This fascinating YouTube video from Verge Science was drawn to our attention by David Crotty at The Scholarly Kitchen. If you don’t see a video below, please click on the title of this post in order to view it in your browser.

We’ve probably none of us ever given much thought to the eye chart which we so often get to look at. It was designed in 1862 by Herman Snellen. The typeface is a bit odd when you think about it: Snellen designed the letters on a 5 x 5 grid, having started out with similar sized abstract symbols, and their size is based upon properties of the eye, nothing random. A recent book about the eye chart by Bill Germano (also author of Getting it Published) will doubtless teach you more.


Once again we hear that audio books sales are up substantially. According to the report at Shelf Awareness sales rose 22.7% in 2017 to $2.5 billion. Units sales were up 21.5%. Over 46,000 audio books were published in the year.

Edison Research’s consumer research findings include the following:

  • More than half (54%) of audiobook listeners are under the age of 45.
  • Audiobook users also read print books: 83% of frequent listeners had read a print book in the last year and 79% had read an e-book.
  • Audiobook users read or listened to an average of 15 books during the year, and more than half (57%) agreed that “audiobooks help you finish more books.”
  • More and more audiobook listeners use smartphones: the percentage of listeners most often using smartphones to listen to audiobooks is 47% in 2018 vs. 29% in 2017 and 22% in 2015.
  • Smart speakers are becoming more popular: 24% of listeners said they have listened to audiobooks on a smart speaker and 5% said they listen most often on a smart speaker.
  • More than half (53%) of listeners say they most often listen to audiobooks at home and 36% say their car is where they listen most often.
  • The top three activities while listening to audiobooks are driving (65%), relaxing before going to sleep (52%) and doing housework/chores (45%).
  • The most popular genres in audiobooks were mysteries/thrillers/suspense, science fiction and romance.
  • 73% of audiobook consumers say they agree that listening to audiobooks is relaxing
  • 55% agreed or strongly agreed that they choose to listen to an audiobook “when they want some time” to themselves
  • The top three reasons people say they enjoy listening to audiobooks are: they can do other things while listening (81%); they can listen wherever they are (80%); and audiobooks are portable (75%).
  • Libraries remain major access channels for audiobooks and important drivers of audiobook discovery. A total 52% of people surveyed said borrowing from a library or its site was important or very important for discovering new audiobooks. Those saying they downloaded an audiobook from a library accounted for 43% of respondents and 14% said that they most often use the library for their digital listening.

Publishing Perspectives also carries a report.

Now we get news of research that tells us that audio books are more emotionally engaging than films. BookRiot links to The Guardian story. There’s a 10-minute video showing physiological reactions to viewing and hearing a passage from Game of Thrones. They seem not to have measured subjects engaged in just plain reading. The fact that the research project’s sample was only 102 subjects might, however, tend to reduce one’s awe at the results. Mine isn’t too high anyway: I always think of viewing TV or video as a rather passive pastime.

Perspective always helps. In the same Shelf Awareness issue we are told that Barnes & Noble’s sales fell by 6% to $3.7 billion. $2.5 billion in sales of audio books is a lot — and very encouraging — but it’s not so large that we need to close all the printing presses. Print book sales rose 1.9% in 2017 according to NPD. The rise in print book unit sales during 2017 came to 13,100,000 copies more than in 2016, for a total of 687,230,000 (still less than ten years ago). This rather puts in context the audio increase, where the total universe is only 3,327,000 according to NPD (whose figures may have been superseded as they also show a decline for the year. I suppose it is possible that units could decline while revenues increase, though it’s a large gap.) I often find myself having to insist that while a casual reference to a 50% increase on a total of 100, may sound rather impressive, it is nevertheless exceeded by a 1% increase on 5001, an increase which the media would tend to treat as rather trivial. We went through this sort of hype with the percentage increase in sales of ebooks a few years ago. Small numbers will tend to increase in apparently large leaps, but the curve levels off as the numbers get higher. Panic should not be allowed to set in.

I wonder how many of these audio titles were self-published. Amazon dominates the market after its acquisition of Audible, and they do offer a self publishing option on that platform. Publishers Weekly did a round up of self-publishing audio options in 2015.


You get them all the time in magazines, and quite often in books.

Here’s an example provided by Neglected Books.* What Simon and Schuster were after was not of course your opinion on the book. What they wanted was your name and address so as to add you to their mailing list.


Library of America tends to have one in each of their volumes. I use them as bookmarks — I can never be bothered with those ribbon markers. The LOA cards are explicitly asking for your name for their mailing list, but they also ask that question about how you heard about the book. I wonder how much attention they pay to the answers: it’s nice to know your readers heard about the book through a book review, but is knowing this going to make you send out more review copies? I suspect the cost of recording the data is more than any value to be gained from it.

