Archives for the month of: March, 2013

The Bible business is a bundle of paradoxes. It’s vast, but nobody in publishing really wants to know about it. It involves very long runs but at the same time mandates short runs. Although it is all about “the good book” the people involved in it are not noticeably good by and large, nor pious or even specially virtuous.  Although the Bible is regarded by many as the word of God, it is often purchased almost as a fashion accessory.

However you lay it out, the Bible is going to make a lot of pages — at least 2000 or so. So right off the bat you have a problem — it’s a competitive business but you have to keep your costs within reach of the competition. Bibles print on light weight papers, and spoilage tends to be high — I’ve done jobs where the printer wanted a 100% spoilage allowance. So you are almost forced into longer and longer runs in order to amortize the high up-front costs, and to bring your running cost down as much as you can. Typesetting, which you hope never to have to do because with so much copy it just costs too much, has to aim at fitting as many words as possible onto each page but at the same time making the type large and easy to read. These unreconcilable alternatives lead inevitably to a more or less messy compromise. Designs which manage to optimize both the words per page and the readability/clarity issue will tend to be used over and over again.

The Bible has been being printed for centuries. Gutenberg’s Bible is well known as the first book printed with movable types. It is also often recognized as the nearly ideal printing job, which printers have been striving to match in quality ever since. When letterpress printing was done by hand (up till the mid 19th century) three or four formes at most would be set in type, printed, and stored as flat sheets while the type was distributed to be used in setting the next few formes. The amount of metal required for enough type to set the entire Bible would be beyond the capital resources of most master printers. As presses became larger and faster it became more reasonable to hold type, though of course this was always an expensive proceeding. With the invention of moulds in the 19th century it at last became possible to move beyond the limitations imposed by the amount of metal called for for the Bible. Clearly the development of offset printing opened up the reuse of earlier settings, and more or less brought an end to resetting the Bible, except of course in the case of new translations. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that the main Bible images we used when I was doing Bibles in the late 20th century had actually been typeset in the thirties or even earlier and recycled ever since. Now with the development of computer-driven typesetting it has again become possible to contemplate resetting the Bible.

Like most businesses the Bible business has multiple layers. In the evangelical (missionary) market many of the books will be given away, and this and the mass market segment will tend to be in paperback or a cheap hardback binding. A regular church-goer will want to have a leather (or at least bonded-leather bound) Bible. My working involvement in Bibles has been mostly at the de-luxe end of the business. Here the books will be smyth sewn, with whipstitched first and last sigs as reinforcement, printed on ultra light weight paper (24# and below), bound in a good bonded leather or a full leather case, with a light flexible board (or none), with a hollow to keep the sine open, and decorated with foil stamping and imitation raised hubs on the spine. The linings (endpapers in a regular hardback) will probably be bonded leather and the case may well be stamped with gold foil around the inside edge. The page edges will be gilded with rounded corners, and there will be one or two ribbon markers. Bible printing has recently tended to be done by web offset, partly because the runs do tend to be long, but also because sheet-fed printing is now a rare commodity, especially with the light weight paper called for in so many Bibles. I can remember a Bible printing in Cambridge by sheetfed letterpress on a 14# paper. The press had to run quite slowly, as every time the next sheet of paper was advanced over the print bed, it floated and fluttered down into place. The pressmen took pride in their ability to do this sort of work well (indeed at all) but such craftsmanship is no longer economically viable. I have had a Bible printed on French 14# paper in U.S.A. on a web press. When the paper was delivered the customer service rep called me in a panic, saying the rolls were so small that they knew the paper had been short shipped; they described them as toilet paper rolls. When I reminded them that the bulk on the paper was more than 2000 ppi, they calmed down. The book ran very well: good quality Bible paper is relatively stronger than regular book paper, having a higher proportion of long fibers, and the perennial fear of web breaks proved groundless. So in order to amortize your high set up costs, you tend to run as many copies of the Bible as you can. Most of these sheets will be put into storage, and drawn on periodically for binding. De luxe bindings are expensive, and the resulting Bible has to have a high retail price. This means that the sales volume is always going to be low. So you might print 10,000 sets of sheets to get a reasonable unit cost, and bind up 250 in black leather, 150 in burgundy leather, and 100 in white leather, keeping the rest of the sheets in storage for binding up later on. Sometimes you may bind some in a fashion color — there are of course people out there who like to match their Bible to their Easter outfit. But this can be a risky business. Obviously you hope that you are not going to have to hang onto the unbound sheets for too long, but this hope is all too seldom realized.

