Perhaps we shouldn’t be too quick to criticize typos. They happen even in the best regulated houses: even our own.

It’s well known, from all of our own experience, that it’s tough to proofread one’s own writing: well, it may actually be all too easy — the hard part is detecting errors. Wired assures us rather flatteringly, “There’s a good reason why we’re so terrible at catching these typing errors, and it has to do with our brains being a little too efficient.” (Link via Mental Floss). Apparently because we are so smart, and our brains are running way ahead of our dumb old bodies, we are always anticipating the right word. Accordingly we run the risk of seeing the right word even though our laggard fingers may actually have typed the wrong one. 

Well, OK. If that makes you feel good, run with it. For my part I suspect it all has a bit more to do with vanity — what I type must be great — but it doesn’t really matter; we tend to have difficulty noticing our own errors. One might note that Autocorrect often gets into the act. Reread slowly, carefully and often. 

In this context, might I direct the reader to a recent exchange of comments with Charles Foster about Susie Dent’s book, Word Perfect? You need to scroll down, since Mr Foster commented at the “Comments” tab, which a few others have done before, so our conversation is quite a way down.

I am conscious of committing a typo or two on this blog. I do read and reread, but stuff slips by. (I just noticed that the second paragraph above began “It’s well know . . . ” No doubt this is a survival from the first version which probably said “We all know”. History shows me I’ve read this piece 23 times already!) Other typos do get by though. Perhaps I can ask frustrated readers to attribute these errors to the fact that my brain is super-efficient, not to any carelessness or lack of attention on my part!

See also Proofing.

I never really liked yapp edges, those overlapping floppy, flappy edges to a leather bound book, often a bible. Here’s a picture of my father’s prayer book, showing its creaky yapp edges. You can see a hole in the leather at the left. (I did a post about this book five years ago.) These flaps are semi yapps; full yapps would pretty much join when folded across the book’s bulk. 

John Carter’s ABC for Book Collectors tells us:

“Yapp, so called after the London bookseller who invented it about 1860*, is a style of binding (usually in leather, often limp) with overlapping edges or flaps on all three edges. Hence, yapp edges, meaning the flaps. The yapp style (no relation to the overlapping fore-edges of limp-vellum-bound books of the 16th and 17th centuries) is mostly used for books of devotion, slim volumes of verse printed for private circulation, ‘tasteful’ reprints of the RubáiyátPoems of PassionSonnets from the Portuguese, etc. The American term for this style (according to The Bookman’s Glossary) is divinity circuit or circuit edges.”

I always liked to imagine that it was the sight of yapp edges that put into the mind of some inventive Cambridge bible guy the idea of bibles with zippers. The zippered bible was patented by Cambridge University Press in 1933. The CUP blog tells the tale.

I have posted about the zip bible before.

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* Etherington & Roberts (see “Print glossaries” tab) give Mr Yapp’s first name as William.

Maybe I’m just not looking at it in the right way, but I don’t see why a Bertelsmann bid for Simon & Schuster would represent anything more significant than even greater size for the world’s biggest trade publishing conglomerate. Joseph Esposito at The Scholarly Kitchen seems to see the strengthening PRH Publisher Services as the motive for such an acquisition.

Now providing services — sales, warehousing, distribution, and supporting analytics — has I think generally been regarded as a smart way to amortize your costs for providing these services to your own publishing company or companies. Publishers have been doing this sort of thing for years. When I started out in the business in 1965 we were providing exactly these services in London to the University of California Press and Melbourne University Press. If you’re going to fund back-office operations and a warehouse, why not get help from a few other publishers by doing back-office and warehousing work for them?

It is however a little surprising to find this sort of business being looked on as its own profit center motivating a possible takeover. But I guess the service-providing publisher will charge enough to cover their costs plus a bit more. You just have to pitch your charges at a point below the cost to an independent publishing house of providing these services on their own, and you’re off to the races. In principal there’s no reason why we shouldn’t have one vast publishing services operation with lots of little editorial companies feeding product into the machine. Maybe the very success of the current regime of working from home will end up making the splitting up of the book business into this sort of structure more likely.

