Sep 13, 2022

Books Physically Change Due to Inflation

Note: This article is not about any of the “normal” topics of this newsletter: genealogy, history, current affairs, DNA, and related topics. However, genealogists are major users of books and anything that affects book publishing will sooner or later affect genealogists.

Rising paper prices are forcing publishers to change. From the Economist: That way, a publisher can find paper for things it wants to print, even in times of shortage. The industry is now going through another period of scarcity, and the war is again the cause (along with the pandemic). The cost of paper used by British book publishers has risen by 70% in the past 12 months. Supplies are erratic and also expensive: paper mills shut down on days when electricity is too expensive. The card used in the hard cover was sometimes impossible to obtain. The whole trade is in trouble. It doesn’t affect every author: the new thriller by Robert Galbraith, better known as JK Rowling, clocks in at 1,024 pages and has reached the top of the UK bestseller lists this week. But the other books have to change a bit. Pick up a new release in a bookstore, and if it’s from a smaller publisher (as they suffer more from price increases), you may find yourself in the hands of a product that, like wartime books, bears the mark of its time.

Blow on its pages and they may rise and fall differently: some books use cheaper, lighter paper. Look closely at its print and you may notice that the letters are moving closer together: some cost-conscious publishers are beginning to reduce the spaces between characters. The text can also move closer to the edges of the pages: the publication margin shrinks in every sense. Changes of this nature can cause concern for publishers. A book is not just words on a page, says Ivan O’Brien, head of The O’Brien Press in Ireland, it must appeal to “all the senses”. The pleasure of a book that lies easily in the hand – not too light and not too heavy; pages cream; beetle-black fonts are what publishers want to keep. […] Because at the heart of the publishing industry lies an unspeakable truth: most people can’t write, and most books are very bad. Readers who struggle with volume often assume it’s their fault. Reviewers who have read many more books know that this is not the case.

Comment by Dick Eastman: With all these difficulties faced by book publishers, we all can expect more and more ebooks to be published in the future. I see that as a positive thing.