Bible binderies tend to have an expertise in the leather business. There are leather merchants who specialize in leathers for book binding, and the binderies will form close relationships with them. The publisher may be involved in the selection of the hides for the job, but this involvement will tend to be at the macro level — selecting color and grain say.  The leathers used in book binding are almost always dyed and grained to order. A leather described as pinseal Morocco has nothing to do with seal skin, or pins, nor has it been anywhere near Morocco. Morocco tells you it’s a goat skin, and the pinseal label means that the skins have been stamped with a large die with a tight grain pattern which imitates seal skin. Most tanneries have dies with various grains, suggestive of goats, buffaloes, cows, snakes etc., etc.. French Morocco is an imitation Morocco made on a sheep skin. Leather from cattle is also now used for Bible binding. All the leathers used for binding will have been skived — the inside layer sliced off the make the remaining leather thinner and easier to work. The skived-off inner layer is sometimes refinished and used again for cheaper bindings. Because its surface is artificial, the strength of a skiver leather will be very low. After the type, color and finish of the leather has been selected the bindery will commission the leather merchant to supply enough hides to complete the job. The leather merchant will be responsible for ensuring that the appearance and strength of all the hides is consistent, and as spec’d. Depending on the size of the book you may get between two and four covers out of one hide. A lectern Bible will probably cut only one cover per hide. Covers can only be cut from part of the hide, and the cutter will have to avoid old wounds in the leather, for instance a barbed wire scratch which will have healed up leaving a scar, and parts around the leg joints where the grain of the leather changes radically. The cutter’s skill is to maximize the number of covers per hide, keeping spoilage to a minimum. Cutting is done not by a knife or scissors — a die in the shape of the cover required will be used and when properly aligned will be pressed into the hide chopping out the rectangular cover. These dies are hugely expensive, so you will be likely to design your book to fit the cutting dies out there. So now you have your leather cover. Using a knife the binder will shave off the inside part of the edges all around, so that the leather can be folded over neatly to form the cover. It goes without saying that damaging the surface leather by slicing off too much is a big risk. The case will be made with a pair of light-weight flexible boards, and a liner for the spine. Nowadays cases are formed in a press in which the edges are mechanically turned on the roved corners, but of course at one time this was all done by hand as it still is in some smaller binderies.

The cover will now be stamped — a really expensive Bible may be stamped with real gold foil. The stamping will include creating the raised hubs on the spine. These horizontal raised strips across the width of the spine are a totally ersatz reference to the old style of hand binding in which the sections of the book were sewed onto cords across the spine,  The cords then caused bumps in the outer surface of the spine — and this is the effect which has conventionally been retained in leather bound Bibles.

After the linings (the equivalent of end papers) have been pasted to the case, the case is ready to go onto the book block The video below shows a neat technique of enclosing the liner in the book while it is being gilded, and tipping it in later. Before this the edges of the pages will have been gilded. This too used to be done by hand, but is now done in a gilding machine. After smashing to get the air out of the book block, a lift of book blocks is clamped together and sanded to a fine surface. The gold, or imitation gold, foil is applied using heat and pressure. The book blocks are separated and polished with a soft cloth to remove any excess. Ribbon markers will be inserted at this time, and thumb indexing tabs will be cut. After all these steps the book blocks are then glued and placed into the case. They are then put under pressure till everything is fixed and dry. The finished Bible is inspected, wrapped in a sheet of paper, and placed into a two-piece box ready to be cartoned and shipped to the warehouse.

