Print-on-demand quality makes books hard to read

I recently ordered from Amazon the 3rd edition of Jeffrey Friedl's "Mastering Regular Expressions" to replace my well-worn 2nd edition. When it arrived, I found the print quality to be so poor (the thin strokes of all the letters seemed to be vanishing) that I sent it back to Amazon for a replacement. The replacement arrived today and is just as bad as the original.

Now after a little Googling I have learned that O'Reilly has moved to print-on-demand for (all?) its books, and that is apparently what I received, so it appears that Amazon can't help me.

Unfortunately, the quality of print-on-demand printing (at least in this case) isn't up to this book's typographic requirements. Friedl's book makes extensive use of thin lines (to annotate regular expressions) and gray shaded type and other figures, and all those items are faded to near-illegibility in this printing. Moreover, the typeface itself (ITC Garamond) has fairly high contrast between thick and thin strokes, and those thin strokes (e.g., the top and bottom of lowercase "o", the top of lowercase "e") are so faint that all the text looks slightly out of focus.

My copy of the 2nd edition has none of these problems--the typography was well chosen for the intended printing technology (traditional offset printing)--and the book is perfectly readable.

As I examine more closely two other recent O'Reilly purchases--"Regular Expressions Cookbook" and "EPUB 3 Best Practices"--I see the same disappointing print quality in each. It's more noticeable in the Cookbook, which uses the same ITC Garamond typeface, not as bad in the EPUB book, which uses Adobe Minion, whose thin strokes are not as thin as Garamond's.

O'Reilly books have never been cheap, and Friedl is no exception ($44.99), but the many books I bought in the past (I have several dozen in my office) were always of good quality.

Please reconsider the print quality of your books.
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  • Good Afternoon Michael,

    Thank you so much for taking the time to report the print quality issue. We take our print quality very seriously and work hard to make sure we provide a consistent quality you can count on in our printings.

    We appreciate you working with us to collect some information from the books you have with the bad printing. The best "very specific" information we can receive about the title is found in two places. This information helps us to narrow down the printing origin, print run, etc. which gives us the ability to get to the root cause of the issue.

    1. The back page if there is a bar code. The information on the left bottom of the page is very helpful. If they can take a picture of that page, even better.
    2. The copyright page. A copy of that page would be outstanding.
    3. Page numbers, examples of printing issues, graphics, errors, etc.

    We appreciate you taking the time to work with us. Please feel free to email me directly at lshaeffer@oreilly.com. Thank you again and we look forward to hearing back from you soon.
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  • I’m incredulous
    Liz,

    I would like to add my voice to Michael's complaint. I received a copy of Jeffrey E.F. Friedl's Mastering Regular Expressions (3rd Edition) a few days ago. I found the quality to be completely unacceptable by any publisher's standards, let alone a publisher like O’Reilly who in your words:


    “take our print quality very seriously”.


    What is even more disappointing, which Michael also raises, is that the author Mr. Friedl has gone to great lengths to establish a set of typographical conventions, outlined in the preface, which are critical to the comprehension of the text. This is what he says:


    When doing (or talking about) detailed and complex text processing, being precise is important. The mere addition and subtraction of a space can make a world of difference, so I’ve used the following special conventions in typesetting this book (p. xxi)


    These conventions include:


    1. thin brackets around regular expressions

    2. differing ellipses for normal text and regular expressions

    3. spaces are presented with a special symbol

    4. a thin underline for emphasis



    Each one of the above conventions is defeated by the poor print quality, and given they appear multiple times on every page in the book, it is quite simply unusable. I am shocked.

    To help you with remedying this, I have supplied below the information requested in your answer to Michael.

    1. Bar code from back cover:


    bar code from inside cover:


    printing information from inside cover:


    2. The Copyright Page


    3.i. Page numbers: i-xxiv, 1-484 inclusive

    3.ii. Examples of printing issues.

    See the following image and check out (in alphabetical order),


    • the top of the letter a

    • the bottom of the bowl in the letter b

    • the top of the letter c

    • where the bowl meets the stem in the letter d

    • the top and bottom of the eye in the lettere

    • the top and bottom of the letter o

    • the bottom of the bowl in the letter p

    • the top and bottom of the letter s





    But more importantly, within the list item with the text:


    A regular expression generally appears like this. Notice the thin corners which flag “this is a regular expression.”


    I'm afraid I had to do a triple-take. And those brackets appear—or rather, make a muted appearance—on almost every page.

    I don't want to labour the point, but another important aspect to Mr. Friedl's examples is the underline:



    Again it's barely legible.

    Please let me know how I should continue.

    Philip
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  • Hi Philip,

    Thank you for the time you spent researching the issue. I appreciate the detail.

    I've asked our printer to create a sample using a more advanced POD machine that has just recently been made available to us. It's our hope that this newer machine will retain the fine lines and other subtle yet critical typographical elements that are essential to this book.

    Our Customer Service team will be in touch to offer you a refund (if they haven't already). Once we have print copies that do this book justice, we'd be happy to send you a copy.

    Dan Fauxsmith
    dfauxsmith@oreilly.com
    Director, Publishing Services
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  • I’m melancholic
    Hey Dan,

    Thanks for your response. The customer service team have been in touch via Twitter about a replacement copy. Hopefully it won't take you too long to get a copy of acceptable quality sent out.

    Philip
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  • Hello Philip,

    If you haven't already received your replacement copy please write to orders@oreilly.com or call us at:

    1-800-889-8969
    or
    1-707-827-7019 from outside the USA
    7:30 am to 5:00 PST

    Kind regards,
    Paul Fichera
    Customer Service Representative
    O'Reilly Media
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  • Hi Philip,

    I see that Paul gave you details for getting a replacement copy. I'm sorry to complicate things, but could I ship you a copy directly? I have just received a copy that was printed on the newer POD machines, and I'd like to send it to you. If you order a replacement copy now, I suspect you'll get another copy printed on the old machines. I've just now asked our printer to make the change, based on the copy I received.

