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British Library/Adobe: Quality - 0, Protectionism - 1

I had the misfortune recently to upload an article sold through the British Library ("British Library Direct"), as background for another post. The British library charges 5 pounds for copyright permission and another few pounds for "shipping and handling," which consists of posting a link to a copy protected document, and e-mailing me the link. The document is provided in a copy protected format that is readable using Adobe Digital Editions. Features of the document suggest that we can blame the low quality on Adobe, though it could be the British Library's fault.

The quality of the resulting document is an insult to the history of publishing. I can print razor sharp, high resolution documents on my printers. The displayed - and printed - document from the British Library is on par with 20th century mimeograph technology. The underlying software allows me to make exactly one printed copy, but the copy is almost too blurry to read.  And this cost me US $20!

Anyone who is familiar with publishing in general, or with Edward Tufte's comparisons of desktop publishing quality versus paper publishing quality, know that we pay a penalty to put things on the desktop: lower resolution, lack of physical portability, and so on. I expected inferior quality on the desktop.

But the printed version is, if anything, worse than the desktop version.

The paper itself appears as if it may have been scanned in, and I recognize that this can yield poor quality. However, the underlying 20-page document is over a megabyte in size, so I'd expect they could still uncompress that much black-and-white text into a quality image.

Each page of the document carries a banner on the bottom saying:

Supplied by The British Library - "The world's knowledge"

This banner is executed in boldface, ensuring that it is at least as readable as anything in the actual document. However, even this banner is blurry to a degree.  If the Library affixed the banner manually while scanning pages in, then the quality problems are clearly the Library's fault. On the other hand, if the Library includes the banner electronically, then the fault is Adobe's.

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