This is all so much more work than we have to do on our regular books that many people shy away from involvement in it. But for fascination and an insight into the way things used to be in book manufacturing generally Bible manufacture is hard to beat.

This video from Local Church Bible Publishers shows many of the steps mentioned above

A good piece in Virginia Quarterly Review by Richard Nash. It is the lead article in their Spring 2013 issue which focusses on the business of literature. Maybe I should revive my subscribe to The VQR, though discouragingly their website tells us this issue is sold out. Here’s a link to their subscription page (the link also appears at the end of the article).

The article delivers better news for freelance copyeditors than for much of the staff in book publishing companies, many of whom are busy trying to operate Shirky’s principle: “Institutions will try to preserve the problems to which they are a solution.”

Here’s a link to the You Tube video of the interview between Tim O’Reilly and Charlie Rose referenced in the article — not that it has anything directly to do with book publishing or the business of literature.

I always said that books became longer when we switched from typewriter to word processor because when you made an insertion on a word processor you no longer had to retype the page (and potentially all the pages following the insertion point).

What was the first book typed? Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi is the winner Page Turner tells us in a tweet, and directs us to Slate’s article on the first one written on a word processor.

I wonder if typescript tended to increase the length of books in its day — after all retyping (or paying someone to retype) your book has to be easier than rewriting it by hand. But of course that’s not what you’d do — we have all seen manuscript pages from Dickens, Tolstoy,Christmas-Carol RIA10-638559

and whomever where one is amazed the compositor could work through the deletions, insertions, and transpositions. I suppose the urge to have a neat, clean typescript really only came about when the technology to enable that (i.e. the typewriter) became available. Though perhaps a less successful author than Dickens would have been expected back then to turn in a clean manuscript.

The good old segmented world market suits us publishers. We like sharing the joy between different global groupings in a “logical” way which we favor because we are used to it, and find it easier than the jungle which would be an international free-for-all where we might have to think about selling our wares to individuals on the other side of the earth. It is hallowed in our author contracts and in our relationships with our own international branches or other publishing companies. It makes sense — naturally, or we’d never have come up with it — except that in an on-line world it make no sense at all. Information wants to be free they keep saying. The more significant sense of free in this discussion is “liberated” not “without payment”. We publishers certainly don’t like free in either sense, but the one where the carpet is being ripped out from beneath our feet right now is the “liberated” one.

Wiley lost at the Supreme Court, as we probably all did (at least those of us in the book business). The Economist of 23 March covers the story. Higher Ed publishers bring out cheap editions of text books so that students overseas can afford to buy them. That is altruism, but it’s an interested altruism — making a sale at a reduced price is obviously better than making no sale at all. The question of textbook pricing may be one that could be debated, but publishers seem to find that American students will pay quite high prices, which obviously students in say India or Kenya cannot. The overseas edition is usually a paperback rather than a hardback, tends to be printed black & white rather than 4-color, may omit some of the material, may be organized slightly differently, and will of course have a different ISBN.

Here’s Joe Esposito’s take in The Scholarly Kitchen. He provides a useful link to a previous piece about the cost of developing textbooks, and has a nice discussion of market segmentation and differential pricing, something which publishers have recently become involved with in the context of e-book price offers on such as Kindle’s Daily Deals.

It doesn’t seem to me it should be beyond man’s devising to come up with a solution to the overseas student problem, without having to say “OK, then, those foreigners will just have to pay the same as US students”. I think I notice many foreign versions of US textbooks having less material, maybe differently organized, than their US counterparts. US students can of course work their way though a course using the wrong textbook, but it’s work. Even having the third edition when the rest of the class has the fourth is a bit difficult. (Of course that’s why we publishers strive to make as much difference between this edition and its predecessor as we can.) So how about keeping the old edition for the cheap overseas edition, and the current one for sale here?

