The first printing of Alice in Wonderland was trashed because of concerns over the quality of the illustrations. All 2,000 copies were wasted, but surprise, surprise 22 copies are known to have survived. Quartz has a story about this. They are quite valuable.

I have been involved in the wasting of a couple of books, and naturally I kept a copy of each. See Manufacturing defects for the gory details. Almost any publishing person will want to hang onto a copy of a book which is about to be consigned to the fiery furnace. Not that we expect ever to sell the copies: but they are a living reminder of what can happen if you are not constantly awake and aware.

The decision to waste is rarely a straightforward one. Much care and attention is given to the manuscripts of medical and technical books, as well as cook books. Clearly you have to act fast and decisively if your recipe will poison the diner, or your surgery text harm the patient, but usually defects are not so clear-cut. It’s possible I was right in the linguistics instance, and there would have been no discernible legal or sales effect. These were pretty laid-back, liberal days and such poking of fun might well not have been the sales negative it would have been at more stressful times. It’s a judgement call. The same’s true of printing quality. The rejection of the illustrations in Alice in Wonderland carried along with it the additional factor of doing something to appease a demanding author/illustrator: which given Tenniel’s importance made it an easier call. Clearly the linguistics book’s wasting was not a move calculated to please the author, and this factor would have been weighed in the decision-making process.

Rejecting a book because of the quality of the printing rather than the content tends to be straightforward, in that the publisher feels aggrieved and in search of compensation — the printer should replace the books free of charge! I often warn against the temptation to pull the rejection trigger too quickly. Just because you can reject the book doesn’t mean you should reject it. I always try to make people think whether they would reject it even if they had to pay themselves to replace it. The fact that you can stick it to your supplier isn’t a sufficient reason for doing so. The cost of rejection and replacement remains, and has to be worth it. One should believe that the quality will definitely lead to lost sales. Need I point out that this argument has never managed to cut much mustard.

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