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4 Apr, 2023 (edited)
2023-4-4 1:27:37 PM UTC

oxonianus wrote:

It's unfair, Beregond, to blame the publisher for the printer's failings.

I am trying to word this without it sounding condescending but I honesty can't fathom this thinking. I don't buy books from a printers, I buy them from a publisher. I expect that publisher to select the right printers to print quality products, if after the second or third occasion the publisher then says "we are moving production" I would think OK, they have acted on feedback, but this simply is not the case with HarperCollins. They have persisted with printers who have continually sent out poor products.

And if I may add, HarperCollins through this have at times taken on a certain air of not listening to concerns. In one such reply (posted to me on facebook by a trusted collector) they said "The fact remains that we have sold many thousands of copies of this new deluxe edition and have received just a handful of complaints, which strongly suggests either that the vast majority of customers are happy with their purchase or that the perceived imperfections are thankfully rare". That is a rather disgusting response to a customer. Giving that response a closer reading brings up all sorts of questions.
4 Apr, 2023
2023-4-4 2:08:18 PM UTC
So I've been in the quality assurance industry for about 13 years now. It is not unfair thinking at all to put blame on a publisher for the mistakes of the printer. It is the responsibility of the Supplier Management Office and Quality department to work with potential product suppliers (in this case printers for books) to do a full audit of their production capabilities to include yield rates, quality control, production quality metrics, quality system integrity, etc., and then weigh the risks and costs of operation when compared to overall 'finished good' (the final packaged product off the manufacturing line) quality.

If those audits have been performed with integrity to select the best supplier, then you either have good product going out the door, or fast corrective actions and customer responsiveness to fix things when bad product goes out the door.

What we see from harpercollins across many of their books, is neither of those things. We see lots of problems and slow customer response. Which to me, (in my 13 years experience) says they went with the lowest bidder. Problems with suppliers usually remain unsolved for this long because either the purchaser of manufacturing services (HC) doesn't want to lose money on taking steps to correcting the problem (costs of poor quality metric, root cause audits, etc. This is because they like the profit margin, and spending money to fix the problem, eats the profit margin) or the supplier (printer, aka rotolito) isn't getting paid enough money from the manufacturer to invest in manufacturing improvement initiatives themselves (better machines, training, more people, root cause audits, better materials, etc).

The fact that HC decided to have the Hobbit printed elsewhere only strengthens my theory, because its easier to just move to a new supplier, than it is to try and discover the reason that you're having these issues and fix them. Also strengthening this theory is the reason that they HAVEN'T corrected either the issues with the LOTR or the Silmarillion, even admitting that the return rate for those were high in the customer email, and still not moving them to a new printer as well. Moving active product from one supplier line to another supplier line costs money. Simply signing new product to a different supplier doesn't cost more money than just doing business with any other supplier (which is just signing a contract.)

So in all potential business decisions here, HC is avoiding spending money anywhere to fix the problem.
4 Apr, 2023
2023-4-4 2:16:24 PM UTC

onthetrail wrote:

I expect that publisher to select the right printers to print quality products, if after the second or third occasion the publisher then says "we are moving production" I would think OK, they have acted on feedback, but this simply is not the case with HarperCollins. They have persisted with printers who have continually sent out poor products.

Personally, the way contracts work and how often they are set up quite a ways in advance, I'm not sure we can realistically say that HarperCollins has had a chance (publicly at least) to show they have taken the feedback and are moving away form Rotolito as a printer.

We've had print issues on the following (all Rotolitio):
- [Deluxe] The Lord of the Rings (Illustrated by the Author) - Oct 14, 2021
- [Deluxe] The Silmarillion (Illustrated by the Author) - Nov 10, 2022
- [Trade] The Fall of Númenor - Nov 10, 2022
- [Deluxe] The Fall of Númenor - Nov 10, 2022
- [Trade] The History of the Hobbit reissue - Mar 16, 2023
- [Deluxe] The History of the Hobbit reissue - Mar 16, 2023

I don't recall any big issues with either LotR/Sil Illustrated by the Author trade editions, but that just be because they were dwarfed in scope by the issues of the deluxe versions.