    I'd be happy to ship a copy to you. Please write to me with the address where you'd like it sent: I'm at dfauxsmith@oreilly.com.
    • Thanks Dan,

      It's been a while, but I thought I'd comment here for completeness, and so others know that you went well out of your way to help me out. I appreciated you taking the time personally to send me out another copy using a newer POD machine. Sadly, although the quality was better, it was still well below par. I can upload some images if you would like.

      One of your colleagues was able to sort me out with a old copy from your warehouse which had been lithographically printed. I am very grateful. That printing and the POD printings bear no comparison.

      While I understand that newer books may not share the same problems because they are typeset with POD in mind, I am bitterly disappointed that you continue to produce, in good conscience, a classic of the O’Reilly name which, at this poor quality, cannot fulfil the purpose for which it was written. I urge you to remove it from circulation to avoid further frustration and disappointment. Perhaps until such a time as when POD machines can do it justice or it is re-typeset in view of POD technology.

      Philip
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  • I’m frustrated
    Unfortunately, this problem continues. A few weeks ago I ordered a copy of Brian Fitzpatrick and Ben Collins-Sussman’s "Team Geek" from Amazon, and the entire book has a "screened" appearance as if it were designed with grey type and printed on a poor quality laser printer:



    If I had seen a book with this print quality in a store, I never would have bought it.
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  • I’m done
    After writing directly to O'Reilly as well as posting in this forum and receiving no reply of any kind, I returned the book to Amazon for a refund. It's really a shame. O'Reilly books have never been cheap but they used to be of reliably good quality. Not anymore.
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  • Hi Michael,

    I'm sorry for the delay in responding here. Our production and manufacturing manager has been looking into this and getting some copies of the book from different sources. We'd like to send you a replacement copy which we've confirmed is a quality printing.

    I also apologize that you didn't get a reply when you contacted us directly. I took a look, and I can't find your email.

    Would you email me directly at rachelj@oreilly.com? If you let me know your mailing address, I'll make sure the book is sent to you.

    I'm sorry this was a bad experience, but we'd like to make it right. Thank you for writing us again.

    Regards,

    Rachel James
    O'Reilly Media
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  • Thanks for getting in touch, Rachel. I'm sending you an email with the details.
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  • I’m thankful
    After corresponding privately with Rachel James, I received a new copy of "Team Geek", which looks great--in fact, it looks like a traditionally (offset lithography) printed book, so I'm encouraged that this quality is still available.

    I hope O'Reilly will continue to work on the production quality of their books--I have too many to give up buying them now. But I have no complaints about their customer service.
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  • Books ordered from Amazon may be printed on demand by them, if they're out of stock. We've checked the quality of print on demand copies printed by our manufacturer, and they are better quality than the copy that came from Amazon. Books purchased directly from oreilly.com should have more consistent quality.

    We don't expect to return to offset printing for all titles, but we continue to use it for some books.
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  • I’m frustrated
    I have just received a poor-quality print-on-demand (Lightning Source UK) book, purchased new via a third-party Amazon seller today.

    Neither Amazon nor the seller made it clear that it was a print-on-demand edition; had I known this in advance, I would not have bought it.

    O'Reilly books used to be well-made (surely one of the reasons for buying a paper edition over an e-book) but the text is blobby and the binding is much tighter than the "lay-flat" covers on my older O'Reilly titles.

    In future I'll have to avoid buying your books online, if at all.
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  • I’m disappointed
    Hi Rachel,

    I've been buying O'Reilly's book over the past 15 years. I also notices the serious printing quality drop these days. I am so happy that Michael brought this out and I can see there is really a solution, although the process seems very frustrating and time-taking.

    Is it possible to order a book with a guaranteed printing quality? I know it may sound silly but it is indeed my need. O'Reilly has so many good books worth taken into collection. The printing quality has become a serious concern for me and I have tried not to buy a book before really seeing it. Even then, sometimes I still can't find a book from bookstores that satisfy my need.

    I have been trying to find the book "Algorithms in the Nutshell" from at least four bookstores whenever I visit one. Three out of four have the book, but all have them have various problems as the pictures pootzy posted.

    So what I want is a channel that I can order books without worrying about the printing quality.

    Where can I find such a place?

    I attach some samples from jQuery Pocket Reference I purchased recently from Amazon:

    1. Fine details of serif strokes almost become intermittent


    2. Furry edges of fonts


    3. Same problem


    The quality is disappointed.
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  • Hello Yu-Chung,

    I do apologize about this. I have informed the appropriate team concerning this. I will direct message you to discuss solutions to obtaining Algorithms in the Nutshell, and the issues with the jQuery Pocket Reference. Again, sorry for any inconvenience this has caused you.

    Best regards,
    Paul Fichera
    Customer Service Representative
    O'Reilly Media
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  • Hi Paul,

    Thanks for the help. I have received the new copy although the quality is "statistically" improved, meaning that some papers are better and some are worse, but in average the received copy has better quality.

    Thank you again for the help and wish there is a better and permanent solution for the print quality issue.

    Best,
    Yu-Chung
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  • I’m disappointed
    I am so glad I found this topic, I thought I was crazy. The grainy and indefinite printing is exhausting to read, and a terrible waste of money to have bought. I hope that O'Reilly has gone back to the older methods - my recent copy of Effective Modern C++ looks great, but a few previous Scala books were awful.
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  • This is May 2016 and I had the same problem with Python for Data Analysis that I purchased from Amazon. It's really bugging me having faint text in about a quarter of pages. Other pages have dark print. Jennifer
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