Archives for the month of: October, 2011

When there are tons of metal and hours of sweat lying behind a printed book, it’s obviously a good idea to proof it carefully. When I started in the business it was normal to go through two stages of proof at least, more if there was heavy correction. We’d hire freelance proofreaders to read blind (i.e. without the manuscript) while the author was reading against copy. Even before the publisher saw a proof the printer might well have pulled a proof, had it read, and made corrections. W. Edwards Deming, the efficiency guru, maintained that Cambridge University Press was the world’s best typesetter and never made errors. He didn’t realize that this was because they would habitually read a proof of the journal in which he published his work before sending it out, and make corrections then and there, so that the proof he thought error-free was actually a proof in which the obvious errors had been corrected already. This of course played into his central thesis which was more or less “take care of the input, and the output will take care of itself”. I don’t think we’d be giving away any trade secrets if we admitted that less proof reading is being done today.

Proofing of type is only half the story. We also like to proof the printed piece. The letterpress printer would probably pull a press revise from the locked up formes before putting the job on press. This would be checked for imposition, folding the sheet to see it all runs in sequence, and might well be read for content by the printer’s proof room. It would not be sent out to publisher or author. If the book had color illustrations they would have been proofed previously with progressive proofs. A progressive shows cyan only, magenta only, yellow only, and black only (CMYK), then combinations of them culminating in the full four-color image, all showing registration marks. In letterpress printing each color would be represented by a separate metal cut (or “block” in Britain) which would all have to be imposed separately in four different formes. Checking register from one forme to another was obviously important. In offset printing the same layout would be needed, though we would be dealing with four plates rather than four metal formes. One of the reasons Hong Kong became so popular for color printing in the seventies of the last century is because their labor costs enabled them to press proof entire books on small proofing presses, showing an almost identical quality to that which they would achieve on the run. Seeing color illustrations in position along with the type was an innovation — at least an innovation at affordable prices — and made it so much easier to check a book rather than using a type proof, and a pile of progressives for the color art.

Now that book work is being prepared on computers the expectation that the color in the final printed piece will match the color seen on the computer monitor has become a nagging problem. Because computers work with RGB, not CMYK, using additive not subtractive color, it is never going to be possible to print by offset to match the color seen on screen or on a laser proof. The trouble is though that editors and authors are shown a cover on screen or as a laser proof printed out from the computer, and tend to fall in love with that version. Nobody knows for sure how to adjust the color in the file to fool the offset color system into reproducing the “correct” color. I used to get around this by sending along the laser proof and telling the printer to match it as closely as possible, regardless of what the files seemed to be asking for: this often seemed to work, whereas trying to adjust the files never did. You’ll find people who swear by their Epson proofers, but it’s always going to be a color-matching compromise as you move from one medium to another.

Now when we make a print-on-demand book, the digitally printed book is proofed in final form. At last the ultimate proof — a proof that looks exactly the same as the bound book —  showing exactly what every copy ever printed will look like. Print-on-demand depends on processes and workflows enabling the profitable printing of a single copy of a book. The proof you see is nothing more than the first order filled for this ISBN. You can of course make corrections to your proof, so that the revised proof will then be the pattern for every subsequent identical copy. But what you see is what you’ll get, for ever more.

See also my earlier posts on Galleys and Blues. A nice blog post about typos comes from the New York Times Opinionator blog of 17 July 2011.

(At the request of Vin Hamilton)

We used to have to take one advance copy of each book to our boss. It seemed like he’d hardly look at it before he’d stuff his nose deep into it and inhale the smell. A letterpress printed book did smell special. Is it the ink, the glue, or the oil on all the large machines it required to make the book? I expect it was all of the above, and more. A book printed by offset has a smell of course, but not nearly as suggestive of the whole process of manufacture. And a digitally printed book is “smell-lite”. Perhaps we need to spray our Kindles and iPads with this product, which the eager world has obviously been waiting for with bated breath.

Go-to-hellman has a post on the subject of book smell with links.

In the days of hot metal we used to give a lot of thought to kerning, the adjustment the space between one character and its neighbor. The aim of good kerning is to give the impression that the space between all the characters in a word is exactly the same. This can only be achieved by making the space between characters different. The space between I and N will need to be more than the space between L and Y for example. Because of their similar shape, I and N will look closer together when they are exactly as far apart as L and Y. (This applies with lower case too — I used caps just to make the point more dramatically.)

Now kerning tables have been incorporated into typesetting software, and we have to think about it less and less. Of course some systems will do it better than others. Just about the only occasion now for active kerning is in a display line — especially if some quirky effect is being aimed at.

GalleyCat today brings to our attention KERNTYPE: a kerning game. Worth a look.