Now I guess one could argue that HarperCollins should have looked at moving to a different printer after the issues with the LotR Deluxe back in 2021, but they might have considered it a one-off problem that Rotolito ensured them they would address moving forward.

By the time the releases of FoN and Sil I'd think the contract was already signed to have Rotolito printing HotH. We know HC is moving away from them for The Hobbit (Illustrated by the Author) at least for the deluxe version. I'm hoping they move away from them for good but only time will tell on that front.
4 Apr, 2023
2023-4-4 5:07:29 PM UTC
I’ve not worked in the book publishing industry, but in every other industry I’ve worked in for quality, (medical, electronics, aero, cosmetics, dietary, food) Supplier Contracts have nothing to do with time or duration. You don’t contract services for x years or months. You build the contract based on x product per y specification at z amount of dollars, and as long as you adhere to regulatory and quality policies, the contract stands. But the moment quality or regulatory requirements fail, the contract issuer gets to choose whether they care enough to either issue a SCAR (Supplier Corrective Action Request), issue an NCMQ (non-conforming material quarantine) and hold payment until the issue is resolved, or terminate the contracted services and find a new supplier. HC is not committed to Rotolito in any way. That pressure is typically what is supposed to help contract manufacturers (printers in this case) be held accountable. If they suck at their job they get canned.
4 Apr, 2023
2023-4-4 5:26:15 PM UTC

oxonianus wrote:

It's unfair, Beregond, to blame the publisher for the printer's failings. Another thread has mentioned that the printing firm responsible will no longer be employed by the publisher. That seems an appropriate and a good faith move by the publisher, considering the problems with quality assurance—all of which have been documented in this forum—that have occurred with that printer through the past several years.

Where I work if one of our subcontractors deliver solutions that make our customers unhappy then that is on us....we are responsible for hiring that subcontractor to help us deliver services.
4 Apr, 2023
2023-4-4 6:03:15 PM UTC
There's an awful lot of (interesting, to be sure) thoughts being shared here that might have absolutely nothing to do with book publishing, or HarperCollins. We just don't know what the big picture looks like.

Some of my own (quite possibly not applicable as well) thoughts:

  • Around one million book titles are published each year worldwide. If you include self published titles, that jumps to four million, but I am ignoring those for this post.
  • Approximately 200 million books are sold per year - which works out to around 200 copies of each title - with vanishingly few selling more than 10,000 copies.
  • HarperCollins had just under 7% of the global book market in 2022 (by revenue, but let's assume all publishers make approximately the same)
  • HarperCollins said that the print run for the trade History of the Hobbit was 12,000 copies

Doing some basic math from the above:

HarperCollins estimated number of books sold in a year:
200 million books * 6.7% = 13.4 million books per year
History of the Hobbit share of HC decision making: 12,000 / 13.4 million = 0.09% of the books they printed and sold
Number of copies of HotH that have had issues: 2 that I have seen
Percentage of HC business affected by HotH printing issues: 0.00001%

Let's do a slightly larger thought experiment:
Assume that the entire first print run of the deluxe LOTR (which everyone knows was very problematic in the first printing) and the deluxe Silmarillion (which has the silver spine ink issue potentially affecting all copies) were bad. That's (being very generous) about 50,000 copies of HC books that had issues.

50,000 / 13.4 million = 0.4%

It is important to remember that Tolkien is a very small part of the HarperCollins business model (even if my assumptions and stats are off fairly significantly above). It is important to remember that the Tolkien team doesn't choose printers and paper independently - the sheer quantity of books that HC prints each year is the driving factor, not (solely) the collectors of one author. I think everyone wants the Tolkien books to be better quality, on both sides of this. I think that decisions are being made and considered, and feedback is being listened to. Bad quality can and should be pointed out. Demands that things get better, and refusal to buy substandard quality books are perfectly reasonable.

Thinking that HC should drop a printer because of 0.4% failure rate (in the bigger picture) is ignoring a lot of intermediate steps, decision makers, and factors. Also me saying that it is a 0.4% failure rate is similarly ignoring a lot of the same factors.

