Republishing out-of-print books is one of the most technically challenging things we do at Lost Art Press. In a perfect world, it should be easy: Take the old files, send them to the new printer and start the presses.
In my entire career in publishing, however, that hasn’t happened once.
With every older book that we have republished, the original publisher has lost or destroyed the original files. While I’m sure this happens sometimes out of malice or laziness, most of the time it occurs because of a change in technology or ownership.
Quick example: When F+W Media acquired American Woodworker magazine, it inherited a tractor-trailer load of original files – photos, manuscripts, drawings, contracts etc. I saw these files when I stopped by the office about four years ago. What did F+W do with them? They are now in the landfill.
So when we set out to bring back Scott Landis’s two classic woodworking texts, “The Workbench Book” and “The Workshop Book,” I knew we would be in for a technical slog. There was, however, some good news. Landis had many original photos, which allowed us to create new dust jackets with crisp, high-resolution photos.
Also, the last publisher had a press-resolution pdf of “The Workbench Book.” That book was published in the early days of desktop publishing. So the book existed on film – one layer of film for each color. That film was digitized and reassembled into a pdf. Getting it on a modern press with modern aluminum color plates, however, was no small feat.
For “The Workshop Book,” on the other hand, there was nothing. No digital or physical files whatsoever. The only good news here was that Landis had a pristine first edition of the book that we could attempt to use to make a new edition.
I won’t dive too much into the technical details, but you can’t simply scan a printed color book with photos and republish it. Well, you can, but it will look like garbage.
Luckily, I’ve been working with a company that has developed a proprietary scanning process that can take apart printed color photos (called halftones) and separate them into digital color plates – one for each color, cyan, magenta, yellow and black. These digital plates can be processed and reassembled into something that looks damn good on press.
We hadn’t tried this process, however. So it was a gamble with tens of thousands of dollars.
Thankfully, the printed result looks great. Better than I could have ever hoped, really.
Everyone on this project, from Landis down to the press operators, did everything they did to get these books right. Landis and his son even created some nice new diestamps for the cloth below the dust jackets. When these dust jackets wear out, the books will still look like a cohesive set.
And if these books ever go out of print again, it’s my hope that we have made it easier for some future publisher. All our contracts guarantee the author will receive all the publishing files we’ve created, which are stored digitally at multiple locations.
We hope you’ll consider adding “The Workbench Book” and “The Workshop Book” to your woodworking library. We definitely think they were worth the effort and expense to republish and offer information that is useful to this generation and future ones.
— Christopher Schwarz