We Get the Headache, So You Don’t Have To

3D front cover of The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin 6th editionThis new slogan for the CLC ­ – at least as zingy as ‘Books of enduring scholarly value’ – was created in the office, in the course of a slightly hysterical discussion of what a certain cloister of monks (the correct collective noun, apparently, though Google also came up with ‘an abomination’, though I can’t imagine why) actually thought they were writing about in the fourteenth century, so that prospective readers of our reissue of the magisterial  nineteenth-century Rolls Series will know what they are getting. Simultaneously we were wrestling with the problems of p. 240 of volume 35 of the Classical Journal being followed by p. 233, and of where we could locate the four pages missing (in the copy we had borrowed) from the middle of volume 2 of Dean Stanley’s life of Dr Arnold of Rugby. (This problem was later solved.)

As well as providing full metadata – blurbs, bibliographical details and publishing history – for all our books, and creating attractive and RELEVANT covers, we also work hard to make them legible. You would think that this goes without saying, but not necessarily. For example, it has been possible to buy Double Falshood (sic) of 1728 as a print-on-demand paperback from another publisher for a few years, but quite a lot of the pages look like the one below.

By contrast, the pages in our forthcoming reissue will look like this:

If you buy POD books frequently, you may be familiar with the sort of disclaimer which some publishers use: they generally involve a plea for your understanding, on the grounds that nothing can be done to improve the quality of the images. This is not, of course, true: various things can be done, including choosing a better copy of the book to scan at the outset, or spending a lot of time (and hence money) on checking that all the pages are present and in the right order, and cleaning up and ‘mending’ them as necessary. This involves someone looking at every page of every book on-screen, and repairing individual broken letters, removing library stamps, ink-blots, burn-marks (ah, the carefree days when the scholar in his library was never without his pipe or cigarettes!) and annotations – even, in some cases, those of the book’s author, as it is quite frequently his/her own copy that we are privileged to borrow.

You might argue that it would be very interesting to see what e.g. Darwin’s own copy of the sixth edition of The Origin of Species looked like. However, we are in the business not of creating a facsimile of a particular copy of a book, but of making the content of the book available in the form in which it was originally published. There are some circumstances where the annotations are themselves valuable: it has been suggested to us, for example, that sale catalogues of some of the great libraries that were dispersed in the course of the nineteenth century are more interesting if they contain the annotations made on the day of the sale as to who bought what and at what price, and this sounds like an interesting project!

What we regard as our Unique Selling Point is that all of our books will contain text that is complete, and as clean as we can make it, as well as metadata which will tell the prospective readership exactly what the book contains. And this is time-consuming and skilled work. Look  at this colour image, which is the raw shot of the title page of one of our books:

This is what the same page looks like when first converted to black-and-white:

And this is the page when it has been cleaned up and is ready for printing.

We believe that you will agree that you are less likely to develop a headache reading this version than the one above – and thus that our headaches in getting to this stage have been worthwhile!

Observant and/or devoted readers of the blog will know that this is the second time I have casually dropped the Double Falshood into the conversation. Keep visiting to find out more…


This entry was posted in History, Life Science, Literary Studies, Printing and Publishing History and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to We Get the Headache, So You Don’t Have To

  1. Stephen Barber says:

    Yes indeed. I have just had to return a reprint of a dictionary which was most handsomely bound but had duplicated and there missing pages, reversed pages and so on. I would rather pay more and get a reliable copy from you. As for the POD people, well some are better than others and some are unusable.

  2. Pingback: To Be Shakespeare, Or Not To Be Shakespeare | Cambridge Library Collection Blog

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