A few weeks back I was looking at several recently published non-fiction titles, and while holding each in turn I kept having the odd feeling that something was wrong. I couldn’t put my finger on it until I flipped through one of the books and found a multi-page section which had black text against a light-gray background. The contrast between the light-gray page and what should have been jet-black type was so slight as to make the text almost unreadable, even under bright light.
Without thinking I fingered the paper on that page and suddenly the connection was made. What I was holding felt wrong because the paper was feather-light, like bound newsprint. Checking each of the books in turn I realized that without the covers and dust jackets — which felt as if they were half the weight of each book — I’m not sure any of the titles would have weighed more than a comic.
While I understand that price pressures in the publishing industry are crushing, each of these books was selling for upwards of $25 at retail, yet felt insubstantial at best. In comparison, a copy of my self-published short story collection, while shorter by page count, not only felt more substantial, each page felt weightier and had more contrast.
I recognize that much of what is lauded as professional publishing amounts to little more than industry droppings from a hits-driven marketing machine. I also realize that nobody expects most books to last twenty years, let alone a hundred. I cannot help thinking, however, that devaluing the physical properties of your own product might diminish interest in that product over time.
Then again, given the margins and production efficiencies inherent in electronic books, maybe that the industry’s goal.
— Mark Barrett
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