Mr Esposito tells us that a “360° company is one whose strategy looks and reaches in all directions”. I find this a bit hard to visualize. The concept of the 360º company seems to have originated with a book by Sarah Kaplan, with that title, which was published last year by Stanford University Press. However Professor Kaplan seems to see the 360º company as one which is set up in opposition to “Milton Friedman’s dictum that ‘the social responsibility of business is to increase its profits’” — so a company which takes into account the needs of its workers, suppliers, customers, neighbors in addition to those of its shareholders. Mr Esposito apparently wants it to be a company which seeks to control its entire environment. So upstream: authors and agents beware. (He doesn’t promote that age-old upstream junction: owning your own printing plant!) Downstream: maybe we’ll be negotiating smaller discounts to bookstores. And a bit vaguely, left and right, we’ll be taking over the publishing functions for all the other publishers.

Sounds a bit like an update of the rallying cry of “synergy” which was all the rage at the end of the last century when I worked for a company owned by Viacom, thus linked to Simon & Schuster, and apparently in position to benefit from all the television programming and movies our parent controlled. The only effect I ever noticed was that we had a television set in every conference room which came in handy when there was a day game in a World Series involving the Yankees.

Mr Esposito informs us that “It is axiomatic in the publishing industry that you can unbundle everything except for editorial.” Axiom makes it sound like we are always saying this as we gather at the water cooler: we don’t. But I think we are all alive to the possibility that our jobs could be outsourced: which may be a potent force in keeping pay rates down. Publishing service offerings already include production and manufacturing, so you could really start your publishing company with a single employee, the editor. Of course this might sound a lot like self publishing. However, a big organization like Ingram or PRHPS is not going to be too eager to sign up a “publisher” with a single title on their “list”. But there are of course smaller operations in town, even down to the individual freelance worker.

One reason for buying S&S, Mr Esposito hints, might be to head off Amazon or Ingram. I guess that might make sense. They both provide publishing services, Ingram more extensively as far as the trade is concerned than Amazon. I keep arguing that book publishing wants to be small-scale, but events do constantly seem work in the opposite direction. Could both positions be correct? Maybe that’s the true answer: trade publishing wants to get bigger, 360º, while academic and specialist publishing seeks to get smaller, like a 15º company. Under  such a regime 360º companies would execute all the centralizable functions that PRH Services provide, while little editorial driven 15º companies thrive and multiply, paying the likes of PRHPS for services. 

Map by Steven Melendez, Atlas Obscura

This interactive map, delivered by Atlas Obscura, allows us to follow literary journeys around America. (You have to go to the Atlas Obscura site to access the interactive map: the picture above is just a photo of it.) The map compiled by Richard Kreitner and Steven Melendez includes place names from fourteen travel books from Mark Twain’s 1872 Roughing It to Cheryl Strayed’s 2012 Wild. Click on the link and you can select individual routes and enlarge the map to see detail: Scroll plus Command keys will enlarge/shrink it.

Mr Kreitner describes the effort as quixotic, but his map does have a charm. And seeing where various trips overlapped does provide interest, as do the little quotes from the books which you can find by clicking on the dots. You can compare and contrast what Mark Twain and Jack Kerouac had to say at Ogallala, Nebraska for instance. Conclusions from such a comparison may be a bit hard to draw though.

We all need help and advice on new techniques, and now that we are attending meetings online rather than in person, how to “perform” online becomes something we need to adapt to. It’s just not like speaking in a round-table meeting. The Digital Reader sends us a link to some useful hints by self-styled “professional ‘idea whisperer'” Tamsen Webster, published at Medium

Many of the suggestions seem pretty obvious — just as everything is utterly obvious once we’ve had it pointed out to us! — like adjusting the computer’s camera so it’s at your eye level, or lifting your hands up when making hand gestures so that viewers can actually see your non-verbal language! We definitely need someone to think these things through and Ms Webster makes a valuable contribution, though I don’t think I’ll be going as far as buying my own green screen so I can fake my background.

Photo: Christie’s

Today there’s an auction at Christie’s in New York of a copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio. Christie’s encourages us by pointing out that there are only five copies of the First Folio preserved in private hands — you do feel a need to own the sixth don’t you? However their estimate of the likely price is $4 to $6 million may give us pause. The copy on sale today includes a letter from Edmund Malone describing it as a clean copy.