Blow-in cards are usually randomly blown into a magazine by a special attachment to the line. Book manufacturing lines tend not to include this facility which is much less commonly required, and thus blow-ins in books will more likely have been inserted by hand at the same time as the jacket is being put on.

More rarely you may find advertisements printed in the back of a book. Usually these are merely ads for other books from the same publisher, but ads for other products were energetically solicited by book publishers in the sixties and seventies of the last century, and during Victorian times. The Digital Reader has an account of the history and new on-line initiatives.

Photo: Toptenz



* Neglected Books is a great site that deserves more attention that this aside. They direct attention onto forgotten books and authors. Nowadays, with the availability short-run techniques and ebook publication making the cost of republishing a book much less than it once was, this site is no doubt being followed by lots of publishers.

An article on PubMed brings us the vital news that the reading of books will lengthen your life.

The abstract of the article, “A chapter a day: Association of book reading with longevity” reads thus:

Although books can expose people to new people and places, whether books also have health benefits beyond other types of reading materials is not known. This study examined whether those who read books have a survival advantage over those who do not read books and over those who read other types of materials, and if so, whether cognition mediates this book reading effect. The cohort consisted of 3635 participants in the nationally representative Health and Retirement Study who provided information about their reading patterns at baseline. Cox proportional hazards models were based on survival information up to 12 years after baseline. A dose-response survival advantage was found for book reading by tertile (HRT2 = 0.83, p < 0.001, HRT3 = 0.77, p < 0.001), after adjusting for relevant covariates including age, sex, race, education, comorbidities, self-rated health, wealth, marital status, and depression. Book reading contributed to a survival advantage that was significantly greater than that observed for reading newspapers or magazines (tT2 = 90.6, p < 0.001; tT3 = 67.9, p < 0.001). Compared to non-book readers, book readers had a 23-month survival advantage at the point of 80% survival in the unadjusted model. A survival advantage persisted after adjustment for all covariates (HR = .80, p < .01), indicating book readers experienced a 20% reduction in risk of mortality over the 12 years of follow up compared to non-book readers. Cognition mediated the book reading-survival advantage (p = 0.04). These findings suggest that the benefits of reading books include a longer life in which to read them.

So get reading. Even the longest books may be started with the confidence that we’ll be around to finish them. Is it possible that eternal life may be achieved by a combination of speed reading and a vast library?

Thanks to Philip Weimerskirch via the SHARP listserv for this notification.


At Medium, Glenn Fleishman offers us the introduction to his book London Kerning. The subtitle might make you think this was a sort of walking-tour-guide, but it’s not. The main focus of the book is St Bride’s Printing Library off Fleet Street and The Type Archive, south of the river. Fleishman is a fan of Berthold Wolpe, and there’s discussion of his type designs, primarily Albertus, used for much London signage, and of Edward Johnston, designer of the London Underground’s typeface, and other modern type designers. He takes us to three shops where letterpress is still being carried on.

It doesn’t all have to be about literature and making a contribution to culture.

On Kindle Direct Publishing people are putting together ebooks with no original material (other than the packaging) and gaming the system by incentivizing their “readers” to go straight to the last page to hear about a prize. As Amazon pays by number of pages read but cannot tell whether each page has actually been read or just passed over, this technique enables the “author” to receive large per-page payments. The cunning writer can include several other worthless books available separately in order to boost the page count. Apparently the maximum length you can achieve is 3,000 pages, for which the author will be paid $13.50 every time someone “reads” it to the end. Because Amazon’s system is so automated they really have no way of preventing this other than by taking down the author’s page and all its offerings at the Kindle Unlimited store. According to BookRiot, this they have now done in the case of Chance Carter, whose story was recently recounted by The Digital Reader, and again here a week later. Inc. has a good article which makes the methodology of the scam clear enough that you too can become a free-loader.

The self-described “bad boy” still has an Amazon presence, so the curious may apparently still buy his books.


























One assumes that all Chance need do now is take another nom de plume and begin again. This almost seems clever enough to deserve it’s reward: though of course I have to insist that crime never pays.

As further illustration of Amazon’s struggling to keep on the straight and narrow here’s a story from TorentFreak about their offering books telling you how to set up pirate video streaming, while at the same time working to eradicate pirate video streaming.


. . . but is it the right way?

The Borders Council (I’m relieved to note that my cousin is no longer a member) has decreed that a pupil or a volunteer parent can easily fill the functions of librarian and three Border schools (one of which I attended a year or two ago). They claim that the “job” will teach pupils leadership skills. Och aye? BookRiot carries a link to The Guardian‘s story which gives the third site as Hawick, whereas The Herald story linked to there says Kelso, as does the BBC.

