Saturday, 9 January 2010

Print on Demand

Has anybody else dabbled with Print on Demand publishers? That sounds like some sort of cult, but of course it is not... I have a few 'abebooks alerts' which tell me when certain books become available (like 'richmal crompton' + ~william - that's Boolean searching right there, thank you Mr. Boolean, whoever you may be) and increasingly they've been obscure titles, with the addition 'this book is printed especially for your order, and may take longer to arrive.' Or something like that.

Anyway, the most recent one I got (not this year, I hasten to add) was Lovers in London (1905) by AA Milne. I have read this, but I had to do it in the Bodleian... it's more or less impossible to find in non-print-on-demand editions. It was his first book, a series of little sketches of Amelia and the narrator having whimsical courtship and visits to the zoo, that sort of thing - later he decided he didn't like it, bought back the copyright, and refused to let it be republished. Now, he died in 1956, and under copyright laws his books aren't in the public domain until 2026, so I don't know how they've managed to get hold of it - but Kessinger Publishing have reprinted it.

I saw reprinted it. What they've done, it seems, is photocopy a 1905 edition of the book, and stuck it in some cheap card. It's even got a shelfmark written on the first page, so it was clearly from some library or other. Inside, the book ha
s that beautiful font they so often used in the early 20th century - outside it's about as cheap as a book can get, with a fairly flimsy cover and no cover design to speak of. Or even of which to speak.

So... what do you think of this phenomenon? If a phenomenon it indeed is? I would never choose this quality of book over an original edition, but I think it's great for things like Lovers in London which I'd never be able to afford otherwise. It's a way for publishers with tiny budgets to get obscure things 'in print' - though it will never create a buzz about the
book, or new-found popularity for the author, in the way that Persephone Books or The Bloomsbury Group have the potential to do with their reprints. But it means I have a copy of Lovers in London on my shelves, which I wouldn't have had a chance of otherwise - unless I resorted to larceny of course.

Have you bought any Print on Demand books? I'm thinking novels, rather than the other fields P-on-D works in. Or does their cheapness (in quality rather than price, I assure you) put you off? Or has the whole concept just never crossed your mind?

EDIT: do read the comments - my experience with PoD publishers isn't very vast, and there are some good links and advice about better quality ones. Thanks for your comments, guys!

18 comments:

  1. Simon, I've bought several obscure titles in POD. Secondhand copies of obscure English books are even harder to find in Australia than the UK. Dodo Press & Echo Press are quite good. The paper quality is fine, the covers are basic but Dodo have pictures on the cover. No Intros or notes but you can't have everything. I've also bought a couple of Faber Finds, quite nicely produced but boring covers, the font's a bit small & I think they're quite expensive although regular Fabers aren't cheap so that's probably the reason. If I wanted a book & I couldn't find a regularly published copy, I'd buy POD.

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  2. I recently bought a POD copy of The Road Home by Erich Maria Remarque. It is a bit lacking in frills but when you know you want to read/own something not in print, it solves the problem.

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  3. Lovers in London is available at Google Books where you can download a pdf copy. Go to books.google.com, type in Lovers in London in the search box, and there you are.

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  4. I've thought about using the new Espresso book printing machine that our local independent bookstore has but I'm afraid of quality issues as well. I need to go check and see if they have samples printed out.

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  5. I have a couple of Kessinger print-on-demand copies. As well as the ugly covers, the text will reproduce any errors in the scanning of the original book. In one of my copies, two pages are missing, and sometimes you get the image of a ghostly thumb captured by the scanner. However, they were much cheaper than original editions of two books long out of print.

    Not all print-on-demand publishers simply use the scanned text - some will reformat the text to ensure it is complete and legible - so it's worth checking whether your particular publisher has done this.

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  6. Here's the homepage for Faber Finds. I haven't so far tried anything from them, though.......

    http://www.faber.co.uk/faberfinds/

    I have some sort of folk memory that there's a machine in Foyle's, Charing Cross Rd which prints at the touch of a button, but what books, how long it takes and at what price are all unknown to me.

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  7. I liek the idea of PoD however I think I am a bit of a snob and cheap paper bound by cardboard just doesnt work for me. I also think I have too many in print books already hahaha.

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  8. As Catalpa says, not all POD produce uninspiring facsimiles. I'm a small (barely perceptible) publisher and I spend a great deal of (unpaid) time formatting neglected literary treasures and soliciting scholarly introductions and footnotes from benevolent academics.

    Personally, I think the Kessinger reprints serve a useful purpose in making rare texts accessible, without endless pegging off to the British Library. It's frustrating, however, when pages are missing or cropped.

    In answer to Kristen's point, the Espresso Book Machine copies aren't quite as good as traditionally printed copies, but a certain amount of quality has to be sacrified in the interests of speed.

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  9. Quality all depends, Simon, on the printer offering POD. Lightning Source have been criticised for offering too good a quality - that standard affecting their RRP. I even had a bookshop owner in Paignton, Devon refusing to stock my titles because they were so expensive. He suggested that I dump my publisher and self-publish, using thinner paper and selling cheaper. The books were then c. £7.00
    As customer for years I tried to find a copy of Henry Miller's 'Smile at the Foot of the Ladder' without success until a US POD publisher came along - and produced a high quality, inexpensive reproduction.
    Sam

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  10. I got one of these for Christmas - an out of print Dorothy Canfield - and I was a bit disappointed by the quality, especially the ugly cover. However, I'd rather have an ugly edition than no copy at all. You have to make sacrifices when it comes to out of print books!

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  11. Thanks so much for your comments - I've added an 'edit' bit to the blog post telling people to read them!

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  12. I've heard of this technology but didn't know anyone who had used it. Thanks for the education Simon. I agree with Rachel, an ugly edition is better than none and will definitely investigate this further.

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  13. Has anyone used the PoD facility in Blackwell's in Oxford? I've only read about it, not seen or heard of it in action...

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  14. I know a great 'print on demand' company. It's called the LIBRARY! Try it, just go ask for something, they'll get it for you, and it's FREE! :)

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  15. I used the library to read Lovers in London the first time! Then I wanted to own it... the Bod doesn't like it if I take the books home :-)

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  16. Overdue - here in the Scottish Highlands the library will get books for you but (a) you only get them for a very short time (b) they charge you about £3 to send them back to the British Library.

    Of course if they have your book in the Highland Council area it's free and you may get to keep it a bit longer, but in my experience it's pretty rare for them to have any particular book that I see described online that interests me.

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  17. Anyone know what Gale ECCO print editions are like and why there is no mention of them at the Gale ECCO site? Likewise University of Michigan? What about the Indian folk who claim to have taken a lot of care over their reproductions?

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  18. I realize it's a bit late, but there's a fine discussion at Early Modern Online Bibliography:
    http://earlymodernonlinebib.wordpress.com/2010/08/12/gales-ecco-and-bibliolife-print-on-demand-initiatives/

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