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.

3 Responses

  1. I saw you on white whine and had to investigate further.

  2. Richard – you are true bibliophile. I got an Amazon paperback “print on demand” reprint of a book by D. S. Margoliouth and I was disappointed with the printing quality. In some areas the pages of text were not properly aligned perpendicular to the edges.

    In the case of the Margoliouth book, I was happy to purchase it as it was not expensive and I prefer books to online pdfs (the other way of reading his available texts). I was lucky enough to find a 1912 book by the same author for £2 in a sale at an abbey library in the West Country. It was one of the best buys I have made in my life.

    I like the notion of “print on demand” for esoteric or scholarly works that would not have the exorbitant price of academic works (in the early 90s I spent £85 for a book by Academic Press) – but I still think that the feel and quality of the final article is important.

    I am still waiting for stitch-binding and hardback covers for such books.

    • What’s particularly annoying in this case is that we’re looking at what ought to be a flagship publishing project, always in print and always available.

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