I have sent a quotation request to a dozen printers the other day. It was for a gift hardback for Christmas, and since I wanted to have some fun with the production I've asked for gilt edges as an option. All printers, invariably, have told me that they can't do gilt edges for me – with the exception of one, who said that there's a company they've used some time ago who can do it, but the price per unit is prohibitive, one pound or more.
I have been watching the rapid demise of hardbacks in the last few years, so I am not surprised in the least. But to say I don't feel bad about this would be a lie. Let me make this clear: I am not advocating the return of laid paper, gilt edges and wooden movable types, but it's depressing to see how what was once a craft is so much devalued and has become so irrelevant.
The fact that fewer and fewer people care about the production quality of a book, and that paper seems to have become for many just as good a vehicle as a computer screen or a hand-held device can only be good news for the likes of Google and Amazon. For me, it's the end of publishing as we know it.
The sixteenth-century Italian writer Aretino once famously said to his printer that he wanted no other recompense than being published on the very best paper. Perhaps he had a prophetic feeling that his books – that all books would be one day museum pieces, like the wax tables of the Romans.
And it's almost happening, I'm afraid.