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
21 thoughts on “Restoring 2 Classic Woodworking Books”
LAP, I have copies of the Tauton press and copies of LAP and probably 99% of all your publications. When it time for my dirt nap they will be passed along within my family, hopefully to someone that will receive inspiration from them.
What of “The Toolbox Book”. byJim Tolpin? I have a slipcased set of these 3 volumes that was published by Taunton Press
We do not have the rights to that book, I’m afraid.
You’ve done a great job with reclamation projects. Fitz too. Not to say she’s a reclamation project . . .
This is really a much broader problem. More and more things are only stored digitally, and it creates a real problem for future preservation. After the zombie apocalypse we may have to reinvent the wheel, literally.
I’ve got two copies of the Workbench book, but I’ve never seen the workshop one. Whole I love what you publish, I don’t think I’ll get another copy of the Workbench one, but I’ll certainly look for the other, when it comes out up here.
Its good to hear about a process for creating good quaility digital plates from color half-tones.
An even bigger challenge than lost files and not uncommon situation is “orphan works” for which copyright is still current (which is a very long time under current law) but the copyright owner or their heirs cannot be contacted or cannot be identified. That situation basically stops a reputable publisher from republishing such works in the US because to do so would be infringement of the copyright.
My understanding is some coutries have laws which allow publication of orphan works after requirements are met, sometimes with payment of a fee to a trust fund. In the US the LIbrary of Congress has studied this issue on several occasions and put forward proposals to deal with it. However other than for music (which in the US has separate copyright law) all attempts to create law which would allow publicaton of orphan works have been defeated.
You mean to say that Joseph Moxon didn’t hang on to his PageMaker files?!? Tsk tsk tsk … how very 17th Century of him!
Joking aside, I finished reading the Workshop Book last night, and am halfway through the Workbench Book (I’ve been alternating between ’em), and can only extend my most sincere thank to Scott Landis, to you, and to everyone who has been involved in getting these books to us, the readers! They are a true joy to read, chock-full of interesting and useful information, and good-looking to boot.
And as an archivist by profession, I can but laud and applaud your endeavours to make sure that not only your books, but what it takes to actually bring them forth, is given the best chance possible of being preserved!
I take my hat off to you all.
That’s fantastic Chris. When I received the Workbench Book a few weeks ago and removed the dust jacket, I was very impressed by the beautiful diestamp, and the overall quality of the book. It is a blessing (for me anyway), to have LAP re-published these older titles. I will definitively purchase the Workshop Book, and if I’m lucky, I will be able to read it before I finish my new shop project. Thank you for all of the great work you are doing.
DC comics used a process they called Theaksonizing after Mr Theakson in the 90s or 00s to scan comics for printing. I think it ruined the originals though.
Someone mentioned the problems with disappearing digital formats and materials. If you have a copy in some digital form, someone can probably extract and convert the information if they’re not encrypted.
Unlike physical objects, digital media is easy to copy. Make sure the digital version is copied widely and it can survive. That’s why we have copies of the greek and other ancient works. I imagine the Anarchist’s Workbench PDF will have a hard time disappearing. The DRM works will be harder to preserve. The privately held copies (like publisher digital materials) that are not copied freely will have a harder time staying around.
Okay, now I feel old. When books in my library that I bought as new are now out of print long enough to need rescuing. That makes me feel old.
I can relate. The originals are nice, but those new covers look delicious.
Those cloth covers are stunning.
I’ve had the originals since they were published but I’ve also got virtually all of LAP’s books as well so I guess I’ll have two copies of each of them now 😊👍
LAP, thank you for your ongoing efforts to bring invaluable knowledge to readers’ hands and minds. You continue to deliver high quality items to eager fans like myself.
I’m curious about your out of print books. Being as most, or even all, of your books are available in both physical and digital formats why not continue to offer the PDF version when the print version is sold out? I suspect this may be to allow demand to build back up and eventually trigger another printing. Is that why you don’t sell the PDFs for the out of prints, or are there other reasons/factors?
One more question, any ideas for or interest in a table focused book(s) to go with some of these chairs you keep sharing with us?
The decision to offer a pdf is the author’s alone. We don’t have any out of print titles. But some are not available via pdf — but this is the author’s discretion.
And on historic books (such as “Mechanic’s Companion), the files are all image scans…so a good-quality PDF would be a massive file size and take far too long to download.
Now if you could republish your own Handsaw Book. It’s apparently out of print and used copies are selling for hundreds of dollars. As much as I want one, I’m not going to pay that.
I do not own the rights to that title
Maybe you can Google this book “The Essential Handsaw Book: Projects & Techniques for Mastering a Timeless Hand Tool “.
I had both Taunton versions before a house fire in ‘99. I replaced The Workbench Book back then but not the Workshop Book. Glad to see it back. Isn’t TP still publishing?
Taunton decided to let these two titles go out of print several years ago. The rights reverted back to Scott Landis. And we are now the publisher of these books.
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