Another year approaches, and it’s time to buy another volume of Pepys’ Diary. As usual I bought from Amazon, real bookshops never stocking the individual diary volumes. To my surprise, having bought nine previous volumes from the same publisher, in the same edition, this tenth instalment felt very different. Different as in “worse”.
Which is a surprise as the books, published in the UK by HarperCollins, look much the same at first glance:
The new volume, on the right appears to be from the same edition, the only clue to a difference is that the surface is shinier and, if you look closely, the printing is a little fuzzy. There’s something of the colour photocopy about it. And, at second glance, the spot varnish on the left volume — on the solid blacks and the “PEPYS” — is missing from the right volume, where everything is uniformly shiny.
Opening the two volumes and the differences are more apparent:
The new volume, again on the right, is much whiter. It’s only when you compare standard books with really white paper that you realise they’re usually a bit yellow, slightly textured. You might think that having whiter, smoother paper is an improvement. It’s cleaner, brighter, more contrasty, but… it feels cheap. 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. It looks like a photocopy of the original. Here are a couple of close-ups. First, the original, standard version:
The texture of the paper is emphasised a little here and you can see the sharpness of the type. Whereas the newer version is a little different:
The type is thicker, not because it’s a different typeface or weight, but because it’s printed poorly. Serifs are blotchy and there are more imperfections. It looks like a copy, rather than an original. Someone laboured over that typeface, to make it work for particular kinds of printing. It’s effort that was wasted for this facsimile.
I suspect by this point you’re either thinking “That’s awful, what are publishers playing at!” or “What on Earth is the problem here? Who’d notice the difference?”
There is a difference. 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.
There are almost no differences in content between these two versions. The copyright pages of both declare them to be from the “UK paperback edition 1995”, “Reissued 2000”. But the earlier version also proudly proclaims:
Printed and bound in Great Britain by
Clays Ltd, St Ives plc
The second, shoddy version has no such statement on the copyright page. We must instead turn to a mysterious extra, largely blank, page at the very back of the book where we find an extra barcode and, embarrassedly tucked away there:
Lightning Source UK Ltd.
Milton Keynes UK
18 June 2010
So at least we know who to blame for this recent bait-and-switch in collaboration with HarperCollins.
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.