The book is rare, but not that rare. According to the OUP blog there are about 230 copies extant (235 says Wikipedia; 233 according to the British Library who have five of them), from an estimated printing of 700 to 750. You can read through a digital copy of the book at the Folger Library’s site. The Folger Library has the world’s largest holding of First Folios — they have 82. The link at that OUP blog post to a map showing world-wide distribution of copies seems to have stopped working because of a format change at the source. It may be accessible via Pinterest.

A folio volume is made up of sheets which have been folded once, to make 4-page sections. This book is bound in twelve-page signatures each made by taking one section and inserting two others inside it. The dimensions of a folio volume will of course be determined by the size of the sheet used by the printer. Shakespeare’s First Folio is about 8½” x 13⅜”: different copies will measure slightly differently one from the other as a result of trimming carried out in binding or rebinding. The paper used in the printing by Jaggards in London was imported from France. The printing took place between February 1622 and early November 1623 — and like so many print jobs since then it appears to have run late. The book was listed in the Frankfurt Book Fair catalogue as due between April and October 1622.

LATER: the book ended up being purchased by book dealer and antiquarian Stephan Loewentheil for $9.98 million.

The House Judiciary Subcommittee has just released a report considering antitrust problems in the technology industries. When technology companies have become so successful, scrutiny from the government has become inevitable. Some sort of regulation seems almost certain.

TeleRead sends an early analysis of the Report by Chris Meadows, who, we are sorry to note, last week suffered an extremely serious bike accident in Indianapolis. He was riding an electric bike when he was hit by an SUV which fled the scene. He’s back on a respirator and is fighting for his life. Best wishes.

Mr Meadows comes at this Report from a library-lending-of-ebooks perspective. The battle lines here are clear. Librarians think ebooks are too expensive and resent limits on lending imposed by publishers as part of their terms of sale. Publishers fear, to put it at its most extreme, that a single ebook, released on the world without any control, could entirely replace demand for the book, so you could in theory end up selling only a single copy. Clearly the Judiciary Committee is focussed primarily on somewhat bigger game (Amazon, Facebook, Google, Apple), but library lending could possibly get impacted as collateral “damage”. Damage because a bold decision in favor of either side would clearly damage the other. Is there a compromise position?

Book publishers did have an antitrust run-in with the government before when they were shown to have colluded over pricing of ebooks at Apple. Agency pricing was the solution to the problem. Antitrust judgement has tended over the past fifty years to focus on whether this or that arrangement is good for the public. Clearly the public would benefit from having easier access to ebooks in their library, as they would from lower prices. The current rules under which publishers supply ebooks to libraries mean that you often have to get on line and wait while one reader “returns” the ebook, so you can as next on line be allowed access. — Sound a bit like putting a reserve on a hard copy book? But clearly the public also benefits from a viable and thriving publishing industry, so any decision which jeopardizes the health of publishing companies would not be in the long-term interest of the public. One has to imagine that there’s a compromise available. Increased funding for libraries is probably fundamental, then some sort of compensatory payments to publishers and authors could be arranged in return for expanded access to ebooks. 

LATER: Chris Meadows died on 14 October at the age of 47. What a loss. 

Let us remember the fact that he was the victim of a hit-and-run by an SUV while he was riding his bike. What can be done about such immorality?

 

It must have been in the waning years of the last century that I attended a conference in San Jose and saw a presentation of an electronic book. I don’t mean anything as hi-tech as an ebook, I mean a regular book that was electronically active. By printing certain words in a metallic ink, and having connections to some sort of electronic switchboard in the spine, the book allowed the reader to access hyperlinks. To all appearances this was a normal book, but the pages were active with electrical signaling. This is not however what the paper industry would understand as action paper: action paper is a sheet impregnated or coated with inks so that it can transfer an image under guided pressure.

