I recall hearing that most type is about 50% redundant if the only consideration is legibility. If so, I’m interested in why mi-type, or something like it, never caught on. If the entire history of print was reduced by half the material costs—assuming it was just a legible— this would have been significant in labor/ cost/ carbon reduction.
Jeff Altepeter, Bookbinding Instructor at North Benett Street School, gave me a copy of John J. Pledgers’ “Bookbinding and its Auxiliary Branches” which was printed on demand by the Espresso Book Machine. For expensive, hard to find books, the Espresso is great for people like me who basically want the textual information, and have difficulty concentrating while screen reading.
The Espresso bills the books it makes as a “Library Quality” binding. I’m not quite sure what this means, or even if this is a good thing, but the book is similar in quality to a mass produced paperback, with slightly better quality paper. The cover is lined up and it is well trimmed, but there is a suspiciously dark colored glue on the spine. If the grain of the paper ran head to tail, it might even open fairly well. For $8, however, it is cheaper and easier to read than a photocopy, though the images are a bit worse in quality. In many ways, the Espresso is getting close to the ultimate goal of bookbinding machinery inventors– to print and bind a book without human intervention, relatively inexpensively and reasonably durably.
Below is the same image from three versions of this book for comparison.
Fig. 1. Screen shot from Google Books.
Fig. 2. Image from the Espresso Book Machine Printing, using the Google Scan.
Fig. 3. From a photocopy I made in the 1990’s, from the Revised edition of 1924.
Before Jacques Derrida died, he used to teach a yearly seminar for grad students at New York University, which I managed to sit in on in the late 90’s. It was completely over my head, but it was an intellectual roller-coaster that I will never forget. I could barely remember where I lived after listening to him for a while. One of his later books, Paper Machine, deals largely with paper and books.
Included in the book is an interview, where he was asked to what extent paper functions as multimedia, and how paper has influenced his work. Derrida responds:
Seeing all these questions emerging on paper, I have the impression (the impression!–what a word, already) that I have never had any other subject: basically paper, paper , paper. It could be demonstrated, with supporting documentation and quotations, “on paper”: I have always written, and even spoken, on paper: on the subject of paper, an actual paper, and with paper in mind. Support, subject, surface, mark, trace, written mark, inscription, fold–these were also themes that gripped me by a tenacious certainty, which goes back forever but has been more and more justified and confirmed, that the history of this “thing,” this thing that can be felt, seen and touched, and thus contingent, paper, will have been a brief one. Paper is evidently the limited “subject ” of a domain circumscribed in the time and space of a hegemony that marks out a period in the history of a technology and in the history of humanity. (p. 41)
Although he wrote this in 2001, it is remarkable how prescient he was, given the recent revolution in ebook readers: the Sony reader, the Kindle and the Nook.
Derrida, Jacques. Paper Machine. Trans. Rachel Bowlby. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005.