Of course it’s not as if all is sweetness and light in the domestic US market for textbooks. The second-hand market presents a real challenge, recently joined by the textbook rental business. Plus, to hear some people talk, all textbooks are going to be electronic any day now. The shift to digital may be underway, though as far as I can see students are not flocking to use digital textbooks. I am however prepared to believe it is indeed a long term trend which we cannot be seen to be (and are not) ignoring.

Getting away from the familiar traditional market is however not just a matter of making up your mind to do that. We couldn’t just come in to work on Monday (appropriately April Fool’s Day) and decide that we were not going to pay any more attention to the traditional market. Quite apart from the problem of getting our computer system to accept the contention that we really can make a sale to a customer in Indonesia, and telling it what price to charge, indeed what currency to use, we are, Gulliver-like, tied down by thousands and thousands of strings each representing a different clause in a different contract with authors, with other publishers, and maybe with other entities. But it may well be that we ultimately have no alternative to making the change. E-books are leading the charge, and as the balance of sales shifts more and more in favor of digital, the less sustainable becomes our attachment to the old world picture.

imagesThe Economist of 23 March has a round-up piece on the difficult issue of the lending of ebooks in libraries. This article shows how fluid the relations between publishers, authors and libraries are becoming. Just today, Penguin has announced it will be letting libraries lend their new ebooks once again. As in so many aspects of the book business we have to say that the only constant is constant change.

I’ve been thinking of writing something about Public Lending Right, and this flurry of news of libraries perhaps provides an occasion.

We in America don’t know much about this — no such right exists here. PLR started out in Europe as an expression of the belief that authors deserved to be remunerated for the use of their books in libraries. Basically the number of times a book is loaned out is tabulated and at the end of the year the numbers from all libraries are grossed up and a proportionate payment, derived from central government (i.e. the taxpayer), is sent to the author. Here’s a link to the UK site. PLR was established in Britain in 1979. Authors have to register to be eligible, and if there’s a reciprocal agreement, can also receive payments from overseas.

Just yesterday, Futurebook, The Bookseller blog, had news about PLR and ebooks. Nothing conclusive yet, but perhaps an indication of the way things are going. They say

“The Government-commissioned report into library e-lending, led by William Sieghart, has finally released its findings. On the surface it looks like all sides have been listened to, which is a polite way of saying that this is a report that seeks to be all things to all parties. Yet it does have an edge, particularly over the issue of remote lending.”

“The report sets out the principle that e-lending should be free at the point of use and recommends that public libraries should offer e-lending remotely to their readers. The latter goes directly against publishers who argued (via the Publishers Association in 2010) that remote downloading should not be allowed. However, publishers have won some new concessions: the report recommends introducing ‘friction’, in the form of e-books that deteriorate in line with print books. Booksellers also get a sweetener, namely the possibility of a pilot scheme that will look at whether a ‘buy now’ prompt could be used to encourage borrowers to purchase “titles from a variety of sources including local retailers”. Crucially for authors is the broad agreement that PLR should be extended for e-book loans, even if the government response is not clear if this will come from an enlarged pot, as Sieghart recommends.”

PS: I just found this item from Brave New World on 16 January. I’d sent myself the link then forgot about it.

We knew an exclusive digital public library was coming and to many it makes good sense for civic communities to mix their digital and physical offer to members. Now Bexar County, Texas, has announced its plans to become the first totally digital US public library.
It is claimed that the initiative came to County Judge Nelson W. Wolff after he read Steve Jobs’s biography. He claims he was inspired to believe that future generations will have little use for hardcover or paperback renditions. As a result the new ‘BiblioTech’ system plans to make thousands of e-books available for county residents via both an online service and at a 5K square foot building and importantly offer no physical books. Not only will members be able to check out books onto their own ereaders, they will be able to borrow one of the library’s 150 e-readers.
This bold step is possible because Bexar today doesn’t have a civic library and currently pays and uses San Antonio city facilities. This is a new library with zero legacy inventory to deal with and therefore it can be born totally digital.
Bibliotech is in somewhat a great position to push this proposal forward, but some would question whether the $3.7 million in currently spends with San Antonio would be better deployed in working with them to create mixed environment which would serve both communities and offer the richest of both worlds. In establishing a single library entity and restricting the material on offer they may be seen by some as playing to one small community at the expense of the bigger community. Idealology over logic, personal ego over civic responsibility. To some, it would make more sense to build a state digital library, which would share cost and inventory and obviate building lots of little ones with their own unique systems, inventories and costs.
The picture is of the main Toronto City library (Oct 2012)Update from San Antonio Express 

