While recently searching abebooks for works by a particular eighteenth-century publisher whose titles I collect, I discovered a number of ECCO editions of his works available in “BRAND NEW COPIES”. Several titles offered the following additional information:
Brand New Book with Free Worldwide Delivery ***** Print on Demand *****
The 18th century was a wealth of knowledge, exploration and rapidly growing technology and expanding record-keeping made possible by advances in the printing press. In its determination to preserve the century of revolution, Gale initiated a revolution of its own: digitization of epic proportions to preserve these invaluable works in the largest archive of its kind. Now for the first time these high-quality digital copies of original 18th century manuscripts are available in print, making them highly accessible to libraries, undergraduate students, and independent scholars.
Western literary study flows out of eighteenth-century works by Alexander Pope, Daniel Defoe, Henry Fielding, Frances Burney, Denis Diderot, Johann Gottfried Herder, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and others. Experience the birth of the modern novel, or compare the development of language using dictionaries and grammar discourses.
Curious about whether Gale was aware that a company was reproducing and selling their copies, I wrote Scott Dawson. He replied,
We are working with a print-on-demand vendor by the name of BiblioLife in Charleston, SC, to do this work. We have most of the ECCO works loaded into the system if our contract with the source library provides us POD rights. We are looking to add titles from some of our other collections over time. We looked at a number of ‘vendors’ for this work and decided on BiblioLife that specializes in these “long-tail books’ and have been quite happy with them. Note that the cover will not be the same as the actual as we have not captured the actual covers, so it is a graphic that corresponds to the general subject area from which the book came (history, philosophy, religion, etc.) along with a portion of the title.
Especially for those who lack access to ECCO, this development seems in some ways a welcomed one. The cost of the late eighteenth-century works that my search had yielded seem to average just below $25.00. Yet, more browsing reveal a range from $9.66 to $72.00. The high range prices seemed to be mostly for Bibles, and the same title can range a few dollars more or less depending on the bookseller. There of course is also often shipping charges. Scott’s comments about the cover are also clearly noted in the listing for most of these books. Yet, in the case of the titles I was searching for, it was not clear at all in most listings what volume of the series one would be purchasing or what individual titles were contained in the work being sold. Consider this note:
The below data was compiled from various identification fields in the bibliographic record of this title. This data is provided as an additional tool in helping to insure edition identification:
Bodleian Library (Oxford)
Volume title page, for issues to be bound together when a volume of serialized fiction is completed, follows the wrapper title in the last weekly issue of the novels for that volume. Volume title pages are engraved, with volume numbers, a list of works included in that volume, with a vignette above the imprint. An internal title page for the individual work is bound in the first weekly issue of the novel being serialized, and title page imprint includes year of publication for that novel. Imprints lack date; years of publication from reference sources. Imprints vary slightly. Weekly issue price: six-pence. At head of wrapper title: To be continued weekly. With frontis. plates in each issue for that novel. Some wrappers carry instructions to the binder for placement of plates. Includes serialized novels, histories, romances, or memoirs, including translations of foreign publications. Works are normally completed in three or four issues; volumes apparently appear three or four times a year. Description based on: [Vol. XII.] Number CLXXXIV. ; title from wrapper.
London [England] : printed for Harrison and Co. No. 18, Paternoster- Row, and sold by all other booksellers, stationers and newscarriers, in town and country, . v., plates ; 23 cm (8°)
This note, evidently reproduced from the ESTC description of the series, clearly does not identify a particular volume and could suggest to some the very unlikely possibility that by paying $25.00 one would receive the complete series (that is, 23 volumes, containing over 60 individual novels). These descriptions, I should note, seem to be provided by the bookseller selling the title, and not by Gale.
Also troublesome is the description that accompanies other listings:
This is an EXACT reproduction of a book published before 1923. This IS NOT an OCR’d book with strange characters, introduced typographical errors, and jumbled words. This book may have occasional imperfections such as missing or blurred pages, poor pictures, errant marks, etc. More…that were either part of the original artifact, or were introduced by the scanning process. We believe this work is culturally important, and despite the imperfections, have elected to bring it back into print as part of our continuing commitment to the preservation of printed works worldwide. We appreciate your understanding of the imperfections in the preservation process, and hope you enjoy this valuable book.
Here we have no mention that the copies are twice-removed from the original book, having been digitized from microfilm.
I also investigated BiblioLife. Its home page presents a commendable view of the company as one dedicated to preservation and working with libraries, archivists, and those engaged in digitization projects. There’s also an indication that part of the purchase price would be put toward helping fund digitization efforts: “We have a vision that paying customers can fund the digitization of the world’s books and we think libraries are anchors of any healthy and vibrant community. And in this digital age, they serve an important role as a physical meeting place of culture. We think this program can further that vision.”
Yet, I did not see BiblioLife listed as the publishing partner with Gale in any of the abebook listings I viewed. However, I did see Nabu Press identified as the publisher in a few listings, and a search for this company uncovered an interesting blog post from an information technology professional, Yakov Shafranovich that indicates that Nabu Press is BiblioLife:
I took some time to check various state corporation databases and actually managed to find who Nabu Press is. They are … BiblioBazaar / BiblioLife, a company started by former BookSurge partners after they sold their POD company to Amazon. It is no surprise that they print their POD books through Amazon.
How do I know this – take a look at the SC filing for Nabu Press LLC…Nabu Press = BiblioBazaar
Shafranovich’s sleuthing is further confirmed by an April 2010 Publisher’s Weekly article“BiblioBazaar: How a Company Produces 272,930 Books A Year”. The article reinforces aspects of BiblioLife’s website description of its efforts and philosophy:
While e-books, iPads and Kindles have dominated the headlines, BiblioLife is one of a handful of smart, new, technology-enabled companies driving an exciting trend in the publishing world. Working closely with libraries, archives and aggregators, the company puts out-of-copyright books back into good old-fashioned print, one copy at a time, using print-on-demand technology.
And it also helps explain why we have not heard of the firm before:
So how has Bibliolife, despite its major production, flown under the radar until this year’s Bowker stats came out? For one, Davis says, the company simply isn’t seeking publicity as much as good solid relationships and content partnerships. “We aren’t a press release-centric company, and we are really focused on unique materials that are not part of mass digitization projects,” he said. “Who has that content and how we are getting it is something that is a competitive advantage.”
As Scott’s comments about POD rights and BiblioLife president Mitchell Davis’s remarks about content indicate, there’s much food for thought here about access and control of these reproductions of reproductions…of reproductions. Moreover, the listings offered again point to the importance of understanding what is really being offered and sold.