Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Troppo Espresso

By no means representative, pictured here are some of the titles I've had reprinted just for me on the Espresso Book Machine.  These photographs are not new.  I found them floating around in the drafts for this blog.  I don't remember the reason for bringing these books back into the bookstore from whence they all came, but evidently I did.  I might as easily put up a picture of my shelves at home, but, here they are.  (The number of EBM books I now own, I could not rightly say.  Something less than one hundred, though not, I should think, by much.  I've been doing this for awhile now.)

The regular reader here, should there still be any, will know that this is not the first time I have hymned the mechanical wonder that is the Espresso Book Machine.  Do it all the time, here and elsewhere.  I talk about it at work, with potential users: people looking to self publish, as I have, with readers looking to reprint obscure titles, ditto.  I tend to enthuse about the convenience of the thing, how inexpensive it can be compared to other options, the value of having, in an hour or two, an actual book to read at one's leisure.  I don't know that I've had much occasion with potetial customers to actually describe my own growing library of EBM paperbacks, or how much I've come to value them as an integral part of my reading life, but then, who do I seriously expect to interest in the poems of Samuel Rogers, etc.?

That was one of the things I had thought we might do with the machine, actually.  I'd thought of reprinting lots of out of print titles, classics, some of them, others simply interesting if neglected or forgotten titles, perhaps with new introductions by meself.  The thought was to call them, "The Usedbuyer's Library." Each would have new covers, designed by the bookstore's resident designer/operator, and with perhaps with a caricature of the author, drawn by me.

We did do something like a couple of times, specifically linked to readings we'd done at the bookstore; a little book of Thackeray quotes for his Bicentennial, some out of print titles mentioned in Helene Hanff's 84 Charing Cross Road, when we did the very popular reading for that book's 50th anniversary of publication.  The titles reprinted from Hanff's library did okay, a couple of them, including Hazlitt's Essays and John Henry Newman's Idea of the University, curiously enough, sold more than once in the bookstore where I work.

The grander scheme, to date, has come to nothing very much, largely because of my own inaction rather than a lack of enthusiasm from the good people running the bookstore's EBM.  May happen yet.

Really though, what I was hoping to do was to use the EBM to fill what to me seemed obvious gaps in the store's inventory, books not available in Dover Thrift Editions, or NYRB, or otherwise in print and available as affordable paperbacks.  It was a noble thought.  We did, right at the beginning, make a small start, but the older, teal design on the Google Books was, frankly, a bit hideous (The new red and white is better, if rather bland.)  The first problems though arose from the condition of some of the interior reproduction, as for example in the available edition of The Essays of Elia, by Charles Lamb.  In addition to having copied a book full of annoying annotations from some long forgotten library patron, there was an accidental photograph of the copyist's thumb, as I recall, on the title page.  Not an auspicious beginning then.  My other eager suggestion was to make a copy of Madame de Sevigne's Letters, as there was none available new in an affordable edition.  Turned out,  at least when it comes to printing titles, Google Books does not speak French.  "Madame de Sevigne" came out looking like this:

"Mad@mee de S*$v**@&"

Not a happy experiment in publishing.

The problem really though was me.  What I think necessary to a representative collection of literature, hardly conforms to the new "lean and mean" retail environment.  As even a cursory glance at the titles pictured, let alone my shelves at home would prove, my taste runs to the minor, the missing and the mostly unpopular, often even in the day.  At best, I would have to admit, I've only ever managed to really sell Charles Lamb to maybe half a dozen, often rather reluctant if polite friends.  Imagine how well we'd do with a few titles from the oeuvre of James Anthony Froude? I'm not wholly devoid of sense.  It's not like I'm new to the business of selling books.  I am however still disappointed that no one could be bothered to buy the De Quincey I had reprinted for the Hanff event.  Nobody.  Even when the book ended up on the clearance table at 90% off, nobody bought it.  That's right, Thomas De Quincey, he of Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, nobody could be bothered to read his essays even at the asking price of $1.29.

Safe to say, I was discouraged.

Meanwhile, I've clearly done my best to keep the EBM's glue-pot hot and the trimmers clipping along, just printing up stuff for me.  The self-publishing continues apace.  We still do a brisk business in special-occasion titles for classes, family reunions and the like.  Lord knows, I'm still grateful to have such immediate access myself to so many inexpensive books.

I am however thinking there may not be much point in leaving my Espresso Book Machine reprints to anyone in the will.  Sorry, my once and future heirs, you'll have even more to haul away, hopefully, when I die.

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