas will enter publishing legend.
One important takeaway from this unhappy episode is that no automated spellchecker or writing assistance tool would have identified this error, as ‘people’ is a genuine, legitimate word, and presumably, a weary or overworked human proofreader failed to notice it.
The Subway Maps That Took MTA For A Ride
Cost of typo: Estimated at $250,000
In 2013, New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority produced and distributed 160,000 maps and posters to announce they were raising the minimum price of their pay-per-ride cards from $4.50 to… $4.50.
Frantic messages were sent to all the locations where the material was being displayed and distributed, and commuters were kept waiting for a new, updated (and hopefully this time correct) edition.
Who was responsible for checking that this small but important detail would be printed correctly? My guess is that we will never know, but he/she will be walking, not taking the subway, for a long time to come.
The Deal That Sent An Airline’s Costs Sky High
Cost of typo: $7,200,000
In 2006, Italy’s national airline Alitalia advertised airfares from Toronto to Cyprus at $3,900. Only they didn’t. Sharp-eyed globetrotters were quick to notice that a typo meant they could fly for only $39 – just 1% of the true cost.
By the time the airline realised its mistake, they were faced with choosing between losing a lot of money and hordes of angry customers who had already booked tickets.
To their credit – and no doubt to maintain their reputation – they honoured the deal. Well, at least they didn’t hand out free copies of Penguin’s ‘The Pasta Bible’ as compensation…