Saturday, 9 July 2011

The Times They Are A-Changin’

How long will it be possible to print books traditionally?

In the last few weeks we’ve been learning how to create “e-books”, and now have a few titles available for download. There should be more available over the coming months, allowing for the constraints of rights and permissions. Please be assured, however, that there is no intention for Tartarus to move away from the publication of old-fashioned, traditionally-made “tree-books”, but it would be perverse of us not to explore the new technology and make great literature available to those who would rather read on their Kindle, ipad etc.

E-books are frustrating, and not just because the process of conversion is fiddly and time-consuming (we have updated our first attempts at e-book design as we have refined our skills.) When we design our physically-published books we take a great deal of time and effort to make sure that the font is just right and the proportions of the text, word-spacing, leading, margins etc are harmonious and pleasing to the eye. With e-books, however, all of this has to be stripped-out to make sure that the text will flow easily in a device where we have no control over the way it looks. Presenting classic supernatural fiction in the “arial” font, with bright blue hyperlinks for chapters, goes against the grain, but we tell ourselves that ultimately the text is the most important thing. We are not complete Luddites. However…

The one aspect of the new technology that does disturb us is that the nature of traditional book production and printing is changing as a result of the popular move to e-books. For the last few years our books have been printed and bound by Biddles in King’s Lynn and we have had a very good working relationship with them. Yesterday, however, they told us that they will be replacing their Litho presses with new ink-jet presses. They offered to send us samples, confident that the quality of this new, untested technology would be just as good as traditional lithographic printing. They hoped that we would be happy to accept this compromise, but then added that none of the paper we specify can be used. We would have to accept either staring-white, smooth paper, or very poor-quality high-acid cream paper.

And so, with regret, we start the search for new printers. We called Antony Rowe, their main competitors, who we have used in the past, and were told that they still have their Litho presses--at the moment. They admitted, however, that the days of long-runs are over and even Penguin print their books in very low-numbers because demand has dropped and they don’t want to pay warehousing costs. Mainstream, high-volume publishers are turning more and more to digital printing.If we decide to work with Antony Rowe, it may not be for long…

So, while we are not going to rail against the rise of e-books, what they are doing to the traditional print industry is potentially very sad. As Bob Dylan sang, “The times they are a-changin’”.

Tartarus press e-books currently available direct from the publisher, or via Amazon:
Tales of Horror and the Supernatural by Arthur Machen     direct from Tartarus

The Sound of His Horn by Sarban     direct from Tartarus

Ringstones and other Curious Tales by Sarban     direct from Tartarus

The Doll Maker and other Tales of the Uncanny by Sarban     direct from Tartarus

Le Grand Meaulnes by Alain-Fournier     direct from Tartarus

The Old Knowledge by Rosalie Parker


  1. Oddi in Iceland might be worth a look:

    I don't know if they do exactly the kind of thing you're after, or what their prices will be like, but they seem as dedicated as you are to the craft of bookmaking.

  2. Thanks Stephen - I'll check them out!

  3. If these companies are getting rid of their Litho machines, perhaps you can purchase them on the cheap (or often free, if you pay to have them hauled away). I know it'd be a pain, but you might be able to offset that by earning some money doing books from other speciality presses in the same boat as you, or you could form a printing collective and split costs.

  4. This is really, really great. It shows your commitment to actually getting the books out there and it's especially helpful to the many people who would like more of your books, but who simply can't afford them. Frankly, the fact that you are choosing to do this, and taking this step, says more about your own real commitments than anything else could.

  5. #JL: It's a great idea, and one that I tried a few years ago, but sadly it's impractical. There are good reasons why printers used to undertake an apprenticeship of several years. Even if I had the space to house such a great brute of a machine these days, I know that they are well-nigh impossible to use without many years of dedicated training.

  6. #Keith: Many thanks for the supportive comments!

  7. I'm really glad to see Tartarus making the eBook transition even if the physical books will always be paramount (as they should be!).

    One thing: the Amazon links to the Machen collection don't list any price and so cannot be purchased!

  8. Hi Ben - We're in correspondence with Amazon because they are having problems understanding basic copyright law. They've now agreed that we have permission to sell Machen worldwide (through permission of the author's Estate), although they still haven't made it available.
    What is even more annoying is that Amazon has decided that our own edition of "Le Grand Meaulnes" is not to be made available because we don't have the copyright on our own translation...! At the moment they are refusing to enter into any further correspondence on the matter.

  9. What?! That all sounds ridiculous! I'm sorry you're having to deal with it. I'll just purchase a copy of Machen directly from you shortly. Good luck!

  10. Amazon have kindly conceeded and made "Tales of Horor and the Supernatural" by Machen available. I'm still fighting for "Le Grand Meaulnes"...

  11. Amazon have finally agreed that we own the copyright of our own translation, and our ebook of Le Grand Meaulnes is now available at:

  12. Have you tried Henry Ling Ltd, of Dorchester, used to be Dorchester Press? They still do offset litho, and they print books and journals for the Private Libraries Association (runs of c 1000-1500), and do a good job too, with good quality paper and layout, like Tartarus. Their bindery also seems to produce good results.

    Sorry for delay in replying to the post, only just found the blog: very enjoyable.

  13. Many thanks for the suggestion, Paul. Our next book will be printed by Antony Rowe in Chippenham, but I will certainly talk to Henry Ling.

  14. Just to let you know Nigel Mitchell and Rod Willett are now running Biddles at