Lord Byron on Demand

Harvard University Press's backlist is both one of its greatest blessings on the world of scholars and a strong source of income—but only when solid senior-citizen books are kept in print and not allowed to slip into the forlorn territory of "out of stock indefinitely" (OSI) or "out of print" (OOP).

Print-on-demand (POD) technology has been available for years and has been used by many trade publishers to have single copies of books that are no longer available in the publisher's own first or subsequent printings made by a quick-printer virtually overnight. The publisher licenses the text to the quick-printer—and gives up both a significant share of the royalties and control over the physical quality of the product. Such an arrangement has not appealed to the custodians of the Harvard University Press backlist.

William Sisler with the press's 1985 edition of William James's The Varieties of Religious Experience (left) and the reprint
Photograph by Stu Rosner

Now, however, the press has formed a partnership that does please—with Acme Bookbinding, a Boston institution more than 175 years old and headed by Paul Parisi '75—one that will allow the press to retain the rights to books and maintain control over the quality of their production. "Acme, like HUP, is committed to preserving the past, while at the same time making use of the latest technologies to move publishing forward," says William Sisler, director of the press. Acme has been binding single copies of books for libraries for ages and is used to meeting high standards. "The printed word helps keep alive the philosophies that shaped our democracy," says Parisi. "Putting back into print, in a beautiful, high-quality volume that will last forever, a classic work of history or philosophy is like making a museum piece available to everyone."

To launch the new print-on-demand service, the press has revivified and made available 100 of its "classic" backlist titles. If you want a copy of Byron's Letters and Journals: "In My Hot Youth," 1798-1810, edited by Leslie Marchand, volume one in the 12-volume edition that began to appear in 1973, you or your bookseller will send the order to the press's warehouse. The order will then register at Acme via an electronic-data-interchange transaction, which will initiate the manufacture of the book and its delivery within days.

"The books in this program are printed as facsimiles of the last edition," says John Walsh, production manager at the press. "There will be no compromises to typefaces, or to font sizes and margins, and the books appear in their original trim size. Acme has carefully scanned every page of the original. The books are printed on papers that match the weight, shade, caliper, and opacity of those earlier editions. They are bound in cloth, with headbands and reinforced endpapers." The books will differ from the originals in that their bindings will be ink-jet printed, not stamped, and thus must be of light-colored cloth, while the originals might not have been; the books will not be jacketed, but many customers will be libraries, which have no use for book jackets; and the halftones may be somewhat darker and less sharp than the originals. The technology is capable of producing four-color work. Walsh believes that a new standard has been created, "a benchmark for digital book production."

Additional out-of-print books will join the 100 starters on a continual basis. Soon, there'll be no more OSI or OOP at HUP with POD.          

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