25 January 2012

Print on Demand

I bought one of those Print on Demand books from Amazon the other day - Volume 9 from the 12 volume set of the Complete Tales of Henry James which was missing from my collection. For some unknown reason volumes 9 and 10 from the wonderful Rupert Hart-Davis edition are now very rare. PoD offers a service of producing rare, classic, or out-of-print texts in a basic paperback format in small quantities - including single copies.

It served its purpose in delivering the text in a more-or-less readable form at a reasonable price (given the rarity of the volume). But it left a lot to be desired. I imagine it has been scanned using optical character recognition (OCR) and formatted using some automated process.

There are no details about the origin of the text; no critical apparatus or footnotes; no introduction, bibliography, or further reading; and no details of any editorial process. There are almost no page margins either. The text is crammed into the page space with no concessions to the reader's visual comfort.

Is the text accurate? Well, it's hard to tell without the definitive version to make a comparison, but I noticed lots of scrappy errors. Foreign expressions are not italicised; m-dashes have been converted to double hyphens; there are missing words, misspellings, and double full stops; and text which is conversation has been rendered as if it was part of the narrative. There are absolutely no concessions to bibliographic aesthetics. New stories begin half way down a page.

These digitised publishing solutions may perform a useful function: better a print-on-demand text than none at all. But eTexts may be close behind. The deficiencies in what's available demonstrate what added value we expect and get from a well-produced and properly edited edition.

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