Renata Adler is enjoying a bit of a renaissance right now because her novels, Speedboat and Pitch Dark have been reissued by New York Review Books. (Here are reviews from The Daily Beast, New York, The Millions.)  In Speedboat she says of contemporary book reviewing practice “’Literally,’ in every single case, meant figuratively; that is, not literally. This film will literally grab you by the throat. This book will literally knock you out of your chair.”

Now I’m not one to get too bent out of shape by the hyperbolic use of literally, or most grammatical infractions for that matter. The purpose of writing is communication, and I don’t think anyone gets too confused about what injuries they might be risking if a reviewer says “This book will literally knock you out of your chair”. However, we have been being told not to do this sort of thing ever since people started telling us what we should and more importantly should not do when writing — splitting infinitives for notable example. But the times they are (apparently) achanging.

Jason Boog on GalleyCat brings us the news that Cambridge has accepted this emphatic use of “literally”, whereas Oxford is being slightly more tentative about the matter. Here’s his post:

‘For years, readers and writers have debated a common informal use of the word “literally.”

In conversation, some people use the word to provide exaggerated emphasis for a statement: “I love Haruki Murakami so much I literally read South of the Border, West of the Sun one hundred times.” Back in 2011, we even published a grammar PSA about the word.

Reddit reader andtheniansaid shared three separate dictionary definitions that include this informal usage, arguing that “it is okay to use the word ‘literally’ for emphasis.”

Here are three major dictionaries that mention the exaggerated “literally” usage…

Merriam-Webster Dictionary added a second “virtually” sense for the word, explaining with this note: “Since some people take sense 2 to be the opposite of sense 1, it has been frequently criticized as a misuse. Instead, the use is pure hyperbole intended to gain emphasis, but it often appears in contexts where no additional emphasis is necessary.”

Cambridge Dictionaries Online added this informal usage to its definition: “used to emphasize what you are saying: He missed that kick literally by miles. I was literally bowled over by the news.”

Oxford Dictionaries begrudgingly admitted the shift: “In recent years an extended use of literally (and also literal) has become very common, where literally (or literal) is used deliberately in non-literal contexts, for added effect, as in they bought the car and literally ran it into the ground. This use can lead to unintentional humorous effects (we were literally killing ourselves laughing) and is not acceptable in formal contexts, though it is widespread.”

UPDATE: Reader Ann Glaviano added this note on Twitter: “‘Literally’ Creeping Since 1914. cf. usage in the opening line of ‘The Dead.’ She passed along an annotated link showing how James Joyce used the word literally in his famous short story.’

I just bought (for $1.46 from a second-hand copy of Hart’s Rules for Compositors and Readers at the University Press, Oxford, the bible of practice in the olden days at Oxford University Press, before they had stopped, in 1989, having compositors or any other print workers. This is a book of great charm to the likes of me (who are involved in print, and have been for rather a long time). It pulls few punches — you kind of imagine apprentices running about pulling it out of their back pockets at regular intervals to discover what it is they are meant to do next in response to this or that situation. It gives you straight answers, only once or twice admitting that doubt might be acceptable, at which juncture you are advised to consult your supervisor. On “literally” I swear that I read in it an absolute interdiction — but now I can’t find it. This is typical of the book actually. Rather like the Brown Book at school (from which we had to memorize headmasters, prefects, special holidays, etc. etc.) it’s the sort of book which is useful only after you know it by heart. Looking for something in it is challenging. You’d use it by whipping it out and trumping the erroneous opinion of some tyro not yet privy to the arcana.

