A recent post on the Lost Art Press blog, discussed an individual who was lamenting the fact that LAP did not provide “a more affordable paperback version” of their books. First of all, publishing books to the quality of LAP’s woodworking books is not exactly a lightweight venture. There are many facets to publishing a book, and there are very few publishers that publish books to the quality of LAP. Some people seem to forget it costs money to publish a book, and printing and distributing a book may be the least of the cost. People think they are buying the paper text, but in reality there are many expenses – from buying publishing rights, to editing, illustration, and marketing costs. And knowledge, you are also paying for somebody’s time and effort to write the book, which isn’t exactly a trivial process.
Consider the book, The Anarchist’s Design Book. This 456 page hardcover sells for US$47.00. That’s less than 10¢ per page, which is shockingly good value. Now I can fully understand why LAP don’t publish paperback books – from a cost perspective, it doesn’t make sense to undertake two printing processes. There are also definite benefits to hardcover binding – they are more durable, the paper is usually of better quality (it is usually acid-free), and they are better from a usability viewpoint. Paperbacks most often don’t lie flat on a flat surface – hardcovers do. So what do you do with a paperback – bend the spine? (shock-horror!). The thick cover of a hardcover also helps protect the book. All-round, hardcovers are better for long-term use. It’s the same reasons most cookbooks are hardcover – a nice protective cover, and the ability to lay flat on the kitchen counter-top. Less easily damaged.
Wow! Hardcovers lay flat!
There is also the fact that Lost Art Press is a business, and they have to generate income for themselves, and their authors. It seems that their mantra is quality, and they are one of a few publishers who care deeply about the books they produce. Are the books they publish collector’s books? The answer could be either yes or no, depending how you sit on the fence. They are collectors in the same way that a Sauer & Steiner infill plane could be bought and put on a shelf. But why? Tools are made to be used, and books are made to be read. The discontented individual goes on to say “Books, in order to be truly useful to a learner, should be marked, highlighted, bent, etc. A book is meant to be used up.” What, used up like a roll of toilet paper? I almost find it sacrilege to deface a book in this manner. Bending pages? Why not use a post-it note to mark a page? These aren’t textbooks where one has to use a highlighter. I cringe every time I see someone bend a paperback book so much its spine snaps, or fold over the corner of a page. Use a bookmark, it’s not rocket science. Want to mark up a book? Plenty of room in the margins – use a B pencil.
One of the last comments made was, “Educators make knowledge more readily affordable.” Has the individual ever seen the price of books in education? A few years back I wrote a textbook on introductory programming. The textbook sold on campus for C$110 (for a paperback, and my royalty was 10% of the $60 wholesale price, or $6. per book). Textbooks are a bad example of making knowledge more affordable, because they are overpriced, and exist in a captive market, i.e. students often *have* to buy them, and hence both publishers and university bookshops make $$$, and authors make very little.
Lost Art Press cares about how and where their books are made. There are however people who will always complain that good quality things cost too much, and ask “Couldn’t you make it a bit cheaper?”. Why should they? Why should any company compromise its principles. Wouldn’t you prefer to pay for a quality locally made product, that employs people is small communities?
If more people took this approach it would likely make the world a better place to live in.