Tuesday, March 16, 2010

World o'Bookbuying

Not long ago via Abebooks, I bought a copy of Alexander Mackenzie's biography of George Brown published in Toronto in 1882, two years after Brown's death. It arrived in a day or two, a marvel of the publisher's art, a match for anything published today: crisp pages, handsomely designed and bound, in excellent condition, full of details not included in Maurice Careless's authoritative biography from the 1950s.

It's 128 years old, has never been republished, cannot be all that common, and is, after all, the life of an important Canadian political figure by a former prime minister. Did it cost, like $100 or something?

Ten bucks.

Today I bought Getting into Parliament and After, a funny and charming memoir by one-time Ontario premier George Ross, published in Toronto in 1913. (You can see where my interests are running these days.) Now, if I wanted I could read Ross's memoir as a free download. But again it's ten bucks for the real non-virtual book, and it will be in my mailbox in a day or two.

I confess I am stunned by the cheapness of what ought to be collectible Canadiana -- and also by the sophistication and liveliness of the Canadian writing and publishing scene a century or so before it was supposed to exist at all.

But the other oddity is this. On the Abebooks site, along with the listings of two or three booksellers offering first editions of Ross's memoir, come several others offering it as a new book!
Book Condition: New. Brand new print-on-demand paperback book produced in the US and delivered from our US warehouse in 7-10 days. Check out our low worldwide delivery costs! Please note: we only take orders through ABE - NOT DIRECT!.
This is becoming standard in the "used" book market. Some printer takes the digital scans that are now readily available for most out-of-copyright books and offers to print a fresh copy on demand and send it to me.

Oddly enough, the new print-on-demand edition, in a nasty, cheaply-bound generically-labelled paper cover, goes for about $30 -- triple the price of the first edition.

Strange new world.
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