Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Saturday 23 May 2009

Of the making of books, there is no end..

Slightly befuddled by today's sunshine, I found myself, a little like the solitary bee who's been visiting my window-boxes, bumbling around town, and as the bee is drawn to my flowers, so I am drawn (despite the couple of dozen accumulated books on my "to read" pile) into the shops to dip into more and more books I will probably never have time to read.

What is more, Blackwells on the Charing Cross Road now has a print-on-demand machine. I can see the attraction (particularly for somewhere out of the way, without space for a big stock and facing high delivery charges), especially if the necessary deals have been made for access to otherwise out of print material.

It all comes down to the balance of price, convenience and quality. I could only see on display the prices for self-publishing (£15 plus £5 a copy: not a lot for anyone who might otherwise be tempted by a vanity press, but if that's the price for something from an archive, perhaps quite a lot). As for quality, the covers of the samples on display had a uniformly shiny photocopy quality (or looked like bound proofs with rough-and-ready covers); on the other hand, the paper seemed to be better quality than the average paperback. Then again, the text of some of the reprinted classics (for example, a copy of Pride and Prejudice, as if one couldn't already get cheap editions of it all over the place) had, at the bottom of every page, a credit to the Google digitisation project: intrusively large and in their house font and style, irrespective of what the rest of the page looked like. I wonder what Jane Austen would have made of that?

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