The Bleeding Edge of Digital Publishing

James Morrison, better known as the creator of the Caustic Cover Critic blog, shares some of his eye-watering finds in the WTF world of digital publishing.

When turning to the classics of literature, you are often spoilt for choice when it comes to which edition to buy. Perhaps you’ve never read Pride and Prejudice? In that case, you could buy one of the nine different editions Penguin Random House has in print at the moment. For all that is ludicrous overkill, at least you can be assured that the book will be properly edited, typeset and even annotated, at a reasonable price. The other obvious alternative is to spend nothing at all and download a free copy from Project Gutenberg: again, it will have been proofread and carefully formatted.

But why do that when you could spend extra money on a demented edition with the text dumped into a document by a machine and the cover designed by a either a sexed-up lunatic or someone who has never heard of paying for reproduction rights?

If even those editions demonstrate too much care and attention, perhaps you could splash out on one that can’t even get the author’s name right?

Jane Austen is merely one of the most famous authors who have fallen out of copyright and into a midden of POD and Kindle opportunists. Consider the rarefied sensibilities of Henry James, who surely never did anything in life to deserve this sort of treatment.

And perhaps a dreamed glimpse of the future treatment of his novels was what turned Thomas Hardy away from prose. Was it some nocturnal vision of Slash from Guns ‘N’ Roses that finally pushed him over the edge?

The great translator Constance Garnett introduced English-speakers to more than 70 books by the great Russian writers, and when much of her work fell into the public domain it was a great boon for publishers who were unable or disinclined to pay translators to work on 800-page books. Then came the digital publishing revolution, offering possibilities Garnett never even imagined.

Still, if its treatment of great works of literature leaves something to be desired, at least new publishing technologies can be used to rescue long-lost works of non-fiction which scholars can refer to, confident in the care that has been taken in resurrecting them.

There is, sadly, much, much more of this sort of thing to be found at the Caustic Cover Critic blog.