Friday 19 December 2008

“A book’s a book, although there’s nothing in’t.” (Lord Byron)

I’ve always thought that publishing was – first and foremost – a craft, almost an art. How mistaken I was. The reality, in our cynical, money-driven world is totally different. You see all sorts of books printed on the cheapest papers and full of unpleasant "orphans" and "widows", not to mention typos and editorial mistakes of all kinds. This lack of care is criminal. By lowering the production quality of a book, you devalue the quality of the author's work. I think there should be – as in other industries – some minimum acceptable standards (especially for the paper: FSC-approved is not enough, in my opinion), in the same way as you cannot build a house with non-approved building materials or by dodging planning, architectural and construction rules.

As the founder of Hesperus Press and the production manager of Alma Books, Oneworld Classics and Pushkin Press – all imprints that pride themselves on going the extra mile in order to foster a different reading experience among readers – I believe that the quality of the contents should be reflected by the quality of the typesetting, paper and printing.

For many years I have used the National Press of Jordan, because they are excellent people, because their prices are very good and they care about the detail. Since they invoice in dollars, when the pound was strong it was ideal for us. More recently, because we have more than quadrupled our output (we now print almost a hundred titles a year) and turnaround times have become a sensitive issue when scheduling and managing the list, we have been forced to move all printing back to UK.

I have discovered that there are some very good printers in this country, and my personal recommendation is Cox & Wyman (part of the CPI Group) for mass-market B-format paperbacks and TJ International (based in Padstow, Cornwall) for hardbacks and higher-quality paperbacks. They really care about quality, at every step of production – and it shows. Also ScandBook in Sweden – who have printed only a few of our books so far, with great results – can ensure quality at a very good price. A big plus with them is that their printing is long-grain, which gives the book a superior feel. Unfortunately, with the plummeting pound, they’ll find it tricky to remain competitive in this market.

Obviously, as you may have gathered from my morbid ramblings about paper and typesetting, the digital age has not quite arrived for any of our imprints. Perhaps I am too old-fashioned – perhaps I’m living in denial – but I tremble at the thought that my children might prefer reading or studying a book using a Kindle-like appliance rather than pick up one of our lovingly produced volumes from the shelves.


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