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I’ve downloaded a lot of digitised out of copyright books in PDF form. The Internet Archive is a particularly good source for these. But some older books are not available there, but they are available in print on demand reprint. This includes a large number of British Library books, which were digitised in conjunction with Microsoft, and later made available as print on demand through Amazon’s CreateSpace service.

I’ve just been looking for an old history of Selkirkshire, a two-volume book by Thomas Craig-Brown which was originally published in 1886. I’d like to look at this again – I last peeked at it briefly in the 1980s – because I believe it has some interesting things to say about one of my most characterful ancestors. But neither university library nearby has a copy, and it hasn’t been digitised as part of the Internet Archive. But it is available as print on demand through the British Library / Amazon collaboration, which would allow me to read the text. I found a secondhand copy of the 1886 original, but at 500 pounds I won’t be buying it!

The problem is I can’t tell by looking at the Amazon listings for the print on demand books what I’d be buying. There are two listings for this title, both described as “The History of Selkirkshire; Or, Chronicles of Ettrick Forest”, “published” one month apart. I suspect they are volume 1 and volume 2 of the book (possibly the other way round), but the page counts don’t exactly match the printed original volumes clearly, and there is no indication of volume numbers on the Amazon listings. So I’m really not sure.

I’ve asked Amazon to check for me. They can surely look at the source files. Or pick up the print on demand copies lurking in warehouses and have a peek.

What I don’t want to do is guess and buy blind. At least this book was only published once, so I’m not worrying about which edition I’m getting. But the bibliographic details on the Amazon site for these print on demand books are extremely poor and uninformative. I’m not very impressed, wearing my book historian’s hat, plus wanting to make a canny purchase.

But hopefully Amazon Customer Services will be able to sort out the query for me.

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I have a new blog post on the SHARP (Society for the History of Authorship Reading & Publishing) website arguing for greater engagement by book historians, and SHARP members in particular, with the digital publishing revolution. See here.

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