Some links I used as references:,are%20considered%20to%20be%20produced,publishing%20revenue%20as%20of%202021 ... t_id=47866#forumpost47866
4 Apr, 2023 (edited)
2023-4-4 6:40:39 PM UTC
Honestly, I just don’t care (and shouldn’t) about how exactly HC would fix their printer issues. It’s just not my problem at all. Same as they don’t care where I earn money to buy their quite expensive books.

Tolkien books are their gem ROI product. But the way they “care” about book quality has no proper words to be called with.

During the last 15 years I’ve purchased more than 300 books printed in English/French languages and outside of my Ukrainian market. All issues I ever had (except 1 recently purchased dictionary from Le Robert Editions) was with books printed for HC. I own more than 30 books from HC (all hardback DeLuxe or regular editions), and just recently I’ve had deluxe Silmarillion with vanishing golden letters + History of Hobbit with “Misty Mountin”-look-alike cut half-page inserts. If I dig deeper in my memory I’ll find at least 3 more defective copies from HC.

Moreover in 2021 I’ve spent close to month of email-correspondance with David Brown, trying to show explain the kind of issue that gets worse over years with printing History of ME. I was a lucky owner of very 1st print of DeLuxe HOME in 3 volumes, but my copies were fine except I noticed that there were uncountable number of almost vanished letters. I’ve checked photos of others in this edition and 7-8 previous editions for the last 15-20 years and found that letters in words in the same places were degrading more and more over years.
Finally HC understood and explained that it’s because of a non-digital print process and these “physical plates with letters” should be cleaned with some blades to remove particles that may prevent getting full letter imprint. It’s not a response quote, but the idea of explanation in general. I was told it’s a printer duty. Looks like such clean procedure never happened or was done with lack of quality.

Now if we take a look at prints after 2021 you’ll see that these degraded letters did not return to normal full imprint. HC only promised that some time later (when full HOME text is finally converted into digital) they’d switch to fully digital print, thus the print problem should evaporate one day.

P.S. I should acknowledge that in 2021 my HOME issues were fixed by HC. They sent me a replacement copy, but it did not work out because of UA-custom tax payment procedure for the goods crossing 150 EUR tax free limit. The parcel was rejected by UA customs and returned to sender. So afterwards HC sent me 2 spare parcels with other 2 books close to the 225 GBP value in total.
4 Apr, 2023
2023-4-4 6:57:16 PM UTC
Amedautrui, you've every right to be frustrated, and to expect (and receive) well made books. As do all of us. I don't know what the solution might be for your situation, but hopefully something can be done.
4 Apr, 2023 (edited)
2023-4-4 8:16:37 PM UTC
Urulókë The math you've done would be a good example of why the company may not ditch a printer entirely, but there are 2 problems:

1. The math relies on post-market-release numbers (more on this in a second)
2. While the small numbers certainly aren't a good reason to ditch a supplier, that does not absolve HC of solving the problem WITH the supplier.

1a- Using customer feedback as a metric for mfg reliability is only as accurate as you are CONFIDENT that 100% of your customers are capable or willing to look for and report problems. In the world of Quality Statistics, we've found that the number of customers who have problems and actually care enough to report them vary wildly depending on the product, nature of the issue, cost of the product, etc. The other issue, is that even from an 'internal to HC' perspective, you also don't know whether the issue the customer is having is due to the customer, the shipper, the distributor, or your supplier, etc.

2a Saying something like "these numbers are generous" is what we call and 'unknown variable'. Its also cognitive bias. You would normally think that those numbers are wildly unrealistic, but we see wildly and unrealistically low standards of quality in many industries. How many times have we seen car manufacturers recall hundreds of thousands of vehicles for dangerous issues? (The Toyota Tacoma collapsing truck-bed comes to mind) The fact of the matter is, we just don't know because HC will obviously never disclose those numbers to us, and we have no data to suggest what is or isn't "generous". HOWEVER what we can do is use sampling methods in market to establish the probability of a trend.

