Out of Print and Print on Demand

As some members of the Reading Room know, I enjoy writing pieces about older books. This is sometimes a problem. Magazines naturally don’t like the idea that an essay will get people all revved up about a novel or work of nonfiction only to have them discover that it is out of print. Recently, for instance, I wanted to write about a number of late Victorian best sellers, including F. Anstey’s “Vice-Versa”—the novel about the father and son who exchange minds—and Richard Marsh’s celebrated thriller “The Beetle.” Neither was in print, though both were available as print-on-demand books.

My own experience of POD publications has been varied. Some are quite professional, but others are little more than photocopied pages poorly bound with a generic cover. Reading such shoddy productions really drives home how much the physical feel and appearance of a volume influences our experience of a book.

That said, it is a bounty that so much is available at all.

Still, I remain mystified about why certain books aren’t in print. The Bloomsbury group used to roar with laughter over the inanities of Amanda Ros’s inadvertently hilarious Victorian novelette, “Irene Iddlesleigh.” I have a copy of the book—as part of an out of print omnibus, edited by Martin Seymour-Smith. Otherwise it’s unavailable. But certainly such a book should be in print? Or how about David Niven’s deeply amusing and sexy autobiography, “The Moon’s a Balloon”? It was a great best seller 40 or 50 years ago and at one time a Folio Books publication, but now it is out of print.

It’s little wonder why I love used bookstores so much.

Have other members of the Reading Room been surprised to find that some of their favorite books are currently out of print? Would you share some of the titles? How do you feel about print-on-demand books? Please share your thoughts and experiences.

Michael Dirda

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