Chosen for Strength and Durability

“Binding materials are chosen for strength and durability.”

The verso to the title page of Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s Planned Obsolescence is a model in sensibility for the most part. The copyright claim is concise and does not overreach (“© 2011 by New York University. All rights reserved”). No dubious, extraneous disclaimer is included, just a common, if not ubiquitous, “References to Internet websites (URLs) were accurate at the time of writing”. It is only when ones reaches the statement “New York University Press binding materials are chosen for strength and durability” (reproduced above) that one perhaps feels some puzzlement.

For the book that I hold in my hand in which that statement is found is the softcover of Planned Obsolescence. Unlike some other books, Fitzpatrick’s tome has been issued in both hardcover and softcover*. Yet in both bindings, the publisher is asserting that it is using materials “chosen for strength and durability”. The inference is that it is choosing such materials on those two criteria alone.

Yet we know this to be blatantly false. The softcover of Planned Obsolescence is not as strong and as durable as the hardcover**. We have a clear instance in which NYU Press issues books in different bindings, one of which is inferior to the other, so it cannot be the case that NYU Press always opts for the best binding materials with no other consideration in mind.

But of course there are other considerations, costs and price discrimination being two. By issuing a book in both types of bindings (with the softcover traditionally lagging the hardcover release date), publishers segment the market and capture greater willingness to pay on the part of consumers. I read no normative prescriptions from this practice, but surely it belies NYU Press’s comments that it chooses binding materials solely for their strength and durability.

If one objects that other considerations must be taken into account even if a statement is written to effectively mask their presence***, may I ask what is then the content of such a statement? What publishers wouldn’t choose materials for such qualities as strength and durability after other considerations have been satisfied? Put differently, even the publishers who seek to spend the least resources on binding materials would still choose the strongest and most durable materials within his budget. So just what is NYU Press trying to convey here?

Can it be obliquely making the statement that there are presses who could’ve published Fitzpatrick’s book, presses that must by necessity be academic/university presses since this is a scholarly treatise, that would’ve care little to nothing for the binding materials strength & durability? Is the statement meant to distinguish NYU Press from these neglectful presses? Is the statement to give a partial ranking to NYU Press’s priorities? If so, if the statement is about relative positions instead of absolute commitments, wouldn’t it be meaningful only if we knew that NYU prioritize binding materials over?

*: The reason my campus library purchased the softcover instead of its more durable, hard counterpart may be found in the price differential between the two versions. The hardcover has a list price of $75 while the softcover is the much more affordable $23. It would be ironic if my library also went with the softcover because it estimates that this book on obsolescence will itself soon be obsolete and so there is no need for a very durable copy.

**: To be fair, the softcover of Planned Obsolescence is a nice, trade paperback rather than a disposable mass market paperback. Nonetheless, the corners of the cover were already starting to fray slightly with use; the binding is not the most durable even if it is not the worst.

***: I would also note that NYU Press concedes to these “other considerations” in its use of the phrase “to the greatest extent possible” to describe its environmentally friendly practices. Yet no such concessions is made in its claims about binding materials.

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