2b. I have purchased and exchanged a total of 16 copies of the Lord of The Rings deluxe, and every single one of them has had problems that were bad enough for me to return. I purchased 2 $50 standard trade editions that have the exact same page block and they are FLAWLESS. Thats not bad luck. Thats a trend.

2c. HC admitted that they had "more returns than they thought reasonable" for The Silmarillion. All deluxe silmarillions are built the exact same way. The smudging on the spine isn't due to poor manufacturing, its due to poor design. Its the ink/leather combo, and lack of embossing to try and protect the lettering. Its a problem of poor design. And they continue to manufacturing it as such, without changing the design or the raw-materials (ink and leather) used in the manufacturing process. This means that 100% of deluxe silmarillions will express this defect, whether or not a customer complains about it. That seems "too generous" for a defect rate, but it is unfortunately reality. They know its an issue even when its technically being manufactured CORRECTLY according to the contract specifications, and again we know they've chosen to change nothing. It doesn't mean ditch Rotolito, but it could mean switching the ink used, or varnishing the spine, embossing the lettering, etc.

Also, because these are "deluxe" or "collectors edition" books, the vast majority of customers who buy them for themselves, or as gifts will leave these books on display and either never read them, or rarely ever open them, much less look for things like page color consistency, smudging, massive ink blotches, backwards or uncut pages, bad contrast or inaccurate color reproductions for images, etc.

Lastly, if we assume that your numbers are close to reality (which again we have no way of knowing) its just further evidence that they care far more about the pocket change in money that they would save by letting these issues go, than try to solve these issues at all. I have been purchasing books from printers my whole life from probably hundreds of different kinds of printers and NEVER seen anything as bad as this. And to say nothing that its been going on for years.
4 Apr, 2023
2023-4-4 9:14:10 PM UTC
I think you are misunderstanding a lot of what I wrote.

When I wrote "That's (being very generous) about 50,000 copies", I am not at all saying anything about quality. I am making an educated guess as to how large the print runs were for those two volumes, and I think they are much lower than that, but I am overestimating ("being generous"). My point was, and is - the economics of a publicly traded, for profit multinational corporation don't blink at 0.4% manufacturing defects. These aren't car parts that might injure or kill people. The *people* in that corporation do care, I firmly believe, and are doing their best.

You think you have found "further evidence that they care far more about the pocket change in money that they would save by letting these issues go, than try to solve these issues at all". These books are published in monolithic printings. The publisher orders a fixed number of copies. Months later, the printer has all the supplies in hand and starts making them. Quality checks are done (proof copies, for example). The print run is finished. The books are put on transport, and make their way to wareshouses, which takes weeks or months. Then a defect like the silver ink is found (which no-one is arguing is acceptable, and should have been caught in QA). The second print run hasn't been even started yet, and yet you can firmly say they hare not trying to solve the issue? How can they solve this issue in the already printed and shipped first impression copies, pray tell?

The Lord of the Rings deluxe had lots of issues in the first printings. Subsequent printings appear to not have those issues at anywhere near the same rate, if at all. The next deluxe, the Silmarillion, did not have the same issues as the LotR because they had evidently learned (sadly it had different ones). We haven't seen subsequent printings yet, but I fully expect the book is selling well enough that there will be - and we can judge that quality when we see it. Now, for the third deluxe, they have publicly stated that they are switching to a better printer. When we see those, we will happily make further judgements on whether they did good or not. That feels to me like they are tying to solve the issues.

I want to state one final time - these quality issues shouldn't happen, and when they do the publisher should be accountable. It's been a rough patch for Tolkien collecting, certainly. If you go back through old issues of The Tolkien Collector, or read the detailed publishing information in Hammond's Bibliography, you will see that collector's have been complaining about quality for as long as there have been collectors, and there have been major mishaps like misbound Silmarillions and Letters and other books since the 1970s and onward. Tolkien publishing has moved from a family run business to a multinational corporation. This has helped in some ways, but is definitely not a positive in many others.

As a collector, you can choose to have fun with what we get, refuse to buy books that aren't of acceptable quality, or (what seems to be the vast majority of us choosing to do) buy the books but also complain about them. ?
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