My friend Andy Ambraziejus reports that he’s been reading Alan Jacobs The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction (Oxford 2011) on his iPad.

“I’m reading my first ebook with pleasure — bought through the Kindle app on my iPad.  To my surprise, I am enjoying it immensely.  Why do I say surprise?  Because, while I was ready to embrace “e-reading” of newspapers and even some magazines, I’ve been resisting reading books electronically, telling myself there was something intrinsically warm and fuzzy about holding paper in my hands and deciphering the ink marks on it.  However, I took the plunge last week, bought the book, and find myself immersed in the reading experience as always.  What about those easily accessible hyperlinks to footnotes and websites that take me “out” of the reading experience?  Aren’t they supposed to be distracting?  I don’t find them distracting at all.  I’ve looked at a few because I was interested in the information, and skipped others. I liked having the choice of when to link or when to continue reading.  So with a little discipline, I think, one doesn’t need to be distracted by all the electronic bells and whistles if one doesn’t want to.”

“As far as page numbers are concerned, the Luddite part of my brain is still getting used to this new way of thinking.  If you tap on the bottom of the screen there is a very handy notice that comes up, telling you what page you’re on and what percentage of the book you’ve finished.  Very good, but when I wanted to look back at a certain page to find something, it wasn’t there.  Or perhaps I got the page number wrong?  Or perhaps the numbers changed depending on whether one was viewing the book in portrait or landscape.  I am not sure.   I do like knowing how far I’ve progressed in my reading efforts, so I’ll have to experiment with this function a little more in the next few days.  I have a feeling, though, that this issue as others will sort itself out and I’ll give it my full thumbs up.”

“Not that there’s no room for paper at all and warm fuzziness that goes with it.  But that’s another story and another post.  In the meantime, I’d be curious to hear from other veterans of ink-on-wood reading on how they’re coping with the electronic transition.”

Christine Rosen in the journal The New Atlantis, referring to the Kindle’s ability to link to web sites, says “These features are remarkable — and remarkably distracting”. Jacobs, like Andy, disagrees — when he got a Kindle he found that he had recovered his youthful ability to immerse himself in reading, undistracted by other diversions.  “. . . it kept me reading.  Think how easy it is, and how tempting, when you’re reading a novel to look ahead to the end. Maybe you just want to see how many pages there are in the book, to know how much you have left to read — but, of course, you just might sneak a peek at the last paragraph while you’re at it. You can do this on the Kindle, but it’s difficult. Similarly, when reading many different kinds of book you might want to take a look at the table of contents, to check how many chapters there are, whether they have titles, what the titles might mean, and so on — and again, you can do that on a Kindle, but only by moving your hands in a different and less natural way than you employ to turn the pages and as you follow an argument or narrative. (Kindles have clocks, but when you’re reading you can’t see the time unless you click the Menu button, at which point it appears at the top of the screen. The absence of a clock on the reading screen makes it easier, I think, to escape into the book’s own time.)”

“In short, once you start reading a book on the Kindle — and this is equally true of the other e-readers I’ve tried — the technology generates an inertia that makes it significantly easier to keep reading than to do anything else.  E-readers, unlike many other artifacts of the digital age, promote linearity — they create a forward momentum that you can reverse if you wish, but not without some effort. The first book I read onscreen was Anathem, a behemoth, and that encounter was delightful because there was no awkward manual management of a large heavy book, and limited temptation to repeatedly investigate the book’s apparatus. Anathem contains a glossary to help readers deal with Stephenson’s many neologisms, but my tendency when offered something like that is to wander around in it and forget to get back to the story. Reading the novel on my Kindle, I knew that I could get to the Glossary if I needed to, but it didn’t constantly tempt me. Instead, I became absorbed in the story itself.”

“I found that when I was seated (or reclining) in a comfortable position, I could hold the Kindle in one hand with my thumb poised over the ‘Next Page’ button, and then do nothing except kick the saccades into gear and click the button. I found my ability to concentrate, and concentrate for long periods of time, restored almost instantly. I am not sure why this happened, though I have some guesses: primarily, I think, an e-reader gives that Strangeloveian hand of mine something to do, and something similar to what it does when it checks email or Twitter on the iPhone. (Muscle memory is my friend.) And I am sure that I benefit from being able to reconnect with the habits of long-term attentiveness that I had built up for decades before going so thoroughly digital. Moreover, when I got an e-reader I immediately read the kind of book it’s best suited for, that is, narrative-driven fiction. Had I started with David Hume’s Enquiry Concerning Human UnderstandingI might never have persisted with the device.”

Of course if you’d started with Hume, you might never have persisted with reading paper and board books. I do like reading Dickens on my iPod Touch, but I’ve never read Oliver Twist or Tale of Two Cities (in any format) since I was “forced” to read them at school. Perhaps reading them as ebooks would be sufficiently “distanced” from my school trauma to make them enjoyable.  I must try.