I used always to wonder if NCR paper’s name derived from No Carbon Required or from the company National Cash Register. Turns out it’s both. NCR the company invented this carbonless paper and rather hubristically named it no carbon required. They got a patent for this stuff in 1953. Their action paper works by having a coating of micro-encapsulated ink on the back of the sheet, and on front of subsequent sheets a layer of clay which is receptive to the ink. Pressure applied by a key strike or a pen stroke breaks the capsules of ink which react with the clay to form a permanent image. Such paper would often come in pre-assembled sets of sheets — our purchase order used to be an NCR set of three pages, top one white, second pink and third yellow. Pink would go in the book folder, and yellow in a numerical sequence — with white of course going off to the printer.

I can remember working with carbon paper until we got Xerox copiers and computers, and indeed I think I still have a box of carbon paper somewhere in this apartment. As this video points out carbon paper leaves its trace in our current life with the initials CC for a copy of an email sent to a third party: Carbon Copy. Carbon paper also finds a residual use in crafts; useful for transferring images to fabrics or other media.

If you don’t see a video here, please click on the title of this post in order to view it in your browser.

The proper handling of carbon paper was an essential skill of the mid-twentieth-century office worker. The only job in which I ever had a secretary was my very first one. A young lady would take down in shorthand the immortal words I’d dictate, and type them up with at least two sets of carbon paper to yield an original and two copies. There could be as many as four sheets of carbon paper, though the impression was so fuzzy by the time it got through to the fifth copy as to be almost illegible. We needed multiple copies because we needed one for the filing system, one for the big box of daily correspondence that circulated around the office (yes, I actually got to read all the letters my colleagues had written the previous day), and maybe one to go off to the sales rep out in the field, so he’d know what was happening. And sometimes the letter would be addressed to two people, one of whom would get a carbon copy, which of course would lead to the annotation — cc Mr X. We had to do all this carbon copying because there were as yet no copying machines in the office. If you didn’t create enough copies you’d have to type the damned document all over again, without error. Prior to inserting the paper into the typewriter there was considerable banging on the desk of the tops of the sheets of paper and interleaved carbons in order to jog them all into proper alignment. Carbons could be reused several times, but there was a limit, just as there was with typewriter ribbon.

Carbon paper was invented In 1801 by Pellegrino Turri, and was used to create the top copy on his typewriting machine. The first patent was registered by Ralph Wedgwood in 1806. The process of coating a paper carrier with a dry ink compound was analogous to the ribbon which on a typewriter would convey the top copy image: being hit by a metal shape would break the ink capsules and convey the image to the paper below. I imagine the first inks used to make carbon paper were carbon based.

Of course e-readers have accustomed us to the idea of electronic “paper”. Here, via Kathy Sandler’s Technology • Innovation • Publishing blog, comes a link to a story from New Atlas about a process for turning actual paper into an interactive surface.

The trouble with these sorts of invention is that they are just too expensive. Despite the availability of much easier to use NCR-type papers, the use of carbon paper survived for a long time in our offices. It just cost more than anyone was willing to countenance to convert all our stationery over to NCR format. Getting a hyperlink from a printed book may be fun, but most people are reading books for different rewards, and books printed on perfectly normal paper will doubtless continue to be the main medium of literary communication for a while. This doesn’t mean, as one always has to say in order to head off the digi-commentariat, that ebooks are not excellent for those situations in which an ebook is excellent.

St Jerome translated the Bible into Latin: his version is now referred to as The Vulgate. He also wrote commentaries on the Gospels: maybe he is being shown here making a note on one of the Gospels while working in his garden. Not everyone of course would chose to prop up their copy on a skull.

Trinity College, Cambridge. Crewe 167.24. The portrait of St Jerome: an engraving by Francesco Bartolozzi, after a red chalk drawing by Guercino

Picture from Trinity College Library’s blog.

