HarperCollins and Samuel Pepys: Using Print on Demand to Compromise on Quality

The Latham-Matthews transcription of The Diary of Samuel Pepys was published between 1970 and 1983 and remains the standard edition. It consists of 11 volumes, including an “Index” and a “Companion” volume, and virtually every day of Pepys’ record comes with one or more footnotes which guide the general reader and the scholar through the text. According to a review in the Times, as quoted on the covers of the modern paperback edition, the work “is one of the glories of contemporary English publishing”.

I first became aware of the scope of this edition a couple of years ago, when I was browsing in the gift shop at St Paul’s Cathedral. The complete set was laid out on display, in the interesting contemporary covers that were designed for a reissue of the year 2000. The books are published by HarperCollins, although the word “California” also appears on the spine, in reference to the University of California being the US publisher. I was impressed by the physical quality of the books, and I purchased the first volume soon after.

The same reissue edition is still available, although HarperCollins has now moved to a Print on Demand service. While Print on Demand is a great boon to publishing and to readers, in this instance the quality of a multi-volume collection has been compromised.

Three volumes are displayed above. On the left is Volume 1, 1660, as printed by the traditional printer. On the right are Volume 11 (the Index) and Volume 3 (1662) from the new Print on Demand printer.

The first problem is the Volume 3  is several millimetres narrower than Volume 11 – the Print on Demand service can’t even maintain uniformity of size with its own books, let alone match the traditionally printed volumes.

Second, the Print on Demand service uses too much glue. Both the Index and 1662 have the same problem here, creating a ridge and crease on the cover:

This is perhaps also why the book does not sit flat, unlike Volume 1 (click to see larger version of this):

Further, the colour of the paper is now different, and the first few pages of Volumes 3 and 11 tend to become “wavy” close to the spine (I’m sure printers have a proper word for that).

I asked HarperCollins about this, and I was told that

We take the quality of our print very seriously and ensure that our Editors are happy with this. These books have been through such a review by our Editorial team and they are happy with these [Print on Demand] versions.

So, that’s alright then.