I guess everyone is used to powering up their cell phones and e-readers regularly, but of course the propensity of the battery to run down does present an obvious difference from the experience of reading a paper and board book. When I first got my iPod Touch I took it to Italy with a couple of books on it. A day or two after arriving it started demanding to be sync-ed. But I had no Mac with me, and didn’t want to risk plugging in to any old Italian Mac. Eventually when I got to England and plugged it in to my daughter’s Mac it became happy again. But in the interim I was in the position of the monk in the Medieval Helpdesk, unable to open my book.

In The Millions Mark O’Connell gives a thorough and touching review of the advantages of ebooks over the physical objects. Just the weight consideration is huge — I can’t now face reading a large hardback on the subway. The iPod Touch is just so much more convenient. His attitude of reluctant acceptance of the inevitable triumph of the ebook is summed up in the sentence “The history of what we call progress is a catalogue of ways in which the desire for convenience has trumped almost every other concern”.

In his blog Black Plastic Glasses (now unfortunately discontinued — see Blogroll below) Evan Schnittman says that once you’ve changed to an e-reader you’ll never go back. I don’t see this in myself. But maybe that’s partly because I read lots of paper and board books which I “borrow” from the office (and from my wife’s). But my purchasing behavior may have changed — I still buy all the Library of America volumes (well, most of them) but I am very restrictive on my purchasing of other books. We have so many that still need to be read, that I really am forced to get rid of a book if I buy one. We haven’t got there yet but what happens to your iPod Touch when you have too many ebooks for its capacity? I suppose you just delete them, comfortable in the knowledge that you can always upload them again, should you want them, though having to pay for them again would be a serious brake on that plan. That really isn’t like jumping up an pulling  a book off the shelves to check something — but then you never had all the books you might consult on your shelves, whereas one day we may have electronic access to every book ever published. Hurry up Judge Denny Chin.

Of course as almost all the books I’m reading cost me between zero and 99 cents, I can hardly be counted among the ranks of serious ebook buyers. But I did just read Peter Singer’s review of Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature in today’s (9 October 2011) New York Times Book Review. I own most of Steven Pinker’s books and certainly want to read this one: quite apart from anything else the review is a rave. However at 802 pages, there’s no way I’m going to read it on the subway — you’d have to get a seat, something with is getting less and less likely on the rush-hour A train these days. So I bought the Kindle edition (for half the cost of the book) and have already gotten far enough into the book for my iPod Touch to need its battery recharging!

Is there a limit to how many times paper can be recycled?

Experiments show that paper fibers can be recycled about five times, says Carl Houtman, a chemical engineer at the Forest Products Lab run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Madison. Paper is made up of a bonded network of wood fibers. Processing yanks the fibers apart, breaking off pieces and causing them to lose a little length and stiffness. “Each time you recycle paper, a certain amount of the fiber is lost as sludge,” Houtman says. “The fibers can go around about five times before they turn into ‘fines’ and get washed out of the system.”

Different kinds of paper produce different kinds of fibers for recycling. White office paper makes the highest-quality recycled fiber, but newspaper and magazine fibers are easier to reuse. “In some ways, newsprint and magazine papers are actually more recyclable than white copy paper because the fibers are not as tightly bonded together and so they don’t break up quite as much,” reducing loss of quality, Houtman says. “Newsprint to newsprint is relatively easy.” He adds that there are now efforts under way to turn the bits of wood cellulose lost in sludge into biofuel — arguably, a final recycling step.

(Provided by Bette Thresher from the Clifford Paper Newsletter of 16 May 2011, in cooperation with University Communications.)

I always wanted to be invited to the wayzgoose. Because only printing house staff could go, it was an enticing mystery — one assumed all sorts of excess and high-jinks. No doubt, although more picturesquely named, it was just like any other office outing.

Wayzgoose is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as “Originally, an entertainment given by a master-printer to his workmen ‘about Bartholomew-tide’ (24 August), marking the beginning of the season of working by candle-light. In later use, an annual festivity held in summer by the employees of a printing establishment, consisting of a dinner and (usually) an excursion into the country.”

Wikipedia’s entry starts with the OED definition and takes off from there. I never did make it to one.

The Internet Archive “is building a physical archive for the long term preservation of one copy of every book, record, and movie we are able to attract or acquire.” This looks like a really good idea.

