If you’ve read my reviews, you may have noticed some things I mention about books that crop up more than once. I thought it would be a good idea to make a general post explaining why I make those notes.
I work in graphic design and have been around the print industry for a few decades. A large part of my job involves editing and proofing for accuracy. So, I tend to notice typos and factual errors. Certainly we all can make mistakes, and writing and producing a book is a huge task which takes a lot of time. Sometimes, things fall through the cracks. Still, when I read a book and find more than 1 or 2 typos, or worse, there’s information that’s simply incorrect, I question how much care the writer or publisher put into the book. It can be really disappointing, and I feel the need to note that when I review a book.
Another remark I often make concerns black-and-white versus colour pictures. Remember that in part, I choose to review books printed prior to 2000, and noting lack of colour is not always a negative criticism. But, it requires some explanation.
In the early part of the 20th century, commercial printing was modernized by the development of offset printing presses. Without getting too technical, an offset press uses an image of a page etched into a metal plate. The plate is affixed to a roller and is inked. It contacts a rubber blanket on another roller, which picks up the ink transfers it to the substrate (normally paper).
Using a single ink is called ‘1-colour’. To print what is called full-colour, 4 inks (cyan, magenta, yellow and black or CMYK, also be called ‘4-colour’ or ‘process’) are used. There’s also specially formulated colour-specific inks which are used for colour consistency. These inks are referred to as ‘spot-colours’. Each ink that is used required its own plates, blankets and set of rollers.
Printing 1-colour uses less resources, involves less set up/clean up, can be printed on a smaller (and less expensive) press, and so is more economical than 2 or more colour jobs. Printing a book, made up of many pages, even if printed in quantities of only a few hundred, would be significantly more expensive as a 4-colour job versus only black and white.
In the 1990s, manufacturers developed digital inkjet and laser presses, similar to our desktop printers, that can run hundreds or thousands of sheets per hour. As they do not require plates and blankets, these machines are significantly cheaper to purchase and operate than an offset press, allowing for more affordable full-colour printing, especially on short runs.
Offset printing also became a little less expensive. The advent of desktop computers and invention of CTP (computer-to-plate) processing reduced time and cost in the pre-press workflow. With digital print running many of the small volume jobs, print companies were able to maximize press time on their offset presses, running larger jobs with less changeover/washup time from running many smaller jobs, making press time cheaper.
That was a long explanation, but I hope it gives some background on why most older books are on black and white, while newer books are now usually full-colour. I note that they are black-and-white to give a sense of what one can expect in an old book. Newer books are almost always in colour, 30+ years old often won’t be.
I hope this helps my readers understand why certain notes appear repeatedly in reviews. Thank you for reading!