Phil Gyford (who runs the indispensable Pepys’ Diary site, one of the few I visit every day no matter how busy I am) has a lament for what’s happening to the printed book. He ordered a copy of Volume 9 of the Latham-Matthews edition of Pepys’ Diary (he gets a new one each year), and discovered that it was different from the beautifully printed books he was used to:
The paper is smooth and crisp, like the kind of paper you buy in reams to feed through your temperamental inkjet printer. It’s smooth, without the grain and texture of standard book paper. It’s also thinner: text from the reverse of the page, and even from the page after that, shows through, as you can see above.
Then there’s the printing. Like the cover, there’s something slightly off about it. Not only does the paper look like slick office paper, but the printing looks like it’s been churned through an office photocopier. … The newer version looks and feels inferior, cheaper, like a shoddy print-on-demand, self-published volume. And yet it costs the same and there’s no way of knowing what you’re getting. I assumed this volume would be the same as all the books I’ve bought in the same series, by the same publisher, in the same edition. But something’s changed, with no clue on the item’s Amazon page. …
When publishers appear to love their own books so little, when they’re apparently happy to pass off a print-on-demand photocopy of a book as a full-price volume, it’s hard for the reader in turn to feel much love for these gradually disappearing objects.
I want to love books, but if the publisher treats them merely as interchangeable units, where the details don’t matter so long as the bits, the “content”, is conveyed as cheaply as possible, then we may be falling out of love.
When a commenter says “Reissued and backlist books are often printed via POD instead of offset because of the riskier nature of producing thousands of copies and warehousing them,” Phil responds “That the books are printed on demand isn’t the issue. I don’t really care how they’re printed, I care about the result and how it’s marketed. If the final object is shoddy but it’s sold as being the same as previous, higher-quality, items then that’s not an improvement to anyone but the short-term profits of the publisher.” It probably won’t come as a surprise that I agree.