Jerome, Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus, was born around 347AD at Stridon on the border between Dalmatia and Pannonia (in Bosnia today).  Artists love to depict St Jerome in a desert setting, often accompanied by a lion, and why wouldn’t they? The pull of the exotic is ever strong. However he seems to have spent only about five years of his 70+year life in the wilderness. His hermit service was spent in the desert at Chalcis, 25km southwest of Aleppo, and about the same distance southeast of Antioch. Chalcis seems to have been a bit of a crowded desert site, as it was a popular place for hermits to hang out. How many hermits can gather in a smallish desert and still count as socially distancing? While he was there in his cave he gave up reading the classics and set to learning Hebrew. The Oxford Dictionary of Saints tells us that Jerome “had a difficult, cantankerous temperament and a sarcastic wit which made him enemies.” He seems to have travelled quite widely in Gaul, Dalmatia, Syria, Rome, Constantinople. He started his standard Latin text of the Bible in Rome (382?) where he stayed but three years, becoming then a sort of tour guide to a group of Christian ladies. As The Dictionary puts it “His relationship with them gave rise to scandalous gossip, largely unjust”. (One has to wonder about the force of that “largely”.) One these Christian ladies ended up founding a convent in Bethlehem in which Jerome spent the remaining years of his life as a monk. In 420 he died there and was buried in Bethlehem, beneath the church of the Nativity, though his body was subsequently moved to Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome.

He was canonized in 1767 and his feast day is 30 September — so I’m posting this a week too late. Sorry.

St Jerome is apparently patron saint of librarians and libraries as well as archivists, translators and encyclopedists. It seems this library honor is also claimed for St Catherine of Alexandria (the one who was broken on the wheel, the symbol of my College, which however spells her name with an “a”.) No problem — I guess you can’t get too much supernatural assistance in sorting out your shelving system. St Catharine was demoted from sainthood in 1969 on the grounds that she probably never existed, but was reinstated in 2002.

The Bookseller of 2 October tells us “An open letter signed by more than 900 librarians, researchers, lecturers and students has called for the government to investigate the ‘exorbitant’ pricing and licensing of academic e-books.” The justification for demanding cheaper ebooks in Britain seems to be that we are in a (sort of) coronavirus lockdown, so students are having to read stuff online.

What is it that makes people think they have a right to cheap books, and that publishers are in some way obligated to oblige? If they want academic ebooks for £1.99 why don’t they just go ahead and try to publish a few? The reason is obviously that they’ve no idea how to — and if they did, they’d also have discovered that for materials in slight demand a high price is inevitable. Book publishers tend to aim to price their books as low as they can: after all we are not so dumb that we don’t realize that the more copies you sell the better, and to see that the lower the price the more copies you’ll sell. But at a lower price, if you can’t sell enough extra copies, you can’t afford to do the book at all. Still it is obviously easier just to bash those who assign the prices than to come up with solutions to the basic problem. From the tiny bit of the report we non-subscribers are allowed to see (cheap books!), we don’t really know who signed the letter. It could be one librarian, two researchers, three lecturers and 894 students, though I’d rather doubt that breakdown, because students nowadays seem to be able to get almost all the readings they are asked to do as free digital texts on reserve at the library. 

Now you or I might like to pay less for books, especially those heavy expensive ones. But write a letter to the government! Who thinks the government is responsible for academic book prices? For people who really can’t afford to pay more, a sort of solution is provided by the public library system — better these librarians and their co-signers should write a letter protesting the funding cuts the public libraries are being subjected to. Book publishing is not a public utility: do these people who want cheap books think that the book publishing industry should be nationalized, and the prices charged for books be subsidized out of general funds? Of course not: I suspect many of them just want to give the appearance of being sympathetic to the poor student — and here’s a cheap way of doing it. Did any of the lecturers and researchers who happen to be authors consider the (perfectly viable) option of insisting to their publisher that their book be offered at a lower price, the difference in the amortization of the publisher’s costs being made up by a nice little check from the author. Well of course we’d all say that was an appalling notion: it’s the fat-cats who have to have their pips squeezed not the poor toiling authors. Trouble is, in the universe of academic book publishing there are no fat cats to target: our cats are actually pretty trim. (The fatness of trade publishers is also pretty insignificant on any scale comparing all businesses.) If they are proposing that academic books be made cheaper by some sort of subsidization of publishers or a book grant to students, well OK — but just try to stop students spending their grant on things other than education!

Parenthetically I have to note that part of all this confusion about ebook prices is the assumption by lots of commentators (including many who should know better) that there are no costs involved in publishing an ebook.