08 March 2013

Invasion of the Pods


Bookride has long had a quarrel with those Books on Demand publishers, with good reason. A few years ago they were as mild irritation that got in the way of the ‘ real ‘ book on Abe. They could be annoying, but you tolerated them. Today the situation is very different. They seem to have taken over the whole of ABE like some giant pulsating fungus out of Quatermass, or those giant PODS from ‘ The Invasion of the Body Snatchers ‘. If this expansion continues they will push out all the real books, just as the replicated human clones from the pods pushed out all the real humans in the film.

Did I say ‘will’? In some cases they already have. Take the other day. For some reason I decided to check out copies of Ackermann’s Repository of the Arts—a publication venerated among design historians and for that reason famously expensive. Less than two years earlier, not long after I had bought a respectable 1809 volume from a bookstall in Ripon market for a bargain £5, I discovered half a dozen good copies at the usual inflated prices of £200 or £300 a piece. When I entered the book title again, there they were, the book clones. I scrolled down until I had gone through the whole list—not a single real copy of the real Repository could I find—all were Repressed Publications/Kessinger/Nabu clones.

Then it occurred to me. Had I and other innocent seekers after real books been responsible for all those other alien life forms that were taking over the world of real books ? Was it possible that whenever an ABE user signals an interest in a particular (often rare) title this triggers a mechanism that registers this interest and relays it to a BOD publisher, who then  reproduce it as a POD book ? How else can you explain why so many titles I have enquired after on ABE have soon after appeared as POD books?  .

Surely too, is it no coincidence that the rise of the POD has coincided with the rise of the postgraduate degree scam, which itself is partly a way by which the polytechnic-turned –universities raise funds, possibly for their crappy libraries? I suppose it could be argued that if you are only interested in acquiring the text of a book, perhaps to aid your postgraduate research, the cost of a POD would be cheaper than paying for a visit to the British Library, if you live in Plymouth or Newcastle. But in the end, if demand for personal copies of rare texts continues to increase there is a real danger that dealers will be discouraged from advertising their copies of these ‘real ‘books online, for fear of having them swamped by the clones. In addition to the Repository, I’ve looked up other titles that I used to see on ABE, and these too seem to have disappeared. Also, bizarrely, some PODS now cost more than the ‘ real ‘ books that they reproduce.

I’d like to quiz Mr Kessinger and his friends about their sales figures. How many PODS do they sell? After that I’d like to meet some of those who have bought PODs of titles that are available as real books, either online or in the hundreds of second hand bookshops that, despite the Internet and Kindle, can still be found throughout the UK. Have they looked for these titles in these bookshops? If not,  why they have rushed into buying a grubby little computer generated body snatcher of a book, barely held together, with misprints, a meaningless cover and smudgy illustrations, for only a little less, in some instances, than the real thing, which they could have had if they’d looked a little further or waited a little longer.

It all reminds me of people who will gladly spend more on a reproduction of a Georgian dining room table in perfect condition than they would on an identical table in the same saleroom that happens to have slight wear. These people are fools.

So I say to anyone tempted to buy a POD, please don’t. Use your brain. Be patient, or  pay the going rate for the real thing. Some of these rarer titles will be good investments, whereas the PODs will never, ever, ever, be worth anything but a few  pence.[R. M. Healey]

Rave on Robin! I second that emotion. Btw that is my distant cousin below...


Fnarf said...

Tip -- if you click on the "Advanced Search" link on the main ABE page, one of the attributes you can check under Refinements is "Not Print On Demand". Clears out the clutter.

A couple of bookstores near me have those "Espresso Book Machine" thingies, and I've even bought a book out of one. They're...not good. I mean, if it's something you can't find or afford otherwise, and you just want to read it, it works, but they're just imprecise enough in the layout and cutting and whatnot to seem gross compared to a real book. The cover has this nasty feel to it, halfway between matte and slick, like a color photocopy (which is what it is). And through the magic of crappy paper meeting humidity, the things curl like mad after they're printed.

Anonymous said...

May I ask, what is the "postgraduate degree scam"?

Anonymous said...

Ff you use the date filter this normally clears out the dross. Another ABE annoyance is those listers who stick their bog-standard recent paperback reprints on at £2134.55 (or a similar figure). What can they possibly achieve from this?

Anonymous said...

....or those sellers that state "may contain highlighting or underlining" - lazy stupid greedy bastards!

Post Mortem Books said...

Unfortunately the "Not POD" filter only works if the seller has actually flagged their offerings as POD. I notice that their new trick is to fail to classify them as POD thus allowing the listings to, once again, overwhelm the pukkah stuff. ABE, itself, seem unable or unwilling to put a complete stop to this exercise. One has to presume that the only beneficiary is er...ABE.

Lapinbizarre said...

Absolutely right. Seems only books still in copyright are pertty-well reliable.

R.M. Healey said...

On the subject of the postgraduate degree scam, may I invite you to ' do the math '?
In the UK there are around 200 institutions that award postgraduate degrees. If, say, we calculate that in each institution on average 300 students are awarded postgraduate degrees each year, that's 60,000 postgraduates that come onto the job market each year . Obviously,I don't know the exact number--it could be more or a lot less. But what I do know is that in the UK there aren't posts for anything like 60,000 people with Master or Doctor degrees. Trouble is, not one of those 200 odd degree-granting institutions will ever admit that fact. They are far too keen to hang onto the exorbitant fees they charge for their much vaunted degree courses. Hence the scam. Just Google unemployed postgraduates or PH D holder on minumum wage for a more graphic picture.
I was lucky. Back in 1974, when I embarked on an MA course , the fee was a mere £80. The following year it went up to, I think, £800 and the fees have been rising ever since. £80 is not much to gamble. £8,000 is a different matter.

Anonymous said...

Interesting stuff, Mr. Healey.
I was lucky in that I scammed the scam: the taxpayer paid for my useless MA degree! They'll never see it paid back, tee hee!!