Monday, October 31, 2011

A review of's reprints

Earlier this month I reviewed the Espresso Book Machine-Google Books partnership (link) and I found that this Print On Demand service was very satisfactory. I had suggested that it would be fantastic if the great could somehow partner with EBM as well. I of course knew that already has a Print on Demand partner, in the form of, which will prepare many pdfs for print through Indeed, each book's page on has a link to "Order Print Version (External site)." But I had never used it myself and wasn't sure how good the results would be. Surely a much-hyped $100,000 printer, partnered with a corporate behemoth like Google, working at a sage institution like Harvard, would produce a finer, more efficient and cheaper result than this.

So I tried it and here's what happened.

Out of nearly 50,000 seforim I had to pick one. Not such an easy task, but I finally settled on Pene Tevel (Amsterdam 1872) by Moses Mendelssohn of Hamburg, not as well known as his nephew Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch. This is a very important and frankly quite delicious book, and a post about it will be forthcoming. I really wanted a copy, but it also didn't hurt that the pdf isn't exactly high resolution, and the font is quite small. So if it returned a readable and pleasing result that would be all the better.

First I will go through the process as I did in the EBM post. When you're on a book's page, click the link, as below:

Since has already processed this book because of my order, the page you would go to now has a copy ready for order. So I will show a different page, which was essentially what I saw, only for the Pene Tevel:

As you can see, it gives an estimated price quote for the soft and hardcover versions. In addition, there is a link at the top explaining how you can find coupons and possibly save money on your order, All you have to do is enter your email address and fill out the captcha, and hit Submit Print Request. You will get an email confirmation, and relatively quickly more emails informing you that the hardcover and softcover versions are available for purchase. It should be pointed out that there is no obligation to purchase whatsoever, so sending a request like this costs nothing. Whether or not you purchase it, all it means is that in the future someone else will not have to wait for the processing time.

It was known to and that I was going to review the process, so you'd expect PYS to provide the very best service in this case, but I had prepared books this way in the past, only I never ordered them. So having experienced the preliminary stage of ordering without any special treatment, I can't say that there was much of a difference in how long the confirmation was received. I feel that my experience this time was probably fairly representative. It must have been a few hours until the books could be ordered.

The processing time estimated by on the site is that it will "usually take about 1-3 weeks." But I am informed that 1-3 weeks is an old estimate. Now 24-72 hours is to be expected. As you will see, his estimate was accurate. In less than a day I could order it, and from start to finish I received the books in almost exactly 1 week.

When the processing is completed, I received an email telling me that the book could be ordered, and was sent the following link:

As you can see, the price estimate was off by a little. Instead of $7, the softcover was $8.99. On the other hand instead of $19 - $21 the hardcover was only $16.99. Obviously there is also a shipping cost, but at this point it's in's hands. They offer the usual range of shipping options to be expected. An advantage here, missing in the EBM purchase, is that the size of the books is specified. In addition a 50 page pdf preview is provided, so you can get a sense of whether it processed properly. I'm told that will refund the money if it messes up the printing. Note that there is a page listing all books that have already been processed, which is updated hourly, and those in middle of being processed (link). It's worthwhile having a look.

From start to finish - my order was processed on Monday October 10, and I received it on Monday October 17. To give more precise details, confirmed the order on Tuesday 10.11, and that it was shipped on Thursday 10.13.

Here is what I received:

Please note that the poor quality of the photos is only to demonstrate my lack of skill as a photographer. In fact both books printed very nicely. The only difference was that the hardcover printed on a very white paper which was a little less nice than the softcover, which printed on a more cream colored paper that was pleasing to my eyes. Paper stock was fine in both cases. Both bindings were excellent - in fact superior to the EBM product (which is certainly very adequate).

I must reiterate that what you will get is only as good as the pdf. If it is missing a page - as this book was - then obviously a page will be missing. It is the purchaser's responsibility to ensure that they go through it and know what to expect. In some cases there may be ways of repairing a pdf. told me that the system is highly automated and there really isn't a lot of ways of tweaking it on his end. In addition, it basically operates at cost for him - as you'd imagine, there can't be much profit in a $8.99 book, which mostly goes to There is another division with greater flexibility, which is why it is called So he informed me that if you could fix the pdf, say, ordering the page correctly, or adding a missing page, etc. then the thing to do is to notify and submit the corrected pdf, and then order it once that is posted. All in all most reasonable.

So what's the bottom line? There's nothing to complain about. It's possible that EBM's prices are a bit better. If that's the case, then if you see a volume of the Aruch Hashalem that you want to print, by all means go through Google. But for tens of thousand of seforim which are on but not Google Books - there is every reason to feel confident about using reprints (via ). It would be too much flattery to give it more than the 8 out of 10, which is what I rated EBM, but I'm almost tempted to give it a 9 simply because of how impressive it is that a small business with much creativity and technical prowess can produce a result as good as a much-hyped invention partnered with a corporate entity almost as ridiculously limitless as its namesake, the number googolplex.


  1. I have used PYS numerous times and have communicated with him and with Mr. HebrewBooks about larger projects and have been very satisfied with everything.

  2. I have used them as well. No hassle. You forgot to mention the the major advantage of the pages being in the right order.
    I have gone directly to Lulu as well. There are a few caveats. First off you have to reverse the pages. If you have full acrobat it is a trivial task as there is an option to reverse pages in "save as". I don't know if reader supports this. Also with full Acrobat you can delete and insert pages.(As an aside if the book has an odd number of pages add a blank at the end before reversing, otherwise you'll get a blank page as the first page). The cover is more of a problem. The front is now the back and the wizards are not Hebrew friendly. You can build your own cover but a work around is to write a cover in word, convert to PDF and then use Picasa to make a Jpeg . Easier to do than say. This can be then placed on the back as art work. It will label the spine with the title and you have to reverse the letters refes for sefer. They will send you a coupon for the first book and only charge postage. It took 5 days and under $5.00 for 142 letter size pages. I would definitely use PYS for anything on HB, but you might find this process worthwhile in particular if the cover is not an issue for other sources.


  3. Miss Fred,

    Thanks for posting - this is a nice service for your readers.

  4. Also had a good experience with PYS and a sefer from hebrewbooks - reasonable price, nice printing, arrived in good time. Many thanks to them for such a great service.

  5. I've used PYS a few times. They've definitely improved. Some years ago I bought a couple of seforim from them, HM Hielman's "Beit Rebbe" in Hebrew (AFAIK it's only printed in Yiddish today by Kehot), and JD Eisenstein's Otzar Zichronotai. They only seemed to have one page size - 5.5x8.5, so the books, which are both squarer than Stmt size, were crammed into the L-R space, with a lot of white space above. Beit Rebbe was OK, since the original was not that big, but Otzar Zichronotai was almost too small to read.

    More recently, I've bought books of various sizes, and they've been much better about mapping the original to a suitably-sized piece of paper. The folio "Eishel Avraham" is a bit small, but quite legible, and fits the shape of its paper; the quarto Milchamos by Ralbag works fine, and must be pretty close to original size.

  6. I'm a bit late to respond to this thread, but I just wanted to say that I've also used Lulu and, aside from the minor inconvenience of them sending me a book with the wrong cover (I ordered the Binyan Shlomo, after reading a post of yours about him, but the cover advertises Heidenheim's Mishpatei haTe'amim), it is most readable and did not require me to change the order of any pages.



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