Hart leans on Fowler’s Modern English Usage, among many other OUP publications, and the Fowlers (coincidentally ex-teachers at the school I attended) mince no words on the subject of “literally”. “We have come to such a pass with this emphasizer that where the truth would require us to insert with a strong expression ‘not literally, of course, but in a manner of speaking’, we do not hesitate to insert the very word that we ought to be at pains to repudiate; cf. VERITABLE; such false coin makes honest traffic in words impossible.” There follow lots of examples. I do think that Fowler is here coming it a bit strong with that about false coin, but then of course he’s in business to establish rules and make nasty boys adhere to them.

We should all be allowed to write in whatever way seems best to us. If my style literally makes you throw up, then of course you can resolve to never again read a word I write. But I think those who try to elevate such stuff to the equivalent of moral turpitude are literally prissy idiots.

William A. Johnson tells us in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece and Rome, that “Books in the form of rolls were the norm for Greek, and later, Roman literary texts from the beginning through the early Roman era.” Texts were written in scriptio continua, without spaces between words or paragraphs, and with limited punctuation, on pre-formed rolls of papyrus. Screen Shot 2013-03-23 at 12.40.49 PMReading the texts is hard, and was probably an activity restricted to an educated elite; one that could afford the expense too. The scrolls tended to be between 7.5 and 13 inches tall in the Roman era, and usually contained one complete work. As the papyrus sheets would be pasted together before writing started, there was obviously a sophisticated casting off system in operation even then. “The book roll is designed for clarity and for beauty, but not for ease of use, much less for mass readership.”

The codex (our modern form of book) is first found in the first century CE. It was favored for early Christian texts. I wonder if the triumph of the codex format over the scroll/bookroll is a result of the fall of the Roman Empire and the arrival of the “Dark Ages”. One can imagine enthusiastic Christian communities sheltering their scriptures from the depredations of the Vandal hordes, going to lengths which librarians might be less ready to do. Had they not done so we might today be printing our books on web presses without the need for any folding or binding. Just chop them off and roll them up.

It’s perhaps a little paradoxical that the bookroll, superseded by one religion, is now most familiar from its appearance in the synagogue.



Bowker released its annual report on U. S. print book publishing for 2011, compiled from its Books In Print® database. Based on preliminary figures from U.S. publishers, Bowker is projecting that traditional print book output grew six percent in 2011, from 328,259 titles in 2010 to a projected 347,178 in 2011, driven almost exclusively by a strong self-publishing market. This is the most significant expansion in more than four years for America’s traditional publishing sector, but removing self-publishing from the equation would show that the market is relatively flat from 2010.

Slightly more pessimistically: Paper usage for books in the U.S. declined from about 1.6 billion tons in 2008 to slightly more than 1 billion tons in 2011. A decline in paper imports and elimination of production capacity have led to decreases in freesheet as well as groundwood prices. Paper manufacturers have responded to the growing demand for inkjet compatible grades by developing new coated and uncoated papers.

And really pessimistically: Studies find that U.S. households continue to spend less on reading as a percentage of household entertainment expenditures. According to other surveys nearly one-fifth of adults have not read a single book in the last yearmore than double the percentage in 1978. (Interquest)

“At Black Bond Books, which has 11 stores in British Columbia and celebrates its 50th anniversary this fall, this sign aimed to explain the mystery of books to modern readers.” From Shelf Awareness


UnknownHere’s a link from Publishing Perspectives which tells of Amazon’s buy button being taken down because of a supposed flaw in manufacturing — the edges of the pages were not trimmed!

A friend tells me that the words “Deckle edges” have been added to the description of all their hardbacks at Amazon with deckle edges, because it was provoking constant back and forth from Amazon’s customer service. Seems the warning on may not to be working, though the post hints at a concerted campaign to make the book unavailable. Certainly Knopf’s “warning” is less extensive than the Harper one linked from my previous post on this subject.