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.


  1. I’ve been lamenting the quality of OCT (Oxford Classical Texts) and Teubners for just this problem for some time now. All too often the book I get looks like a photocopy, usually of a late impression after the type has gone all squishy and is missing small fragments of some letters.

  2. For a while now many publishers (OED and others) have had editions of certain books printed in India for sale on the Indian market. These are much cheaper than the US/UK versions, and identical, except for being on terrible paper, smudgily printed and sloppily bound. So read your repulsive edition of Pepys, and sympathize with your long-suffering South Asian bibliophile brethren.

  3. Everyone who wants high-quality one-offs should feel free to pay the appropriate high price.

  4. marie-lucie says

    JC, sure, but do you get a choice? I think that is the point; you are getting charged the usual price, but you don’t get the usual quality.

  5. From today’s Pepys:
    “I hear this day that Mrs. Stewart do at this day keep a great court at Somerset House, with her husband the Duke of Richmond, she being visited for her beauty’s sake by people, as the Queen is, at nights”
    Why “for her beauty’s sake”?

  6. “It was a peculiarly beautiful book. Its smooth creamy paper, a little yellowed by age, was of a kind that had not been manufactured for at least forty years past.”
    —George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

  7. Why “for her beauty’s sake”?
    Frances Teresa Stuart
    See also Count Grammont.

  8. (Most of which is covered in Gyford’s own resources, of course.)

  9. Thanks! (I love the reference, in The Windsor Beauties, to the fact that she had a “difficult time and a troublous” keeping suitors at bay.)
    I guess I was dense, and thought that “for her beauty’s sake” meant that having guests at night was a strategy to preserve her beauty, like a facial.

  10. Some POD books I’ve purchased have paper covers that curl severely at the first chance they get. I end up with a book with a cover I have to unroll. There’s no excuse for that at any price.

  11. To be honest, I was quite surprised by the high quality of books from Germany when I started buying them through Amazon the other year – it seems almost standard for a hardback to come with a ribbon to mark your place – do they just value quality more there or is it the famed book-price laws keeping publishers who do care in business?

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