Knee jerking demands resistance to the plan — the general secretary of the the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) union is quoted as saying “Seeking to replace such [library] staff with the unpaid labour of pupils is folly of the highest order”. But I wonder if things are as bad as the objectors imply. Yes, it’s true that a qualified librarian can provide direction, but is direction really needed? I never attended a school which boasted such an employee, and we seemed to get through OK. Maybe wee Jimmy from Form 6 can check books in and out and provide advice just as well as a starchy librarian. After all, the readers he’ll be advising are his peer group, and what he has enjoyed might be expected to be what they’d enjoy. In so far as resources are web-based, his advice might well be better.

Galashiels Public Library

Frankly I think it’s a bit of overkill for Gala Academy to have had a librarian at all. Isn’t taking the money spent on that and diverting it to other purposes only sense? All local authorities are always short of money, and prioritizing expenditure is a necessary part of governing. Seems to me it’s better to pay teachers — or even buy a book or two — than to hire a librarian. Now, if it was the librarian at the town’s public library who was being replaced with a school kid, my knee might be jerking more.

There are several superficially baffling names for early methods of making a photographic print. The differences between them can mostly be put down to the use of different chemicals to treat the paper or other surface onto which the “photograph” would be exposed. Heliotypes are made by exposing a negative onto a gelatin film and hardening it with chrome alum. Prints would be made thanks to the same water/grease antipathy utilized by lithography.

“Lady Macbeth” print in the original 1803 edition (left) and the 1874 edition “reduced and re-engraved by the heliotype process” (right). Note the pencil at the bottom, for scale. (Folger ART Flat b1-2 v.1 copy 1, and Folger ART Vol. f90 copy 2, respectively). Photo by Erin Blake from The Collation.

Here’s a photo of the heliotrope edition of A collection of prints, from pictures painted for the purpose of illustrating the dramatic works of Shakspeare by the artists of Great-Britain shown on the right next to the original (London: John and Josiah Boydell, 1803). Erin Blake’s piece at The Collation shows a proof as well, and discusses in detail the production of the original print via etching and engraving. The heliotrope reprint would obviously have been made from a photograph of the original, which itself was made from the etched and engraved copper plates. These original plates were subsequently acquired by an American printer who “restored” them and sold prints from 1848 to 1852. He also issued a two volume edition which can apparently be distinguished from the original London edition by the addition of numbering at the bottom left.

£24,000 a year may not be riches beyond your wildest dreams, but as a starter salary for writers it’s not too shabby. De Montfort Literature, a new publisher, makes the offer to writers “who pass its selection process, which includes an algorithm that is ‘designed to identify career novelists’, psychometric tests and interviews.” The Guardian has the story about this offer. Ten lucky writers will get a job, and presumably be asked to buckle down to work right away. If De Montfort’s psychometric testing has any real basis in reality, this could work. At the very least, entering your name in the contest might be seen as a willingness to work.

Jonathan De Montfort says “I have taken what I know about hedge fund management and applied it to literature”, which may raise a frisson of concern among the generality of potential hires.

I imagine that the books written will be work made for hire. As such the copyright will be owned by De Montfort, so their offer to give their authors 50% of the profits is quite generous. They also offer to “share copyright with an author” which means whatever it may mean. Of course, definition of profit is always a bit variable. But all in all this seems like a good idea. Will there be performance reviews in a year or two, maybe even with the possibility of a pay raise or the sack?


Photo: Rosenbach Museum & Library

The first known printed bookplate, as Hyperallergic boldly claims, dates from 1480. You can see from the photo of that bookplate that this label, printed in black only and hand-colored, was pasted into a manuscript book.

Hilprand Brandenburg, clearly a 15th century early adopter, stuck at least 450 of these bookplates into volumes he donated to the Buxheim Carthusian monastery near Memmingen. The book illustrated is from the collection of The Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia, who last year organized a bookplate show called “The Art of Ownership: Bookplates and Book Collectors from 1480 to the Present”. Probably because the exhibition closed in March 2017, the link in Hyperallergic‘s article no longer works. You can find the Rosenbach’s note about the exhibition here.

You’ve got to have some fairly valuable books, I’d think, to want to put a bookplate in them. Of course in the early days of book production books were exactly that: rather expensive, thus valuable objects. Sticking a bookplate in a mass market paperback would surely make you look slightly foolish.

Apparently as a security device the bookplate was preceded by book curses, often added to a manuscript as by the scribe an awful warning. Here’s an example from Bibliomania and the Medieval Book Curse: “Whoever steals this book let him die the death; let be him be frizzled in a pan; may the falling sickness rage within him; may he be broken on the wheel and be hanged.” That should do it. Of course chaining the book to the shelf was another satisfactory security method.

Link to Hyperallergic‘s story thanks to Kathy Sandler.

See also Plates/inserts.