Saturday, 20 September 2008

Adam of Usk and the Espresso book machine ...

Yesterday I twitted a link about an Espresso print on demand machine being installed at the University of Michigan. By chance, yesterday's Australian also had an article about how A&R, Australia's largest bookseller was deploying them at a number of their stores . So far so interesting.

As I've said elsewhere many times print on demand is the ideal solution for rare and obscure books and out of print titles. Basically all you need is a computer, a digitised version of the book, a printer with an auto binder. And the technology to do this is cheap, when a basic laser printer costs a couple of hundred dollars, and a rather more meaty one under a thousand.

And there's a lot of material out there, Project Gutenberg has been happily digitising old out of copyright texts, and now that many of texts have markup they can be processed easily and reformatted for republication.

And we see that publishers have begun to use this to exploit their backlists as in FaberFind. And certainly when I helped put together a similar project for a scholarly publisher, that seemed to be the way to go. No warehousing, no startup costs for printing, just churn them out when required, and only digitise and work on the original text when requested. That way while the first copy was expensive in terms of time and effort, any subsequent copy was free other than the cost of paper and toner.

Not e-texts?

Well once you've a digitised marked up text it's relatively easy to convert it into any of the format commonly used by bookreaders. Texts are hard to read and annotate on the screen, and I would assume so on a Kindle or Sony Book reader - I'm hypothesising here, I've never seen either of these devices - they're not available in Australia but clearly they are supposed to be the ipods of the book world. Anyway, while they may work for fiction or any other book read from beginning to end, I suspect that it's not quite got the utility of a book. And you probably can't read in the bath :-). An e-text reader that allows you to export the text to an sd-card and then take it to print and bind machine for backup or reference purposes might hit the sweet spot for scholarly work. That way you could have a paper reference copy and a portable version to carry around.

And Adam of Usk ?

Adam of Usk was a later fourteenth century/early fifttenth cleric, lawyer, historian and chroncler. If he'd been alive today he'd have been a blogger. He wrote a long rambling gossipy chronicle - part diary part history that covers a whole range of key events from the visit of the Emperor Manuel II of Byzantium to Henry IV of England to drum up support for Byzantium's war against the Turks, Adam's time serving on the legal commision to come up with justifications for the forced deposition of Richard II to the events of the Welsh Wars of Owain Glyndwr and the Peasnt's Revolt.

A book that you'd thing there'd be a Penguin classic edition of. Nope you're wrong. There's an 1876 translation (Adam wrote in Latin) and newer 1997 translation published at the cost of a couple of hundred bucks a copy - purely because this sort of book is probably only really of interest to scholars and the costs of short run conventional publishing are horrendous and self defeating.

Why there's no readily available edition is just one of these mysteries. Gossipy and rambling but then the Alexiad is not exactly a model of conciseness and tight structure. Bust basically there's no readilty available edition to dip in and dip out of. In short it's the ideal example of a text tailor made for print on demand publishing. Thhe thirty bucks than a print on demand copy would cost is a damn sight cheaper than the cost of even a tatty sceond hand version of the 1876 edition (cheapest I found was GBP45 - say a hundred bucks)


dgm said...

interesting article on e-books in yesterday's Australian, and a review of the irex e-book reader from the new york times

dgm said...

there is an online version of the nineteenth century version of the chronicle at