It’s almost unnecessary to go about burning books you don’t like.  They disappear perfectly well on their own.  Aeschylus is said to have written about 90 plays: we have 8 only. Same with Euripides, but of his we have 18. An Augustinian priory in York had 646 books in 1536 — only eight survive. Duke Humphrey gave Oxford University 300 books — only two made it through. Kafka left instructions that his manuscripts were to be burned — obviously disregarded. Before the modern era many people regarded the paper in books as more valuable than what was written on it. Parchment was routinely scraped clean and written over. In The Old Curiosity Shop we find Dick Swiveller using his pen-knife to erase an error. Sometimes a little of the original text can be recovered but usually what’s gone is long gone. About all we know about the contents of the Library at Alexandria is that it had a really large collection of books (or more accurately works, since “the book” hadn’t yet been invented) which were lost when it burned down. Wikipedia has an entry listing a surprisingly long list of works known to have been lost. There was a man who used to scurry about Cambridge with a bunch of papers under his arm.  He was rumored to have lost the manuscript of his life’s work on the Liverpool Street train, and to have spent the rest of his days despairingly trying to put it together again.

We are never short of sanctimonious people who believe that they know what’s bad for others. Burning the offending book makes them feel that they are driving the point home, and helping to save their misguided fellows. Book burning is a right wing rite — I don’t know; maybe there are instances of socialists banding together to burn fascist and capitalist tomes, but it always seems to be in the other direction. The same sort of impulse leads to censoring of school library collections, with which Middle America continues to provide amusement to the East Coast Liberal Establishment. Terry Jones’ 2011 burning of a Quran which he found guilty of crimes against humanity in a trial he held at his Florida church is hardly different from medieval burning of books at the stake.

Farenheit 451 for books*: I suspect a much lower temperature would take care of a Kindle or iPad.

*Apparently it’s actually 450˚ Centigrade at which paper will auto-combust.

When I was younger I spent a few years as a union organizer. I don’t mean that I was employed by a trade union: just that I was one of the agitators who got a union recognized and bargaining. I was a member of ASTMS (Association of Scientific, Technical and Managerial Staffs), and was elected to various posts including branch secretary and delegate to national conference. Union activity seems to be more decentralized in UK than it is in USA. When I arrived in America I signed up for the local union which was making a slight push in the publishing industry in New York. I didn’t have to pay anything: they gave me a membership card and said I shouldn’t have to pay any dues till they had negotiated a contract for me. I’m still waiting. Apart from turning up at one meeting, that’s the last I heard from them.  In Britain it was up to the employees in a company to do the organizing: we spent hours persuading a large proportion of the staff to sign up, pay their dues, and allow us to negotiate for them.

As far as I recall, we never had a union employee present during negotiations with management. In old-fashioned publishing almost everyone was more or less liberal, so it wasn’t as if we were faced with out-and-out opposition.  Indeed management was actually quite welcoming. I was however admonished during negotiation by one management titan that I should understand that they needed bigger pay raises than we did because they had to pay gardeners and maids and other servants.  No doubt there was a union official at our branch meetings, but the only union employee that I can remember is the dashing young man who conducted the charmingly-named Combat School which I attended on a day-release basis over a period of a few months.  The aim of this was to teach us to become keen negotiators. The story of the Ford workers in Dagenham who had sold for higher wages the exact same tea break in three consecutive annual wage negotiations, remains in my mind. The point was that if you continue to take the tea break it rapidly becomes part of the new contract by virtue of the law of Custom and Practice. Unfortunately we never got to test this: we continued to have tea and Fitzbillies cakes in the Oriel room every day, enjoying intellectual conversation with the bosses and our more humble colleagues.

At that time (the early seventies) the unions’ grip on the printing industry was beginning to relax. There were some small typesetting operations that didn’t have unions, but most book composition, printing and binding was under the control of the NGA, NATSOPA and SOGAT. Margaret Thatcher broke the closed shop and dealt the unions a nearly mortal blow. I suspect that a good case can be made that industrial operations may be suitable for union/management dealings, while the more fluid publishing structure makes unionization irrelevant and even inappropriate. Union negotiations are always about who gets what share of the pie. As a relatively non-capital-intensive business publishing can’t really be a very good battleground between capital and labor. The bosses and the workers are in pretty much the same relationship to the product: capital doesn’t need its reward in the same way as say a steel mill with its hugely expensive plant. Still there is a cake there, and we to some extent negotiated its division.

Over here it is a commonplace that the unions destroyed the book manufacturing industry in New York City (indeed all industry in New York City). This is obvious nonsense. The unions did what unions should do: negotiated for more money for their members. The reason the industry folded in New York is much more complicated. Wages would be part of it, but rent, transportation problems, inefficient, obsolete equipment, and no doubt a strong dose of management incompetence all share the blame. It takes two sides to negotiate ridiculous manning levels on new machinery, and there were plenty of those. If I am right and what eventually survives of our industry is lots of smaller creative operations, then unions will indeed be a thing of the past in the book world.