New Reprints of Old Books

I will preface this by calling the post a bit of a RANT; and mention also,
that 
the intended blog post – on letters of Jane Welsh Carlyle – will appear separately.

It has been a while since I’ve written about Thomas and Jane Carlyle – August 19, 2015 – and that dealt specifically with an old book that had been republished, The Carlyles at Home by Thea Holme.

I must say, during the ensuing five-plus years, reprints have taken on a new “new life”. There once was a time when a reprint was a genuine reason to exult! A hard-to-find title *finally* available again, perhaps in paperback, but hopefully reproducing itself in a true manner – complete (if lucky) with images, maps, pedigrees, or whatever accompanied the original. SOMETIMES with the addition of such material. SOMETIMES, if really lucky, in a more authoritative issue.

I think, for instance, of Andrew Tod’s Memoirs of a Highland Lady in the 1980s, which included the full original text, instead of a reprint of the 19th century book. Tod continued to issue Elizabeth Grant Smith’s later diaries, such as (pictured below) The Highland Lady in Dublin, 1851-1856.

Ten years ago (and I’m grabbing a “date” out of thin air), I would be happy whenever I located a hard-to-find book on Google Books. Too many times, in the beginning of my research (see my blog Two Teens in the Time of Austen), I did shake my head when coming across a volume, now fully digitized, reliving the difficulty I had had in trying to procure a scarce copy through inter-library loan. For example, Special Collections’ copies do not circulate.

Digital meant the book could now be downloaded, and that was always a plus.

BUT: there was the presumption that the digital copy could remain forever and always…

The more recent past, however, has seen too many books that were ONCE accessible on books.google. They either become wholly removed or so buried that only an original link digs them up.

WHY the change?

Books.google obviously helped to provide easy “print on demand” templates – and these *new* reprints have become current, with their “no preview” or “limited preview” versions taking precedence at the top of the lists. These do not always seem to be produced by legitimate publishers, but both sorts of reprints can cause the old digitized volume to “evaporate.” It isn’t the long-dead AUTHOR who’s making money from new reprints. Rising cover prices and free content mean a tidy profit with little investment. “Print on Demand” requires no physical book stock. The resultant decimation of former availability has become a rather distasteful side to the digitization of old books.

Long ago, when I used to haunt the Used Books Annex at our local Barnes & Noble, I found a copy of E.M. Delafield’s The Provincial Lady in London. Its cover price was low, being a paperback reprint, (I think it was $7.95), so its used price was very insignificant. I was quite taken with the book. I wanted MORE “Provincial Lady.”

I bought another volume, new.

BUT: my paperback version had a production defect: a missing page. Luckily, UVM’s library had an ORIGINAL hardcover. I’ve just checked their holdings – and find that they no longer HAVE the book and even their “annex” (where old and new books sometimes go to die) copy is a later reprint. (Maybe the original became “lost.”)

I either copied down or xeroxed the missing page. (I should locate my Delafield stash to confirm, but don’t feel like rifling through the closet shelves.)

I mention this scenario because it brought home to me that the new reprint was not newly recreated. The same layout, page breaks, and the poor quality of the printing bore the evidence of the lack-of-expense expended in reproducing the reprints. Into the bargain, of course, “quality control” had missed that a page had not been reproduced. (I think it was a chapter header page, even.)

Still in search of more “Provincial Lady” books, (E.M. Delafield was a prolific writer, in general as well as in this “series”), I went to a bookstore “downtown”. There came the REAL surprise. Not only were these books reprinted by “xeroxing” (for lack of a better word) the original 1930s, 1940s books, but a NEW new-reprint series had gotten underway. The smaller paperbacks had grown in size and were now a good $10 more (ie, closing in on $20, each). New Cover Art. But SAME interior.

I think, but I couldn’t swear to it, that the *missing* page still remained missing!

Thank goodness many books already uploaded to Internet Archive have remained there. Occasionally, I even use Hathi Trust. (Beware download links that offer books for “free”. What else comes with the download, I do not know…)

I know “all good things come to an end,” and I do still head over to books.google whenever I’m thinking about buying a book (a good preview is priceless), but to have books removed from the site so a few companies can “make a buck” was not the aim of the project. The early goal had been rather remarkable: To make books available to everyone. Let’s not forget the PUBLIC when discussing PUBLIC DOMAIN books.

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